On National Highway 30, you can go from Raipur, the capital city of Chhattisgarh, to Jagdalpur, the district headquarters of Bastar. On this stretch, in Kanker district, is a small town called Charma. Just before Charma, there is a small ghat . Driving down this ghat some weeks ago, I saw around 10-15 villagers, most of them women, returning from the nearby forest with headloads of wood.

They were all from two villages located not far from the highway – Kochwahi in Kanker district, and Machandur in Balod district. Most of them were Gond tribals who work as marginal farmers or agricultural labourers.

PHOTO • Purusottam Thakur
PHOTO • Purusottam Thakur

The few men in the group had strapped the wood onto bicycles, while all the women, except one, carried it on their heads. I spoke to them; they said they left home early in the morning and returned by around 9 a.m., usually on Sundays and Tuesdays, after collecting firewood for their homes.

However, not everyone was collecting it just for home use. I believe a couple of them were taking the firewood they'd gathered to the market. Marginalised communities – and they exist in large numbers here – make a few rupees from the sale of firewood. It is one fragile plank of the livelihoods people scrape together in this troubled region.

Purusottam Thakur

Purusottam Thakur is a 2015 PARI Fellow. He is a journalist and documentary filmmaker and is working with the Azim Premji Foundation, writing stories for social change.

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