Conflict-ridden Dantewada is one of the toughest districts for conducting elections in India, as illustrated in the 2017 film Newton. The district has a high concentration of Maoists, and, thereby, the security forces. According to official data between 2016 and 2018, 85 individuals, including Naxals, common people and police personnel, were killed in various Maoist-related incidents in this district.
It is under these conditions that Kamla Naag had canvassed all alone on a bicycle for the seat of the Zila Panchayat president in 2015. “The government had just launched its zero balance bank account drive. I understood the importance of the scheme and wherever I went, I asked people to get their accounts opened. I got 7,000 bank accounts opened under the scheme. This was my election campaign on a bicycle and people elected me,” says the 52 years old.
Kamla’s struggle against the odds begins from the very beginning of life. She was three-days-old when her father tried to kill her by putting her in a pit. Some villagers had rescued her then. Kamla’s sister took care of her till the age of five. Later on, she was adopted by Budhram, who used to work with her peon father at NMDC Kirandul. He got her admitted in a government hostel. “I could study till class 12 because of Budhram bhaiya’s efforts. I am the only literate one among four sisters,” says Kamla.
Any election related activity can quickly turn risky business in Dantewada. Kamla’s husband had borne the brunt for distributing Congress membership forms in a village in 2008. “They (Naxals) had shot at my husband with a katta (country made gun) while he was returning from Gadapal village along with one of his friends. The friend died on the spot and my husband somehow ran into the jungles,” says Kamla adding that it took quite a long time before Vinod (her husband) could completely recover from the shock. He succumbed to a heart attack in 2014.
Life was not easy for Kamla after her husband’s death. “I remember while filling the form for the Zila Panchayat election, one gentleman from the Congress had told me: You do not have money to contest the election, you will not get more than five votes,” Kamla says. “But I won the election with a margin of 7,000 votes!”
Even after winning, Kamla has faced difficulties for being a woman. She remembers one such incident that happened during the ‘Lok Suraj Abhiyan-2017’ at Kirandul Dantewada.
“The Dantewada MLA was with me when activists from a local party surrounded us and questioned me about my education. They challenged me to get a transformer removed which was near the home of a local man. They had told me that I will never be able to get the work done.” Kamla immediately called power department officers and the transformer was shifted. “The next day, the same people came and apologised for their behaviour,” Kamla says with a sense of satisfaction.