In the heart of darkness
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Deep inside the Maoist stronghold of Daringbadi, where Sabyasachi Panda, secretary of Orissa State Organising Committee of Maoists, is reportedly holed up with his armed comrades, is Tembuli village. Here, a tribal woman has named her three-year-old daughter after actress Preity Zinta. Like several other kids in the village, Preity Zinta Pradhan, with her bloated stomach and ribcage pushing against her skin, is severely malnourished.
Preity has had peja (rice gruel) and mandia (finger millet paste) for lunch, and now the bare-bodied girl is going to the pond. "This is the place where we bathe as well as wash our utensils. We also drink the same water," says her mother, Tapanti, dressed in a torn lungi and a blouse, while walking barefeet with her daughter to the dirty pond. She scoops out water from the pond with her cupped hands and Preity drinks from them.
With just 25 kg of Rs 2-a-kg rice that Preity's father manages to buy every month from a far-off PDS store, all that she can afford daily is rice gruel and finger millet. "Sometimes, we have a curry of jackfruit and some kandula (a local variety of lentil). The rice that we get is barely enough to last the entire month. I know my daughter is not well. But what can I do?" says Tapanti, clutching her daughter's hand.
Cut off from civilisation, Tembuli is a tiny village lost in a time warp. It has no clean drinking water, electricity, roads, anganwadi centre or hospital. Young Preity's life is just a snapshot of the hopelessness that pervades the Maoist-affected region. Ringed by tall mountains, Tembuli village, under Gumikia grampanchayat, sits in a valley where no vehicle can enter as the approach road peters out into a mountain track. A three-hour drive from Phulbani, the district headquarter of Kandhamal, the landscape becomes more rugged and primitive as one approaches Tembuli.
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