Tribesmen a nation apart

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 June, 1997, 12:00am

A group of armed tribesmen in the inaccessible regions of the Maharashtra-Gujarat border has seceded from the Indian Union and set up a parallel country called A C Bharat.

The newly set-up government issues its own vehicle registrations and refuses to pay taxes to the Indian Government.

The citizens of A C Bharat refuse to vote in local elections, saying they have their own administration.

Government officials and visitors are threatened with spears and swords.

The tribesmen have refused government aid because, they say, A C Bharat is independent of the Indian Union.

Set up two years ago, the parallel government was dismissed by official government agencies as a laughable experiment doomed to failure. But the A C Bharat Government now has more than 2,000 members and extends its dominion over adjoining areas.

In the region under its control, A C Bharat rules with absolute power, its authority born out of fear.

Villagers are threatened with violence if they protest.

India's tribal groups are a traditionally poverty-stricken community, persecuted by caste and ignored by technology. They have lived on the margins of society for hundreds of years.

Social workers and non-government agencies working in the area say it is only a matter of time before the tribal groups take up arms against what they see their mainstream oppressors.

A social worker based in Maharashtra said: 'The Indian Government has done nothing for these people. Why should they feel any sense of identity with the Indian nation?' In fact, say social workers, A C Bharat is a sign of things to come, and the Government should take the agitation seriously.

A lawyer working in the area said: 'These are people who have been exploited for years. They feel an overwhelming anger. They feel they are justified in their secession.' He said the tribesmen who had set up the parallel government considered themselves the sole owners of the land they live on.

A C Bharat's activities are shrouded in secrecy. Inquiries about the government's leaders meet with silence.