For a month now, the sarpanch claims that she has been forced to be on the run, fearing for her life, and take refuge in a different village every night.
"Maoists have been coming to my home regularly for the last eight days. I move from one place to another to save myself. I will leave my village permanently after this year's harvest," says Deve.
Why Are Maoists After Her?
Elected in 2020, Deve Barse and her family had actively supported infrastructure development, including the construction of roads, in and around Rewali village. This allegedly made her a target of the Maoists in the region, she says.
She and her family backed the construction of a road, which is currently being laid between the Sameli and Barrem areas of the district. Once completed, it will connect the interior villages to the Palnar-Aranpur main road. Rewali village lies between the Sameli and Barrem areas.
But why has this allegedly drawn Maoist ire? "Maoists oppose road construction as it enables easy and swifter movement of security forces in and out of the forests," explains Siddharth Tiwari, Superintendent of Police in Dantewada. "Better road connectivity will also pave the way for government schemes to reach these villages and diminish the influence of Maoists over the residents."
'Willing To Step Down, but Need Help'
Deve Barse, who met with a few local journalists earlier this week, says in light of the alleged threat issued by the Maoists, she is "ready to step down" from her post of sarpanch, but that she couldn't do it without help.
She claims that she has been taking refuge at the homes of her relatives and acquaintances since her husband's death. Deve is worried for her family and has reached out to other villagers to write a resignation letter for her.
Although the Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government has made tall claims about delivering "a major setback" to Maoists in the Bastar division, incidents like these show otherwise.
'No Information,' Say Police
"We have not received any information of her being on the run or seeking security. At the same time, we are continuously patrolling the area and arrests are happening," adds SP Tiwari.
When asked if any security arrangements were made to protect the elected representative after her husband was allegedly killed by Maoists, Tiwari says:
"We are committed to ensuring peace in the area. In this case, too, an innocent villager was killed (by the Maoists) to oppose the building of a road. We have a 'Maoist victims rehabilitation policy', under which we provide relief to the victims. In this case too, we have either provided it or it is under process."
Former Sarpanch Also Fled, Resigned Before Term
Before Deve, the then sarpanch of Rewali village, Deva Barse, also tendered his resignation before the completion of his tenure. He was allegedly forced to flee from the village and seek refuge in the neighbouring state of Telangana.
Local journalists say that the police's inability to provide security to a woman sarpanch would hamper the anti-Maoist drive undertaken by the state.
A journalist, who does not wish to be named, says:
"Such incidents break the villagers' trust in security forces and governments. If the police are not able to or ready to provide security to a village sarpanch who has been actively helping them fight Maoism, other villagers won't come forward and join mainstream lives. Who wants to get killed for some road?"
(With inputs from Navbharat and Bastar's Raunak Shivhare.)