Authorities in Madhya Pradesh’s Hoshangabad district said on Thursday the situation was under control after at least 11 policemen were injured on Wednesday in stone-pelting by agitated villagers who were stopped from entering a nearby jungle to touch a ‘sacred tree’.
Hoshangabad’s additional superintendent of police, Ghanshyam Malviya, said the attack on Wednesday morning by the residents of Nayagaon village was unprovoked.
“Eleven police personnel sustained injuries in the attack out of whom inspector Shankar Lal Jharia and a constable Rohit Verma are still hospitalised. They have received injuries on their heads,” Malviya said.
“We are still trying to know why this happened. We are in the process of filing an FIR in this respect,” he added.
Police have been trying to control the crowd thronging the jungle for over a month in the area about 70 kilometres south of state capital Bhopal.
A police officer, who didn’t want to be named, said about 400 shops which had come up at the village selling different items for religious rituals like coconut, sweets etc and eatables had also agitated the villagers.
“The shops were removed by the administration. I fail to understand why they attacked the police personnel,” Malviya said.
The confrontation between the police and villagers over the entry into the forest has been going on for more than a month now after rumours spread during Navratra in September that touching a particular Mahua tree in the jungle would help people get cured of any disease.
The word then spread that if one touches the tree on five Sundays or five Wednesdays they will be cured. After this, the crowd starting swelling in the region dominated by Gond tribals.
The tree is inside the buffer zone of the Satpura Tiger Reserve and police had to be deployed every day to control the crowd, officials said.
“The solution to this problem is beyond our comprehension. We can put up barricades for movement of vehicles but people get into the jungles from various points afoot and it’s difficult to check their movement,” Satpura Tiger Reserve’s field director SK Singh said.
“After the attack on the police personnel, there has to be a solution. It remains to be seen how the administration comes up with a plan to tackle the situation,” Singh said.
Police said rumours about the tree started spreading after Roop Singh of Bankhedi area told some people in his village that he was passing through the jungle when the Mahua tree pulled him towards it with some divine power.
He said he was stuck to the tree for about 10 minutes and later he found out that he has been cured of all ailments.
(With input from Jitendra Verma in Hoshangabad)