Archive for the ‘Forest Rights Act’ Category

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How They Shut Down A City

August 5, 2012

A reprieve: villagers from Nagari in Jharkand have started to cultivate during a delayed monsoon, taking time off protests against land acquisition.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 5th of  August, 2012

The failure of the courts and the state to take cognizance of constitutional rights leads Anti-displacement movement in Jharkhand to shut down the capitol Ranchi on the 25th of July

Nagari village near Ranchi is facing the wolves of urbanization at the door. A town of congested roads and apartment buildings ends, and the lush green fields of Nagari begin.

‘In 2000 rupees a person can survive in Nagari,’ Says Arpana Bara, one of the young leaders in the village of Nagari of Oroan and Munda adivasis and muslims, who had contacted almost everyone in the human rights movement and the adivasi activists in Jharkhand about their village months ago, and who today is facing police cases herself.

The youth of Nagari village today sit down to attend meetings with the villagers, and make themselves heard and their contribution to the movement is seldom understood.

‘For months, Dayamani Barla and a group of women sat on a dharna, and the walls kept getting built, we kept losing land and they kept losing cases in the courts.’ Said a young man at Nagari, ‘And we were getting tired of it, and that’s when we decided to break down the wall.’

‘Let them put cases on us, we knew we had to break down the wall.’ Said another young woman.

Four months ago, the movement included a group of women who sat on a dharna under the auspices of activist Dayamani Barla. Two women would die of heatstroke. There was zero press coverage. And they lost their case in the High Court and with their review petition. Agricultural land, that too, on the Fifth Schedule, and in Jharkhand as per the Chotta Nagpur Tenancy Act, should not be acquired for non-agricultural purposes yet the courts took no cognizance of it’s own constitutional law, to side with the building of the National University for Study and Research in Law, IIM and IIIT on Nagari village.

15,000 people would march to the governor’s home to demand intervention by law and there was, again, little to no media coverage.

And finally, as the Supreme Court dismissed the villager’s petition, the boundary wall that was being built for the law university was partially broken down by the villagers on the 4th of July, 2012. The police retaliated. A section of the media would run frontpage articles on the police action with photographs of women protestors being beaten by policemen, and later of villagers blocking of the Ranchi-Patratu highway for the release of arrested villagers. The local media would then begin to give coverage to regular protests that followed the confrontation (while some newspapers continued to demonize the protest movement).

The movement had taken on a life of its own after the breaking down of the wall, and on the 25th of July, the city of Ranchi was shut down by the protests against land acquisition taking place not just in Nagari, and its 35 villages, but by organizations fighting displacement across Jharkhand.

And while a section of activists from different organizations resorted to arson, the police resorted to beating protestors and human rights activists.

A large number of factors were involved in taking a movement that was isolated by silence, by the media and the state, into the forefront of politics in Jharkhand today. Shibu Soren’s visit and his statement against displacement, the involvement of middle class adivasi activists, the Adivasi and Mulvasi student unions, the creation of the Jharkhand Alliance of Democratic Movements which consists of numerous people’s movements and human rights groups, the All India Progressive Women’s Association, the Adivasi Jan Parishad, the fact that a large number of people losing land in the villages are party workers across the political spectrum in Jharkhand, and the creation of a core committee of Nagari and 35 other villages facing displacement that works as a driving force. But it is commonly known in Nagari, that it all really changed when the youth decided to break down the wall, against the wishes of many ‘outsider’ activists and those who took faith in the courts and non-violence.

The police frantically lathi-charged villagers and in a state with a long history of police firings against protest, there was an anomaly: the police did not fire. They broke the arm of a woman who was the sole breadwinner of a family and they put cases on a large number of villagers, but there was no firing. The memory of the Islamnagar firings of Ranchi last year that claimed two lives, and the Dhanbad firings that claimed four lives were fresh in the memory of the villagers. Many activists and political workers were even veterans of the Jharkhand Movement and to them, there was the Gua firing in West Singhbhum on the 8th of September, 1983, when the police even resorted to firing into the hospital, killing 12 people.

In Nagari, Jitu, a young man on crutches would quietly mention, ‘The Superintendent of Police was also an adivasi.’

‘The only good thing the non-violent protest and losing cases in the court taught us, is that it convinced us that it doesn’t work.’ Said an activist who wishes to by anonymous.

Recently, a special leave petition filed in the Supreme Court by representatives of Nagari was dismissed citing that the land was already acquired in 1957-58 for the nearby Birsa Agricultural University for what would now be termed a pittance. Land that would cost Rs.1.5 lakhs an acre, were taken for Rs.7 a decimel, where each decimel is around 436 sq feet of land.

Across India today there are a large number of pockets from district to district, all facing displacement for industrial projects and non-agricultural purposes yet, to the fear of state policy, Nagari is the one movement whose struggle spilled onto the streets of the capitol of Jharkhand. Nandigram is invoked in Nagari today, with a growing fear of state response.

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A Short History Of Death And Madness in Bastar

July 8, 2012

A young boy outside Basaguda police station in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 8th of July, 2012.

The list of villages are endless. Operation Green Hunt was only the second phase, Operation Hakka and Vijay are only new names to an old war. But the names of villages touched by war can sometimes repeat themselves. Gompad, Singaram, Gacchanpalli, Lingagiri, Nendra, Rajpenta, Tatemargu,Tadmetla, Vechapalli, Gaganpalli, Kottacheru, Maraigudem, Pallecharma, Munder, Pollampalli, Kotrapal, Burgil, Bhejji, Goomiyapal, Hiroli, Jangla, Dhampenta, Hariyal Cherli, Karremarka, Mankelli, Sameli, Regadgatta, Pusnar: these are just a few villages where adivasis have been killed in the last 8 years in undivided Bastar district, with testimonies collected by journalists and anthropologists and political activists whose own list was submitted as petitions to the Supreme Court.

Since 2004-2005, the Salwa Judum rallies conducted themselves completely out of sight and out of mind like they did in Basaguda block.

From the testimonies of the villagers themselves, ‘On the 5th of December, 2005, the workforce of Salwa Judum and the CRPF visited Basaguda and stuck posters that said that a Salwa Judum meeting is going to be held at Avapalli on the 1st of January, 2006, and if the villagers do not turn up, they shall be called Naxalites. We attended the meeting on the 1st of January 2006. We were told that, if those who are members of the Sangam (village-level Naxalite groups) do not surrender right away, all of us will be killed. Nine of the villagers who were not members of the Sangam were forcefully made to admit that they were members of the Sangam. After this, we stayed till the meeting ended and came back to our village. After some days, on the 21st of February 2006, the Salwa Judum workforce came to Basaguda and asked us to deliver a speech against the Naxalites, and those who would not, would be deemed as a Naxalite.

Two days later, villagers from (names withheld) were made to carry out a rally at Lingagiri, Korsaguda, Sarkeguda, Mallepalli, Borguda, where many houses were burnt, people were beaten and many women were raped. Out of rage, a few days after the rally, the Naxalites came to Basaguda on the fifth of March, 2006 at 9pm. They attacked the villagers and killed four people. The villagers then went to the police station to file a report, and after the post-mortem of the deceased, they returned back across the river. Meanwhile, the Salwa Judum and CRPF came and beat us, grabbed us from our necks and took us to the camps on the other side of the river, where we were kept for two months, and the mistreatment continued.’

Three years after that, with the help of a Supreme Court order that gave the villagers the right to go back home, did the villagers from Basaguda block return back, to live in a tentative peace that was shattered by the killing of 18 people in Sarkeguda on the 28th of July, this year. In 2010, Basaguda block was hit by a ‘cholera’/dysentry epidemic that claimed more than sixty lives. Those who never went back to their homes in Chhattisgarh still continue to face violence in Andhra. Just recently, on the 2nd of July, another IDP settlement was destroyed by the Forest Department in Khammam.

The state has never shied away from geography of murder: everyone who lives beyond a certain village, further into the forests is a potential Naxalite and can be killed. The mandarins of the mainstream media can call it collateral damage when they’re confronted by overwhelming evidence of an unjustified killing. And at the same time, they’ve never taken themselves into the civil war whose brutality raged for six years in complete silence, until Herr Chidambaram would finally make his exhortations of development, and the Tadmetla massacre of 76 jawaans had journalists in newsrooms wondering where is Dantewada.

‘Did any journalist come to the village the last time it was burnt down? I had asked the villagers of Badepalli of Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh.

‘No.’ They said.

‘Did any human rights activists come?’

‘No.’

‘Did any lawyer, or anyone from Manish Kunjam’s party, (Communist Party of India) come?’

‘No.’

‘How many homes were burnt down that time?’

‘All.’ Said the Sarpanch, ‘But this time, only two survived.’

The above conversation took place in the village of Badepalli, in Kuakonda block of Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh in May, 2009, a few days after the village was burnt down by security forces for the second time in five years. The first time was in the summer of 2006 when it didn’t even make a statistic, while violence was perpetrated by both the state and the Maoists on a daily basis. The second time in the summer of 2009.

This too, in an area where the government exempted around 108 villages from the 2010 survey due to inaccessibility of terrain and ‘prevention by the Maoists.’

Its existence, forget its burning, did not exist as a statistic, nor did it exist as an complaint against the police in any charge-sheet, or in any of the petitions that were filed in the Supreme Court.

So how many villages were really burnt down in undivided Bastar district by the Salwa Judum or the security forces when there was a chance that some were never even counted, and many were burnt down more than once? How many people were really killed in those eight years?

What is rarely mentioned in mainstream debates is the extent of violence perpetrated against the local population, starting from the mass forceful displacement by the Salwa Judum where village after village was burnt down, and people were forcefully driven into ‘resettlement camps’. There are thousands of testimonies of the same, that are repeatedly and categorically denied by the state of Chhattisgarh, who once, in a moment of pride a few years ago, mentioned that 644 villages were ‘liberated’ from the Maoists and its inhabitants were now living in the camps supporting the Salwa Judum movement. That is 644 villages, whose villagers were driven away from their homes and taken into camps. Then there were the Matwada Camp killings where three men had their eye sockets smashes by SPOs.

And burnings preceded killings, and killings preceded burnings.

Fifteeen killed in Gaganpalli. Ten killed in Nendra. A man talks about his brother from Kottacheru who was killed by the CRPF. ‘He was shot in the stomach, his shit was all over the place.’

Of course, Salwa Judum backfired, Maoist recruitment rose. Then came Operation Greenhunt.

Nine killed in Gompad. Five killed in Gacchanpalli. Three killed in Pallecharma. Six killed in Goomiyapal. Two killed a few months later in Goomiyapal. One fiteen year old boy killed again a few months later.

Seven killed in Tatemargu. Two killed in Pallodi on the same day. Ask the villagers about what happened five years ago, and again they would talk about the dead and murdered.  Sarkeguda, the epicentre of Chhattisgarh’s newest atrocity of the year, was burnt down in 2005. Their memories don’t fade. Last year when Tademetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram was burnt down, it was not the first time they were attacked. Sodi Nanda s/o Adma  of Tadmetla was killed by the security forces in 2007.  Barse Lakma s/o Bhima of Morpalli was going for ration at Chintalnar market when he was picked up by the security forces two years ago.

From Phulanpad village where Barse Bhima and Manu Yadav were killed last year, around three years ago, Aimla Sukka (20) s/o Chola and Aimla Joga (20) s/o Choma were killed when their village was raided by security forces.

The memory of violence in Chhattisgarh stays in the present tense. But how will the rest of the world beyond Dantewada remember something it never knew? Earlier there was silence, now the Murdochian media calls the dead collateral damage. When will the casualties of war be robbed of their gravestones, those nouns: Maoists, Maoist supporters, SPOs, Salwa Judum leaders, adivasis, CRPF jawaans, when will we start talking about killing itself as the war crime, and not who was killed? This is a war of attrition, a dance of death, a class war to some, yet the greatest inhumanity is to believe this is a war someone will win.

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Journalist Rito Paul from DNA has also visited the site of the latest killing with Kopa Kunjam, who worked to rehabilitate the villages in Basaguda block but would eventually be arrested for murder of a man who the Maoists had killed and who Kopa had tried to save. Rito’s report and the people’s reaction to meeting Kopa is here

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‘Even if they don’t let us settle here..’

May 4, 2012

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 4th of May, 2012.

Conflict and displacement in Bastar leads to deprivation and forest loss in neighbouring Khammam.

Around 43 families from the villages of Millampalli, Simalpenta, Raygudem, Darba and Singaram in Dantewada District, lost their makeshift homes for the second time in three months in the Mothe Reserve Forest of Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh on the 26th of March, 2012, when the Forest Department, mandated to protect the forests, would evict them using force.

A large number of families are Internally Displaced Persons who’ve escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict of Dantewada and have lived in Khammam as informal labour.

Most originated from Millampalli, that was burnt down by the Salwa Judum in 2006 and Maoists have killed at least three people – Sodi Dola, Komaram Muthaiya and Madkam Jogaiya in the past ten years. Another resident of Millampalli, Dusaru Sodi, used to be a member of the Maoist Sangam but would eventually become a Special Police Officer who witnesses from Tadmentla and Morpalli alleged was present during the burnings of the villages or Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram in March of 2011 by security forces. His name again re-appeared in testimonies by victims of rape, submitted to the National Commission of Women and the Supreme Court by Anthropologist Nandini Sundar.

Madvi Samaiya and Madvi Muthaiya from the village of Raygudem were also killed by the Maoists.

In Simalpenta, the Sarpanch’s brother Kurra Anda was killed by the Maoists in 2006.

In Singaram, an alleged encounter that took place on the 9th of January of 2009, where 19 adivasis were killed by security forces as alleged Maoists.

In Khammam, most of the IDPs/migrants have worked as informal labour during the mircchi cutting season, earning around Rs.100 per day and live off their savings in the summer season when there is no work, and little access to water to a majority of the settlements. The Muria from Chhattisgarh, or the Gotti Koya as they are known in Andhra along with Koyas from Chhattisgarh, have been in a struggle to appropriate the Reserve Forest land of Khammam for podu cultivation, often leading the Forest Department to evict them, aware that the entire forest cover is turning into a ‘honeycomb,’ as described by the DFO Shafiullah, who pointed out to satellite imagery of a pockmarked forest in Khammam, in 2010 itself.

The influx of migrants and Displaced persons has even led to conflicts with local adivasi Koya tribes over land and resources, sometimes leading to deadly clashes, such as an incident in Mamallivaye in Aswapuram Mandal where the local Koya burned down the homes of the Gotti Koya, or in Kamantome settlement in 2009 where one man would be killed as a Maoist by the police after an erroneous tip-off from the neighbouring village of migrants who had settled before the civil war.

Recently the Forest Survey of India, Ministry of Forest and Environment, published a controversial report that almost exonerates mining and land acquisition yet claimed that over 367 square kilometres of forest has been lost since 2009, pushing Khammam district to one of the worst affected districts where 182 square kilometres of forest cover have been lost.

In a recorded conversation between an activist and Home Minister P.Chidambaram during the first months of Operation Green Hunt in late 2009, when repeated combing operations in Dantewada/Bijapur led to further influx’s of IDPs into Andhra Pradesh, the activist Himanshu Kumar had urged P.Chidambaram to look into the plight of the IDPs and the migrants yet his claims were refuted by the Home Minister as an exaggeration.

Yet there have been many recent reports of IDPs from the previously independently estimated 203 settlements who have returned back to their villages owing to a decline in the frequency of combing operations and violent actions in their villages in Chhattisgarh and further difficulty to settle in Andhra Pradesh. After the villages of Nendra, Lingagiri and Basaguda block were rehabilitated with the help of NGOs and activists using Supreme Court orders, many others have simply moved back to their villages on their own accord, including those of Kistaram, Uskowaya, Kanaiguda, Mullempanda, Gompad and Gaganpalli, to mention a few. Both Gompad, and Gaganpalli have faced a large number of killings – nine people were killed in Gompad on the 1st of October, 2009 by security forces, and in the village of Gaganpalli, from where one of the leaders of the Salwa Judum originates, ten people were killed in 2006 during the burning of the village by the Salwa Judum.

While the Forest Survey of India Report 2011 has put the blame on leftwing extremists for massive deforestation in Khammam, the villages of Millampalli repeatedly exhorted and listed all the violent actions by the Maoists in their villages in Chhattisgarh. In fact, one of the most educated villagers of the settlement, Komaram Rajesh, is the brother of a Special Police Officer and has repeatedly claimed that the Salwa Judum didn’t oppress his people, often denying that his village was burnt down by the Salwa Judum, when the rest of his neighbours said it was indeed the Salwa Judum.

Beyond conflict with the Forest Department, other tribes, the Salwa Judum and the Maoists, another conflict takes place within settlements themselves where a growing tendency to cut down a large number of the forests for podu cultivation, has brought individuals in conflict with their own villagers who feel there should be more moderate felling of trees. Certain settlments cultivate rice without cutting larger trees while others have destroyed acres of forests.

‘If we cut the entire forest down, where will we live?’ A man from Kamantome once exhorted during a summer season when there was little access to food, or water for the settlement.

Ironically, in Millampalli, one of the men killed by the Maoists, Kumaram Muthaiya, was killed in 2002 because he refused to share his 70 acres of land with other villagers.

A Shrinking Space

Land alienation for the all the adivasi tribes of Khammam isn’t a new phenomena, and was adequately studied by late civil servant J. M. Girglani, who had commented in his report that, ‘The most atrocious violation of the LTR (Land Transfer Regulation) and regulation 1 of 70 is that all the lands in Bhadrachalam Municipal town and the peripheral urbanized and urbanizable area is occupied by non-tribals with commercial buildings, hotels, residential buildings, colleges including an engineering college. The market value of this land on an average is Rs.4,000/- per square yard. This was confirmed to me not only by local enquiry but also by responsible District officers. This would work out to about 5,000 crores worth of land, which should have been the property of the tribals. It is now the property of the non-tribals and is commercially used by them.’

Just two kilometres away from land that was meant to belong to the adivasis, is the latest Koya settlement that was destroyed by the Forest Department.

‘They (the Forest Department) destroyed our homes in January, and in February, and they came in March and even took away all the wood we used to make our homes. Now, we will rebuild our homes and if they come again and destroy them, we will rebuild them again.’ Said Komaram Rajesh of the village of Millampalli.

Villagers alleged that Forest Guards held them down and beat them on the soles of their feet, asking them why they had settled in the forest, and who had pointed them out to this patch of the forest. One man embarassing recollected in humour as his neighbours laughed, that one of the Gaurds threathened him saying, ‘ghaand mein mirrchi ghussa doonga.’

Officials would arrive a day later to convince all the Koyas, to leave the Reserve Forest but the residents protested. When the tractor arrived to carry away all the timber that was being used to make their homes, the adivasis willingly piled the timber onto the seat of the tractor, threathening to burn it down but refrained.

‘Even if they don’t let us settle here, we will manage somehow.’ Continued Komaram Rajesh.

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A Constitution’s Dead Army

April 9, 2012

Thirty years ago, a retired armyman’s body was being dragged by a police jeep as his adivasi brethren, armed with bows and arrows, helplessly tried to stop the convoy but were fired upon and chased away.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 9th of April, 2012.

Gangaram Kalundia was bayonneted in the police van, and then dragged across the village, for speaking for the rights of his people, and there was never any prosecutions against the police for his murder.

Gangaram was an adivasi of the Ho tribe, who joined the army when he was 19 years old, fought in the war of 1965 and the war of 71 as part of the Bihar Regiment, and had risen to the rank of Junior officer.

He voluntarily retired and returned home to find that his village Illigara in Chaibasa of West Singhbhum of Jharkhand (then Bihar), along with some 110 other villages would be submerged due to the Kuju dam project, that was funded by the World Bank.

He would organize his people to fight for their fundamental rights against displacement and the project exactly thirty years ago, to only be brutally murdered by the police early in the morning on the 4th of April, 1982.

‘This is where we placed stones to stop the convoy that had Gangaram,’ Said Tobro, then 14 years old, now pointing to a small woodland by the roadside, ‘and this is where we were, with bows and arrows, but the police fired upon us and chased us away.’

While Gangaram Kalundia was killed in 1982, a long agitation had still sustained itself, that had often driven people like Tobro underground, aware that the police were rounding people up. Surendra Biduili, 52, was a part of the agitation against the dam, and the eventual victory in 1991 when, ‘the World Bank withdrew the money.’

‘Their reports said that the dam would only submerge lands that had paddy,’ he continued, ‘but it was a lie, we were cultivating vegetables as well.’

It was much later when Gangaram had become a symbol for oppurtunistic politics, and his shaheed divas, would be attended by every other political party, or as Surendra would say, ‘First everyone used to be afraid to mention Gangaram’s name, now all the parties of contractors and dalaals come for his shaheed divas.’

In The Thousands

Gangaram Kalundia was not the only adivasi leader killed for representing the rights of people. Just a few kilometres away from Chaibasa, across the Sal tree forest, is the village of Bandgaon, where Lalsingh Munda was killed in broad daylight in the market on the 1st of November 1983. His concerns were that sacred grounds were being used by non-tribals and contractors as a waste dump.

‘You travel by bus to Chaibasa, well, back then, people used to get off the bus to piss into the sacred grounds.’ Said Phillip Kujur, a member of JMACC (Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee).

Phillip Kujur was also associated with Lalit Mehta who was brutally murdered in Palamau in May 2008, Niyamat Ansari who was killed by the Maoists in Latehar District on the 2nd of March, 2011, and on the 29th of December, 2011, Pradip Prasad was killed by PLFI extremists in the village of Mukka, Latehar.

Sister Valsa who fought for the adivasis in Pachuwara in Pakur District of Jharkhand was murdered on the 15th of November, 2011.

The roads in adivasi villages are punctuated with memorials for fallen leaders and activists.

The office for NGO Birsa in Chaibasa has a memorial stone with other names: Vahaspati Mahto killed in 1977 in Purulia, Shaktinath Mahto killed in 1977 at Dhanbad , Ajit Mahto killed in 1982 at Tiraldih, Beedar Nag killed in 1983 at Gua, Ashwini Kumar Savaya killed in 1984 in Chaibasa, Anthony Murmu killed in 1985 at Banjhi, Nirmal Mahto killed in 1986 at Jamshedpur, Devendra Mahji killed in 1994 in Goilkera. The memorial ends with the sentence, ‘anaam shaheed….hazaaron mein.’ (Unknown Martyrs, in the thousands)

‘When I was young,’ Said Phillip, ‘I was travelling with two veteran activists, who kept pointing to village after village saying, ‘here’s where another cadre of ours was killed’, and there I was, another man they trained to fight for people’s rights. Finally, I turned to them and asked, ‘you taught all these people how to fight, but did you teach them how to stay alive?’

In recent times, K Singanna, one of the first organizers of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh in Narayanpatna Block of Koraput District of Odisha was shot thrice in his back in a police firing incident on the 20th of November, 2009. Since then, another leader Nachika Linga has been living underground in fear of arrest, or death, as posters calling for him to be caught ‘dead or alive’ were posted all over Narayanpatna after the firing. Both individuals were responsible for organizing the Kondh adivasis to claim their rights as per the Fifth Schedule, to free themselves as bonded labourers on their own land.

In Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, Muria and Koya adivasis committed to taking the cause of their people via rallies, writ petitions, and organizing them to fight peacefully for their rights, have almost all been arrested as alleged Maoists. Manish Kunjam, an ex-MLA, has faced repeated death threats and his own cadre, responsible for working in the villages, have been in and out of jail.

On International Labour Day, the 1st of May, 2008, in Kalinganagar Industrial Park of Jajpur, Odisha, one of the leaders of the Anti-displacement group, Dabar Kalundia was attacked outside the gates of the Rohit Ferrotech Steel Plant and escaped, but Omin Banara (51) was killed.

In Memory of Gangaram

‘They all talk about Gangaram, but they don’t care about his wife.’

Birangkui Kalundia, widow of Gangaram, lost her only daughter when she was giving birth to her grandchild. She was widowed by the state, and her daughter would be another statistic to those 80,000 women who die every year due to childbirth.

Her brother-in-law, would also cut ties with her, often dividing the produce of Gangaram’s 15 acres for himself, leaving her out with nothing, and after his death, she moved out of the village his husband fought for, to move in with her new caretakters, her nephew and his wife, where she lives with a quiet pride to this day.

She still holds onto the medals won by her husband, the citation for his President’s Medal,  speaking in soft tones unforgivingly about the men who killed her husband, coming to terms with injustice in this life, to a hope for justice in the next.

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Murder At Pachuwara

January 23, 2012

The murder of activist-nun Sister Valsa John has a lot to say about India’s mining policy

Karu Tudu of Kolajuda village stands over his destroyed paddy field, covered in coal dust. Over 500 trucks carrying 2300 kilograms of coal each, travel pass his fields each day and are forced to dump some of the coal on the roadside by local villagers, who sell it on the black market.

This article appears in two parts in the Sunday Guardian on the 15th of January here and the 22nd of January 2012, here.

Everyday over 500 trucks travel the 35km stretch from Pachwara to Pakur in Jharkhand, carrying over 2300 kilograms of coal each. And everyday, hundreds of local adivasis and landless farmers stop the trucks, and unload a little coal onto the road for themselves to sell in the black market.

In the process, the paddy fields on the periphery of the roads are entirely covered in coal dust.

The police sometimes accompany the trucks carrying the coal and attempt to stop the locals from taking coal, and have often chased them away, beaten them, or arrested them. Yet the practice continues.

‘We make around 150 rupees a day, if a whole family sits to collect coal to sell it.’ Said one of the ‘scavengers’ on the roadside.

‘Why do you do it?’

Two brothers Badan and Darbo Soren who live in the village of Kulkipada have no choice. The coal dust has destroyed their produce, and it renders their crop unsellable.

‘We eat the black rice ourselves. No one will buy it.’ Said Badan, ‘Earlier we used to make some Rs.15,000 or Rs.20,000 per year.’

‘And there is no more mahua seeds, no more mango in the trees.’ Continued his brother.

The rains have failed in the last three years in a district where the rivers run with streaks of black coal. Families make a living out of the coal that travels their road every day, turning the entire stretch of the 35 kilometers into a black field, where children as young as six can be seen working to help their families.

The coal mining company Panem Coal Mines Limited, had also tried to acquire lands to build a railway line from Pachuwara to Pakur, but they faced stiff resistance from farmers like Badan Soren and his brother, who’d lose their farm land to the track.

Instead the dumper trucks travel everyday across a dusty road where both people have lost their lives to hit-and-run accidents, and in anger, the locals burn down the trucks, and an informal industry is born.

How The Free Market Murdered A Nun

Of the thousands of villagers who stop the dumper-trucks and collect coal on the 35 km stretch from Pachwara to Pakur, many are children under the age of ten.

The story of Pachuwara can be told by telling the story of the murder of Sister Valsa, a nun and an activist who fought for the rights of Santhal Adivasis, who would be a part of a compromise that would spell her own demise, when she was brutally axed to death in her adopted home in the village of Pachwara in Pakur district on the 15th of November, 2011.

Within hours of her killing, the mainstream media was quick to report that she was murdered by the Maoists. The Maoists denied it, even as an initial note, claimed to be written by them, condemned the nun and the activist to be working for the coal mining company Panem, and not in the interests of the people.

A few days later the police would arrest seven individuals who were associated to Sister Valsa. Almost all of them were local villagers/contractors who’d get work from Panem. One of the accused, Pycil Hembrom was the son of the president of the Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan that fought against the company and had a long history of working with Sister Valsa. And after the end of the agitation against the company and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the 30th of November 2006, he worked with them as an independent contractor.

Sister Valsa was living as a guest in the house of Pycil Hembrom and had only moved out eight days before her murder. A confrontation had taken place over the money that came from the mining company and Sister Valsa moved into the home of Sonaram Hembrom, who confirmed that Sister Valsa had confronted Pycil and others for embezzling money.

‘The MOU made a lot of promises, but the work only happened on their accord.’ Sonaram Hembrom said, who was present when over forty people had surrounded his house in the dead of night to look for Sister Valsa who was hiding in her room, and would eventually find her and axe her twice near her head and her neck.

‘They saw all that money and they got greedy.’ Said Sonaram’s neighbours, about Pycil and the other accused from Aalubera village adjacent to Pachwara.

‘Sometimes, the money we were supposed to get for one tree used to be Rs.50,000, but Sister would find out that we only got Rs.5,000. When we confronted them about this, they said it was a computer error.’ Continued Sonaram Hembrom. All the documents and registers that detailed all the financial dealings of the Project-Affected-Persons and the PANEM Coal Mining Company that Sister Valsa had kept, were appropriated by the police as evidence and are currently unavailable.

The History of An MOU

D. Marandi, once a farmer, now a miner at Panem Coal Mines Ltd at the rehabilitated site of Naya Kathaldih.

On the 19th of April, 1985, very close to Pachuwara, at Banjhi, and close to the collective memory of the elders of Pachuwara, the police had shot and bayoneted over 15 people including an ex MP Anthony Murmu as they were demanding their rights. Every year they gather in the thousands on the day of the incident to pay homage to their martyrs.

Years later, their rights were again usurped by the Panem Coal Mines Limited, who were given land by the administration, who used an infamous colonial era law, the Land Acquisition Act to acquire all the lands of Pachuwara and the nearby villages for coal mining. This has remained a story repeated across central India’s mining belt that gives birth to numerous protest movements and a direct confrontation with the state’s mining policy that has acquired lands by flouting laws, and violating tribal rights.

Almost all the mineral deposits in Central India are on Fifth Schedule land, which is protected by the constitution and has given local tribes authority over local resources. Yet the arbitrariness of the Land Acquisition Act allows the government to simply hand over lands to private companies, and the locals have always resisted, leading to brutal confrontations with the police and the administration.

But of the 104 MOUs in Jharkhand, Pachuwara is one of two where work has started, as there was a settlement between the villagers and the company, a settlement that many still feel has to be completely understood.

‘Our land cannot be sold, you people with a brave history can and must drive out this company!’ said Binej Hembrom, the parganaith (village headman) to the people of Pachuwara in a meeting long before the agreement, but would eventually be one of the signatories to the MOU along with the company director Bishwanath Dutta.

Today Binej Hembrom is a senile old man, half-deaf, seemingly unaware that his son is in jail for murdering a woman who they once fought the company with, and some say, had won.

‘People in Ranchi, in the social movement’s think we sold out.’ Said Father Tom Karvallo, who along with Sister Valsa John was close to the movement at the time of the signing of the MOU.

‘But there was a lot of repression.’

‘Our people were being divided by the company. There were police cases on Valsa and others like Joseph who’d eventually be killed in an accident. And when we lost in the High Court, we had gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the illegality of the land acquisition as this was a Fifth Schedule area. But the Courts are a gamble, it can really depend on the judge, or the climate of the time. And we were afraid, that if we lost, we’d set a dangerous precedent as there were so many other adivasi movements fighting for their land. And they would’ve all suffered if the Supreme Court had ordered in favour of the company.’

‘So we signed the MOU. And it was a good relief package, that we only got after such a strong struggle.’

The agreement was reached in Delhi on the 30th of November, 2006, after ‘persuasion’ by a section of outsider activists, and one, including Shajimon Joseph, then Resident Editor of The Hindustan Times, who’d eventually be a signatory of the MOU as a witness, who confirms there was police repression in the form of cases on Sister Valsa and other adivasi leaders, but also mentions there was no dissatisfaction during the signing of the MOU.

The Memorandum of Understanding itself was unprecedented. Apart from offering schools, healthcare, employment, rehabilitation sites, there would be a yearly stipend for each acre the company appropriates, and that the work for the construction of rehabilitated sites would be given as per the MOU, to local contractors and Project-Affected-Persons.

The money that came from Panem company for such work, would go to Sister Valsa, who directed the young contractors like Pysil to work in the area.

Five years after the Memorandum of Understanding, the promised hospital is still under construction.

The village of Kathaldih was uprooted, and the company has resettled them in a newer colony called Naya Kathaldih, where farming as all but stopped and most of the young men work as miners in the coal mine, waiting for the company to finish mining their lands, and then return it to them, so they can commence farming again.

Living In Fear

A truck that was allegedly burnt down by the Maoists. Yet there have been many other times, when local villagers burnt down trucks in anger after numerous hit-and run incidents.

Rajan Marandi and Pradhan Murmu were two other contractors arrested for the murder of Sister Valsa who lived in the adjacent village of Aalubera that is soon to lose their land to the company.

Rajan has five cars for himself, while Pradhan has around seven cars and all their cars remain parked in the village in front of their houses. The village is a village in fear, as the police has been searching for others who may have been present when Sister Valsa was attacked. Two boys who refused to give their names say the police has been searching for them, and they are innocent.

They quickly disappear when they’re asked about the relief package.

There are no village elders, and there is no one who is willing to talk about the impending displacement and rehabilitation.

One young woman whose family lost her land years ago to the petrol pump that fills over 500 trucks claims their family doesn’t get the monthly stipend, but refuses to go on record, in fear of antagonizing the powers-to-be.

‘They’re all filling their own pockets,’ she said.

‘Isn’t there anyone who takes up these issues?’

‘There’s no one.’

‘Who speaks up against the company?’

‘No one.’

‘Over here,’ said another young boy Chappu Deheri in Pachwara who was asked the same question, ‘Only Sister Valsa and her samiti used to.’

Aalubera is also the home of Advin Murmu, a 20 year old boy who was arrested for the alleged rape of a young girl who lived in the house of Sonaram Hembrom along with Sister Valsa.

According to her father, Advin Murmu and three other boys had kidnapped the girl on the evening of the 7th of November, and while the three boys had disappeared, Advin kept the girl all night in an empty home at Aalubera.

The girl was only let out in the morning and she had gone to her aunt’s house. The family along with Sister Valsa would take the case to the police on the 9th of November, six days before her murder.

The Superintendent of Police, Mayur Patel claims that there was no rape, and that the girl and the boy knew each other, and the girl’s family is merely protesting the fact that the boy is a Christian and the girl’s family is Sarna.

The family however claims, that Pycil Hembrom and the contractors wanted them to drop the rape case, threatening that they’d lose all their lands and their home if they persist to fight them. The family especially indicted the local sub-inspector of police, Daroga, as someone who wanted to give the family Rs.50,000 to forget the so-called imaginary case.

The Inspector has since been suspended for dereliction of duty after the murder of Sister Valsa.

Advin Murmu has since been arrested and according to the Superintendent of Police, for both incidents. Advin Murmu’s brother, also a contractor, claims his brother is innocent while his bail application was rejected by the Courts.

Photography Post-Script

‘The blackened, unsellable rice of Badan Soren of the village of Kulkipada.

Badan Soren and his house, next to the 35km road where 500 trucks travel everyday carrying 2300 kilograms of coal.

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The Migrating Forests of Warangal

September 14, 2011

A young child sleeps in the Internally Displaced Persons settlement of Mandaltove in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh

Three year old Centi Madkam S/o Joga, died just a few weeks ago of ‘mirrgi’ in the IDP settlement of Mandaltove in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh.

In a small settlement of 20 homes, there were another three cases of malaria and another of typhoid, and in a village of day labourers, access to healthcare did not mean access to healthcare, when it took a few days wages for travel to the clinic, along with expenditure for medicines.

Mandaltove’s residents have all escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict, hailing from Gadiras, Nakulnar, Edpal, Jarapalli, and from Pamed block in undivided Bastar district of Chhattisgarh. Deva Choddi s/o Adma had migrated from Tadmetla, the day after the police had burnt his village down on the 16th of March 2011.

And it wasn’t suprising that Muria adivasis who had first settled in the forests of Khammam district were now living in neighbouring Warangal.

‘We’ve gone through great difficulties to get here.’ Said Idma Ram, who first lived in the IDP settlement of Rayenpenta in Aswapuram mandal of Khammam. Lack of land, lack of security and constant harassment by the Forest Department of Khammam has sent a few families to Warangal where the Forest Department of Warangal continues the same.

The nearby settlement of Jangalinsa had been burnt down by the Forest Department just a year ago. It was broken down at least three times in the last four years.

Mandaltove, unlike Jangalinsa, is a colony of landless labourers, while Jangalinsa has been secretly cultivating rice, sugarcane and cotton deep within the Reserve Forest, and has constantly incurred the wrath of the Forest Department.

Kavaram, another settlement in Tadvai Panchayat has existed even before the Salwa Judum had come into being. ‘The forest department only started to harass us three years ago when we started to cultivate in the forest.’ Said Bheemaiah Karam, originally from Mopepal in Chhattisgarh.

Before that, their existence was tolerated as they were only cheap labour.

The Numbers And The Reasons

The burnt remains of the house of Hemla Jogaya of Jangalinsa in Warangal district

The number of Internally Displaced Persons in Andhra Pradesh who’ve escaped the conflict in Chhattisgarh has always been a contentious issue. Activists would say 50,000 as a speculation, the central government ignores them completely, while others who do the hard work of surveying each settlement and each family, would count 213 settlements in Khammam District alone, and that itself, has a tendency to be a floating population that comes and goes, and has to often live through near starvation, or droughts.

In Warangal, a majority of the ‘mandals’ close to the Chhattisgarh border are yet to be surveyed, yet two mandals Etunagaram and Tadvai have around 39 settlements, each of around 15 to 20 families, who’ve been living in Warangal for years, or have just recently migrated.

Migrations are all family affairs – the first family of a settlement who migrated, may have migrated over 10 years ago, and would soon be joined by another ten of fifteen families, a rate of migration that was excarcebated by the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict.

Fear of the Salwa Judum and the Maoists isn’t the only factor that drove the Muria into Andhra Pradesh, but also lack of land, as many Murias had small holdings of land in their villages in Dantewada or Bijapur.

Land itself, that is being diverted from agricultural purposes to industrial use by the state of Chhattisgarh.

Land again, that would be submerged by the Polavaram dam – over 276 villages in Khammam, East and West Godavari districts, would be submerged along with over 10,000 acres of reserve forest land.

Land again, that for decades has been encroached upon by non-tribals. The late civil servant J.M Girglani had documented the alienation of the tribals in Telengana, and his findings can be found here. Here are a few extracts from his findings, ‘The most shocking case is that of Mangapeta Mandal. Here 23 villages were excluded from the Schedule V notification under High Court orders because of some technical error. All the efforts of the State government and the States Human Rights Commission to have the rectification notification issued by the Central Government have failed during the previous and present regimes, because the powerful non-tribal occupants have been able to prevent action in New Delhi.’

‘In Kothaguda village, there are 21,000 acres worth not less than 110 crores at the minimal value of Rs.50,000/- per acre of Billa number lands, which are occupied by non-tribals. In 1993 the land was surveyed. In 2002 the extremists are said to have blasted the MRO’s Office and destroyed the survey records. To who’s advantage? Who really blasted, God knows. ’

‘Thousands of acres of government land is not being assigned to the tribals on the pretext of lack of surveyors to sub divide the land while non-tribals merrily continue to enjoy these lands, without any sub divisions.’

Land again, in Khammam, the district with the highest rejection rate for claims for patta (deeds) as per the Forest Rights Act : out of a total of 68,470 claims for 3,92,495 acres, just more than 50 per cent of these claims – 35,643  for 1,78,717 acres were rejected. In Warangal, out of a total of 33,997 claims, the Gram Sabha itself rejected 18,340 claims for 41,428 acres.

Land again, that is being slowly encroached upon by mining in the forests of Khammam. 1.37 lakh acres in Khammam and Warangal was leased to a private mining firm Rakshana Steels, whose Executive Director is the son-in-law of the late Chief Minister YSR Reddy. The opposition parties were quick to demand a cancellation.

Yet the Forest Department has been overtly vocal of their opposition to the Muria or Gotti Koya as they are known in Andhra Pradesh, often citing the ‘extensive’ damage done to the Forests by Gotti Koya cultivation.

But what other options do the Muria have?

Morally, one can say the Muria adivasis have a right to the forest, realistically, one can ask if there is enough forest for every adivasi family, and for community rights as per the Forest Rights Act? And ambivalently, a Koya adivasi who has been working for the Muria adivasis ever since they first started to settle in Andhra Pradesh has been saying that if the ‘Muria get the chance, they’d cut the entire forest down.’ While an old Muria adivasi man, once replied to the same question, ‘if we cut the entire forest down, where will we live?’

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Peddling POSCO

May 27, 2011

A policeman on guard at Noriya Sahi where the state of Orissa has begun land acquisition for the POSCO project

‘Yeh bhi jail gaya tha.’ (He also went to jail). – That’s how I was introduced to every other person in Govindpur and Dhinkia villages of Jagatsinghpur district, handed over to the Pohang Steel Company by the state of Orissa.

It is the 20th of May, 2011 in Dhinkia, there is an uneasy calm. The Orissa government pledged to begin land acquisition on the 18th of May after Jairam Ramesh’s infamous May 2nd order giving clearance for the POSCO project.

So far the government hasn’t claimed any private land, and are only taking land from project supporters who are ‘willingly’ handing it over. They’re far away from Dhinkia and Govindpur, where they are aware, the opposition would be fierce. And both the state of Orissa and the Ministry of Forests and Environment would know about the opposition, even if they don’t follow their own laws that is meant to respect it.

As per the Forest Rights Act, the Palli Sabhas of Dhinkia and Govindpur had rejected POSCO, and the State of Orissa had called the Palli/Gram Sabhas dated 21.2.2011 and 23.2.2011, as ‘fraudulent’.

He said, he said, but the learned Minister of Environment believes the state of Orissa, that says both Palli Sabha resolutions were invalid, that there are no tribals in the project affected area, and no ‘other persons has established his/her claim regarding residing in the forest area for 75 years prior to 13.12.2005 or having credible dependence on the forest land for bonafide livelihood needs for 75 years.’

Mr.Jairam will not institute an independent enquiry into the claims and counter-claims, because ‘faith and trust in what the state government says is an essential pillar of cooperative federalism.’

To Mr. Ramesh, only 69 people have signed the Palli Sabha resolution of the 21st of February, and only 64 have signed the Palli Sabha resolution of the 23rd of February.

Some papers have allegedly gone missing. Probably those showing that there were 1632 people from Dhinkia who signed, or 1365 people from Govindpur who signed.

The POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti replied to Mr. Ramesh stating ‘hard copies of the full resolution – with more than 70% quorum in both Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages – were sent by registered post A/D to all Odisha government authorities and to the Ministry.’

‘We believe that the Odisha government has deliberately used the scanned electronic copies sent to you, whose covering letter explicitly stated that only the first page of signatures was being included. The hard copies are already with you, and the veracity of their statements can easily be checked.’

But no, the Forest Rights Act 2006, a law meant to give the forests back to forest-dwelling communities, to allow them access to livelihood, isn’t a priority of the Environment and Forests Ministry that probably finds hard copies a waste of trees, and would rather just believe in the scanned copy, which is also proof of the ‘fraudulent’ manner that the Sarpanch of Dhinkia, Sisir Mahapatra conducted the Palli Sabha. Jairam is asking for ‘stringent action’ against him for violating the Orissa Grama Sabha Act of 1964. (Note to all resisting movements: please scan and email all pages of the Gram Sabha resolutions kicking out the Tatas, the Poscos and the Birlas, irrespective of the thousands of signatures by the adivasis and vanvasis, and the amount of time it would take. If you only scan the first page and email it to the MOEF, you’d be asking for ‘stringent action.’)

‘I believe as a Minister my responsibility is not just to do the right thing but to do the thing right.’ Wrote Jairam Ramesh, in his MOEF order. Apparently, checking one’s mail isn’t a ‘thing’ that can be done right for a minister.

The Acquisition

A woman breaks down as land acquisition officers break down her betel cultivation vines. (photo credit: special arrangement)

Six fat bureaucrats sat in a circle, eating fruits near Noriya Sahi, a project -affected village. One works for the Industrial Corporation of Orissa (IDCO), another is the Block Development Officer; then sits the Additional Divisional Magistrate, two Resettlement & Rehabilitation Officers, and the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, who asked me if I knew what a ‘SDM’ was. These were the kind of people who’d be in serious trouble if they were ever surrounded by a gram sabha.  Thus they came with the police.

‘We should manage to acquire all the land in a month.’ Said the R& R Officer.

‘Are people from POSCO a part of the process?’ I asked.

‘Yes, they are there.’ Replied the IDCO man.

‘What do you do?’  I asked a young man accompanying the demolition team.

‘I work with POSCO.’

‘What’s your name?’

‘R.K. Rout.’ He said.

‘You can see it’s all very peaceful, there is no opposition to the land acquisition.’ Said the R & R officer.

Since the 18th, all the acquisition that the government has done, is from Gadkujang Panchayat, where project supporters have willingly allowed their betel vine cultivation plots to be demolished, and others who’ve never had a voice haven’t been able to resist. The pro-POSCO United Action Committee had spoken up against the fact that none of their six-point demands for rehabilitation were met, and they’d oppose land acquisition. But they relented, leaving many people dissatisfied and betrayed.

A local journalist, on condition of anonymity, has confirmed that the consent to demolish isn’t entirely painless – wives cry while husbands take cheques.

Land acquisition is a destroyer of families. And platoons of armed policemen saunter across homes and villages, while children play and villagers who pledge ‘they’d rather die’ than give their land to the government are awaiting the day when the confrontations with them will begin.

Basu Behera is one such man in Noriya Sahi, who lives in a divided community – where there are project supporters and those like him.

‘I cultivate betel vines, kaju, about 50 quintals of rice yearly and I get coconuts, pineapples, mangoes. I get ‘compensation’ every week or every other month. POSCO will compensate us once.’ He says, ‘They can take my land over my dead body.’

I must have heard that a thousand times in three years. Self-sustaining communities may have the economics, the logic, the truth on their side, but industrial development has a mad virulent greed. And guns.

Back amongst the six bureaucrats, about to finish land acquisition for the day, I had brought up the issue of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 and why there is so much opposition to it, taking the recent confrontations in Bhatta Parsaul where 4 people were killed as an example.

‘The people in this area aren’t economically well off,’ Said Sangram Mahapatra of the IDCO, ‘In places like Bhatta Parsaul in U.P., farmers themselves are so rich, they would not even part with their land if you give them 1 crore.’

‘The people here are more economically deprived, that’s why the project is here.’ He continues.

‘We believe in maximum happiness for the maximum number of people.’ He would then speak about John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham and that the POSCO project follows the principles of Utilitarianism, which is the founding principle of modern democracy.

‘What about the opposition?’ I had asked.

‘In a democratic country, there will always be disagreement.’ Continued the R&R officer.

‘That’s why the government is there.’ Said the SDM.

‘A cross section of people always misguide the people.’

‘Kalinganagar was an aberration.’ Continued the IDCO man, who also works on Tata’s project there, ‘See, we are ground level workers, we know a lot of what happens.’

‘I was there a few days ago in Kalinganagar,’ I said, ‘To report on the little girl from the project affected village, who was killed as a Maoist.’

‘About that issue, you should spend the whole day with me and I shall tell you.’ Said the IDCO man.

‘In many places in Orissa, there is no opposition to land acquisition. There was none in Ongole, Dhenkanal, Baleshwar, or Bhubaneshwar.’

He did not speak about Kashipur. He did not speak about Gandhamardhan. He did not speak about Niyamgiri. He works in the ground, but did he even go across to the people?

Five minutes away in Noriya Sahi, Dibya Prakash Behera’s only betel vine plantation was broken down and she received 1.8 lakhs for it. Her entire family depends on betel vine for sustenance. How long is 1.8 lakh going to last her?

To most people, compensation is not just inadequate, but the very idea of compensation is inadequate.

The Prison

Dibya Prakash Behera of Noriya Sahi got 1.8 lakhs for her only betel cultivation plot.

While the state of Orissa and Environment Ministry does its utmost best to not care about the letter of law, it’s interesting to note the number of (false) cases against the people protesting against the project.

The land acquisition process involves the building of prisons of false cases upon everyone who has the voice to say: no. From Kashipur, Kalinganagar, Lohandiguda, to Jagatsinghpur, the police has acted with remarkable ingenuity when it comes to creating virtual prisons to cordon off the struggling people of the country.

‘I have 37 cases against me.’ Said Ranjan Swain of Govindpur village, ‘Apart from section 302, I think they’ve put everything on me.’

‘I was travelling to Paradip by motorcycle, accosted by pro-POSCO goondas, beaten up and sent to hospital. And from the hospital I was arrested.’ Said Prakash Jenna of Govindpur. He was released from jail after eight months.

‘They killed one of our people, and put the murder charge on me.’  Said Sisir Dalai, regarding a bomb-throwing incident on the 20th of June, 2008, when pro-Posco goondas hurled bombs onto the PPSS members, leading to the death of Tapan Mandal, and injuries to at least 9 others. The project supporters were then taken ‘hostage’ by the PPSS members after they gherao-ed the building they escaped into, and were only rescued/arrested by the police from the angry PPSS mob, and then released after three months in jail.

None of the project-affected persons who are openly anti-POSCO are free people. None of them would leave their villages as the risk of re-arrest is understandably high. Abhay Sahoo, the leader of the agitation had spent 10 months in jail. There are a total of 173 cases put on the people protesting the project, according to Prashant Paikray, Spokesperson of the PPSS.

‘The confrontation will come, when they start coming to Govindpur.’ Said Prakash Jenna, ‘And we’re not afraid.’

On the 28th of May, the confrontation did begin when a police jeep had come into Dhinkia. The people quickly responded and drove the police away, who left, promising retribution.

Update: The Confrontation of the 10th of June.

After days of anxious wait, the administration and the policemen tried to enter the stronghold of the PPSS – Govindpur and Dhinkia on the 10th of June. A human barricade of women and children prevented the policemen from entering the area, even after the administration announced Section 144, making it ‘unlawful’ for so many people to be gathered in one area. The police eventually retreated after four hours, according to the spokesperson of the PPSS.

Meanwhile, the Writ Petition against POSCO in the High Court, filed by the villagers, has been repeatedly delayed.

‘We have no faith in the courts.’ Said Ranjan Swain. ‘Today was a small victory,’ he continued, referring to the human-wall of women and children who stopped the police and the administration, who stopped POSCO, who stopped displacement, who stopped dispossession.

Is that what it comes to? Women and children and not courts and laws? Women and children and not the Prime Minister? Women and children and not the Ministry of Environment and Forests?

But the courts, the laws, the Prime Minister and the Environment Ministry will not face bullets tomorrow. Women and Children will.

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The Non-Nation

April 16, 2011

The Non-Nation

And A Short Story Of Racism

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
-Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), French economist

‘But are the tribals doing anything with that land?’

‘We need the steel, the adivasis need to be compensated for their land properly. And in my experience, I have seen the companies pay handsomely but the money is lost in the lower levels of governance.’

‘How much money would be enough for your land?’

‘The tribals are the ones responsible for destroying the forests.’

The above statements are some of the most common observations/insights made by non-tribals about tribals and the ‘largest land grab since Columbus.’ But before we get to them, I’d like to write about another story of murder in Dantewada.

On the 23rd of January, 2011, a Special Police Officer Ismael Khan was shot dead in Dantewada, as he watched a murgga fight at the market. It was not a gunfight, it was a targeted assassination by all accounts. And while it was nothing new to Kalluri’s Dantewada, there was something that troubled me about this one particular SPO’s demise. I knew his name, I knew something else about him.

There is a story untold: the story of Ismael Khan is the story of Kottacheru, and the story of Kovasi Dhoole, and the story of Dantewada and the adivasis of Bastar – the danger of a single narrative is the danger of the constant narrative – of violence,  and counter-violence. Yet the single narrative needs to be repeated as a vain elegy for every passing statistic that shall appear at the end of the year by the Home Ministry, about the Maoists killed, or those the Maoists have killed, or the Security forces killed in ambushes or assassinated, on the great canvas of the gaping divide between the rich and the poor, the fat and the dispossessed.

But what is the story of Kovasi Dhule and Kottacheru?

‘‘Nine of our people were killed in our village,’ Said Maala (name changed), another IDP from Kottacheru. But when I asked him for the names of the killed, he only gave me five names – the five people who were killed by the Salwa Judum. Then another woman, reservedly gave me the name of ‘Kovasi Dhoole,’ a young woman who was coming home to Kottacheru. And she wasn’t clear about how she died.

‘Did she die when the Salwa Judum raided the village?’ I had asked.

‘No.’

‘Did the Maoists kill her?’

She was quiet.

Eventually, over the course of six months, after interviewing over 14 villagers of Kottacheru in three different locations in Khammam district, including Kovasi Dhoole’s sister, I managed to piece together the story of Kovasi Dhoole and the story of Kottacheru.

In 2007, Kovasi Dhoole was a young woman on her way from Nagaras to her village of Kottacheru. She was stopped at Errabor police station and allegedly detained against her will. She only reappeared two months later, as a SPO, married to another SPO, a ‘turrka’ or Muslim, according to the rest of the villagers of Kottacheru. They also alleged that she was forced to become a SPO, and there was no ‘consent’ in the marriage.

A while later, on the 9th of July, 2007, a combing operation was ambushed near the village of Gaganpalli by the Maoists. 25 security personnel were killed via the use of IEDs placed in the trees and small arms fire. The security personnel retreated out of the jungle and it would take them three whole days to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades. Kovasi Dhoole was one of the injured who was abandoned to the Maoists who found her bullet-ridden body. She was still conscious and breathing. Yet there was no mercy killing. For some reason, the Maoists took her injured body and left it at the road, hoping someone would take her to the hospital.

No one did.

Kovasi Dhoole from the village of Kottacheru, bled to death.’

The SPO, or ‘turrka’ who had married her was Ismael Khan. Before Salwa Judum, he was a dukaandaar at Errabor.

Death comes a full circle.

Every story without heroes ends simply with the death of the antagonists.

Yet why do I write about just another story of a dead soldier and a dead adivasi in Dantewada and what does this have to do with racism?

The story of Ismael Khan, is a manifestation of a cultural hegemony when it is armed – ‘join us,’ at the point of the gun. That the Salwa Judum is populated by young men, tribal and non-tribal with a state-as-god-given right to power is not a myth.

War has now become a way of life for a group of men living together in society. And they have created for themselves, over the course of the last few years a legal system that doesn’t need to work, and a media without any moral code but empty nationalism that glorifies their actions.

And when everyone from the Collector to the dukaandaar is an amateur anthropologist who knows what the tribals need and how they should live, one needs to wonder when it is openly evident that Operation Green Hunt, in its many forms, was a long way coming.

And why? Let us go back a bit and put things into context.

The furthest, darkest heart of central India is not where civilization or development hasn’t completely trickled down, it’s the place where the post-colonialist face of India is still stark-naked, where the mass delirium of India’s token democracy has not brainwashed people who’ve been very conveniently erased from national consensus.

The administration, when it functions, can only acted as an anodyne for a superstructure that is almost entirely exploitative.

One of the most apologetic analysis of the situation in the jungle is that the people need ‘development’ or an administration that functions. Apparently if every village had electricity, a handpump, functioning ration shops and NREGA schemes devoid of corruption, there’d be no insurgency in the first place. Yet one thing that is missing in the entire narrative, is the explicit racism of the majority of the mainstream Indian population when dealing with the ‘other’ – a fascinating metanarrative of the mainstream believing that the adivasis don’t see democracy, or their rights, or their ‘development’ as ‘we’ do, just as the West believes about the East.

Firstly, both schemes, NREGA and the PDS, indirectly imply that the people cannot get work nor feed themselves. Yet why does that situation exist in the first place?

In the jungles, the state itself has been oppressive for decades. In many areas, the only face of the state visible to the tribal is the Forest Department that has routinely exploited, beaten, arrested and robbed the tribals of their land and forests not just for the last few years but for decades. The tribals would be happy as ever if such civilization never reached them. The Forest Department is a part of this same bureaucracy – IAS, IPS, IFS, all of the same crop of the most brilliant, brightest, minds or worst nightmares of the indigenous tribals of India – a  ‘collector’, a word that denotes a collector of taxes, a post-colonial colloquism, but more importantly, a part of that same super-structure that has kept the adivasis away from their forests.

Recently, a survey by the Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy put India’s bureaucracy as ‘the worst in Asia.’ What a surprise. But are our bureaucrats really such special beings or are they merely a manifestation of the culture and society that they are coming from?

This is what one of the members of the Constituent Assembly, Professor Shibban Lal Saksena had to say about the tribals in 1949, during the Constituent Assembly Debates,

‘That these brethren of ours are still in such a sub-human state of existence is something for which we should be ashamed…..I only want that these scheduled tribes and scheduled areas should be developed so quickly that they may become indistinguishable from the rest of the Indian population.’

That apparently, was a much common point of view during the debates of the Constituent Assembly that was elected to write the Constitution – the tribes were ‘sub-human’ and they had to be like everyone else. In other terms, that is called cultural genocide.

Even today the non-tribals will happily go to the Schedule Areas to cheat, manipulate and exploit tribals. I still remember a non-tribal contractor happily telling me that ‘you just come to Dantewada to make money in whatever way possible,’ and in the very next breath, he mentions how, ‘everything this Manish Kunjam is doing is all futile.’ Fighting for tribal rights, is apparently futile. And when half his party workers are in jail, and their hartals in jail are met with beatings, the state is doing its best to tell him it is futile.

A prominent journalist working in Dantewada who has often written about fake encounters and state atrocities had another interesting observation about industrial development: after spending his entire day with villagers from Lohandiguda, who spoke about false cases and state repression, who openly said they had no desire for the 35 or 50 lakhs of rupees for their fertile lands; he would turn to a foreign correspondent and tell him that this district needs Tata’s steel plant and development: so mining is okay if you don’t shoot the tribals?

‘What development?’ I had asked surprisingly, ‘how would Tata’s plant benefit the tribals here?’

‘That it won’t.’ He responded effortlessly.

Let’s not forget that Mr.Chidambaram had once accused a social activist fighting for tribal rights, for wanting to keep tribals as ‘hunters and gatherers.’ The intellectual bankruptcy in that statement alone is enough proof of Mr.Chidambaram’s utmost condescension of over 80-90 million people of the country. Adivasis are farmers, Mr.Chidambaram, and if they are hunting and gathering to survive, it’s because the Forest Department has kicked them out of the forests and built plantations over the land they cultivated.

But there is more, ‘Yes, we can allow the minerals to remain in the ground for another 10,000 years, but will that bring development to these people? We can respect the fact that they worship the Niyamgiri hill, but will that put shoes on their feet or their children in school?’ – Thus Spake Chidambaram.

‘Will that solve the fact that they are severely malnutritioned and have no access to health care?’

Apparently the massive exploitation and the dispossession of their forests doesn’t have anything to do with a tribal’s inability to feed his/her family. On the 22nd of March this year, over 64 tribals and Dalits from Bolangir, one of the hungry KBK districts (Koraput-Bolangir-Kalahandi) of Orissa, were rescued from virtual bonded labour at a brick kiln in Hyderabad. They had been working without pay for over five months and faced regular beatings by their contractors.

There are an estimated 600 brick kilns (2005 figures) populated with tribals and Dalits from Orissa in Andhra Pradesh, and there is an endemic debt-trap, brought on by advance payments by ‘sardars’ or middlemen – and the worker and his family has no choice but to work in the brick kiln until he can pay off the advance, and often faces abuse in an almost un-regulated industry thriving in the universe of unequal power.

On the 28th of March, 2011, 44 adivasis and Dalits from Bolangir and Nuapada had to be rescued from a brick kiln at Pattancheru Mandal after one of the contractor’s relatives tried to rape a tribal woman.

Apart from that, almost all the workers complained of meagre weekly wages, threats and beatings. The incident of attempted rape was merely the breaking point. The muslim husband-wife contractor-duo responded by calling it all lies, and that the adivasis were all just drunk.

The adivasis wanted go back home. The contractors wanted them to continue working.

After the perpetrator was taken away by the police, every conversation with the mistrys and contractors attempting to bring better working conditions for the people were met with responses like, ‘these people are all cheaters.’

‘they lie like this all the time.’

‘they don’t understand reason.’

Nearby contractors who also ran a brick kiln sat on the sidelines gave their wholehearted support to the Muslim contractor and his family. And class, the great equalizer plays its role.

One Matang couple who live in a village in Nandurbar in Maharastra without land of their own, and work in Brahmin fields for Rs.50 a day during the harvest season, had quite easily filled his shoes as a contractor-exploiter for the adivasis at brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh.

‘They were such nice people,’ She said, about the contractor-duo and their alleged rapist-relative, ‘these Orissa people had to ruin everything.’

Even their own workers caught up with me and told me that they weren’t treated well by them either. And while they went back to work, the 44 men, women and children from Bolangir and Nuapada were taken away by the government’s labour department and put on a train back to home – Bolangir, where droughts and hunger deaths had put the district in a spotlight, where all the recently-rescued said that they had no land, or if they did, there was no irrigation facility to help make it productive.

There are no figures on how many adivasis from the KBK districts migrate to work under adverse conditions at brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh. There are independent estimates in thousands while they’re almost invisible to the government.

And funny how the starvation deaths in Kalahandi, were used as arguments by Vedanta’s lawyers to justify the mining of Niyamgiri.

And yet ‘they’ – the ‘rulers of the country’, want an Adivasi battalion formed for the Dantewadas and Lalgarhs – like there hasn’t been enough fratricidal violence in the Red Corridor.

Instead of starving them, let them kill each other while we mine their mountains.

The state is not just oppressive, but the people have been for decades. The adivasis are seldom treated as equals by non-tribals and it’s not just ‘development’ or a corruption-free administration that the tribals need to rescue them (and themselves) from insurgencies.

There is more.

Insurgencies are symptomatic of the very idea of a nation-states. The fantasies of nationalism, these post-colonial hangovers, along with a bunch of elitist clowns with delusions of grandeur have drawn imaginary lines across communities where the majority literally drives minorities into the hole, and there will be identity-driven self-assertions of rights. A thousand times over, I’ve heard adivasis call themselves Muria, not Maoists, Kondhs, not Maoists, Muria, not ‘Indians’, Kondh, not ‘Indians.’ The Maoists from Andhra Pradesh in Dantewada had managed to build a base because they spoke Muria, they spoke Koya, they let the tribals remain tribals (to an extent) + (apart from entirely militarizing their society).

Now, has the Indian mainstream ever allowed minorities to be minorities? Have they allowed the tribals to at least decide their own fate?

Yes, we have. The Indian Constitution has one of the most progressive laws in the world – PESA or Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act, where the tribals are allowed to govern themselves with their own Gram Sabhas. The Supreme Court would not have the right to veto a decision of the Gram Sabha if it said it didn’t want Tata or Jindal or Essar to build on their land. And yet, these Gram Sabha resolutions have been violated by the administration repeatedly across the Fifth Schedule, with complete impunity, often in the favour of big business, as well as the upper caste landlords, thekedaars and non-tribals.

So now as I brought it up, I must ask, why is our administration routinely flouting PESA resolutions?

This is what one of the Collectors of Bastar, J.P. Vyas had to say to Anthropologist Nandini Sundar, in 1992 about a proposed Steel Plant being set up in Bastar and the displacement it would cause.

‘If the people were consulted beforehand and asked for permission, inherent in this, is the possibility that they might refuse. And then where would the government be?’

He had gone on to tell her that the people were ignorant and once the experts decided where the project would be, there was nothing more to be said – (from her book on Bastar, Subalterns and Sovereigns).

Today, there are state-organized public hearings, where the representatives of big companies often tell the tribals, ‘there are other things here that are too technical to understand.’

Another brilliant expert, I had encountered, worked in the ITDA (Integrated Tribal Development Authority) Badrachalam, who didn’t know who the Murias were, and he requested that I tell the tribals to leave the jungles and come and live closer to the road so the government welfare programmes can reach them.

All of it pretty much summing up that the ‘tribals don’t know any better,’ that they ‘need to do something with their land’, or that land, life and livelihood can be equated with money.

I wonder where that idea comes from.

What becomes only too evident, is that we have a social apartheid, where we have an invisible, un-written set of value-judgements upon an entire class of people who live out of sight and out of mind, and we’re aping the West who’ve colonized, butchered, enslaved, and murdered indigenous societies for centuries, and we are too far from evolving into a democracy they have never been, and could possibly never be – one that is egalitarian, just and equal, impassioned yet restrained, and where the words ‘development’ would belong to the people, and not politicians and their wanker-overlords.

To be a nation that is simply accepting of diversity, not just by shallow pretence but by substance. But we are just another half-democracy, half-republic and half-nation that needs to cannibalize itself to survive.

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Narayanpatna: Movement On The Run

February 5, 2011

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 6th of February, 2011.

‘Nachika Linga’s owner’s house used to be this one,’ Says the Border Security Force commander, regarding the newest BSF camp set up at Podapadar village, one of the flashpoints of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh movement. The house in question belonged to Nila Kancha Parida who literally owned Nachika Linga – a bonded labourer on his own land who used to earn Rs.5 per month, eventually a leader of a tribal movement, and now, one of the most wanted people in Narayanpatna block. It is literally petty symbolism that the once-oppressor’s house is now used by the Border Security Force to track down members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, who stood up for their land rights in 2009.

Today, their entire movement has gone underground, over 150 of their members and their supporters are in jail, including Gananath Patra, of the CPI (ML), who was arrested as a Maoist, as well as his associate Tapan Mishra, who has already clashed with officials in the prison after going on numerous hunger strikes. Yet the vast majority of the CMAS live in fear further within the jungles, often on the move, without food, in constant risk of being apprehended.

Nevertheless, six Kondh tribal women and four infants had gotten onto the Hirakhand Express at Koraput railway station on the 25th of January 2011 to travel to Bhubaneshwar. For many of them it was the first time on a train. There was never any need to go to Bhubaneshwar, or anywhere beyond their jungles in Narayanpatna or Laxmipur before. But secretly, and quietly, these six women travelled to Bhubaneshwar, and were told that they would have to testify at a public hearing, to the National Human Rights Commission.

All six women have lost their husbands to state violence.

Balsi Kendruka w/o Andru of the village of Baliaput, Narayanpatna lost her husband on the 20th of November firing/’camp attack’.

Sonai Kendruka w/o Singana of the village of Podapadar, Narayanpatna lost her husband on the 20th of November firing/’camp attack’.

Kamla Tadingi w/o Ganguli of the village of Bagam, Narayanpatna lost her husband when he was picked up by the police in Narayanpatna, and died in custody in Koraput Jail on the 12th of April 2010.

Kamla Sirika w/o Ratna of the village of Siriguda, Narayanpatna lost her husband when he went for treatment for an unspecified illness to Narayanpatna town, and was arrested by the police and died in a hospital in Berhampur on the 8th of June, 2010.

Saibo Honika w/o Jimme of the village of Jogipalur, Narayanpatna lost her husband when the security forces raided her village. He was allegedly drowned in Janjawali river.

Singaru Huika w/o Katru of the village of Talameting,  Laxmipur was shot dead by the security forces the day after the Maoists had raided the nearby NALCO plant where they killed ten CISF jawaans and lost four of their own on the 12th of April 2009. Katru Huika is suprisingly even mentioned as a ‘public witness’ in the FIR filed regarding the NALCO attack.

And the women barely spoke at the hearing.

The irony is that K G Balakrishnan, chairman of the NHRC returned to Delhi a day before the hearing. (The bigger irony was that he would have been sharing the dias with the senior advocate Prashant Bhusan who, along with his father, had indicted him as one of the ‘eight corrupt Chief Justices of India’),’ in a now-famous affidavit.

The hearing itself indicted the government of Orissa regarding ‘state repression on the rise in the state particularly on people’s movements against displacement and land grabbing.’ As for the recent spate of encounters in Bargarh, Keonjhar, Jajpur and Rayagada, it had called for ‘an independent and impartial investigation’.

The Way Of The Gun

Since the firing on the 20th of November, 2009, still widely considered to be a ‘camp attack’ by the police and the administration, all that the Kondh adivasis of Narayanpatna have seen is the slow militarization of their lives. Not only have three BSF camps been set-up in Narayanpatna block, but Maoist activity has also been on the rise. There had been one IED blast that claimed four civilian lives in January 2010, and since then there have been numerous IEDs recovered by the police in regular intervals. Just recently another IED exploded on the 11th of January, 2011 near Jogi Palur, injuring three government officials.

There have also been a series of killings by the Maoists in August of 2010, most infamously, of Anand Kirsani, the leader of the embryonic state-backed anti-CMAS group, the Shanti Committee, who was also a Zilla Parishad member and a Congress party leader. The Maoists also killed a member of the CPI (ML), Arjun Kendruka as an informant. Another villager, Ghasi Kendruka from Gotiguda village was killed on the 15th of August. The General Secretary of the CPI (Maoist) Ganapathy himself has stated in a recent interview about the gains made by his party in Narayanpatna block, and against the ‘revisionist’ tendencies of other members of communist parties working in both Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon block. And there has been no secret that the Bandugaon movement and the Narayanpatna movement have been at odds over the last two years.

And yet the core issue remains land.

While the Shanti committee has been ‘finished’ after the murder of their leader Anand Kirsani, there is still no gaurantee that the paddy that rightfully belongs to the tribals would not be illegally split 50-50 between the tribals and the non-tribal Sahukars and ‘landlords,’ as had happened last year, after the suppression of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh.

Cultivation is taking place in many of the strongholds of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh at Narayanpatna, and yet the BSF presence is ominous. On the 27h of January itself, reports emerged that 6 homes in Musalmanda village of Narayanpatna were allegedly burnt down by the security forces.

Images from a video capture of the burning of the homes of Narayanpatna.  Courtesy – Source.

A Soldier’s Crisis

‘You know what would solve this whole Maoist problem?’ Asks a BSF commander, ‘There should be mandatory military service in either the CRPF or BSF by all citizens of India. This way some politician’s son can also end up at Podapadar.’

The imaginary border is drawn across the jungles, cutting across mainstream India and that which belongs to the Kondh of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh at Podapadar. The Border Security Force is once again strategically isolated as most security camps within the jungles are. A school functions a few metres from the camp, and hillocks surround the camp.

‘If we’re attacked, we’re on our own,’ Said the commander, ‘And we had asked for another spot, but they gave us this one.’

And the risks don’t stop there.

‘You don’t even have to ask us about mosquitoes,’ Said a BSF soldier, laughing, who mentions there have already been a handful of malaria cases in the camp.

Yet what remains striking is that the BSF soldiers were aware of the existence of bonded labour at Narayanpatna block. ‘Five generations of Nachika Linga were slaves.’ Mentions the BSF commander, yet the manhunt against him continues.

No one in Narayanpatna ever forgot the ‘dead or alive’ posters of Nachika Linga that were posted across the town.

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Season Of Encounters: Part Two

January 25, 2011

Kaliamani Jhodia’s eleven year old daughter was arrested as an alleged Maoist on the 14th of December, 2010 at Dhobasil village of Rayagada District.

Widow Hasmani Jhodia’s twenty-two year old daughter Sabita was also arrested on the same day.

This article appears in the New Indian Express on the 30th of January,2011.

To understand what happened in Khurigan(Basangmali), Rayagada district where nine alleged Maoists were killed in an ‘encounter/ambush’ on the 8th of January, one has to look into an incident on the 14th of December 2010, where in the village of Dhobasil in Kashipur block, five alleged Maoists, including two minors were arrested in what is described in the police FIR as ‘a meeting’ with ‘weapons training.’

According to the police First Information Report, the police had ‘prior information’ that a meeting was taking place near ‘Singamui jungle,’ so they had embarked on an operation, where they would eventually discover a meeting of 25-30 Maoists cadres along with 10 to 15 other supporters engaged in ‘weapons training’. Along with the five arrested, the FIR even goes on to mention the following names in the FIR as the ‘Details of known/suspected/unknown/accused’ – Rabi, Lenju, Mamata, Kamala, who’d all be killed in the encounter, along with Sabyasachi Panda, the most-wanted Maoist leader of Orissa, and then, Lado Sikaka, one of the Dongria Kondh leaders of the Niyamgiri movement, already featured in a farcical photo-op session with Rahul Gandhi, and even Bhagaban Majhi, an activist of the Prakrutik Sampark Surakhya Parishad whose movement has long struggled against bauxite mining and the Utkal Alimuna International Limited – a struggle that led to innumerable false cases and arrests, regular protests of over 5000 people, road blockades and it all culminated in a police firing at Maikanch on the 16th of December, 2000, when the police fired and killed three men and wounded another seven.

In the FIR regarding the 14th of December ‘encounter’, the Inspector-In charge of Kalyansinghpur police station claims that, ‘Most of them had put on olive green dresses. From the dress code and the firearms with them, I became confirm that they are the members of the banned CPI (Maoist) organization.’ The OIC then claims to have repeatedly asked them to surrender, after which the Maoists fired back to ‘kill and demoralize the police party’, and the police would fire two rounds, and the Maoists then ‘took to their heels in the jungle.’

Eventually the police managed to apprehend five people including two young girls. One girl, Koni Jhodia is aged 11, as per the ration card prepared on the 1st of August, 2010, yet in the FIR she is mentioned to be 16 years old.

‘On taking search of the kit bag of Kani Bijaya Jhodia,’ Continues the FIR, ‘it was found that the kit bag was containing 03 numbers of gelatin sticks,’ Yet according to the villagers of Dhobasil, she had run into the house when she saw the police approaching, and was dragged out from there. Sabita Jhodia (22 years old), was also sleeping in her house when she was kicked and dragged out of the village.

According to the villagers of Dhobasil, around 20 members of the police in civilian clothes had come to their village with two other men, and started to ask for Sabita Jhodia, a young woman/alleged Maoist who returned to her village, after leaving her abusive husband.

‘They put a gun to my neck and asked me where was Sabita.’ Claims Koni Jhodia’s older brother, Beladhara. At this point, the other two men were being kept by the police in the middle of the hamlet, along with Sabita’s younger sister Lalita. They only let Lalita go, once they had Sabita, who was dragged out of her house. Finally, they had gone to the Kondh hamlet of Dhobasil, and taken away Jodi Jhodia d/o Shyam (wrongly identified as Anjali), who was also ten years old, claims her older pregnant sister, who adds, ‘it was all Sabita’s fault.’

‘After they took them away, we thought they’d be killed.’ Says Kaliapani Jhodia, mother of Koni.

Dhobasil is a small village of two hamlets, one belonging to the Kondhs, and another to the Jhodias. The Jhodia hamlet has nine homes, and it is a hamlet where the people have ration cards, but they don’t get ration, where they have NREGA cards, but they don’t get work, where they have electric poles and wiring, but they don’t get electricity, and the families live on the edge of hunger, surviving on a little semme (beans) and some imli. Add to that, the Jhodias are not even recognized as tribals by the government, meaning: they can starve and die like the tribals, but they can’t live like them.

They are tribals living on tribal lands who are not entitled to the laws to protect them from land alienation.

The Anti-mining Activists

Bulika Miniaka, of Barigaon village in Kashipur block has been fighting against land alienation for over 15 years now. He, himself, was one of the Kondh leaders who was in jail for over four months in 2004-2005, when the police had come to his village on the 9th of December 2004. Today, combing operations often disrupt life in his village of over 180 homes.

‘This land is ours, this jungle is ours, these rivers are ours, these trees are ours, and who are these police people to come here? What do they want? Why are they here?’ Says Bulika Minika.

Three unmarried girls from Barigaon, Sunita Miniaka d/o Massi, Seboh Miniaka d/o Sapora and Phulkoh Miniaka d/o of Uchaba, were killed in the encounter on the 8th of January. The people of Barigaon were not informed of their deaths, and only discovered it once they saw the newspapers.

‘Who are the police to kill these people?’ Continues Bulika, ‘And those you kill, you should at least, tell us, you killed.’

The people of Barigaon held a feast in their honour, as per Kondh tradition. The three people killed in Maikanch led to the stalling of the UTKAL project, albeit unsuccessfully, and a judicial enquiry offered no justice to the adivasis. The three killed as Maoists opens the newest chapter to the adivasis of Kashipur who have been fighting the companies since 1993.

Meanwhile, Bhagaban Majhi was completely unperturbed by his name being mentioned in an FIR involving Maoists. For one, there has always been a reason why Bhagawan Majhi would be targeted. There is a song he often sings before every gathering or meeting for thousands of adivasis who protest against the companies who not only displace but cause irreparable pollution.

Hawa, Hawa, Company Hawa,

Wind, wind, company wind

Blowing all over Odisha.

 

Let us stand together for justice.

We will save our mother earth

And redeem ourselves.

 

We will not hand over our land to these companies,

Let us all stand together,

Don’t just watch us and wait.

Don’t you see the danger?

 

What we are facing today,

You will face tomorrow.