Archive for the ‘Kalinganagar’ Category

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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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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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Season Of Encounters: Part One

January 25, 2011

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

Winter in Orissa has seen a spate of encounters, starting with a now infamous incident in Bargarh district on the 27th of December, where two alleged Maoists were killed, who’d later be identified as a BJP block president, who was also an anti-mining activist, and his associate.

In Jajpur district, five more alleged Maoists were killed on the 1st of January, including three women and a 12 year old girl. And as the Supreme Court states that the ‘Republic can’t kill her own children’, while referring to the death of Maoist leader Azad, nine more of the Republic’s children were killed in their sleep on the 8th of January in Rayagada District, in what has been widely described as a late night ambush by the Special Operations Group and not an encounter – (a surprise tactic used by the police, right out of a Maoist handbook on ambushes.)

It has been the first time that encounters of this scale have taken place in both districts.

And again, two more alleged Maoists would be gunned down on the morning of the 12th of January, some 35 kilometres away from Jajpur, at Keonjhar near the village of Pancham. According to the police, Sadhu Munda (24) and a teenager from Mayurbanj district were shot dead early in the morning, even though the body of the boy started to reveal signs of putrefaction at 3pm, which only takes place 72 hours after death.

Sadhu Munda hails from Baligotha village, as did the 12 year old girl killed on the 1st of January in Jajpur, who was identified as Janga d/o Ramrai Jamuda.

Baligotha is a village on the forefront of the protest of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch against Tata Steel’s project in Kalinganagar Industrial Park, and has often been accused as a Maoist-front. No one from the village of Baligotha claimed the body of the 12 year old girl who was killed, yet within the next ten days of the encounter, over 10 alleged Maoists, including minors, would surrender to the police, including Saley Pallei, who also hails from Baligotha. Saley would be taken by his mother to the Tata Transit Camp at Sukinda.

And Sadhu Munda’s brother, Nitchandra Pallei, a resident of Baligotha, who now lives in Tata’s Transit Camp called a press conference in Jajpur, to plead with the Maoists to release his daughter and his son, who he claims are still fighting with the Maoists. The entire press conference was orchestrated by the police who refused to stand before the cameras. ‘I took a picture of Nitchandra, and the policemen stopped me. They told Nitchandra to hold his hands, and then I should take a picture,’ Said a local journalist who was a part of the conference. The next day, Sadhu Munda’s brother refused to talk to the press without police presence, or collect his brother’s body from the police station.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch have denied any links with the Maoists.

‘We are stupid then,’ Rabindra Jarika of Chandia village said, ‘If we wanted, we could’ve sent 200 men into the jungles. But yet we resist peacefully, and we’re dying here.’

Interestingly, Rabindra Jarika has also faced threats from the Maoists in the past, who he establishes have been functioning in the Sukinda mines area, far away from the villages protesting against Tata’s common corridor.

‘Have the Maoists threatened you?’

‘Twice.’ He replies.

‘Janshakti Maoist party of CPI Maoist party?’

‘Both.’

‘Any idea why?’

‘They say I am doing dalaalgiri.’

Death By Development

Sadhu Munda, Janga Jamuda and Saley Pallei are one of the first direct instances of exclusive development’s contribution to the recruitment of Maoist cadre. In fact, the SP of Jajpur S. Kutte would release a list of 21 names from the village of Baligotha who he claims have joined the Maoists.

Kalinganagar Industrial Park had become infamous on the 2nd of January, 2006, when 12 tribals protesting against Tata Steel’s common corridor were killed in police firing. Since then, they have lived in a virtual prison, often facing arrests, attacks, and raids by police personnel as happened in April of last year when the police fired plastic rounds into protesting crowds, and pro-BJD and Tata-goondas had roughed up the BJP president Jual Oram’s convoy as well as journalists, as they tried to enter Baligotha to address the BBJM members.

While the gunning down of a 12 year old Maoist had gone almost unnoticed to the mainstream media, the fact that the Maoists are recruiting minors did not. In fact, three of the alleged children-Maoist-cadre come from families that have been torn apart. Nitchandra Pallei, who had given a press conference, asking the Maoists to release his children, had abandoned them in April at Baligotha village, when he had agreed to be rehabilitated by Tata, due to ill-health. The state demolished his house while his children still remained in the village afterwards, without any guardianship. Ramrai Jamuda, whose daughter Janga was shot dead, had also died two years ago. And Saley Pallei who surrendered to the police, lived almost unattended as his mother was injured in the attack in April 2010, and after her recovery in the hospital, she was also taken to Tata’s transit camp.