Archive for the ‘Orissa’ 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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Death In A Quiet Corner

March 21, 2012

This op-ed appears in abriged form in Daily News & Analysis on the 19th of March, 2012.

‘Torture has long been employed by well-meaning, even reasonable people armed with the sincere belief that they are preserving civilization as they know it. Aristotle favoured the use of torture in extracting evidence, speaking of its absolute credibility, and St.Augustine also defended the practice. Torture was routine in ancient Greece and Rome, and although the methods have changed in the intervening centuries, the goals of the torturer – to gain information, to punish, to force an individual to change his beliefs or loyalties, to intimidate a community – have not changed at all.’ – from Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, The Dynamics of Torture, by John Conroy.

On the 11th of August of 2010, Mandangi Subarao of Kondabaredi village of Rayagada district of Odisha, allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself in the offices of the Anti-Naxalite cells of the police station.

He killed himself in the police station that specializes in tracking down and killing Maoists, in fear of the Maoists, according to the police.

His case was eventually sent to the National Human Rights Commission by the National Campaign For The Prevention Of Torture, who asked the state to submit action taken report by 2 February 2012. The police continue to be on duty. A similar situation had developed in Dantewada when the NHRC took cognizance of the death of Pudiyama Mada after newspaper reports detailed his torture by the Central Reserve Police Force, and his eventual ‘suicide’ in the Sukma police station.

Meanwhile, the medical report on adivasi teacher Soni Sori’s condition that reached the Supreme Court stated that stones were found lodged in her vagina and her rectum while she was in police custody.

The Supreme Court gave the Chhattisgarh government 55 days to respond, and sent her back to the Chhattisgarh jails, and has revealed once again, that the rule of law and the constitution is divorcing itself from the aspirations of citizen of the state, whose fundamental Right To Life has to be protected by the Courts, not something the Court grants her, or the police is allowed to take away the instant they consider her a Maoist sympathizer.

Her hearing was supposed to be held on the 25th of January, 2012, but its turn never came up. Instead, the Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg, who she accused of torturing her, won the President’s Medal for Gallantry on Republic Day, the day the constitution of India came into being. He was awarded for his conduct during an encounter with the Maoists in Mahasumand District in 2010.

To the state machinery: it remains a story of he said, she said, as the allegations of torture in police custody leave no witnesses besides the tortured themselves, but in this case, the accused has a medical report from Kolkatta to say that her body was violated beyond anyone’s imagination, unlike the Mandangi Subarao case, where a man who kills himself in the police station in fear of the Maoists has done so in a district, out of sight and mind, and buried in the quagmire of the hopelessness of raising one’s voice over endemic abuse.

The National Human Rights Commission has gone on record to say that 1574 custodial deaths took place between April 2010 and March 2011. And between 2001 and 2011, there were around 15,231 custodial deaths, according to The Asian Center For Human Rights who had done a similar study on custodial violence in 2008, where they had claimed around 9,000 people were killed in police custody since 2000, at an unchanging average of four per day.

The Police State Against The Woman’s Body

16 year old Meena Khalko was killed in an alleged encounter and accused as a Maoist. Allegations would surface that she was raped and murdered and not killed in crossfire, and the Chhattisgarh Home Minister parroted his police officials who said that she was ‘habitual about sex’ and had links with truck drivers.

Ishrat Jahan who the Special Investigation Team confirms was killed in a fake encounter recently was questioned by our own Home Minister G.K. Pillai who finds that her checking into a hotel room with another man is suspicious.

In none of the 99 cases of rape allegations against Special Police Officers or security personnel in South Bastar did the police file even a single First Information Report even after the Supreme Court ordered them to do so. The National Human Rights Commission Enquiry Team, (comprising of 15 police officials out of 16) only investigated five cases out of 99, where in one instance, they visited the wrong village and construed that the allegations were baseless as they couldn’t find the victims.

In the other village of Potenaar, there were discrepancies in the testimonies of women who were raped three years earlier and there was no FIR filed in the police station. Thus they construed again, that the allegations were baseless, as women traumatized brutally by assault have to apparently remember the intricate details of everything that was done to them and lodge a complaint against the same police that rapes them.

The women of Vakapalli of Andhra Pradesh who were allegedly gangraped by the special anti-Naxalite forces the Greyhounds, are still fighting for justice in a case that was widely highlighted in Andhra Pradesh but the accused policemen continue to be in duty, and the state continues to construe their allegations as nothing but Maoist propaganda.

Even though the women’s statements were recorded both before the police as well as the Magistrate: all of them stated that they bathed after the assault, they did not resist the assault as they were afraid of violence, thus, there was no sign of injuries (besides one woman who had a boot on her face), and thus no physical evidence of rape, and the case would run aground by a system that ignores the Supreme Courts own directives on rape, which mention that inquiries should be done on accusation alone and the burden of proving innocence falls on the accused.

A 12 year old girl who was allegedly raped by the member of the elite anti-Maoist C60 group of Maharashtra, in the village of Paverval on the 4th of March, 2009, the alleged rapist himself, claims with strong conviction, that it’s all Maoist propaganda mischief.

In Narayanpatna block of Orissa, in the village of Taladekapadu, on the 19th of April, 2011, a 14 year old girl was allegedly gang-raped by four security personnel, yet without making her medical report public, the Crime Branch claims the entire allegation is false. The girl’s family belong to the Kondh tribe who have been criminalized in a district that has seen mass arrests, police firings into crowds, mass abductions and tortures, and the burning of villages, and to them, the idea of approaching the judicial system itself is oppressive.

And the cases like hers are those that never receive the kind of attention that the Soni Sodi case has, where a woman stood up for her rights, who approached the media that would listen to her, who repeatedly spoke about the torture faced by her family by both the state and the Maoists, and would yet be condemned by the system, while those who defend human rights watch helplessly.

The State As A Bystander

A woman attacked with acid by a man in the middle of the market while a crowd watches without doing anything can be described akin to Soni Sodi being brutally tortured as the judiciary, the press, the senior police officials, larger civil society and the general public sit quietly.

A group of committed activists, a dissident media and international human rights organizations have been repeatedly bringing her case to the public eye, yet as a matter of fact, have failed to prevent her torture.

Bystanders, and the silent consent of the general public plays its role in perpetrating human rights violations. If a woman is being tortured, first it’s veracity is questioned, then when it is confirmed, she is dehumanised with the tag ‘Naxalite supporter’ so people can continue to be bystanders, and turn the pages over the suffering of a fellow human being. When it comes to rape, a victim is dressed indecently, not that men need to keep their dicks in their pants. When it comes to rape accusations against the police, the very lackadaisical and haphazard manner of the investigation, the complete lack of interest shown in even lodging FIRs, doesn’t entertain any seriousness of the crime and only manifests the complete bias of the police who are convinced that all accusations against their own, is malicious propaganda meant to ‘demoralize’ their ranks.

Bystanders, when there are many of them, will always pass on the responsibility of doing something when there are others in the crowd. Responsibility is diffused. Responsibility is further diffused, when the crowd looks around and notices no one is doing anything. Chief Ministers are quiet. Home Ministers are saying a rape victim was habitual about sex. The Highest Court of the land, sends a woman back to her torturers, to ensure procedure. But when a police official suspected of torture is awarded by the president of the nation, what kind of message does it give to the police?

The police however have been convinced that the Maoists have been using the laws of the land, the courts and Writ Petitio, to hamper their counterinsurgency efforts. And counterinsurgency is completely incompatible with human rights – what are human rights violations to one, are standard operating procedures to those in uniform.

State of Anomie

Psychologist Ervin Staub quotes in The Origins and Prevention of Genocide, Mass Killing, and Other Collective Violence, that ‘Dominant groups usually develop “‘hierarchy legitimizing myths” or legitimizing ideologies that justify subordinating other groups. They often see themselves as superior and deserving of their status due to their race, religion, intelligence, hard work, worldview, or other characteristics. Groups also embrace ideologies of development and visions of economic progress, identifying the victim group as standing in the way.’

And Jon Conroy quotes him extensively in Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, The Dynamics of Torture, where Staub studied mass human rights violations in Argentina during the military Junta, where “….over time, ‘the many kinds of victims made it difficult [for the perpetrators] to differentiate between more or less worthy human beings. It became acceptable to torture and murder teenage girls, nuns and pregnant women. Learning by doing stifled the torturer’s feelings of empathy and concern.’ Furthermore, the Argentine torturers could see that their actions were supported by the larger society. Their superior officers signed release forms for kidnappings, relieving the lower orders from responsibility for the acts they carried out. The judiciary commonly accepted the military’s versions of events. The press – threatened by prison terms for demeaning or subverting the military – largely accepted censorship and did not report on disappearances. Doctors were present in interrogation rooms…….The middle class, Staub says, was pleased by the junta’s economic policy and was unmoved by the repression that accompanied it.”

A considerable difference in India would be: the mainstream media censors itself not out of fear but for reasons it knows best.  The middle class, especially, is happier to be engaging with the indigenous adivasis as exhibitions in state-sponsered fairs. Doctors in Chhattisgarh had botched two medical reports on Soni Sodi.

In India, ‘development’, ‘economic progress’, have become the legitimate myths, justifications, war cries; the apathy, for the killing of the illegitimate children of the Republic.

That every day, four people are invisibly tortured to death in police custody reflects upon the society we are becoming, and the apathy that emanates from it, is the gasoline that falls into the tinderbox that is a lawless society holding a gun to its head, a neurotic world of violence where people kill each other for a packet of biscuits, or uncontrolable rage, or where the Border Security Force strips a man and beats him brutally and videographs it, as every institution of authority has broken down, where the new deities of profit, growth, development have destroyed the needs of human touch and conscience: where compassion, empathy, and mercy were quietly executed in some forest declared as a Disturbed Area or a ‘liberated zone.’

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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 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.

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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.