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Heat and Dust of Highway at Kalinganagar

A report from Kalinganagar, Orissa, where on the first anniversary of the January 2006 killings, adivasi and non-adivasi protestors resolved to continue their struggle against forced displacement.

Heat and Dust of Highwayat Kalinganagar

A report from Kalinganagar, Orissa, where on the first anniversary of the January 2006 killings, adivasi and non-adivasi protestors resolved to continue their struggle against forced displacement.

ISH MISHRA

O
n January 2, 2007 – the first anniversary of the martyrdom of agitators against the Kalinganagar project – thousands of people from across the country gathered at ‘bir bhumi’ (Ambagadia village) in the Kalinganagar area of the Sukhinda valley in Orissa to participate in the ‘Bisthapan Birodhi Samkalp Samabesh’ (anti-displacement convention), organised by the Bisthapan Birodhi Janmanch (BBJ).

Thirteen stone pillars have been erected there in the memory of the dead. It also marked the first anniversary of the successful blockade of a national highway, which has been unheard of in recent history. The intensity, quality and the magnitude of the movement forced the government to announce its willingness to hold negotiations with the agitators. However, there has been no movement. “The government stopped all dialogue after we had one with the chief minister”, said Ravi Jarika, a leader of the BBJ. “All promises including withdrawal of cases against us were forgotten. It is the government and not us who created this situation in Kalinganagar and people anywhere will rise in revolt whenever the government behaves in such a fashion”.

In July 2006, Balkishore Panda, the additional district magistrate of Kalinganagar adamantly told a fact-finding team of ‘Janhaskshep’ (a human rights group), that the “land had already been acquired” and that the tribals holding on to their lands are “legitimate” and “illegitimate” encroachers. In January 2007, the collector of Jaipur district, Arvind Padhi, had to change the official claim, “The interests of the displaced will not be compromised in the industrialisation process”. The families of the dead who are part and parcel of the movement have summarily rejected the compensation offer of Rs 10 lakh. “Thirteen people have laid down their lives, not to get more money but to retain their land. That stand can never change,” said Hara Jamuda of Chandia village.

This congregation of people – representatives of progressive radical political forces including parties of the radical left, mass organisations, mass movements, antidisplacement organisations – from the villages of Kalinganagar, those elsewhere in the Sukhinda valley, other parts of Orissa and from across the country saluted the martyrs and resolved to intensify and expand the movement and link it with other anti-imperialist movements. A draft declaration – the Kalinganagar Declaration – on the future of the movement was circulated in which all out opposition to acquisition of agricultural land for industrial/commercial/special economic zone (SEZ) purposes was reasserted. On a public interest litigation filed by someone supposedly having suffered irreparable loss due to the road blockade, the Orissa High Court recently passed a judgment ordering the removal of the blockade. The character of the judiciary of any system is the same as the character of the ruling classes. The government wants to use coercion through the judiciary. The state government through its home secretary has expressed its desire to talk to the leaders of the movement. The BBJ leadership is always open to talks, but has warned of a militant retaliation by the masses if the government uses force.

Since January 2, 2006 the people of Kalinganagar, a tribal belt in the mineralrich Sukhinda valley of Orissa, has been fighting a valiant battle. On that day, 13 adivasis were killed by the Navin Patnaik government’s extreme brutality and barbarism. The limbs of dead bodies were cut off and not returned to the relatives. This barbaric arrogance is reminiscent of the barbarism witnessed during the colonisation by the Europeans in general, and colonisation of the Americas in particular. According to Birsingh Gop of Chandia village, a victim of a land mine explosion, the mines were laid before the police action on January 2, with the purpose of killing and maiming anyone who protested.

Inspired by the martyrdom of their coprotesters against forced displacement, the villagers resolved to intensify their struggle. They organised themselves under the banner of the BBJ with leadership and a core group emerged from within the movement. They have been able to prevent NGO’isation and are not dependent on “revolutionary” intellectuals “from above” for guidance in planning their strategies and tactics. They have their own organic intellectuals. They refuse to discuss the merits and demerits of any relief and rehabilitation (R&R) package. They are firm on their stand – no displacement. They are also firm in their resolve to continue their struggle undeterred by coercion and harassment; threats and appeasement by newer and newer R&R packages,

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007

court orders, and planted dissention and allurement. The sense of being co-victims has brought the adivasis and non-adivasis together on one platform. All attempts to foil this unity have been foiled by the people. The area around the NH 200 that goes up to the Paradip port has been declared out-of-bounds for the acquiring company, state officials and their agents. The brutal repression of the movement and tribals’ valiant fight have transformed Kalinganagar into a common noun.

A Gruesome Encounter

The district administration had been trying to take over the land for the Tata’s proposed steel plant for a few months after an attempt to start construction on May 9, 2005 was foiled by the resistance of the local adivasis. The adivasis aware of the fate of others displaced by mining and industrial projects in the Sukhinda valley and elsewhere, claimed that they would not vacate the land till their demands were met. From December 23, 2005, people started getting feedback regarding the government’s intentions to evict tribals from their land by force. According to Chakradhar Haibru, the president of the BBJ, the agitators conveyed the message to the administration that such a move will lead to a do-or-die resistance. During their annual convention at Chandiya village on January 1, 2006 the people came to know through their sources in the administration that the Tatas would initiate a boundary wall construction on January 2, 2006 without the consent of the people. The tribals decided to oppose this attempt just as they had opposed the earlier ones. On January 2, in the morning, the district administration including the collector, superintendent of police and company officials reached the site with a bulldozer, and started the construction of the boundary wall. The team was escorted by 12 platoons of policemen armed with sophisticated weapons.

Seeing the work beginning, approximately 100 tribals gathered, and formed a four-member delegation to go and talk to the district officials present. People say that the four-member delegation went to meet the district administration. As per the warning given to the administration, many of these people were armed with traditional weapons. When the group of tribals reached the ditch dug to erect the boundary wall, and were about to cross it, they heard the police sound a whistle, and saw a policeman pull a rope. This was followed by explosions in the ditch and two persons fell dead. There had been no warning and no indication from the police before this happened. Simultaneously tear gas was released and firing began. Chaos ensued, with people running here and there. Even the unarmed local policemen panicked at the firing and explosions, and one or two policemen fell into the boundary wall ditch and were injured by the tribals in the heat of the moment. On hearing the sound of explosions and firing, more tribals from nearby settlements rushed to the site. The firing was indiscriminate and continued for over an hour. Even people who were 200-300 metres away were injured. Many who were trying to escape have bullet injuries in the back, whereas others, who stood and tried to fight back, have been injured in the neck and torso. A tribal woman, who came out from her house to see what was happening, was struck by a bullet and died. The representatives of the BBJ allege that the police picked up three adivasis who were lightly injured and could not run away and chopped off their hands. They died from loss of blood at the Jaipur hospital. The agitators ask the pertinent question, why did the administration and the Tatas start the boundary wall construction despite being aware of the tremendous resentment of the local tribals?

The firing incident strengthened the determination of the tribals to fight back and to continue their resistance. They do not trust the parliamentary parties for obvious reasons. The leadership of the movement is entirely in the hands of the tribals. Outsiders who visit are treated as solidarity groups if they agree to accept the demands of the tribals. The mainstream media, middle class and ruling elite are not able to digest this simple fact. Therefore, there is a deliberate attempt to brand the tribals as Maoists both by bureaucrats and the media.

Reality of ‘Development’

Bisthapan Birodhi Samkalp Samabesh renamed the place of mass cremation (Ambagadia village) as ‘bir bhumi’ in the memory of the martyrs who lost their lives in the anti-displacement movement a year ago. According to the declaration, “People are, therefore, now aware about the real reasons behind displacement and being forced to become casual workers without any rights. The anti-displacement movement of the people makes it clear that people are not willing to accept this humiliating process. In the past, crores of peasants and rural poor in Kalinganagar, Orissa and other parts of India were forced to accept displacement in the name of development of the country, which is actually the development of multi-national corporations (MNCs) and their agents. The masses of India are no longer prepared to make this kind of sacrifice”. The speakers at the meeting explained that due to big industries and projects people are losing their land and employment and nature is being destroyed. They said that the displacement is accelerating the pace of cultural degeneration of the people. The poor, fighting hard for their land rights, the declaration asserts, “would no more tolerate the policy of alienating the land in the name of rehabilitation and resettlement”. Underlining the environment devastating nature of the present model of industrialisation and its negligible employment potential, the declaration maintains that the big projects are being established in the interests of a minuscule minority – national and multinational corporate houses. “This kind of industrialisation is anti-people and against the interests of the country. Thus, it is the duty of all patriotic Indians to oppose such development. Displacement is alienating the lands of the peasants and taking away the livelihood of the poor. Displacement by mining and industrialisation projects is converting the peasants and rural poor into destitutes. The Orissa government, boasting of the best R&R policy in the country is indeed protecting in the interests of big industrialists – the Tatas, Jindals, Mittals, Ambanis, Birlas, Anil Agrawals and MNCs such as POSCO.”

Hitherto anti-displacement movements have centred their demands and mobilisation on better R&R packages. Leaders and activists of the BBJ are well acquainted with the fate of communities displaced by other projects in and outside their area. The horrifying stories of land “acquisition” for mining and already existing steel plants are still fresh in their memories – particularly, the story of the Neelanchal steel plant, a public sector unit. Chakradhar Haibru, the president of the BBJ recalls the gory events of that tragic night as a nightmare. Bulldozers accompanied by police trucks arrived in the village in the dead of the night. The unsuspecting, sleeping villagers were woken up, bundled into trucks and carried away to jail, reminiscent of the Nazi style of carrying people to concentration camps. The hearths and homes, forests and orchards, like everything else were razed to the ground within a few hours. The number of the

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007 uprooted families was 639, out of whom only 100 have been “rehabilitated” with cash payments and put into the companycontrolled “colony”, a euphemism for tinroofed structures without any panchayat rights. They are transformed from a farming community with spacious homesteads into wage earners on the mercy of the “company”, living a slum-like existence. The remaining 539 families seem to have disappeared. No one knows their whereabouts and the government and the company have no answers. Like the displaced peasants of other mega and not-so-mega projects, they must have become a part of slum or footpath-dwellers in some cities. Stirred with shock and surprise people became aware of the reality of “development”. The activists of JVJ, many of them graduates and postgraduates who are farmers by choice, are well aware of the histories of displacement and anti-displacement struggles. They want to remain agriculturists and are determined to refuse to be proletarianised at the altar of “development”.

Dedicated to Their Cause

The crux of their seven-point demand is “no displacement”, proper rehabilitation of those displaced by other projects and punishment for guilty officials responsible for the brutal attack on the peaceful protesters, killing 13 and wounding and maiming many. Compared to many other tribal belts, the munda tribals of these villages are quite mindful of education. Rajendra Jharika of Ambagadia village, a core group member of the movement, is a postgraduate in sociology from Utkal University, Bhubaneshwar. He resigned from a government job and is a farmer by choice. After giving the horrifying details of the lives of the earlier developmentinduced oustees of the area and other parts of Orissa, he argues with technical details that a steel plant needs only 50-60 acre of land but they acquire thousands of acres, probably for future real estate development. The Tatas alone plan to eventually acquire over 180 sq km area in this mineral belt. He along with many other co-agitators expresses concern over the overproduction of steel beyond national needs. They also expressed their anxiety over the large-scale export of the mineral ores, particularly iron ore, raising doubts about the “patriotic” intentions of the government and corporate houses. In Ambagadia, there are other educated men and women who pursue farming by choice. The nearest college is 8 km away. There are 30 college-going students in the village

– 10 of them are girls. All of them are determined to give up their lives but not their land. They are also acquainted with the history of the industrial revolution that was accompanied by the proletarianisation and pauperisation of self-sufficient agricultural communities. In Chandia, one of the villages “already acquired”, according to Birakishore Panda, the landmines laid to trap the protesters on January 2, 2006, have irreparably damaged Birsingh’s legs and he is not sure whether he would be able to walk again. He is agonised and tormented by the design of trapping people between police bullets and the landmines’ fencing, and pained at the governmental callousness and indifference towards adivasis and excessive favour to corporate houses. But ready to further face repression, he is not disappointed and feels confident of continuing the struggle on his crutches.

Opin Jamuda of Atti village who lost his son in the police firing refuses to discuss any R&R package and is determined to fight till the end. Natti Angarai of Gobarhatti village declared,“We shall give up our lives but not the land. The government has killed our 13 comrades; we shall not leave the land even if 13,000 are killed”.

WEEKLYECONOMIC AND POLITICAL

REVIEW OF AGRICULTURE December 30, 2006

Status of Agriculture in India: Trends and Prospects – Archana S Mathur, Surajit Das, Subhalakshmi Sircar Sustaining Agricultural Trade: Policy and Impact – Dhanmanjiri Sathe, R S Deshpande Cross-Validation of Production and Consumption Data of Fruits and Vegetables – Jatinder S Bedi Integrated Land and Water Use: A Case Study of Punjab – A S Bhullar, R S Sidhu Organic Cotton Supply Chains and Small Producers: Governance, Participation and Strategies – Sukhpal Singh Contract Farming through Agribusiness Firms and State Corporation: A Case Study in Punjab – Parmod Kumar Food Security, Agrarian Crisis and Rural Livelihoods: Implications for Women – Maithreyi Krishnaraj For copies write to Circulation Manager

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Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007

People are determined and the movement is gaining momentum and expanding its support base. Oustees of previous mining and industrial projects, anti-displacement mass organisations, pro-people political parties and democratic intellectuals from all over the country have openly come out with their support as was witnessed in the Bisthapan Birodhi Samkalp Samabesh.

Subhanshu Sekhar Das is an advocate in Jaipur, the district headquarter of Kalinganagar. After talking of the follies of the displacement-based industrialisation, he charged the government for allowing so many plants and industries to use groundwater in violation of the Supreme Court orders. The level of groundwater has come down to alarming levels. He expressed the hope that the Kalinganagar movement shall eventually grow into an all-India antidisplacement, anti-imperialist movement. S A Tahir, an oustee of the Jindal steel plant expressed dissatisfaction over the R&R efforts. According to him only eight of the 58 ousted families have been “rehabilitated” on the outskirts of Jaipur. He expressed his resolve to join the movement despite the allurements and threats from the government. In his opinion the firing was part of a deep conspiracy. Rajendra Sarangi of Lok Pakkha, a supporter of the movement, is quite confident of the expansion of the base and the support. In July 2006, when a team of Janhastakshep – movement against fascist designs – held a meeting of intellectuals in Bhubaneshwar after its visit to Kalinganagar, it was attended by a large number of academics, students, artists, writers and poets. Sudhir Nayak, editor of a pro-people Oriya journal Pragatiwadi had informed the gathering that the situation is fast changing and the middle class and the students have begun to debate the issue of displacement in the broader political and economic context of development. Rabindra Sahu, a popular Oriya poet linked the displacement with the ideology of capitalism and emphasised that its opposition is imperative and the responsibility of radical political forces.

The history of displacement-based development is as old as the history of the industrial revolution itself. Slums became the logical corollary of skyscrapers, the landmark symbol of capitalist development. This model practised by Europeans, acquired barbaric heights in “developing” the continents of the Americas, Africa and Australia, where the original inhabitants were enslaved, massacred or marginalised and fenced into “reserves” or the exteriors. The similar barbarism, of course, not at that scale and intensity, is being “legally” resorted to by the state-corporate nexus against the adivasi peasants for “developing” the Kalinganagar industrial complex in the Sukhinda valley of Orissa.

Kalinganagar has raised issues that question this anti-people development model and insist upon debating alternative models. Shiny Shenoy, president of the BBJ’s women’s committee, lost her son in the police firing but undeterred by allurements and threats, she is determined to be in the forefront of the struggle. After talking in detail about the newer methods of mobilisation and among the women in particular, she delved into the limitations of the representative democracy. She regretted having voted for Praful Gadai, the finance minister of the state, who was acting as the agent for the Tatas instead of acting as the people’s representative. Then, reminded of Eklavya, she added that the adivasis are used to giving away their thumbs and they have learnt to shoot arrow without using their thumbs. Only the future would tell how heroically and for how long the determined villagers can hold against the formidable statecorporate nexus but the unprecedented support from various quarters, despite the joint conspiracy of all the ruling class parties against it, gives us a ray of hope. In the light of all-round opposition to the land acquisition for SEZ and other industrial/commercial purposes the results of the Kalinganagar movement would set the precedent.

EPW

Email: mishraish@yahoo.co.in

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007

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