Emerging Contours of Peoples’ Resistance : Ranchi, Jadugoda, Jagatsinghpur

May 24, 2007

Ranchi : First taste of fury for Reliance Fresh

Ranchi, May 12: Hundreds of street vendors armed with rods stormed three Reliance outlets today as fears of survival sparked the first attack on the company since its countrywide push into farm retail.

The protesters, among them a large number of women, marched down the Jharkhand capital, screaming slogans and targeting one store after another before police used bamboo canes to chase them away.

The attack, one of the most serious instances of unrest linked to the entry of large retail chains in the fragmented sector, comes at a time when the corporate giant faces opposition in neighbouring Bengal, too.

Last month, the Mukesh Ambani-led company had to whittle down plans for a project spanning Bengal after the original proposal ran into resistance from the Forward Bloc and other allies of the CPM-led government.

In Ranchi, the vendors had been protesting against the city’s four Reliance Fresh stores for the past fortnight, claiming that the chain was driving them out of business by selling vegetables at rates much lower than market prices.

Today, as their anger boiled over, they attacked the outlets, which had been shut as a precautionary measure, smashed glass panes, ransacked a restaurant and didn’t spare even the two-wheelers parked outside.

Reliance Fresh spokesperson Manu Kapoor confirmed it was the first attack on the company, which has 157 outlets across 18 states.

The vendors, joined by daily wage labourers, screamed “down with Anil Ambani” — though the chain is owned by his brother Mukesh — and “down with (chief minister) Madhu Koda” as they marched down the streets.

Senior police officers, busy playing a friendly cricket match, woke up to the unrest late. City superintendent of police Richard Lakra claimed his force was caught unawares because the vendors changed their route at the last moment.

Uday Shankar Ojha of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (P), who led the procession and is among the 13 arrested, justified the attack. “It is a question of survival of thousands of street vendors and they are not likely to listen to anyone,” he said.

In Bengal, Bloc leader and state marketing board chairman Naren Chatterjee warned that the corporate giant could face similar attacks if it went ahead with plans to open stores in the state.

“If small traders are affected, the reaction may be violent,” he said.

Jadugoda : Living next to India’s uranium mine

If you met Guria, you would fall in love with her.

Guria is a dark-eyed little girl who lies in the shade of her house on a bed made of rope, waiting for her daddy to come home from work.

She grins as she sees him, and those dark eyes of hers light up. Her father returns her smile as he scoops her up in his arms. But his eyes are filled with tears.

For Guria cannot speak. Nor can she walk. Her hands – if you can call them hands – are bent, and quiver. But her eyes reach out.

Her father pedals a rickshaw for a living. He earns a pittance and tells me he will do all he can to care for Guria, while he is alive. But what will happen when he dies?

Guria is seven years old.

A stone’s throw from her house, another girl lies on another rope bed. She is 23.

In many ways, she is like Guria, save for the fact that she seems to be in pain.

She gasps for breath. Her look is anguished, hurt.

She is dressed in a sari, but she never goes anywhere, and has never been anywhere. For 23 years this has been her life.

Village transformed

The parents of these girls are not sure what has caused their daughters’ plight. There are around 50 other children in Jaduguda, in India’s eastern state of Jharkand, in a similar condition.

But the state-owned corporation responsible for the vast uranium mining complex which dominates the village insists it is not to blame.

Over the past 30 to 40 years, the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) has transformed Jaduguda, bringing jobs, money and housing for the workers.

But its critics say progress has come at a high price.

Many people here saw their land requisitioned when the mines came. Instead of living on it, they must now work beneath it.

Once, these hills were the haunt of bear, elephant and tiger. But no more.

The forest canopy is sparse now, but among the trees there stands a roadside shrine.

Surrounded by offerings of coconut and incense, it is dedicated to the goddess Rankini, a local deity whose realm encompasses Jaduguda alone.

The people of the village put their faith in their goddess – or else in witch doctors.

Rankini’s jurisdiction may be limited, but from her vantage point the goddess can spy on mere mortals toiling in the valley below.

I saw some of them. They were digging for water. Each bucket they brought to the surface was brown ooze. So they dug deeper.

Above them, barely a stone’s throw from their makeshift well, there was a wall. The wall of a dam – behind which lie millions of tons of slurry and waste from the uranium pits.

And, in the river which runs past Jaduguda, I saw villagers washing their vegetables.

Upstream, the river’s waters mingle with the murky outflow from the mine workings.

There are no signs to warn of contamination. Just as there are no signs on the trucks which carry uranium ore from the mines or bring nuclear waste from across India for dumping.

Court case

Back in 1998, when India announced it had conducted tests of a thermo-nuclear device in its north-western deserts, the people of Jaduguda came out onto the streets to celebrate “their” bomb.

After all, Jaduguda produces all of India’s uranium.

Many in the village think they have shown pride in their country’s nuclear achievements. Now they say it is time their country started to do more for them, and offered them proper protection and health monitoring, medical care and compensation.

People are wary too of outsiders asking questions. One accused me of being an informer. When you have spoken to us, he said, you will drink wine with the bosses from the company.

As for the company, UCIL, it promised me an interview. But at the appointed time I waited outside the mine headquarters in vain. There was no interview. And no wine.

A survey suggested that nearly one in five of all women living near the mine has suffered either a miscarriage or a stillbirth within the previous five years.

The state legislature described the deaths and health problems as deplorable.

But a court case brought by local activists against UCIL – which is a subsidiary of the department of atomic energy and of the government of India – failed, after the company insinuated the problems were the result of poor hygiene and diet, and alcohol abuse.

So now, in the courtyard of a house in a small village in India, two teenagers – brother and sister – squat on crumpled limbs on a dirt floor scooping rice from metal bowls with their misshapen hands.

In the village’s main street, another boy mends bicycles he will never be able to ride – because when he was nine his legs suddenly started to bend and break. They look now as if they have melted.

And as night starts to fall, Guria’s father cradles his little girl – with her beautiful dark eyes – and wonders what on Earth will happen to her when he is gone.

Source : BBC

Emerging Contours of Peoples’ Resistance : POSCO

The Nandigram effect is striking deeper roots, clouding the drive to industrialise vast swathes in the country.

Posco today said it was willing to redraw the site map of India’s biggest foreign investment project, bypassing a pocket of land resistance, if the Orissa government provided an alternative plot.

The offer from the South Korean steel-maker, made after a hostage crisis that ended late last night, has striking similarities with the Bengal government’s retreat from Nandigram.

After 14 people died there in the March 14 police firing, the administration had issued a formal notification saying land would not be acquired for industry in Nandigram.

In Bhubaneswar this morning, Posco spokesman Sashank Patnaik said: “If the government gives us such an offer (of land elsewhere), we will seriously consider it.”

The company has, however, offered to forgo only the 200-odd acres marked out at Dhinkia panchayat, where three of its officials were held hostage for several hours yesterday. It said nothing about the Gadakujang and Nuagaon panchayats where the rest of the earmarked private land lies.

The Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, which has led the land resistance for nearly two years, insisted that Posco must keep out of all three panchayats. “By dropping one gram panchayat they are trying to divide the agitation,” Samiti president Abhay Sahu said.

Even if the company leaves all three panchayats out of its plans, its proposed Rs 51,000-crore plant would not need to be relocated completely, unlike the projects planned in Nandigram. For, only 438 acres of the 4,004 acres it needs is privately owned. But Sahu insisted that “Posco must shift its project site” altogether.

“Our people also have stakes in the (adjoining) government land where they have been cultivating cashew and betel for decades. They would lose it all if the government acquires the land for Posco.”

Ever since the three panchayats’ residents learnt of the Posco plan 20 months ago, they haven’t allowed any government official or policeman to enter their villages and have threatened “another Nandigram” if force were used.

If the government has to find alternative land in keeping with the Posco offer, it has to come from adjoining areas. Getting private land there could be difficult, too.

The more governments and companies backtrack in the face of land protests, the more emboldened people might be to take to agitation, even violence. This would leave investors with little choice but to explore virgin, remote areas.

That will require big-ticket infrastructure investment by governments — not an easy task considering the funds constraints.

Sahu said the villages had raised three “battalions” of children, women and men to resist attempts to take their land by force. “The children will not hesitate to throw themselves forward against any use of force.”