Brutalities cannot be forgotten

July 5, 2011

July 5, 2011

by Deba Ranjan

“One writes out of a need to communicate and to commune with others, to denounce that which gives pain and to share that which gives happiness.” – Eduardo Galeano from ‘Open veins of Latin America ’

Should we forget the inhuman behaviour of a government? Will we forget, as we tend to do time and again, a history of torture and brutality? The State and its allies want us to forget. Our forgetfulness is their sole desire.

“26 platoons of State armed police are proceeding towards Dhinkia – Govindpur. I don’t know what will happen. Bloodshed?” my friend said to me over phone. “Switch on the TV. You will see,” he repeated. I could not gather the strength to switch on the TV, to witness another shameless act of brutality by Naveen Patnaik. If I do see, I will be faced with the same stark questions –are we stakeholders in a ‘socialist, democratic republic’; where are we ‘progressing’; and are we getting ‘civilised’.

My resistance is against the attitude of the government of Orissa led by Naveen Patnaik, an environment-writer and western scholar (with three books in English against his name, or so says the Orissa government website). Unfortunately, he was parachuted in to Orissa (probably from the US ) as the son of Biju Patnaik and since then we have this appendicitis – some times giving unbearable pain.

In 1997 Naveen announced his existence/arrival in Orissa after the death of his father Biju Patnaik, who too had dreamt of a second steel plant by any private company (preferably by Tata – Gopalpur project) in the state in his last tenure, 1990-95. Biju could not make that happen within his period. But his first son, Prem Patnaik, elder brother of Naveen Patnaik, could become a steel corporate giant. Naveen became steel minister within Atal Bihari Bajpayee’s ministry after the formation of Biju Janata Dal (just after death of Biju Patnaik) and went on to become the Chief Minister of Orissa in 2000 with the help of BJP. (His alliance with BJP continued till the Kandhamal anti-Chrisitan communal violence (2008) though his father was opposing vehemently the rise of BJP during his days. )

That year itself, on December 16, 2000, he ordered police firing in Maikanch village (Kashipur), killing three tribals, for setting up a Hindalco-Aditya Birla bauxite mine and alumina plant. It is his third term as Chief Minister now. The same Kashipur people faced police repression for the second time during 2005 when many tribal activists were arrested or faced police lathi charge several times. The villages like Kucheipadar, Bagrijola were cordoned off. I was part of the same struggle and with other villagers we experienced the brutalities of state police turned Aditya Birla security guards. The conflict started when we opposed the setting up of another police station near the village Kucheipadar Kond tribal village, instead of building hospitals. Later, for such public-funded-private-used police forces, Doraguda police station was constructed in 2009 just in front of Doraguda plant of Aditya Birla in Kashipur.

This repression by the State has intensified over time. On May 15, 2010, the police opened fire, burnt tents and shops at Balitutha. People of the area were on protest at the entry point of POSCO project.

There have been several arrests and torture episodes in the last two years. For the last few months both villages, Dhinkia and Govindpur, were under police siege. Villagers were depending on their relatives and sympathizers for medicines and other essential items. Whom should we blame for the brutality?

About POSCO project
* Total land required : 3719 acres
* Private land : 152 acres
* Forest land : 2958 acres
* Land acquired so far : 1500 acres from Polanga, Bhuanala, Nuagaon and Noliasahi villagers
* Total project affected persons : 613 persons.
* Total investment : 52 thousand crores of Rupees
* Struggle has been continuing fro last 6 years. Now State government is determined to start construction on those lands. Same thing they did in case of Kaling nagar, Kashipur and Lanjigada. Later they will acquire rest of the land after breaking the struggle with help of brutal police and distributing unaccounted money.

United Nations declared the year 2011 as ‘year of forest’. Ignoring this declaration, the central government sanctioned nearly 3000 acres of forest land to Posco, which was a stumbling block for land acquisition. The central government environment minister knows very well that Orissa has gone beyond other states in diversion of forest land for industrial purposes. The same ministry announced in 2010, ‘Orissa has one of the highest rates of diversion of forest land’ in its report.

Which is true — the 2010 announcement or giving permission for POSCO in 2011? Is not it a case of double-faced politics by the Manmohan Singh – Sonia Gandhi UPA government?

In fact, from 1950 to 2003 nearly 226622.32 hectares (nearly 5.6 lakh acres) of forest areas have been diverted for different kind of development projects in Orissa, including irrigation and industry/mining. And we have an environment-writer turned politician Chief Minister. ‘Out of total land of 79,330 hectares allotted for mining leases as on 31 Dec 2005, more than 50% is forest land’, says government statistics.

And about the year 2010? UN (not that anyone really cares) said it is ‘the year of biodiversity’. Biodiversity means ‘the existence of a large number of different kinds of animals and plants which make a balanced environment’. In the year of 1999 when the super cyclone devastated the same Erasam block of Jagatsingpur district (where POSCO project has been set up now), fortunately these three panchayats, Dhinkia, Govindpur and Nuagaon were saved.

I have seen hundreds of dead bodies floating on water near village Panchubati and Erasam during that time, but not in this part. Was it due to the elevated situation of these three panchayats? Was it for the mangrove trees surrounding the villages? It could be. But POSCO wanted those safe land from natural calamities. (and also due to port-based infrastructure and water facility that already exists here).

But if that land also goes to the hand of POSCO then what will happen to those villagers? What will happen to farmers who are getting water from Mahanadi river, if river water is diverted for POSCO? What will happen to the Khandadhar mining areas from where POSCO would get iron ore? What impacts it will have on already endangered wildlife species such as Olive Ridley turtles and others? Are not all these part of biodiversity?

Whether it is POSCO or any other company, the government attitude towards its citizens is the same. Why is the UN declaring all these years as ‘forest’, or ‘biodiversity hot spots’ when the government does not respect their declarations? Is the UN mocking at the depletion of biodiversity, or making a serious effort to save what is left of nature?

UN declared 2009 as ‘International year of Human Rights – from December 10, 2008, to December 10, 2009’. The preamble of UN declaration of Human Rights says ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’. This declaration also warns in its preamble ‘disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind’.

What has the Orissa government learned from such UN declarations? It learned to parrot UN Declaration of Human Rights, 2009, for the police and administration, like children learning from their textbooks. Nowadays, police and IAS academy have as their subjects human rights, environment science, secularism, etc.

Last year, one of my filmmaker friends was showing me some footage captured in the Kalinga Nagar area by a local village youth. The footage was on police brutality: armed police surrounding Chandia and other villages, using tear gas cells and chasing villagers with lathis and guns. I have seen in a tribal village how the boys gherao rats in the field to kill them if they come within their playing area. Here, policemen were chasing villagers because ‘they came in the way of Tata’s steel plant project’. Probably villagers made a mistake generations ago of choosing that place as “our land”.

Nearly 3000 villagers of 3 major villages in Kalinga Nagar area were under a month-long village arrest (or you can say cordoned off) in February 2010 by Tata goons, ruling BJD party goons and the police. They (mainly police) were restricting villagers’ access to even food and medicines, arrested 21 tribals during that time and caused the death of three tribals due to lack of proper medicines. In March 2010 heavily armed police numbering nearly 700, including personnel of anti-maoist operation, started the operation of land acquisition for Tata project against ‘undeterred villagers’.

Tata looted Orissa, and it is its centenary year of such looting of iron ore; first it was from Mayurbhanj district up to 70s and now it is from Kaliapani mines of Keonjhar district, first, it was by Jamshedjee Tata who negotiated with the British for an iron ore mining and steel company since 1912, and did the same with independent India’ rulers. The Indian government conferred him the ‘Bharat ratna’ – jewel of India- the highest civilian award given by the government.

Now Ratan Tata is continuing the same legacy. The industrial policy of Orissa says that unless a company has a plant, it will not be permitted for mining, except and only except Tata. Tatas often threaten the government, both central and the State, with withdrawal of investment if requirement of Tata is not met.( “We believe in six-seven years we can have 30million tonnes from scratch in this country (India), if we get captive iron ore and coal mines. But there is uncertainty, so, if there is opportunity, we will go outside India .” – Ratan Naval Tata in Businessworld 14th January 2008.) Since 1912, Tata’s empire might have grown a thousand times (!) but the poverty line of Orissa has always been much higher than the national average.

It is not necessary to mention the poverty ratio of such tribal districts like Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Jajpur where Tata is extracting iron ore. Infant Mortality Rate (IMR per 1000 lives) of Keonjhar (90) and Sundergarh (81) was much higher than the state average (73) and national average (57) in 2006 though both these districts are famous for mines of many big industrial houses including Tata. POSCO will have the same at Khandadhar in Keonjhar district.

On January 2, 2006, police opened fire, killing fourteen tribals for the same Tata project at Kalinga Nagar. Entire civil society was shocked by such gruesome action on the same villagers of Baligotha, Chandia, Gobarghati and others. Immediately, Sonia Gandhi announced five lakh rupees for each deceased. But the local villagers were refusing to accept that amount of money for some months. I, with hundreds of protesters joined the rally, participated in Martyr’s day programme at Kalinga Nagar, and organised several mass meetings condemning the attack.

When I saw those footages of police chasing the villagers in March 2010 in Kaling Nagar, I was asking myself what impact had our protest meetings, dharnas, signature campaigns had? What is the government doing in Kalinga Nagar, if it is not mocking us?

The Orissa government has a history of police firing, brutality and torture. The assault intensifies if people come in the way of the interest of corporates. Anti-Posco, anti-Tata, anti-Vedanta and anti-Aditya Birla resistances in different parts of Orissa are examples. So, we are in a police state in the post-economic reform-Orissa. The State’s behaviour with Dhinkia and Govindpur villagers is another example of the same attitude.

This aggression on the people of Orissa and their humiliation cannot be forgotten.

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