Orissa – Statement protesting against state repression on people’s movement in Narayanpatna

November 23, 2011

On 20 November 2011, we, the undersigned, were heading towards Podapadar village in Narayanpatna block of Koraput district where the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) was to organize a public meeting to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by two of their frontline leaders, Wadeka Singana and Nachika Andrew, who had fallen prey to state terror two years back on the same day. On 20 November 2009, hundreds of ‘unarmed’ adivasis had assembled at the Narayanpatna police station to register their protest democratically against untold excesses committed by police and paramilitary forces on them in the pretext of combing operations. But, the police – in the most undemocratic and barbaric manner – indiscriminately fired at the people in which Wadeka Singana and Nachika Andrew fell dead inside premises of the police station and several were wounded.

The CMAS has been fighting to restore the rights of native communities over their own land and resources, to shut down illegal liquor shops, and to reclaim their cultural ethos on face of the hegemony established by non-adivasi landlords, moneylenders, and bootleggers. The democratic movement has questioned the unconstitutional manner in which the state had played facilitator to the cultural and economic appropriation in a ‘scheduled’ area. The CMAS has also strongly come in the way of the state’s nefarious plans to hand over the Deo Mali range to mining hawks for profits at the cost of the economy and culture of the local adivasis. To ensure protection to the land-grabbers, liquor traders, and corporate interests, a state of terror has been let loose in the area, with police and paramilitary forces given impunity for their excesses.

As we were travelling in a vehicle passing through Bandhugan and then Narayanpatna, the expected buzz in the atmosphere on this important day was somehow conspicuously absent. However, no one could miss to notice the heavy, intimidating presence of armed BSF men along the road in the adivasis heartland: some of them roaming about with fierce, suspicious eyes and some standing on guard waiting to fire at some dreaded ‘enemies of the state’ about to appear somewhere. We drove past a BSF camp in Bandhugan and another in Narayanpatna, and no sooner we sighted yet another at Basnaput village, we bumped into a roadblock. At least a dozen gun-trotting BSF men were standing on our way, besides the road being clogged-up with logs and stones by them. Podapadar was still two kilometres away.

The BSF men stopped our vehicle and asked us to turn back, despite them being introduced to the team that comprised media persons, social activists, and writers. We tried to convince them for hours that the forces had no constitutional right to curb free movement of any citizen and that the public meeting called by the CMAS at Podapadar was well within democratic sanctions and, therefore, they had no right to stop or intimidate people coming to attend the meeting. We were, in turn, kept engaged by the BSF men and the thana in-charge of Narayanpatna in meaningless discussions without them giving any appropriate reason for not allowing us to proceed. They kept repeating some hollow explanations: “We are instructed from higher authorities not to let anyone go beyond this point” or “Maoists have laid landmines on the way” and so on. The district collector on phone expressed ignorance about any such order ‘from above’ to stop people while the Koraput SP did not pick his phone. Interestingly, right at that point, a tractor was allowed to go ahead on the way where ‘Maoists had laid landmines’, and about an hour later, the same tractor came back unscathed. After more than three hours of debate, we had no option other than returning from Basnaput village.

On our way back, between Basnaput and Bandhugan, we met several people who narrated to us how the paramilitary forces had attacked and brutally beaten them up when more than a thousand people were peacefully marching towards Podapadar to join the event. Even women and children were not spared; a 12-year-old boy looked terrified and baffled as he showed us his badly swollen face and narrated the assault on the people! Later in the day, we further learned that police and paramilitary forces had forcefully stopped and terrorized at different places thousands of people coming to join the meeting from various directions. Despite such air of terror unleashed all around by the forces, more than 5000 people had assembled at the Shahid Stambha (martyr’s pillar) at Podapadar. The forces reached there too in the afternoon and started beating up the people mercilessly in attempts to disperse them. Several people were injured, some severely, and at least three of them have been arrested. In the evening, at around 9 pm, we got the news that police had demolished the Shahid Stambha for the second time within a year. This is an extremely obnoxious act of cultural violence in which people are denied their fundamental right to remember and pay homage to their dead ones.

Having witnessed firsthand a day of intimidation and terror in the Narayanpatna block, the stark images of a ‘police state’ and repression on people’s democratic voices only came clearer to us at the end of the day. And, from that, arise many a question:

* The CMAS and the people of Narayanpatna are fighting to restore their due rights over land and resources, which the state should rather be facilitating to ensure. Why is the state treating them as dreaded criminals instead? Has the state already decided to abandon the Constitution?
* Under which law is the martyr’s day observed by the people of Narayanpatna an unlawful act that the state let loose such large number of police and paramilitary forces to stop it by terrorizing and brutally beating up innocent people?
* Have we already formally become a ‘police state’ that freedom of expression and free movement of ordinary citizens are crushed in such barefaced manners?
* Why is the state so evidently reluctant to settle land disputes in the area? Why are hundreds of people who simply asked for their due rights over their own land still languishing in jail, and those who have been perpetrating untold violence on the local people are given state protection?

If the state claims to have any respect for the Constitution, we expect it to meet our following demands IMMEDIATELY:

* Withdraw the entire paramilitary forces from Narayanpatna.
* Release all the people of Narayanpatna who have been illegally put behind bars.
* Withdraw all the cases falsely registered against hundreds of adivasis in the Narayanpatna area, including those against CMAS leader Nachika Linga.
* Settle all land disputes in the area after duly consulting the local people.
* Scrap all the MoUs with corporate and government entities relating to mining on the Deo Mali range.

And we appeal to all democratic forces to join us in condemning and protesting against such atmosphere of terror being unleashed by the state in Narayanpatna.

Sincierly,

RABI DAS, Senior Journalist and Editor, Ama Rajadhani

PRAFULLA SAMANTARA, Convenor, Lokshakti Abhiyan Odisha, and Convenor, NAPM

DANDAPANI MOHANTY, Convenor, Odisha Jan Adhikar Manch

LENIN KUMAR, Writer, and Editor, Nisan

SUBRAT KUMAR SAHU, Independent Filmmaker and Journalist