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Coming Downhill From Kashipur

By Deba Ranjan

29 January, 2012
Countercurrents.org

Police firing and encounter deaths for corporate development in Odisha/India

I was coming from Basangamali village on that day with heavy heart. I was thinking about those seventeen villagers who carried nine dead bodies of alleged ‘Maoists’ on their shoulder, from the side of the stream to the top of the hill. Police forced them to do it at gun point after gunning down the ‘Maoists’. I was imagining the dreams and hopes they would have thought on the previous night and the pain and frustration on the next morning. This was the incident of early morning of 9th January 2011 when few armed police came to that village and threatened all villagers to carry dead ‘Maoists’ otherwise would face consequences because the villagers had given them food on previous night. I was part of the team of few human rights organizations including PUDR, PUCL, OPDR, HRF and APCLC in May 2011 to do a joint fact finding of infamous Basangamali-Kashipur encounter deaths. I was joining the team as a writer and an activist of Kashipur struggle. (I am thankful to all those members for inviting me to be part of it.)

I remember, five years back, probably in 2004, I was in the same village as a ‘Sangrami’ – activist discussing against leasing out of hills by the government for the bauxite mining companies like Aditya Birla - Hindalco, Vedanta etc. and need of tribal resistance. I was discussing about problem of tribal land alienation, Panchayat level corruption and our fight against tribal- land grabber who was then block president of ruling Biju Janata Dal. That was a winter evening and I was with tribal boys of nearby villages like Kucheipadar, Similiguda and Bhitarguma villages etc of Kashipur area. That night we slept in the village and we had no guns (we were away of gun politics). I was surprised with the early morning beauty of the village and moved around on the top of the hill. The village was surrounded with mustard flowers, kandula and alsi cultivation besides paddy and ragi. That time and this time I saw the same number of houses, nearly forty, all are Kondh tribes; there was no water facility in the village, no road, no electricity, no health facility; only a primary school building on top of the hill shows the presence of the welfare State.

During the year of 2005-08, we all faced the State repression in Kashipur of Odisha because of our resistance to the Aditya Birla - Hindalco bauxite mining and alumina project. Many of our activist-friends of the struggle led by PSSP (Prakrutik Sampad Surakshya Parishad) were picked up by police from villages (including nearby villages of Basangamali), from market places and from river side, at day time and at midnight in criminal offence under sections of IPC like arson, dacoity, attempt to murder, rioting, obstructing government offices in duty etc. Many were tortured on their way by local police and were sent for months into jail. Several times, police resorted to severe lathi-charge and blank firing to cow down the movement (we experienced police firing on 16th December 2000 and had lost three tribals).

This time the Basangamali villagers were telling ‘dalam’ (Maoist’ squad member) had come to their villages twice. ‘Dalam’ members were doing cultural programes, were telling to oppose the mining companies, to oppose land grabbers, liquor traders, forest officials, panchayat level corrupt people and ask for proper wages from the contractors. Previous night the villagers provided them rice and utensils for cooking. Some of the ‘dalam’ members were from Kashipur area whose father or brothers were part of the PSSP struggle earlier and had gone to jail. Out of the nine dalam members shot on that encounter, five girls were from Kashipur area.
Such killings and arrests in recent past

In these years of police repression, between 2005 and 2008 in Kashipur, really people were in fear and they stopped their resistance. It was a battle between the citizens and corporate guided-Odisha state. Later Aditya Birla Company won the battle (and I left Kashipur in February 2008). The Chief Judicial Magistrate, Rayagada gave judgment in most of these criminal cases of 2004 and 2006 as ‘mistake of facts’ and found ‘accused’ as ‘not guilty’. In no case police has examined the ‘complainant’ and in some cases police has taken ‘plane paper signature’ from the ‘complainant’ to use the same as FIR, what the magistrate found during the process of cross-examination. So the magistrate acquitted all ‘accused’ tribals and ‘set them at liberty’ after months of their confinement (and some cases are also under trial now). Actually, the police, the government and the company wanted to put those activists in jail for few months so that they could take away tribal land easily and they had succeeded in doing that. Unfortunately, the magistrate did not direct the government to initiate cases against such police officers at least to check such misuse of power in future, nor did he direct the government to express apology before those tribals and pay compensation - as if the tribals are in this country to put into jail for months if they come as a hindrance to State’s decision. Now the Aditya Birla – Hindalco Alumina Company is at the construction stage. The Company has acquired tribals’ land. Some of the tribal have refused to sell their own land but the Aditya Birla Company constructed its office over it forcibly. Now at any moment Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik may land at Kashipur for inauguration of this project built on the blood of tribals. He did order for police firing in 2000 and second phase police repression in 2005. He is our home minister also.

These intentional use of power and position at the government level, by-passing the constitutional provision of taking ‘consent’ of Gramsabha in tribal areas within PESA (Provision of Extension of Scheduled Areas Act), helped the Aditya Birla – Hindalco Company to acquire tribal land. Aditya Birla is the son of G.D. Birla, the chief patron of Mahatma Gandhi during independent struggle. Ashis Nandi, writer and philosopher, speaks about G.D. Birla, ‘two people had understood Gandhiji well. One was Nathuram Gadse, who killed him and another was G.D. Birla who did good business after his death’ (from his writing ‘Final encounter: The politics of assassination of Gandhijee’). Hindalco of Birla group is in Odisha since 60s on aluminium sector receiving water from Hirakud Dam for its aluminium plat in Sambalpur district. The Hirakud dam was constructed in 50s on river Mahanadi. Declaring this dam as “modern temple”, Jawaharlal Nehru also said ‘for the development of the nation some people should give sacrifice for it’. Hundreds of villages were submerged and thousands were displaced due to this dam and many of them are yet to be compensated. In a similar occasion, people of Kashipur and Thuamul Rampur (of Kalahandi district) were cheated by Odisha government during Indravati dam and power project in 80s. As the memory of such betrayal had not gone, the government of Odisha signed several mining MOUs for extraction bauxite from the region including Kashipur project of Aditya Birla- Hindalco.
From December 2010 to January 2011, a series of encounters happened in Odisha at three different places. One is at Paikamal of Baragarh district (killing two people on 27th December 2010) where people are opposing Vedanta’s proposed Gandhamardan hill bauxite mining project. Vedanta has applied for Gandhamardan before the Odisha government after gloomy picture for Niyamagiri and villagers around the hill are vehemently opposing any new mining lease. Second encounter happened at Tomka/Kalinganagar of Keonjhar – Jajpur border (killing five people on 1st January 2011) where people are opposing Tata steel project and the next one was Basangamali encounter of Rayagada district killing nine people mostly tribal youths.

Killing of peoples by police resisting land grabbing by the State was not uncommon in Odisha. Earlier it was due to police’s open firing on dalits and tribals like Maikanch firing in Kashipur (2000), Raighar in Nabarangpur district (2001), Kucheipadar of Kashipur (December 2004), Kalinga Nagar (January 2006 and again in April 2010), Narayanpatna (November 2009) were few incidents where tribals became the target of blood thirsty Odisha police. So, attack on dalits and tribals by the State are becoming more frequent in the phase of economic reform (more in these Naveen Patnaik’s regime). When the State is trying to encroach upon the land and livelihood of the tribals and dalits, obviously it is facing resistance from the later. Then and there police is becoming the ultimate resort for the State to silence the resistance. Earlier the state government was telling those people as ‘anti-development’ to get the logic for brutality of which I was a victim during my days with Kashipur struggle. Now a days Odisha government is using the term “Maoists” for each and every resistance. For example, the anti-Posco struggle in coastal Jagatsingpur district and anti-Vedanta University struggle in coastal Puri district are not free from such suspicion and allegation even. The State has the intention of declaring those tribals and the activists of the resistance struggle as ‘anti-national’ though in most cases is unable to substantiate it for which many people are going free by the Court after spending more than a year in jail. Unfortunately the Court is not directing the government to give compensation nor is initiating cases against such wrongful confinement.

While coming back this time from Basangamali I was searching the answer of killings of own people by the State for the purpose of corporate development. I could not distinguish the difference between ‘anti-development’ what we were called that time by the State and ‘Maoists’ what local youths are called today. We were fired upon both the times by the state police for our opposition to mining companies. Were we wrong? Is it a coincident of presence of increasing number of MNCs so also paramilitary forces with increasing number of encounter deaths and starvation deaths (for which Kashipur is also known today) in these area? Is it the reason why numbers of police stations are increasing much higher than the crime rate in the district? Why the State is pursuing its own development plan when it has failed to provide further employment in industries? How a nation of corporate, traders, corrupt police officers and administrators has been built up to protect ‘self-interest’ within a democratic nation of local dalits, tribals and peasants here in this part of India? Is it really Maoism a problem or anti-Maoist’s operation in reality, helping exploiters to continue their work without opposition? And what the ‘Maoists’ are doing ….more killing of alleged ‘police informers’ in retaliation of ‘encounter’? I was thinking about the villagers of Kashipur areas – they are trying to protect their land from the Company and they are finding every time the brutality of police as the answer.

Deba Ranjan is a social activist Email : debasar11@yahoo.co.in

 

 



 


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