Orissa: Killing Fields of Corporate Loot
As a ‘New Year Gift’ to the TATAs, the Orissa police mercilessly butchered 12 tribals and injured many in Kalinganagar industrial area of Jajpur district on January 2. The CPI(ML) investigation team was the first to reach the spot, reaching Kalinganagar on January 4. This team was led by Comrades Kshitish Biswal and Subhendu Sen, the Party State Secretaries of Orissa and Jharkhand respectively, and Comrade Rajaram, member of the Central Committee, along with Orissa State Committee member Radhakant Sethi, Human Rights activist Diwakar Behuria and Mahendra Parida. visited Kalinganagar on January 4. They paid homage to the martyred adivasis at their funeral, and expressed solidarity with the struggling adivasis.
CPI(ML) joined Orissa Bandh called by left parties and Adivasi Adhikar Morcha on January 7. Also, CPI(ML) units organised protests in various parts of the country including New Delhi, Jharkhand, Bihar, and many other states.
Subsequently, a team of JNU students, led by the JNUSU President Mona Das and including AISA National Executive Member Awadhesh Tripathi as well as AISA activists Rajan Pandey and Vanessa Chishti, visited the spot between 12-15 January.
We carry excerpts from the JNU students’ fact-finding report:
Orissa is emerging as the laboratory of neo-liberal development, where the state routinely auctions of the life and liberty of indigenous communities to the highest (or shall we say lowest?) bidder. Business houses and the eagerly collaborating state/local government have found soft targets in adivasis, and it is no accident that most of these people fed into the Orissa ‘development mill’ are also Dalit. Taking these organic communities away from their land obliterates intricate systems of economic, political, cultural and social sustenance and thrusts them into the margins of a market economy and market society. In a short span of 2years the Orissa government has signed 43Memorandums of Understanding with foreign and Indian monopoly business houses. The mining industry is being projected as the only form of development. The government, of course, neglects to make known the following: that expert estimates show that Orissa’s mineral wealth will run out in a matter of decades and the industry will come crashing down; that the majority of exports are those of low quality sponge iron, the value addition happens elsewhere and accrues to the GDP of another country; that there is very little revenue generated as most sizeable transactions are under the table and benefit individual pockets and not the state coffers.
Kalinganagar: No Man’s Land
List of the 12 People Killed in Police Firing In Kalinganagar
Circumstance of Death
|Date of Death|
|Bhagban Soy||25 (M)||Gobarghati||Police Death||03/01/2006|
|Gobinda Lahuri (7th class student)||12 (M)||Bamiagotha||Champa Coila (police firing)||02/01/2006
|Mukta Bankira||30 (F)||Chandia||Police Custody||03/01/2006|
|36 (M)||Bamiagotha||Police Custody||03/01/2006|
||29 (M)||Bamiagotha||Police Custody||03/01/2006|
||28 (F)||Champakoila||Police Custody||02/01/2006|
||35 (M)||Gadpur||Police Custody||03/01/2006|
||32 (M)||Chandia||Police Custody||03/01/2006|
||35 (M)||Gadpur||Police Custody||03/01/2006|
||25 (M)||Belahuri||On the Spot||02/01/2006|
||27 (F)||Bamiagotha||On the Spot||02/01/2006|
|Ramgalal Munduya||40 (M)||Baligotha||SCB Medical
To begin with, there is really no such place as Kalinganagar. The site of state repression and the spirited resistance to it, is a cluster of tribal villages on Jajpur road. The government has acquired vast tracts of land and re-named the area ‘Kalinganagar Industrial Area’, a name supposed to invoke the Emperor Ashoka, and whole heartedly rejected by the tribals.
From our discussion with Chakradhar Hebrew, leader of Visthapan Virodhi Janmanch, emerged a narrative of the history of the movement and the demands they place before the state government.
The tribes in question have been tilling and living on the contested land since 1860. The last round of land settlement took place between 1922-28. The notoriously out of date Land records in Orissa have not been updated since and as a result the tribals do not have pattas, documents establishing their legal claim to ownership of the land. The year 1967-68 saw a fresh wave of land surveys in Orissa but Adivasis were not made part of the process. In 1992 tribal leaders brought it to the unwilling notice of the government that Adivasis were in an extremely vulnerable position vis-à-vis the state-corporate combine.
The material basis was the fact that in the early 1990s the Orissa government, following a larger trend of liberalisation in the larger political economy of India, started inviting steel companies to set up shop in Orissa and started acquiring land for that purpose. In a meeting at the Circuit house in Cuttak with the then revenue minister, P.C. Ghadai, the local MLA (who is now the finance minister of Orissa) and the district collector. They pointed out that in the absence of pattas it would be impossible for the state government to award just compensation: they therefore suggested the setting up of an evaluation committee to decide upon the value of the land and proportional compensation to decrease the likelihood of arbitrary uncompensated development.
The government has leased out 13000 acres of land to companies in the area, out of these approximately 6985 acres were privately owned land that the government acquired. Each acre was acquired at a promised rate of 37000 rupees and an additional grant of 25000 rupees per acre compensation was declared. Predictably, payments were erratic because accurate claims to land could not be established (due to absence of pattas) and were filtered through layer of after layer of corrupt bureaucracy.
In 1992-93, the Nilanchal Ispat steel plant, a Public Sector Unit, flagged off the displacement drive, and village after village was razed to the ground. Nilanchal alone displaced 634 families. Promised land for re-settlement, they were relocated onto ten decimals of land, that too on a cremation ground, that too without pattas. Promises of drinking water, health care, education and employment were betrayed. A majority of Adivasis became private contract labourers for the company working on very bad terms. Only 112 families remain in that rehabilitation colony.
Till this time, tribals were willing to exchange land for proper compensation, but gradually it became clear to them that the state has no intention of properly compensating them. After the damage done in the wake of Nilanchal and MESCO, an inevitable mistrust for the government was aroused and tribals refused to vacate their land for the proposed Jindal sponge iron plant. The government, adamant on taking the land, forcibly evacuated the land and started operations.
Resistance started in the villages of Khurundi and Siyariya (predominantly Dalit and Muslim villages), several people were forced to leave, but ultimately the boundary wall of the company was constructed leaving the villages intact.
In March 2005, the Visthapan Virodhi Jan Manch was formed. Land acquired from tribals and sold to Bhushan steel in 1992 was re-sold to Maharashtra Seamless Steel company. On the 9th of May 2005, MSS started a bhoomi pujan without notice in heavy police presence in Kalamatia. The ADC and Tehsildar were also present in the bhoomi pujan, painting a stark picture of the state-corporate nexus. 250-300 protestors assembled and sat on a dharna that lasted till four in the afternoon demanding proper rehabilitation and compensation. The police politely took away the lathis that some of the tribals had, and immediately declared that the gathering was in violation of Section 144. The gathering was lathi-charged, injuring several people. The same day, there were night-long raids on the villages. Men fled to the jungles, women who stayed back were assaulted by the police and 25 women and 14 children were arrested. A mother fleeing police brutality was forced to leave behind two infant children: both perished. Small children were tossed off moving vehicles. A man perished after being beaten up by the police.
Soon after, a tribal leader Ravinder Jharika who went to Bhubhaneshwar to attend a convention on tribal rights, was arrested and taken to the Jajpur road jail where he remains to this day.
What happened on January 2
2000 acres of land acquired by the government were handed over to the TATA group in December 2004 by the Orissa government. Rehabilitation and resettlement plans were not implemented, so people started opposing constructions. Presumably under pressure from the TATA group, the government proceeded to evict the unrelenting tribals by force.
On the 2nd of January, 2oo6, the Orissa state armed police fired upon a crowd of Adivasis protesting against the construction of the boundary wall of the TATA Steel compound, which would involve demolition of houses, loss of agricultural land and enclosure of a pond which is the only water source for 7-8 villages.
On the second of January at the site of the massacre, eyewitness estimates place police presence at 25 platoons and the police and establishment claim 8-12 platoons. We have no way of ascertaining the truth but it is clear that the police presence was heavy and not justified. The number of villagers kept varying because people kept joining and breaking away from the crowd. At the time that they first assembled there were between 300-350 people including women and children, and at no point of time were there more than 800 people present. The security arrangements were meticulous. Approximately 800 meters from the boundary wall a rope was tied to block the entrance to the proposed compound from the villages. Explosives were laid down along the length of the rope. (Even the injured police men didn’t deny this, but alleged that it was the handiwork of Maoists!) The 5th battalion of the Orissa State Armed police, which consists primarily of Nepali soldiers, was deployed; it seems likely that the decision was taken in the hope that Nepali nationals would have least sympathy for local tribals. After these elaborate, almost conspiratorial measures were in place, the bulldozing of the threatened houses began. On the other side of the rope, villagers began to gather as they heard of the demolitions. Without provocation, the police started firing rubber bullets and tear gas shells. The agitated people made an attempt to move closer to the demolition site, as soon as they crossed the rope, the explosives were detonated. The police, without warning, opened fire directly at the tribals. The firing continued over a period of time, the estimates of which vary from one to two hours.
Most people hit by bullets had inlet wounds on their backs, indicating that they were retreating. Those who collapsed after being hit by bullets were beaten up with lathis by several policemen at a time. Two people died on the spot. Villagers rescued four severely injured people from the spot; all four died later on en route to the hospital. Eight people were picked up by the police, only one of whom survived. The others died either in police custody or on the way to the hospital, the exact details are unclear. Of the seven deceased, five people were taken to the Jajpur hospital for either treatment or post-mortem and when their dead bodies were handed over, the hands had been chopped off. The breasts of a dead woman and genitals of some dead men were hacked off.
The Response of the Dominant Parties
The local administration has been apathetic, and uptil the date of our visit, no authority, least of all the local MP, had cared to visit. The local BJD MLA, in fact, arrived the same day as us! Sonia Gandhi hd visited a day preciously. The wife of one of the deceased told us she only vaguely recalled being summoned to some place to meet someone; she hadn’t a clue who Sonia Gandhi was.
The media coverage of the incident has been shockingly insensitive, describing the incident as ‘ammunition in the hands’ of the ‘regressive anti-industrial lobby’, which is allegedly also the real force behind the tribal resistance. The powers that be have so far succeeded passing the moral buck and casting the debate in terms of ‘development’ vs. tribals.
However, the struggle of the tribals is truly heroic. Their blockade has held out ever since the massacre – and they are determined to build a lasting and effective struggle against the evictions and state repression.