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Consent cannot be manufactured by guns

By Vidhya Das

Protestors have gathered on the road to the Kalinganagar industrial area in Orissa. The bodies of four of those killed in police firing on January 2, are laid out here. This on-the-spot report records the seething anger against the industries that are usurping the lands, livelihoods and basic rights of adivasi farmers

"She is my sister, and these are my nieces," he says, as we stand by the dead of the Kalinganagar massacre. The trauma is still etched on his face. My companion takes out her camera and takes several photographs. The people standing by helpfully draw the cloth back from the faces of the dead. The first woman looks like she's sleeping, not so the second woman. The bullet has shattered her nose and upper jaw. The cloth on her face is stained black. How long did she struggle for life, I wonder. The other two dead are men. "We do not know how many bodies the police dragged into their jeep and disposed of on the way, but we know for sure 13 people are dead." Reports from the medical hospital we visited indicate that two more people have died, one person on the way, and another in hospital.

On Monday, January 2, 2006, the government of the state of Orissa in eastern India fired upon adivasis (tribals) who had gathered to oppose the bhumi pujan of the controversial Tata Steel near Duburi, Kalinganagar near Jajpur,Orissa. Several battalions of armed police were already at the site of the proposed project. The tribals had made it clear, on at least three occasions in the past, that they are opposed to any steel plant on their land, unless there is proper resettlement and all their demands are met. There is a seething anger here against the large-scale steel plants and other mine-based industries that are usurping the lands, livelihoods and basic rights of the adivasi farmers.

We are on the road taking us into the Kalinganagar industrial area. The people have barricaded the road and let us pass to this spot only after verifying our bona fides. We cannot talk to the people manning the barricades. "Only the committee can speak to you," they tell us, pointing further down the road. Can we go there, we ask. "Yes, since you are press, it is alright," they say. Ravi, who is with us, is an activist, and has been to the area several times. People recognise him, and so our identity is not questioned, though we do not carry press cards. Several vehicles of various opposition parties pass by us as we go on. On the way, we pass several young men carrying sticks. "Tell Naveen Patnaik, if he kills the police who shot our people we will give him Rs 1 lakh," they shout as we pass by.

We eventually reach a large gathering of people. A lot of speech-making is going on. Further on, on four beds, the dead have been laid out. How were the women killed, I ask. "They opened fire suddenly and shot into the crowd," they say, "these women were in front." It does seem as if people had not really begun to organise into a march or rally. Hearing reports of work starting, they had begun to gather at the spot with the intention of stopping the bulldozers. "There must have been 600-700 policemen; we were only about 200," they say. Indeed, this is a fair approximation. Fourteen platoons, according to the police themselves, 27 according to local reports, had been brought into the construction area on the morning of January 2, 2006. They had been stationed at the nearby police headquarters in Duburi for about a week. They surrounded the worksite. The firing appears to have been quite indiscriminate. People have been shot in the abdomen, on the face.... "Even little children have bullet wounds," they tell us.

It is difficult to get a coherent story, the trauma is still too fresh in people's minds. But the purpose and intent is clear: "we will not leave till the Tata company withdraws and the government lets us live in peace in our villages," they say. "People in other villages, 600 families, have been driven off their land," we are told. They eke out their living from stone-crushing. Stone-crusher units are everywhere. The hills have been carved up for quarrying. These are being used for the construction work. The leaves of the few trees left standing on the roadside have turned grey.

The Visthapan Virodhi Manch is well-organised. There is a group at the first barricade. They check people's identification, and then let them pass. "We shall not let anybody from the government come here," they tell us. Further on, women and men listen to the speeches. Lunch is being cooked a half-kilometre down the road, in a hut, with the help of Manch funds, and food is brought to the spot by volunteers. Young women and men move up and down with lathis, there is tension in the air, but there is no sense of confusion and chaos. Volunteers have also accompanied the injured to Cuttack Medical Hospital, and they take turns to sit by the patients. Food has also been organised here. "We did not have any problem paying for the vehicle -- that is being looked after by the Manch," we are told by the relatives of the sick in Cuttack Medical Hospital.

There are many young people carrying bows and arrows. "We never used them," they tell us, "we carry them for self-defence." This carrying of traditional weapons only seems to be some kind of morale-booster. All of them agree that they cannot really defend themselves with these in case of a police attack, although they explain very proudly the ballistics of this ancient missile, with feathers twisted around the rear end.

The actual site of the killings is completely deserted. The police have also gone, and the people along with the dead have moved onto the road. How long will they campaign on this spot, will the government -- which they elected -- ever listen to them?

At the Cuttack Medical College, all the injured policemen are from the Gurkha Battalion, and some of the more critically injured patients are in the same ward. The police are in four beds, adjacent to each other, the injured people are scattered in different places, and we have to hunt around for them. The police are subdued, quiet, the villagers are ready to talk, but we can make few inroads, as TV cameras capture their attention. The injuries are quite serious, and I wonder if some of them will survive. One frail young man is wearing an oxygen mask and is clearly in much discomfort. Medical care has been provided, the serious patients have been attended to at the earliest, and there is a fair amount of after-care as interns and nurses come in and enquire after them and slips are provided for the injured who require blood. But once the media and public attention die down, we wonder whether the after-care will be sustained.

As we look on, TV cameras, followed by politicians of different hues, come in, bend over various injured for photographs and video clips, and move on. The injured and their relatives are left looking quite bewildered.

The Kalinganagar Complex is a massive industrial park spread across 12,000 acres, set up by IDCO in Jajpur district, where industries are being allocated land. IDCO has already acquired the land in the area under the Land Acquisition Act. The acquisition by IDCO required compensation for patta land and 10 decimals of land for homesteads for the landless. However, the local tribal people have been mostly cultivating non-patta lands due to faulty survey and settlement and non-regularisation of land holdings. Even though they are absolutely dependent on these lands for their livelihoods, they are neither being offered compensation nor land in return for the plots they cultivated. Several other industrial units have come up here, including Neelachal Ispat Nigam, MESCO, Jindal, etc.

The threat of forced displacement without any alternative livelihoods and loss of ancestral lands has led to a strong resistance. As long ago as 1996, the local people successfully stopped the establishment of a plant by Bhushan Steel at the same site. Another major protest was held on May 15, 2005, where the tribals foiled the proposed Bhumi Poojan of Maharashtra Seamless Steel Limited.

There are several issues that need to be addressed here. The episode is being interpreted differently by different interest groups. Some say the protests are against the poor compensation package given to earlier oustees, with the present demand being for improved compensation, since they believe IDCO will sell the land acquired from the tribal communities at something like seven times the price. Other news reports state that it is the Maoists who are instigating the trouble. The whole affair is an effort to defame Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, claim some loyalists on TV. At the hospital people tell us, "We have disassociated ourselves from all political parties, and all of us together formed the Visthapan Virodhi Manch."

On the ground, there is little evidence of instigation by outside agencies, or any doubt about what the people want. Everywhere, people are very clear that this is a fight for their land. On the highway, it is the local people who speak to us, point out their leaders, and describe their experiences. These leaders are from the area, live with the people, struggle and toil with them -- some tribal, others non-tribal. The organised and orderly conditions that prevailed when we went there, the determination on people's faces and in people's statements indicate that they are the people in command. This is a people fighting to live.

The major issue here is the rights of local people: be they tribal, be they dalit, or any ethnic, caste, or religious group. A community of local people has the right to decide what it wants to do with its land and other natural resources. A government cannot just sell these away to industrialists without a proper process of consultation. And if the consultation results in people saying no, then the government must honour this decision.

Consultation and consent cannot be manufactured by guns and police force. A police force cannot be used to protect and promote the interests of the private sector.

The Kalinganagar killings themselves are a continuum from Kashipur in December 2000, from Mandrangbaju, Gajapati, 1999, from Raighar, Nawrangpur, in 2001. These have all been movements to secure the basic right to live and the right to livelihood of people in this country. The issues involved in the Kalinganagar killings need to be reported, not just the killings. There must be a concerted and sustained questioning of the rationale and overdrive for industrialisation.

(Vidhya Das is with the development organisation Agragamee. Address: Agragamee, Kashipur - 765015, Dt. Rayagada, Orissa. Phone: 06865285174; 06742557936; 06742551130This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

InfoChange News & Features, January 5, 2006