Bloody Steel

Published: June 3, 2010 - 17:01 Updated: June 3, 2010 - 17:04

The Naveen Patnaik regime has unleashed the terror of police and party goons to push the Tata steel plant at any cost. Even if democracy is crushed at gun-point
Bibhuti Pati Kalinganagar (Orissa)

Chandia has remained the epicentre of tribal resistance for the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch (BBJM) (Anti-Displacement People's Front), the organisation spearheading the movement against the Tata steel plant project in Kalinganagar. Since January 2, 2006 - the day police gunned down 14 adivasi protestors - the police and administration have been unable to enter the village. Tribals had blocked the highway, there was a national outcry, resistance groups joined in solidarity, and politicians, including Sonia Gandhi, visited Kalinganagar. 

However, the administration continued to hatch conspiracies to launch an armed assault on the non-violent movement. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, operating openly as representative of Indian and multinational big business, ordered the police to crush the people's movement. He also manufactured alibis. The latest common corridor project is one of them. 

The common corridor, touted to be the conduit to the industrial hub of Kalinganagar, is an 8-km road from Rabana to Neelachal Ispat Nigam Square. To construct that, umpteen platoons of armed police were mobilised; even the anti-Maoist Special Operation Group (SOG) was deployed on March 30, 2010. What would one construe of it? Is the entire mobilisation merely for the construction of an 8-km road? Or, is it a dress rehearsal for the final assault? 

Sensing the danger, hundreds of BBJM activists tried to stall the construction work. The police attacked the people with rubber bullets and teargas shells. The people retreated; the police chased them, beating them ruthlessly. 'Tata goons' and BJP lumpens joined the armed police in ransacking, burning, looting and beating up villagers. At least 15 people were seriously injured. But they could not be taken to hospitals because the entire place has been under siege. Some villagers fled to the forests and some took refuge at Baligotha. In the evening, police attacked Baligotha and went berserk, damaging the houses of people's leaders. Section 144 of CrPC was clamped in the entire common corridor area.

To cover up the police brutality, journalists, social activists and political leaders were not allowed to enter the area - but the goons were given a free run. After the fall of Baligotha, Chandia held out and continued to resist. On May 5, 2010, BBJM organised a meeting at Chandia to condemn the police action with traditional weapons - bows and arrows. Various Left forces expressed solidarity, and warned the government not to escalate the violence. 

On May 6, eight armed platoons entered Chandia, supposedly to help the displaced people to take their belongings to a rehabilitation colony. At least 12 houses were razed, and a dozen more at Bamiagoth. 

On May 12, 8 am, the police went for the kill. The operation began with the announcement that male members must leave the village; police entered the village with bulldozers. A villager narrated the story: "Rejecting her appeals, the police started demolishing a woman's house. When she protested, other women came forward and physically resisted the demolition. Then the male folk, who were outside the village, rushed in. Police started firing pellets and rubber bullets, and teargas shells. When Laxmana Jamuda, 60, was trying to flee, he was hit by a pellet on the back. He was killed. This was murder." 

The police took the corpse to Danagadi hospital for post-mortem in absolute secrecy - as if the murder did not happen. No one, not even journalists, were allowed to see the dead body. The district SP claimed that Jamuda died in a stampede. He told the media on May 13 that the dead body of Jamuda has been handed over to his nephew Lalmohan Jamuda, his niece and her husband, and that they have cremated the body at Puri. But Lalmohan and others remained untraceable. 

On May 14, Lalmohan called up his elder brother and said he has not even seen the body and does not know his location - all he could see is that he is surrounded by police.

On May 25, Lalmohan, all of a sudden, appeared in Bhubaneswar and his version was shocking. He said: "The police picked me up forcibly along with my sister and brother-in-law. We were not allowed to see our uncle's dead body. We requested the police to hand over the dead body so that we could arrange a proper funeral for him, or else we would be ostracised from our village. That is our ancient tribal culture. Instead of paying any heed to my request, the police tortured me and forced me to sign on a blank paper. Somehow, later, I managed to escape."

He added that the police had assaulted him and obtained his signature under duress on a blank paper. "The police whisked me away from my village soon after they took away the body of my uncle," he said. Though the Jajpur police claimed they had handed over the body to Lalmohan after the post-mortem, Lalmohan said that he was never shown the corpse of his uncle. 

"The police confined me in a house at Trijanga, a few kilometres away from my village, and I escaped from there," he said. "The police claims that the body was cremated in Puri. They are telling all lies." Showing injury marks on his body, he said: "They beat me up severely saying it was punishment for supporting the movement." 

So whatever happened to Laxmana Jamuda's body?

The tribals ask, in their strange simplicity, "There are many examples where living beings have disappeared 'for the sake of development'. Have you ever heard of the dead also disappearing for the sake of development?"

The atmosphere in Kalinganagar is that of peaceful, democratic protest - and organised police terror. The message is clear: whosoever speaks of ancestral property rights, ought to be shot. If anyone talks of the Constitution of India, he will be branded a Maoist and jailed. 

Mysterious murders and forceful demolitions are stalking the landscape. Recently, villagers of Gadapur heard the sound of a tractor in the night.  They were afraid it might be the police again; 20-plus houses in the village had been demolished for the Tata project by the district administration and the Industrial Development Corporation of Orissa under heavy police deployment. (Ironically, they will not be given new houses until their old houses get demolished.)

Next morning, migrant workers of the nearby slums discovered a dead body near Gadapur. This is where the villagers had noticed the tractor the night before. The dead man is Rasananda Patra, about 40 years, a trolley-puller from the Dalit hamlet of Bandragadia, located about 200-300 metres from Gadapur. Rasananda had apparently opposed displacement. 

Bandragadia hamlet no longer exists - it has been demolished. All 20 families living there have 'chosen' displacement, except for one Sarat Patra who refused to move. His house was nevertheless demolished. Sarat lives in a makeshift leaf hut where his house once stood. Many people who are refusing displacement are facing the same fate as Sarat. 

How did Rasananda's body reach Bandragadia when he should have been in the Tata transit camp? Sridhara Soy, a contractor for the Tatas at Bhitar Manika village, was found dead in a forest and a case was registered against the leaders of the BBJM, despite no evidence. Locals say many BBJM activists are being randomly arrested from markets, roads and hospitals, and during midnight raids, and implicated in false cases. There has been no hostility between BBJM and Sridhara, not even interaction. And how could villagers, their movement restricted by the police siege, BJD cadre and Tata goons, manage to kill him and dispose his body far away from their villages? 

While several people have been arrested in the Sridhara murder case, not a single arrest has been made in the Amin Banara murder case, or in the 'Jogendra Jamuda attempt to murder' case, though, ironically, Jogendra himself has been arrested. Jogendar was shot at by unknown assailants while riding his bike with his mother in front of the Kalinganagar police station. Amin Banara was allegedly killed by Arbind Singh, a Tata contractor, and his associates. Arbind was actually gunning for Dabur Kalundia, an activist of BBJM. Arbind was arrested and released. Locals say the police and company heavy-weights helped him get out.

The Naveen Patnaik regime has unleashed the terror of police and party goons to push the Tata steel plant at any cost. Even if democracy is crushed at gun-point
Bibhuti Pati Kalinganagar (Orissa)

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