The killing of Orissa's marginalized must stop.
It has become a trend in the state of Orissa to suppress the demands of marginalized sections of adivasis and dalits by using violence against them. Police firing of non-violent protestors is becoming very prevalent and has occured several times in the past years. Support groups of the marginalized people of Orissa request that you write to the Chief Minister in view of the recent firing killing at-least 5 people including 2 women in Orissa.
December 2001: On the 30th of October 2001, the armed police of the State of Orissa entered Rengabhati village in the Raigarh police station of Nabarangpur district and opened fire at a gathering of 400 adivasis. Two of them were instantly killed while the third one succumbed to injury in a government hospital the same day. Fifty others were injured by the bullets, four in serious condition. On the 11th of November, the police fired at a non-violent rally of several thousand women who were protesting against against the above mentioned deaths and arbitrary arrests of several others. Two more women were killed in the firing.
The past few years have shown repeated occurrence of state controlled violence. One of the earlier incidents of firing was at Majhiguda village in Gajapati District on the 31st of Dec 1999 where eight people including one adivasi woman died in the firing. On December 16th 2000 police opened fire on a non-violent gathering of adivasis in Maikanch village killing three and wounding several others. Several other instances of use of lethal force have occurred and seem to continue unabated.
The conflict-ridden blocks of Raigarh and Umorkote have a population, which mainly comprise of adivasis and dalits. While land is the cause of conflict in Raigarh, forest is the main source of contention in Umorkote. The main conflict is over precious resources of forest and land between these dalit and tribal people and refugees from Bangladesh that have been rehabilitated here by the State Government. The settlers have been accused of systematic land grabbing and destruction of forests. The indigenous people have been under constant threat of losing their land and forest resources. Threatened by displacement, illegal land grabbing and complicated social problems, they have been sidelined in any development program that is attempted. Political forces have further complicated the situation by using the settlers as potential vote banks. The state, instead of listening to the demands of the dalit and tribal population, has been using force to repress them.
The Raigarh predicament has its origin several decades earlier in some ill-implemented rehabilitation schemes by the government of Orissa. The state of Orissa was given a large amount of funds to help with rehabilitation of Bangladeshi refugees. Land was allocated to refugee settlers paying no attention to existing conditions of the local inhabitants who were primarily dependent on the surrounding forests and their land for livelihood. Umorkote and Malkangiri, which were sub-divisions in the undivided Koraput district, were chosen as the right place for settling the refugees. Umorkote had a thick and dense forest cover enough to sustain the livelihood of the local tribals and dalits for generations to come. The government needed 52500 acres of land to settle 7500 refugee families. However it cleared 270000 acres of forest land - much more than required. Local protests over the loss of the forest and livelihood were suppressed. The settlers were also provided water facilities, seeds for agriculture and other development benefits. They could also get scheduled caste certificates independent of what their original background was. This had a negative impact on the dalits who lost job opportunities available to them. Unequal development opportunities gradually lead to the settlers becoming the dominant economic and social power in the community. Systematic land grabbing by the settlers increased this inequality.Though, each settler's family had been given 7 acres of land it is alleged now that on an average a settler holds 40 to 45 acres of land. Some of them have got as high as 200 acres of land. This has fueled dispute and resentment in the area between the settlers and the original inhabitants. The state has continued to ignore poverty related issues and corruption has been rampant in suppressing the claims of the poorer original inhabitants. Most jobs in the area in schools & anganwadis, gram panchyats, construction, banks and trading now belong to the settlers. The settlers have got easy access to loans in the banks and in turn operate as moneylenders with high interest rates . In some cases they have confiscated the property of the adivasis.. The police and forest officials have been helping them gain access to illegal forest land. They have ignored any complaints from the locals about land grabbing which seems to go on unchecked. The government has been helping the settlers at the cost of the local inhabitants. By following a highly discriminatory policy the state has not only created a divide between the deprived people and the settlers but through years of indifference also perpetuated the divide.
The locals have organized themselves in two groups to fight the injustice. In Umorkote they formed the Jungle Surakhya Manch, which has been working on the issue of saving the forest and their livelihoods. In Raigarh a forum called the "Dalit Samaj" is leading the movement against illegal land grabbing. The groups have been able to mobilize more than 100 villages in favor of their demands. The demands included among other things immediate restoration of tribal land in the possession of Bangla settlers, immediate issue of patta (land records) to tribals who have been cultivating forest/government land for generations, end of illegal deforestation, regeneration of forest on regained lands, land to the landless and immediate scrapping of scheduled caste status granted to Bangla settlers. Numerous protests and demands against this discriminatory policy of the union and state government has brought no changes. The movements which were peaceful throughout have now taken a turn for the worse. The efforts to reclaim their land by the tribals and dalits together has not being taken kindly by forces that survive on their exploitation. Two people were shot dead by land grabbers in the presence of the police after an armed mob of 3000 people invaded the dalit village Jambodora on 24th of June 2001. No action has been taken against the main culprits despite a number of rallies and demonstrations organized by the Dalit Samaj after the incident. On Oct 30th Samaru Gand - a dalit went to harvest rice from what was originally his land - now grabbed by the village sarpanch. The police with no provocation from the locals open fire on them leading to 3 deaths. More firing by the police occured on the 11th November of a peaceful rally held by women killing two women.
The theme is similar in the Kashipur block of Rayagada district. Here, the Paroja-Kondha adivasis have been resisting a bauxite mining company, which threatens to displace them and completely ruin their livelihood. The state government has done little to address the just demands and needs of these communities and has pushed for forced rehabilitation which will throw these communities out of their homes with no where to go. In both examples, conflict has been caused by gross negligence of the people's right to livelihood and basic human dignity. The state has not given any consideration to the affected people. Chronic negligence, forced displacement, lack of compensation and marginalization of resources have pushed people to starvation and extreme poverty. In each of these areas the affected people have been organizing themselves in groups to be better heard. The state has been opposed to such organizing. To discourage such attempts the state machinery has come down hard on them resorting to violence instead of dialogue.
The Kashipur struggle has been a difficult one. The government in return for taxes and royalty gave 2700 hectares of land to a multi-national bauxite mining venture by UAIL (Utkal Alumina International Ltd ) a consortium of Norsk Hydro of Norway, ALCAN of Canada and Hindalco of India. The venture is 100% export oriented. At no stage of the project were the people who owned the land consulted or their participation sought out. The government handed over some of the most precious lands in Orissa without any form of consent from the people owning it. This is against the constitution of India and the "Samatha judgement" which came as an order from the Supreme Court in 1997. The law clearly asks that development take into account local opinion by procuring the acquiescence of the Gram Sabhas (or local councils). This basic issue was repeatedly ignored. More than 2100 families in two dozen villages stand to lose their land, including 370 families who would lose all their lands. The negative impacts of this project go well beyond just the human toll. The local environment will be seriously affected. Hills will be flattened and rains can sweep silt into a huge reservoir that provides water for the region. Several streams that feed the Indravati river would be destroyed. The most visible impact on the environment of mining for alumina is effluent discharge. Dumping discharge into the streams and rivers would raise the pH level causing severe contamination. Several perennial sources of river would dry up and thousands of people will lose their land and livelihood to displacement. Agricultural land will no longer be cultivable. When confronted by the people on questions of environmental impacts of the mines and the refineries, UAIL claims to have conducted several studies. However, even after several requests, the documents have not been made public. A mandatory public hearing which is supposed to be conducted has not been conducted by UAIL. Thus the overall impact of the UAIL project is not known.
The affected villages have been resisting this project since they first learnt about the possible ill effects in 1993. The anti-mining movement is lead by two voluntary groupings of local people known as "Prakrutika Sampada Suraksha Parishad" and "Baphlimali Surakhya Samiti". People have organized themselves to participate in rallies, road blockades and demonstrations in front of local government offices. The government and UAIL have sought to suppress their claims. The conflict between the people and the pro-company forces culminated in the firing at Maikanch village on 16 December 2000. Around 4000 people were in a meeting to discuss their next road blockade when armed police descended upon them and opened fire. The local police killed three unarmed innocent adivasis and wounded several more. These killings have further antagonized the locals who see the use of force as a violation of their basic human rights. Local resistance to the UAIL project has only increased after the violence. Similar incidents have occurred in other areas nearby. There has been a clear and persistent bias of the state towards corporate entities at the cost of its own people. Orissa continues this despite the protests of its people; a protest that has been peaceful and led by some of its most marginalized communities.
Please do take the time to send these petitions to lend your support to the fight against injustice in Orissa.
Information contained in this letter is based on independent press reports created by Vivekananda Dash and Sudhir Patnaik both of whom have been reporting on problems in marginalized areas of Orissa.
ACTION: You may copy the contents of the letter below, or use it to write to your own letter if you like. write to the Chief Minister (email@example.com) and to the President of India(firstname.lastname@example.org).
Shri Navin Patnaik,
Subject: Police firing on adivasis and dalits in Nowrangpur District. Human rights violations and unjust imprisonment of people involved.
Dear Shri Patnaik,
We would like to express our horror over the recent killing and unjust imprisonment of several adivasis and dalits in Nowrangpur district in your state. We would like to request you to intervene in the following incidents and ensure that justice is served to those who have been constantly ignored and at the receiving end of injustice. The following incidents point to a complete negligence of human rights and suggest state based terrorism by the Orissa State Administration:
Three people from the adivasi and dalit communities were killed in police firing on the 30th of October 2001 in Rengabhati village when there was no provocation. It is a gross violation of human rights when police fire at non-violent people.
On the 11th of November, the police fired at a non-violent rally of several thousand women who were protesting against against the above mentioned deaths and related unfair arrest of several others. Two more women were killed by the firing.
Two people killed on 24th June 2001 in Jambodora village in the presence of the police who did nothing to stop the unrest.
Such firing and killing by the police of non-violent protestors seems to be becoming common place in Orissa. This has come on the heels of the firings in Majhiguda in Gajapati District on the 31st of Dec 1999, Maikanch in December 2000 and other areas where poor people are fighting for survival.. The state police has repeatedly fired upon and killed innocent adivasis and dalits. incidents of police brutality seems to have become the norm in Orissa and are evidence of repression by the state of Orissa of basic human rights of some of the most marginalized people in the community. By not allowing people the freedom to express their opinion and demands using non-violent means, the state administration in infringing on constitutional rights of these communities. Instead of listening to the demands of the poor the state police seem to be firing and killing them. Your government is supposed to protect the rights of innocent men and women and ensure that every section in the community is given a fair chance to express their demands and concerns. We are disappointed that the government has so far washed its hands of this responsibility and instead resorted to suppression of demands. We request you to not remain a by-stander of such crimes. Please do take the time and responsibility to ensure that the voices of the poor in Orissa are heard and they are given justice. The adivasis and dalits are protesting on issues related to their lands and forests, in essence their right to live with dignity. We request you to take heed to the needs of these communities, understand their desperation and provide them the opportunity to have a say in their development. This is the minimum expected from any government. Without this you will not be carrying out your responsibilities. By repeatedly ignoring the demands of the people and violating their rights to justice and livelihood the state is responsible for pushing these people into helplessness and despair, and therefore into the arms of violence. You must take care of the problems these people are facing in a democratic and humane way in keeping with the Vth Schedule of the Indian constitution. Without this Orissa will forever remain a backward state which commits crimes against its own people.
We request you to take the following steps in Nowrangpur, Kashipur and other areas of Orissa.
Look into the cases of police violence personally and ensure that such incidents do not happen in the future. You should take personal responsibility for police abuse of force.
Enter into meaningful dialogue with the dalit and adivasi groups fighting for their livelihood and resources in all areas of Orissa including Nowrangpur and Rayagada districts. The state should make a sincere attempt to work with the groups and reach agreements.
Ensure that land taken away from the people is restored to them. Illegal occupation of forest land by other communities needs to be stopped and discouraged.
Ensure that all landless dalit and adivasi people are sanctioned atleast 5 acres of land, to enable them to be on par with the Bangladeshi refugee settlers. Without this the state is creating an imbalance among the community causing further antagonism and ethnic divides. No forests need to be cleared for this purpose, land encroached by the settlers would be enough to meet this requirement of land.
Look into the scheduled caste certificates being given to settlers irrespective of their background. These are taking away jobs from the dalits.
Look into adverse effects that the proposed UAIL company has on the people in the Kashipur region and stop any development that does not have community participation.
Ensure that the affected communities have a say in the overall development of their region. They should not have to be forced out of their lands without their consent.
Take steps to look at the special situation of the already displaced communities and ensure them all facilities for proper resettlement. Declare a complete ban on land transactions in entire state till the process of land settlement is taken up and completed.
We hope that you will take cognizance of the right livelihood of the poorest communities of your state and do the needful.