Police Firing in Kashipur (Orissa, India)

Rivers and springs of Ranibeda, Doraguda
Springs and water of Koral, Kampar
Baphlimali, Kutrumali, Sijijharan
Destroy not the Baphlimali, Kutrumali, Sijijharan
Give not them to the Company
Ruined will we be in the name of development
Cheated will we be in the name of jobs

(tranlated from the Oriya original)

For over 7 years, the hills of Kashipur Block of the Rayagada District of Orissa have resounded to the strains of this song composed and sung by the tribal youths to the beat of their drums. The song expresses the growing unity and consciousness among the villagers (new names are added to the song as village after village joins the movement) and their determination to resist the depredations of the mining companies and defend their homes and communities, the environment and natural resources of their homeland, their culture and their way of life against this unwanted invasion.

Since 1993 the tribals and other villagers of the area-leaving aside the few locals who lured by the promise of jobs and money served as henchmen and touts for the mining companies of Hydro, Hindalco and Alqua against their own brothers-have been protesting against the project. The local people are firm in their resolve not to allow the project-the bauxite mines and the Alumina Plant to uproot them, to destroy and pollute their land and lives as similar projects have done to their tribal brothers and sisters all over the country (and the world).

The media, the myth-makers of our day, persist in scornfully dismissing the movement as instigated and controlled by outsiders-in this case an NGO, Agragamee, which has no role in this present movement-and the Adivasis as simple and innocent (read stupid and ignorant) and as such incapable of understanding their own interests in the great scheme of "Development" that the Government , the mining companies greedy for profits and the political parties are preparing for them The tinkle of coins falling into their begging bowls from the coffers of the mining companies, both Indian and foreign have deafened the media to the songs of resistance into which the tribals are pouring out their hearts.

Are there none then who are misled, instigated by outsiders ? Of course there are. Those who dream of steady employment and prosperity, of hefty compensation that will enable them to rebuild their homes elsewhere on a better basis, those who have embraced the company's interests as their own. They are the real misled ones. Instigated by the Government and Company (the real 'outsiders' who have come seeking profits to this bauxite-rich area to extract bauxite from Baphlimali and to set up an aluminium processing plant near Kucheipadar, to despoil and pollute for their own gain) to betray their brothers. They are the ones who are given prepared speeches to parrot before press and camera to blame their brothers and sisters fighting for the survival of their homes and communities.

Since 1993, Kashipur block has seen the movement growing steadily. There have been several attacks on the tribal youth by the Company's goons and the police. The resistance has grown in strength so much so that there are certain villages into which the police or goons dare not venture. There have been padyatras to reach out to organise neighbouring villages, some of them in remote, difficult-to-reach areas; the subject is discussed at weddings and market places, wherever tribals meet. After all, it is a matter of life and death to them (also to all of us who understand the threat to our environment from the huge projects touted by the Developmentwallas). They are living in danger of displacement, of being uprooted from their lands and homes to be thrown, scattered, onto the rubbish heaps of the cities called slums or jhuggis where tens of thousands of their uprooted brothers have been flung.

What happened on the 15th and 16th of December was the outcome of an all-out effort by the State, the companies and the political parties to crush this growing movement. The Prakritik Sampad Suraksha Parishad (Council for the Protection of Natural Resources) had given a call for Rasta Roko (road block) on 20th December to demonstrate the opposition of the Kashipur Block tribals to the Almunium Plant. The villages were all preparing for the agitation. On the other hand the police, the company and their minions in various political parties together hatched a plot to prevent the people from demonstrating their unity and strength before the whole of Orissa.

An all-Party meeting to express support for the Project was convened at Maikunch on December 15th just 5 days before the Rasta Roko. The local people protested against this meeting being held in their village. The BJD Party's musclemen and goons clashed with the protesting people. As at a pre-arranged signal, armed police descended on Maikunch village the very next day. Having received advance warning of the advent of the police, the men of the village retreated into the neighbouring hills while the women stayed behind with one or two youths. On the way, the police party had frightened some passing villager into giving some names of youths who were among the protesters. Armed with this list of names, the police approached the village. Two young boys, aged 7 and 10 grazing their cows had the misfortune to run into the police. The police questioned them as to the whereabouts of the men whose names figured on their list. When the cowherds denied knowing them and fled in panic. The " protectors of the people" fired and one boy was injured, the other boy has not been traced up to this day.

The `killer pack' (what else can one call those who can shoot at two children ?) continued towards the village. They tried to terrify the women into giving the whereabouts of those who had confronted the BJP goons. The women and young girls refused to be cowed down and stood their ground. The trigger-happy police fired in the direction of the hills and continued to shoot at any villager they came across. The bullet wounds on the noses, ears, neck of many of the injured speak for themselves. The toll was 3 dead, several injured some very gravely. A few youths have not returned since to the village.

The media all over Orissa poured out the police version "innocent tribals incited by outsiders-in this case an NGO Agragamee which was nowhere in the picture) attack police burn police vehicles, police compelled to fire. Anybody who has been part of a workers' or peasants' or slum-dwellers' rally which was fired upon without provocation will find this line familiar.

The injured were carried away to hospitals, the dead cremated, police terror stalked the Kashipur block. The media churned out its daily quota of lies and half-truths about subdued and terrified villagers, and tried to deflect the whole issue by questioning the role of NGOs and the parliamentary opposition followed suit. The villagers meanwhile wiped their tears and prepared to continue the fight. They were neither subdued nor submissive. They demonstrated their will to resist the tyranny of police and company goons and in spite of all police efforts to stop people reaching the venue, 8000 collected at Rupkana where the Rasta Roko had been scheduled. To understand their determination one had only to see the 500 and odd people from Maikunch, the village where the firing took place, who walked 2 days to reach Rupkana 40 Kms away to join the demonstration.

The tribals and dalits of Kashipur are fighting for their right to survive, the right to till their land, to maintain their community life, to preserve their environment and their culture. If they fall to the juggernaut of Development, it will be our defeat too. As with the Narmada Valley people these tribals and dalits are fighting the forces of dehumanisation calling themselves Civilisation and Progress.

[For further information: ]
Indo-Swiss NRM Programme Orissa G-695, B.J.B.Nagar, Bhubaneswar-751 014 Khurda, Orissa, India Tel: 00 91 674 433580, 433582 Fax:433581 E-mail: nrmpo@satyam.net.in

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