Kalinganagar: The Bermuda Triangle In India
The Wikipedia states that Kalinga was an early kingdom in central-eastern India, which was a rich and fertile land, and was the scene of the bloody Kalinga War fought by the Maurya Emperor Ashoka the Great of Magadha circa 265 BCE. Several centuries, in a northern part of Orissa in the district of Jajpur, the original description of Kalinga stands true. Here is a vast land demarcated as Kalinganagar, which is fertile enough, and now, is equally blood-stained. There is a certain Fascist regime here, and through discreet means, the red earth here is further rendered a darker shade.
Getting to Kalinganagar is no easy feat. When I decided to go to Kalinganagar - the reasons which I will enumerate later - I was forewarned that it is not the place to go. 'Another Dantewada', I could hear my own voice. Yet, I knew I had to go there. There were random news of people being killed, roads being blocked and farmers laying down their lives for the love of land. There was news that development was being offered to the tribals living there, yet they were not ready to accept it. There was news that they were being offered 'white-collared' jobs and yet they were not ready for them. Every bit of news was scattered, and perhaps that's the reason why it got me intrigued.
Thanks to a local journalist RR who has managed to stay untouched by the authorities, I found myself as his pillion rider into Kalinganagar, from Jajpur Road. “You cannot go there alone right now. Since May 28, 2010, 25 platoons of police accompanied the goons who came with tractors and bulldozers to level people’s farmlands. These farmlands belong to those people who have been resisting the forceful acquisition of land by Tata to set up its plant there,” I am told on my way, as hot winds slap my face and not a tree is to be seen. Thick grey fumes are flushed into the blue sky, making the green hills in the distant a mirage. Tata had acquired 3,500 acres of land, but thanks to the deal of another steel company gone wrong, another 1,500 acres of land are now in the hands of Tata.
A New Bermuda ‘Square’
It hasn’t been an easy ride for RR either – there are just about two journalists who want to talk about the tribals, and not merely talk of development, as etched out by the government. The majority of the media would go into the villages, talk to the people and hear them ‘rant’ about their loss of land and livelihood, but would back to their plush air-conditioned offices and write about the ‘savagery’ of the tribals, and the philanthropy of companies like Tata which wants to ‘develop’ them. RR thus didn’t have to explain why going with him was essential – the wrath of the villagers was palpable. I didn’t have to explain to him why I decided to step in there – the ‘truth’ as told by the mainstream media and its journalists on a comfortable payroll was palpable.
Most of rural India is similar in its landscape. The huge canopy of trees, clean air, green and blue houses with thatched roofs, women bathing in groups near a hand-pump, children with skinny limbs but huge bellies playing the game of chasing a bicycle tyre, men sitting under a tree and engaged in animated conversations or listening to the transistor, cows mooing, dogs befriending the cats, cocks and hens scampering through the tiny lanes – this is rural India. The similarity goes beyond this in Central India – here the people are trying hard to protect their lands from the corporate zealots who romance with the state governments, and the khaki-wearing job is all about terrorizing the villagers to surrender their lives and lands for the ‘development’ of the nation. Only, the definition and realm of ‘development’ is undefined, and its real meaning is conspicuously chosen to be unaddressed. At the same time, during each of my sojourns, I am witness to a beautiful sight of childhood innocence – any vehicle which has a motor is chased down the road with squealing delight by the sudden appearance of several children.
However, as our bike made way through the villages in Kalinganagar, this was replaced by something else which initiated my understanding of the politics in place here – three children, upon seeing our bike, ran into their courtyards and hid themselves behind a tree. A fourth one, who wasn’t quick enough to run past, tried to squeeze herself amid the latticework of the bamboo boundary. Her eyes were filled with unfathomable terror. Later I learnt that the entire village would sleep in the open fields even in the winter to ward off the goons and cops who would attack them in the dark hour of the night.
I am taken around the villages before I settle in Chandia village of Dhangadi block, at the residence of Rabi Jarika – a short man in his thirties with a calm demeanour, yet a voice strong enough to stir even an octogenarian to proclaim that it is worth fighting against the might of the corporates. Rabi had completed his Masters in Sociology, but the doom spelled down upon his village brought him back to unite the people. He is instrumental is giving a voice to the resistance, in the name of Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch (BBJM), which primarily is fighting against the land acquisition by the self-proclaimed lord of Kalinganagar, Tata. Despite his busy schedule in getting people to stay motivated to fight this battle, while their land was being leveled with sand and metal scraps, he begins to narrate the history and other nuances of Kalinganagar.
Games corporates and governments play
I begin by asking Rabi to draw me a rough map of Kalinganagar for my convenience. But he laughs:
“I cannot draw a map because the area is forever a changing space. In 1992, the Biju Patnaik government sanctioned Sukhinda and Dhangadi blocks of Jajpur, as an industrial complex. As of today, Sukhinda comprises 24 Panchayats, while the number is 21 in Dhangadi. Yet, the area seems to be expanding. Every month, there is a new signboard in the far corners, which says, 'Welcome to Kalinganagar'. This means that more and more villages will fall under this complex; more land has been marked to be grabbed, and more people will be robbed of their livelihood. There are 11 steel plants in all, and three more including Tata, will be coming up soon.
Just about 15 per cent of the people residing in Kalinganagar have accepted to part with their land. And this has been possible through a variety of ways – some of them were coerced; some were lured into consuming expensive foreign liquor, while some others were promised jobs. It has been the lure of instant cash. However, those who have parted ways with the village are sadly our enemies today. Tata has successfully employed the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British. The government is an ally to the corporates in throwing us out from here, and they don’t want the resistance to spread. That’s also why they are preventing the intellectuals in the cities from coming here.
The other pressure tactic used is restricting people from moving about freely. This is done to break their morale. For instance, if you want to go out for Kalinganagar from here, the nearest main road is 3kms away. From our house, that would be where the state’s government’s own Nilachal steel plant is set up. But right now as we talk, you just cannot go there. There are cops and goons employed by Tata. These goons are of two types – they are the ones who gave their land to Tata, accepted their ‘rehabilitation; package but are living in the shoddy transit camps. They are now given Rs 500 each day to terrorise their own erstwhile neighbours and making them bow down to Tata. The other set of goons are villagers from outside Kalinganagar. It need not be elaborated that these men are drunk and misbehave with anyone. And the cops would pick you if you manage to come under their scanner on the road – you will be charged on flimsy grounds, right from waging war against the state, to murder. (Rabi’s elder brother was similarly arrested in February 2010.)
One of the reasons why the government is able to terrorise the people is because they are uneducated. But most importantly, it is also because they have no land pattas. This land was ruled by Sukhinda Raja and he had handed out land pattas in 1922, and these were called ‘Raja pattas’. However, the process was no complete, and it was understood that post-Independence, those who hadn’t received the pattas would get it. But that never happened, and this is why the government claims that our land is their land. Now, the official numbers state that Kalinganagar area constitutes 45 per cent tribals. But then this is also reserved area; so going by the latter ‘fact’, the number of tribals here should be at least 60 per cent.
Strangely, majority of Kalinganagar are very fertile, as against the rest of Orissa which is quite arid. And some tribals here can be defined as ‘developed’. So they are very much content with what they have – which is an average of five acres of land by every family. Tata initially offered Rs 25,000 per acre but later went on adding more, such that today their offer stands at Rs 60,000 per acre. However, according to our own calculations which is done is accordance to a measure called ‘goonth’, one goonth is valued at a minimum of Rs 1.5 lakh. And guess what does that mean to be the price of every acre? Twenty-five goonths make one acre! Now do your math!
Since May 28 this year, the farmlands in the villages of Ambogadia, Bellahori, Kanklajhor, Champakoyla, Bamiagotha, Gobarghati, Kolamatia, Bandhargadia, Gadhpur, Baidugudi, Orasahi, Kharigatia, Baligot, Chandia, and parts of Dhurpathar and Bargadia have been leveled. Initially, people went running to protest, but the fear of bullets cannot be negated. Other than rubber bullets, they are also using steel bullets, which we called ‘charra’. These are meant to be just a tool to terrorise, but their use can prove fatal too. They come with bulldozers, level the land, pile up black sand, and scatter generous amounts of metal scrap. And we have nobody to go to, to seek redressal. There couldn’t have been a better Fascist regime than what we are subject to. The government watches on and enjoys this cock fight as our own brothers are bribed to fight against us.”
I soak in all the information from this man of the Hoo tribe, which regards trees, land, water, air as their God. It is a unique struggle to safeguard their God, but often, they seem to feel deprived of the blessings of The One. “Why are we adivasis seen as the enemy? Don’t we breathe the same air? The government makes no qualms about initiating dialogues with the warring Pakistan or China, yet, when it comes to its own people, it doesn’t think twice before running us down,” Rabi adds with a harried smile. I try to change the topic and ask him about three buildings near his house, which resemble schools, thanks to the painted pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “Even nature doesn’t support us! It was a good school as teachers were visiting regularly but one fine day a strong gust of wind blew off its roof. Now even animals don’t use it as shed.” We laugh.
The tables now turn and Rabi asks me why I was there alone, and whether I represented any mainstream media organization. He was hoping for a positive reply, assuming that my words would help take their voice out into India Shining. My negative reply explains the functioning of the fourth estate of a democracy, which loves its ad revenue more than the ‘truth’.
Tears and hope
After a lunch of coarse rice and dal, we go around the village. I am accompanied by Dabar Kalundia, a man ‘most-wanted’ according to the local media, but someone who is contacted by the development officers to get him to convince his village folk to sell their land. We walk past a patch of land which is the sight for two houses – one intact, with an old lady working in the courtyard; the other in rubble. I ask Dabar why the stark dichotomy? “The one whose house is intact doesn’t want to move away from here. The one whose house is in rubble had accepted the rehab package by Tata four years ago. It is only recently that the cops came with the owners of the house – who posed themselves as goons to terrorise us – and bulldozed the house right before their eyes. They are doing this with almost all houses of those who had joined the other side,” he explained.
We then enter the house of late Aati Jamunda, who lost his life in a firing that took place on January 2, 2006. That day, around 10 am, the police began firing from several kilometers away, and 12 people lost their lives instantly. Three others later succumbed to their injuries. I meet Aati’s father Upin, and mother Haro. It is early evening and Haro is sifting the rice, while Aati’s daughter sits by her. Aati was 35 and didn’t have a job – he worked all day on the field. In 2005, he lost his younger brother, who was a teacher, to brain malaria. “He was ill for three days. Before we could figure out about which health clinic we should go to – since the nearest one is 10 kms away and there are no facilities at all, he died. A year later, we lost Aati,” said Upin, after a contemptuous look towards me. Dabar later explained that they spoke in Hoo in my presence – “So many journalists have come and gone. They ask the same questions, but they go back and write that my son was a goon, who would have been reformed by Tata’s developmental plans. I lost my son, but I am still angry.”
I request the senior Jamunda if I could take a look at a photograph of Aati. He searches all around in their tiny hut but couldn’t find it. Meanwhile, I try to strike a conversation with Aati’s petite mother in Hindi, and Dabar does the job of the translator. “In a bid to protect my land and parampara (culture), I have lost my son. I don’t have the skills or energy to work in a factory, but I can still work on my field, because I would do it with love. I still have the power within myself to fight one. I am ready to give my life, as well as take life,” said the 55-year-old woman.
Slowly, Upin narrated the chain of events on that fateful day. “Aati was on the field when he heard that the cops had come in. He rushed out to see what had happened. We next learnt that he was shot on his chest. They took his body away instantly.” Dabar added, “We wrote a letter to the CM demanding that the five bodies which were taken away be returned. Three days later, we were handed Aati’s decomposed body but his palms were missing. We don’t even know if any post mortem was done. When we asked why the hands were chopped, the authorities said that it was for identification. We buried his body according to the traditional rites. They returned ‘his’ hands six months later, but how would we know if those were his hands?”
With a heavy heart and a head bowed, we walked ahead. We were stopped by a middle-aged lady who called out to Dabar. Observing her colourful house, I said to Dabar, “They must be rich.” He laughed and whispered, “Wait until you hear their story.”
We enter their large courtyard and about 10 children surround me, upon seeing me wielding the camera. They were children who were unsure of their future, yet were oblivious to the gloom that enveloped the household. I learnt that the lady who beckoned was the mother of Jogendra Jamunda, who was arrested on August 27, 2009. He was an active leader of BBJM in the village. Jogendra’s young wife Pini comes to greet us, with a toddler in her arm, who was born just three months ago. Her two children look on as we talk. “He had gone to play football in another village. Later all the men who were playing returned, except for my husband and two others. We learnt that they had been arrested. The other two men were let out on bail the next day, but my husband has not been so fortunate,” Pini says in broken Hindi.
Her mother-in-law added, “Much before he was arrested, he was once taking me to the haat (weekly market) in Duburi on his bike. We were just 100 metres away from the Kalinganagar police station when he was shot on his back by goons. It was a crowded area, and so we managed to take care of him, but he still has the bullet lodged in his back.” I ask them about the charges on which he is under arrest. “Oh there are so many!” his mother says, adding, “Everything from dacoity, murder, waging war against the state to being a Maoist – my son seems to have done everything!” A dry laughter follows. She holds my hand as we leave and says, “There is nothing much to say, you know. We just keep on hoping that we will win and save our land. And that Jogendra will be released. We can only hope that God will hear us.”