After the 20th November police firing at Narayanpatna, Orissa which left two tribals dead and innumerable injured, the situation has not only turned grim for the adivasis but a media blackout is helping to hide the complete militarization of the area.
There are reports that around 73 adivasis and members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh have been beaten and arrested. While the jailer of Koraput was instructed not to allow the detainees to meet anyone, their defending lawyer, Nihar Ranjan Patnaik claims that around fifteen of the arrested are minors. Considering they are in Koraput Jail, it is a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act for minors are meant to be held in a juvenile remand home. Adding to this, was the recent attack on the all-India, all-women fact-finding team by the newly-formed ‘Shanti Committee’, with the alleged patronage of the police.
The Shanti Committee itself comprises of non-tribals such as the Sondis and the Patnaiks and includes numerous Schedule Caste members of the Dom Caste. It was formed to curtail the growing influence of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh who reclaimed vast hectares of Fifth schedule land from them.
The burning of the homes of the Dalits by the CMAS activists had taken place in the villages of Padapader, Tolagoomandi and Upurgoomandi in May of this year. The administration had provided the displaced with makeshift shelters, and after the 20th November firing, there are now only 329 Dalits out of 674 Dalits displaced at the shelter.
The liquor prohibition diktats of the CMAS had also seriously hampered the liquor mafia whose stranglehold over the Narayanpatna tribals had all but vanished. There are reports that the liquor mafia has now reclaimed lost territory in Narayanpatna after the 20th November firing, after which the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh was suppressed and their members went into hiding.
When it came to the fact-finding team, the Shanti Committee was wary of the intentions of the fact-finding team, believing that they were there in the support of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh. Superintendent of Police, Koraput, Deepak Chouhan Kumar also had no sympathy for the fact-finding team, ‘We didn’t beat this ‘so-called’ fact-finding team, we protected them from the mob.’
The activists on the other hand claim that the mob was instigated by the police. Yet their case is not an isolated incident. There are many other activists and party workers who have been beaten, harassed, arrested and killed at Narayanpatna. A few members of the CPI (ML) (Liberation) and the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee who openly support the CMAS were beaten while returning from the funeral of the adivasis killed on the 20th November firing.
Tapan Mishra, an activist, who is associated with the CMAS, and is an official member of the legal CPI (ML) (Kanu Sanyal group), was arrested under Section 121 (waging war against the state) and 124A (Sedition). Amnesty International has already condemned his arrest and called for his unconditional release stating that he has no links with the Maoists and he was only arrested after it became known that he accompanied a seven member fact-finding team to Narayanpatna. Along with him, a member of the legal UCCRI (ML) (Unity Centre of Communist Revolution in India), was also arrested.
The deceased adivasis themselves were activists. K. Singanna was one of the leaders of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh and was allegedly shot ten times in the back. On the day of the shooting, it was alleged that the adivasis had gathered to protest the mistreatment of adivasi women that was taking place during combing operations.
The police claimed that they had fired in self-defence after the adivasis tried to seize weapons. The local press was only allowed into the area, some two hours later. And when they arrived, they found the camp shot full of arrows. Interestingly, the police had earlier barged into adivasi homes and confiscated traditional weapons during their combing operations.
Yet the murder of activists is not new to Narayanpatna. On the 9th of May 2008, Narayan Hareka was allegedly murdered on the outskirts of Narayanpatna. The police claimed he was killed in an accident while his wife and his colleagues believe he was murdered.
His body was found brutally disfigured – his eye had been gouged out, his neck was gashed and his hand was smashed in multiple places. He was alive when they first found him but barely cognizable. He was taken to the local PHC around 8:00pm but he had to be referred to Vishakapatnam. Yet the journey only commenced after numerous delays, at around 11:00pm. Narayan Hareka died just 20 kms from the PHC.
As an activist from the Kondh tribe, he struggled against the illegal liquor trade, the land alienation of the tribals, the debt trap and he was, during his last few days, investigating irregularities in the implementation of the NREGs. There was no secret that Hareka had made a lot of enemies amongst the powerful.
Yet it was always this debt-trap that led to the growing resentment between the tribals and the non-tribals at Narayanpatna. There was a known reality that the tribals often found themselves addicted to liquor and would end up parting with their lands and their freedom to cover the debts that alcohol had brought onto them. Bonded labour was not a secret in Narayanpatna. Nachika Linga, leader of the Charsi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, himself was a bonded labourer who used to receive around Rs.60 a year, just ten years ago.
When it came to the legal or illegal acquisition of tribal land by the non-tribals, the Joint Commissioner (Settlements) was instructed to receive complaints regarding the irregularities in the earlier 1961 settlement. However no one approached him. He instead recommended that the Adivasis take the matter to court. The recommendations were accepted by the Collector who had informed the lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, the President of the Bar Association, Koraput to take up the matter.
However, he’s not able to visit the Tehsildar at Narayanpatna to collect land records considering allegations that his life is in danger. He is instead dealing with a flood of cases regarding the arrests of many activists and villagers from Narayanpatna.
Adding to the woes of the tribals and the non-tribals, is the threat of rotting paddy as there is no one there to harvest it. Both the Collector and the Sub-Collector have made numerous visits to the area to assess the situation.
Oddly enough, the Shanti Committee even called for the suspension of the Collector of Koraput for his close association to the adivasis after the CMAS had burnt down their homes in May. Some have gone so far to condemn the fact that he speaks Jatapur, the local dialect.
The Collector, Gadhadhar Parida had initially brought both communities together for a hearing after the initial burnings of the village of Padepadar. He was eventually transferred for a period of four months during the elections, during which the situation had escalated beyond reconciliation.
‘90% of the people of Narayanpatna are tribals, and I’m not supposed to listen their grievances? And if I don’t who will?’ He says in his office on the day of the attack on the fact-finding committee.
Yet addressing the socio-economic causes are now further difficult and many activists have raised the alarm concerning mass atrocities. The Maoists too have called for punishment to vetted out to concerned parties. In a letter written to the press, Comrade Rumal, of the CPI (Maoist) Malkangiri Divisional Committee has called for a ‘death sentence’ to be delivered to the MLAs and MPs of Malkangiri and Koraput if the atrocities did not stop. Many observers believe this is just another attempt of the Maoists to hijack people’s movements. Similarly, observers find that the story that the CMAS is a Maoist-front, suspect, while Pramod Samantaraya, an award-winning journalist of Dhariti newspaper, an Oriya Daily, has his own idea.
‘Whether they’re supported by the Maoists or not, it’s irrelevant,’ he says, ‘their grievances are all too real. What the some people in the state want to do, is brand them as a Maoist-front so they can deal with the movement militarily.’
Yet the police can justify their reason for a presence in the area. Nine security personnel were killed in an IED blast at nearby Bandhugaun on the 18th of June 2009. The explosives used, were allegedly the same explosives stolen from the Nalco raid on the 12th of April, that left nine CISF personnel and five Maoists dead.
Similarly at Bandugaum, the Maoists have killed Bhogi Ramesh of Kattulapet village, Bijoy Pigal of Sulupolamada village and Balram Sahukar from Nellawadi village over the last year and a half. From neighbouring Khumbari, they also killed Patra Khosla from Bagam village. In all cases, the victims were described as police informers. In two cases the villagers were killed in complete arbitrary circumstances – without any knowledge of the allegations against them.