Balema Goipai (65) of Gobarghat village of Kalinga Nagar, died of suspected cerebral malaria on the same day that BJP state president Jual Oram attempted to enter the cordoned-off area of Kalinga Nagar. Her family couldn’t take her to the hospital for fear of being apprehended by the police or the BJD ‘goons’.
‘Welcome to Kalinga Nagar Industrial Park’
Balema Goipai (65) of Gobarghat village of Kalinga Nagar had been sick with high fever for three days yet her son Samsundar Gopei couldn’t take her to the hospital. ‘The BJD goondas were all outside, they’re waiting to pick us up.’ He said, ‘No one goes out anywhere. We were afraid if we’d go, they’d put us in jail as well.’
His mother died of suspected cerebral malaria in the early hours of the 5th of April, 2010. The BJP state president Jual Oram was thwarted to visit Kalinga Nagar by these very Biju Janata Dal goons on the same day. His convoy was attacked, his car was damaged and journalists who were accompanying him were roughed up and robbed. In the village of Baligotha, the adivasis and the members of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch were waiting for him under a large banyan tree, lying around on mats, with their bows and arrows, their lathis, wondering if he’d get across. Yet a pattern was repeated, it was a no show. ‘It’s okay,’ Said Ravi Jarika, ‘We can give ourselves speeches.’ And they do, right after they stand up, have a short prayer and a moment of silence for the 12 adivasis who were killed in police firing on the 2nd of January 2006.
Meanwhile, other villagers had decided to go pay their respects to Balema Goipai who would probably have been alive if she could’ve gotten to a doctor.
They aren’t too far away either. What’s left of tribal resistance to land acquisition in Kalinganagar is surrounded by four sides by a horizon made up of chimneys, conveyor belts and large factories. The sirens can be heard in the distance as does the sound of pounding rock, and bulldozers working less than a kilometer from the village of Baligotha. Yet the adivasis refuse to part with their land for Tata’s six million tonne steel plant and the common corridor road. And the repression is brutal. Twenty-four men of the villages opposed to Tata’s common corridor languish in jail with a number of cases against them. Most of them were apprehended as they stepped out of their villages and entered the main road, where policemen along with ‘BJD goondas’ or ‘Tata goons’ were out identifying anyone who belonged to the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch.
‘A lot of the people who work for the Tatas like this were once villagers, our neighbours,’ Says Dabar Kalundia, one of the leaders of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch, ‘They’re the ones who accepted compensation.’
Barring arrests, after the January 2nd firings in 2006, there have been at least two known cases of murder and attempted murder. Dabar Kalundia, himself was fired at by a contractor Arvind Singh along with three other unidentified persons in front of the Rohit Ferro Tech on the 1st of May, 2008, International Labour Day. He had narrowly escaped yet Omin Banara (52) couldn’t escape and he was killed. Similarly Joginder Jamuda was shot at, in close range by two unidentified men riding on motorcycles. He was with his mother when he was shot but managed to survive. Yet on the 27th of August, 2009, he was arrested as he was returning from a football match at Nakundai and there are a total of 13 cases against him. His third child was born just two weeks ago.
Recently on the 30th of March, a series of protests against the common corridor road led the police to fire rubber bullets against the protestors. Over 30 villagers were shot and even after a week, pellets were still lodged in their bodies. Mani Soya (55) of Bamiyaguta village has a pellet lodged in her cheek and another in her arm. Munna Munda (18) (named changed) of Chandiya village has around 11 pellets lodged in his body.
Only after retired Orissa High Court judge P.K. Mishra led a fact-finding team consisting of a doctor, into the area, did the adivasis receive treatment. One woman, Gurubari Gagarai (40) from Gadapur village was beaten by lathis and was admitted into the hospital on the day of the firing as it is. Five more people left the area and were admitted into the government hospital after P.K. Mishra’s visit. Yet firing rubber bullets at the protesters wasn’t all that happened. After the protestors were fired at, the police along with the ‘goondas’ entered the village of Baligotha, vandalized homes, destroyed a cycle shop, stole livestock, stole money, poured kerosene into a well and onto produce, and destroyed the memorial for villager Rangala Nundaya who was killed on the 2nd of January, 2006 firing.
After the attack, the police and the goons cordoned off the area to prevent all access to opposition political parties, journalists and more importantly, to restrict the movements of the adivasis who now live in a virtual prison, and almost every villager, from young children to old men, carry lathis, bows and arrows or blades, wary of another attack from whoever it may be. This is the situation, as of the 12th of April, 2010.
Development Means Jobs?
Rama Budra from the village of Tangorasahi worked at the Rohit Ferro Tech Plant at Kalinganagar along with his brother Pitambar. Yet in the first week of April, he along with his brother, were fired from their jobs for providing help to the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch, and according to him, it was done through the instructions of the Collector and the Superintendent of Police.
‘There is nothing for the adivasis in industry, everything is still in agriculture’ he says, sitting with over 40 other adivasis who all nod their heads in approval; ‘All the big jobs are given to outsiders.’
Recently, over 50 adivasis from Chandiya Gram Panchayat who were employed by Rohit Ferro Tech Limited were fired from their jobs. Chandiya Gram Panchayat is the heart of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch, and when this correspondent asked the leaders of the movement whether anything like this happened before, they responded as such, ‘Rohit company was the only one that even hired so many of our people, the others never did.’
And for many villagers, the adivasis never needed the work. In Gobarghat, Nati Angarai (45) has only five acres but manages to cultivate rice, pulses, brinjal and tomatoes. He claims to produce enough rice to earn around Rs.20,000 each season. Yet for a long time, he hasn’t been able to visit his market at Duburi due to the repression over the last 2 years. Almost all the villagers have been selling rice for only Rs.700-750, that is far below the market price. Only for a short time a few months ago, did they receive market price for the produce yet that was also discontinued.
Dabar Kalundia himself claims to be able to produce 30 quintals of rice per season and is one of the major landholders of the area with around 15 acres.
‘Almost everyone here has around five acres of land,’ continued Nati Angarai, ‘We’re dependent on rain for water and recently due to the dust and pollution, we’ve noticed that our cultivation is suffering.’
Development means dust?
A majority of the villagers of Suanla work to load coal onto the trains for a minimum of Rs.100 a day and many of them suffer chronic health problems. They have no healthcare insurance and no union.
A few kilometers beyond the cordoned-off Chandiya Gram Panchayat is the village of Suanla, Dhodiguda, where a majority of the villagers spend their time loading minerals, especially coal onto railway bogeys. They get paid to anywhere between Rs.100 and Rs.150 and live opposite the Jindal steel plant. Yet this access to labour, and proximity to industry and development has had one severe impact onto their lives. In the first ten minutes spent in Suanla, our motorcycle was already covered in a thick layer of black dust.
‘Almost everyone who works loading coal falls sick,’ Says Parmal Shana (46) of Suanla, who was sick for the last three days and is on his way to load coal again. ‘There are days when they do nothing but vomit, and the vomit is always yellow or white liquid.’ He continues.
None of the labourers receive any medical insurance and there has been no clear diagnosis of the illnesses suffered by the villagers of Suanla. Estimates wary, but over the last six months, some 20 to 30 villagers of Suanla have died from some illness or the other. The house of Markand Hembram is almost indicative to the severe health hazards faced by the villagers of Suanla, as over four members of the household have died over the last year, starting with Markand Hembram himself and his two daughters – Nooni (21) and Sutoni (19), and then his son Bapun Hembram. The symptoms included severe cough, blood in the vomit, swelling and thinning of the arms, weakness and loss of appetite, according to the villagers.
Another man, Mangal Munda (40) has been bed-ridden for the last year and a half. He suffers from severe pain in his spine and spends his days lying down. He used to work as a loader in the Jindal Steel plant and now receives no medical assistance from them.