Narayanpatna: Revisited

This article first appeared on the 7th of March, 2010.

An old Kondh lady smokes her cigar walking past Narayanpatna police station, without turning her head towards a gate where one of the leaders of a popular adivasi uprising lay dead with a cluster of rifle bullets in his back. It was the 20th of November 2009, when the Kondh adivasis had come to the police station to complain. An altercation broke out, the police fired and killed two tribals and wounded many. The police claimed that the Kondhs wanted to snatch weapons.

Recently, the issue of cutting paddy had come to the forefront as the Kondhs who had reclaimed and cultivated more than 2000 acres of land from non-tribals, had mostly gone into hiding due to frequent combing operations and arrests. Crores worth of paddy was about to go into waste. Yet the harvest began to resume and it has been alleged that the paddy was split 50-50 between Kondh families and particular landlords or ‘Sahukars’.

Collector of Koraput, Rajesh Patil was unaware of this distribution. According to him, the matter of splitting the paddy was left to the people themselves. Therefore, in the villages of Paching, Gadmaguda, Kandhasai, Bikrampur, Karikona, Khilua, Chankotasai and Rajasai, each Kondh family was left with five kerosene boxes of paddy – around 60kgs of rice, cultivated on land that traditionally belong to them.

In the villages where the uprising (Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh) had its roots, there was no splitting of the produce as all the rice went to the Kondhs themselves.

Similarly, as per Gram Sabha judgements, liquor is still completely banned in Kabriwadi, Dimtiguda, Sulupalamanda, Ketaravalsa, Lowpeta, Panaspadar, Unkadidi, Madiwalsa and Jangidivalasa.

The Arrests

Hidden out of sight is the state’s brutal crackdown on the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh. There have been widespread arrests of anyone who was deemed to be even remotely associated with the CMAS, that the police claim is a Maoist-front.

Andru Nachika of Bhaliaput was killed on the day of the 20th November firing and now, his wife Balsi and two children only run into the jungles when they hear that the police are approaching their village.

There have also been more than 26 arrests from the village of Podapadar, the hometown of CMAS leader K. Singanna who was killed on the 20th November firing.

Another village of Jangidivalasa has seen 14 arrests, out of which around six are allegedly minors, who’re not in a juvenile home but in Koraput jail, which is a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act 2006.

Puvala Malati s/o Sitayya from Jangidivalasa, has a school leaving certificate that clearly states that he is born on the 20th of March, 1995. He has been languishing in Koraput jail for over three months. He has been booked under section 121/121A of the IPC – Waging War against the state, and conspiracy to wage war against the state, Section 25 of the Arms Act, and section 3/4/6 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.

According to the FIR, he and some 14 others were apprehended by the police on the 29th of November, 2009 near the Jangidavalasa forests in possession of four SMG guns, five single-barrel country-made rifles, two arrows, detonators and CPI (Maoist) flags with communist logos.

Tapan Mishra, an activist of the CPI (Kanu Sanyal Group), is noted to have been arrested in the same incident, even as activists claim that Tapan Mishra was arrested at the train station at Parvatipuram, Andhra Pradesh. Amnesty International has already condemned the arrest of Tapan Mishra, claiming his arrest to be motivated by the fact that he had initially accompanied a seven member fact-finding team to Narayanpatna.

The villagers of Jangidivalasa also claim that five other young people who studied in the same class as 15 year-old Puvala Malati were arrested. One of them, Mandangini Narsu s/o Dullaiya suffers from epilepsy and recently had an attack on the 21st of February, 2010 at Koraput Jail.

From the village of Podapadar, almost every other family has a relative who is an undertrial at Koraput Jail. Suno Mandingi’s two sons Narsing and Linga are in jail. Rabena Wadeka’s husband Sombu Wadeka and his brother Benu Waderka are in jail. Dipayi Mandingis son Dama Mandingi is in jail. Narsing Wadeka is in jail with his father Palsu Wadeka, and his older brother Subana Wadeka.

Muley Mandingi is all alone in the village of Podapadar with her three children as her husband Betru Mandingi is in jail.

There are a total of 16 cases against the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, and more than 150 undertrials in Koraput jail with no idea of their rights.

‘One man Baria Buti suffers from nightblindness,’ Says Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, their defence lawyer and President of the Bar Association, Koraput, ‘Apparently he wages war against the state only during daytime.’

The Displaced

Once the Kondhs began to re-assert their rights over the jungle, numerous clashes broke out between the Kondhs and the non-tribals, especially those of the Dalit caste. There was no secret that bonded labour was endemic to Narayanpatna and that the grievances of the adivasi were genuine when it came to liquor and land alienation. Now while the liquor trade was a source of profitable trade for non-tribals, it was a source of social devastation of the adivasi Kondhs. It has been often observed that the Kondh uprising against exploitation was genuine, but clashes between the Kondhs and the Dalits led to massive displacement of the latter.

There are still around 92 families of the Dom Caste from Podapadar living in miasmic filth in decrepit government buildings for Soil Conservation of Koraput town. The stench of faeces pervades the air, and while the administration has promised them homes as per the Mo Kudia Scheme, they fear they shall soon be evicted to make way for a CRPF camp.

They had initially lived at Narayanpatna town for 15 days, and then at the Collectorate of Koraput in May of 2009 and were refused further help by the then-collector Bichitrananada Das. They literally lived in the open during the monsoons. One woman Kondo Mahanandia (50) allegedly died of starvation or ‘khaibaku na payee’, according to the IDPs at Koraput.

Eventually, on the 7th of July, Gadadhar Parida was re-posted as Collector for Koraput district. The IDPs were then moved into the Soil Conservation building and they have been living there since.

‘We lost our NREGs card and we lost our ration card,’ says Pulati Kondpan, from her ‘room’, which used to be the toilet at the Soil Conservation Building. She goes on to claim that her ration is being siphoned off at Narayanpatna, ‘If we had that rice, at least, we could have managed here.’

Similarly, Suna Bagh of Podapadar claims that he hasn’t been receiving his pension of Rs.200 per month as per the Madhu Babu Pension Scheme, while Sushil Kumar Kondpan (15) says that because of displacement, he hasn’t been able to finish his studies.

Collector Rajesh Patil claims that the majority of the IDP children have been sent to school and that pensions have been given. Relief packages have also been provided to the IDP families. Each month, they receive either 45 kilograms or 90 kilograms of rice.

The Doms meanwhile also hope for a resolution and compromise with the Kondhs of Podapadar and wish they could return to their homes. Yet as combing operations have intensified in the area, and numerous cases are filed against the Kondhs and the leaders of the CMAS, an atmosphere for a peaceful resolution seems slim.

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