The Peoples’ Movement in Kashipur

Debarpita Manjit

1. The place and the movement

Kashipur is a sub-division in the Rayagada district of (south) Orissa. According to the recent Census, the Jhodia and Kandho tribes and the Panos (untouchables or dalits) constitute a large majority of the population. Topographically the region can be divided into two distinct parts, 1 - the ghats or the mountains, 2 - the valley and the lower plains. Beginning with the colonial administrator-anthropologists, most historians and others writing on this part of our country have repeatedly stated that, over centuries of history, these people have been gradually pushed towards the infertile/less-fertile mountain lands by the Hindu caste peasants of the valleys or plains below.

They now survive on dongar (mountain slope) cultivation and collecting minor forest produce of various kinds, including seasonal fruits for a part of the year. That does not suffice. Another part of the year, they survive on the gruel of mango-kernel collected during the summer. Death due to starvation, malnutrition, and malaria is not uncommon.

The history of the people here has been a history of oppression by ‘social superiors’ and ‘outsiders’. And this history has continued since the days of their settlement and civilisation. During the nationalist movement the nationalists used the resentment of the ‘tribals’ against the forest contractors, liquor-vendors and sahukars for their own nationalist agenda without ever trying to understand them and their problems. Thus despite the romantic Verrier Elwin, the philanthropic Thakkar Bapa, the social and economic condition of the ‘tribals’ did not change meaningfully. In ‘independent’ India too they still toil hard for food. Wherever they work, the benefits of those works have never been theirs. There has been no provision for their education or health-care. They do not enjoy electricity nor have a supply of safe drinking water, yet at every general election their votes are sought by self-seeking politicians and they do cast votes, valid votes. Instead, the history of independent India has further increased their woes. One only has to take a look at the demographical details of the industrial cities of Bhilai (where Shankar Guha-Niyogi was shot dead while he was asleep) and Tatanagar. The ‘tribal’ people are the servants, ill-paid wage labourers, half-fed rickshaw pullers, TB patients, consumers of spurious and cheap liquor, and beggars, slum-dwellers in their own land. What a change?

Today, the people of Kashipur, are trying to stop the repetition of this history. Since 1993, they are engaged in a relentless battle to convert Kashipur into another Bhilai. It was in 1993 that the then government of Orissa entered into an understanding with a few trans-national companies/industrial houses, to start the mining of bauxite in the region with a design to set up plants for extraction of alumina and exporting the alumina for their production of aluminium. UAIL (Utkal Aluminium International Limited) was a consortium of Tata, Norsk-Hydro, Hindal Co. and Alcan. Now only Hindal Co. and Alcan are part of the consortium. UAIL is supposed to have its mines at Baphlimali. Similarly L&T will have its mines at Sijumali, Sterlite India Limited will have mines at Niyamgiri and Aditya Birla’s Hindal Co. will have another independent unit by mining at Kodingamali hills. All these units together are meant to affect about 2700 families of nearly 200 villages.

As the survey work started in the region the people started asking questions as to what is going to be done there (Independent India does not think them fit for providing information). Once they learnt what is going to happen, they resisted, initially by putting road blockades so that ‘experts’ cannot enter the region with their gadgets and creating difficulty in the survey process by snatching survey instruments. As the police tried to help the MNC officials by arresting some of the villagers, the people gheraoed police stations and got their friends released. Such protests, without physically harming anybody went on for a few years. And gradually, people of the place and activists from other peoples’ movements in Orissa joined hands and organised themselves. The companies got alarmed and recruited lumpens to physically attack a few of the protestors and activists. And with police connivance, the company thugs succeeded in beating up people. This did not deter the spirit of the people and the movement as it grew in strength.

The forces representing the private profiteers and their local minions fired on a peaceful gathering of protestors, on 16 December 2000, murdering three villagers at Maikanch. After this two of the trans-national companies withdrew from the project consortium. The judicial enquiry held to probe the incident of firing and killing tried to sanitise the entire attempt by suggesting, beyond its brief, ‘industrialisation in the region was necessary’.

After all these events, however, from October 2004, the Government of Orissa has again, rather aggressively tried to help the trans-national companies. It has set up police posts at almost every village, deployed the Indian Reserve Force, CRPF, Orissa Reserve Force to browbeat the villagers to subordination. Arbitrary arrests and the registering of false cases have become the order of the day. Since January 2005, till June 2005 around 30 arrests have been done which include many women and a boy who is 12 years old.

2. Aluminium and its beneficiary

The mining and production of alumina will exhaust the entire bauxite in the region in 23 years, which was formed in 650 lakh years of earth’s life. This region (namely eight districts of western Orissa province in India) is the largest bauxite deposit of the entire world (13% of world’s bauxite deposits being here). The bauxite deposits at this place are close to the surface of the earth; therefore, it is relatively economical to mine bauxite here. Beside, the alumina content in the bauxite in this region is about 45-48%. After mining of bauxite, here at Kashipur and other places in Orissa, alumina will be extracted from the bauxite and alumina will be exported to the western world for the production of aluminium. The final product will not be made here.

The production will pollute the environment of the entire region, particularly contaminating its water. Mining, which will level mountains, will dry up the perennial mountain streams, which supply drinking water to a large number of people, towards whom the government seems to have no responsibility. The processing of alumina from bauxite leaves a huge amount of toxic waste and chemicals, known as the ‘red mud’. The red mud contains fluoride compounds, and wherever it is dumped, it contaminates the underground water sources of the place. Bauxite mining all over the world has destroyed forest covers. It is clearly at the cost of the lives and livelihood of the marginalised section of the society, namely the small peasants, that the aluminium industry grows. So who benefits in this project of ‘development’? Aluminium is used for utensils, food-wrapping, electric wire etc. but most of the aluminium produced is used in the building of air-craft, defence research and missile-making etc. It is mostly used in the western world. And how many pages of history must we flip through to find its answer?

The mining leases given to the various aluminium companies violate the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India. UAIL particularly, we have information, is working on the project without the mandatory environmental clearance. The area where the lease has been given falls under the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court of India in the case, Samatha vs State of AP, 1997, categorically held that transfer of land by any means including lease by the government to a non-tribal is not permissible under the Fifth Schedule. But the government of Orissa maintains that this judgment is not applicable in Orissa and has been transferring the land of the tribals around Kashipur to industries.

Even the PESA Act (1996) states that before any land acquisition, particularly in the scheduled areas, it is imperative to consult gram sabhas (Village Councils) and involve them in decision-making. The state initially refused to consult the gram sabhas and started land acquisition from the people. Lately gram sabhas were conducted to fulfill legal requirements, those were exercises flouting all norms and obtaining consent through force. A striking example of this is that of D. Karal, where the village was cordoned off and the gram sabha meeting was conducted in the intimidating presence of heavily armed police and district officials who had been openly campaigning for the setting up of the industrial units. People were prevented from speaking at the meeting; the minutes and decisions recorded were not read out to the villagers, and the people present were asked to sign on blank papers.

3. Fear of further subordination

During the last few visits of some of us here in Delhi to Kashipur (particularly the villages Kucheipadar, Bagrijhola, Barigaon, Maikanch) and the interaction we had with the people there the following fears were expressed, which were based on the historical reality of industrial expansion and further marginalisation of poor people. The people of Kashipur have fear of the new order that industrialisation will usher in. It has been discussed over and over again in various contexts that the people of such project areas are sure to lose their land or means of their livelihood. This question or fear is supposed to have been addressed in what is called the ‘Rehabilitation Package’. The Supreme Court of India in one of its judgments on such rehabilitation packages has suggested that ‘land for land’ can be the only solution in such cases. But is there sufficient land, of an equivalent quality, for compensating the loss? The answer can never be in the affirmative. The rehabilitation package contains many more provisions as housing with educational and primary health-care facilities. But that does not seem to allay the fears of the people there.

The question is, if the rehabilitation’ (whatever that means) is done properly will the people of Kashipur willingly and merrily leave their hamlets/settlements, land and not oppose the setting up of the aluminium plants and mining facilities? The answer is a NO. Then why do the people insist on not leaving their land and village? The answer lies in the following dialogue with a friend in Barigaon village of Kashipur.

Mr. Bulka is an elderly person, passed his sixtieth birthday, a respected leader of not only his village but also of the entire movement against industrialisation (recently when he was released from jail, he was taken in a procession on the shoulders of the young men to his village). He said, ‘the government and the company are speaking of providing us with jobs in lieu of our land. But can they do that? The government is a bigger organisation than the (Aluminium) Company. When the government has not been able to provide jobs for all the educated people in the province, when there are so many unemployed youth, how can the Company provide jobs for all of us, the displaced people? And why do they expect us to believe in this false promise?’ He went on, ‘The Company, if at all, will give some jobs to some young men only, that too with a small pay – as coolies – they won’t employ us as babus (white collar jobs). What will happen to the old men and women (who in their kind of society are also engaged in productive labour/agriculture)? And those who will be employed will be subjected to the supervision and abuses of a superior official. We work in our land according to our own rhythm; there is nobody to look over our shoulders. But in the Company there will always be somebody to direct you. Therefore we do not need any jobs and we will fight to protect our village and the land till the end.’

Unmistakably, there was a refusal to surrender to the new forms of subordination that the people of Kashipur will be subjected to. They do not want to remain as less or uneducated people who can only be manual labourers. They do not want to be subjected to the industrial time discipline. They do not want to be under the constant gaze of a superior officer.

Mr. Bulka, who takes sufficient pride in his own society and culture added, ‘When the Company (industry) will come, all will be gone. The village, the land, the forest, the mountain streams, even the wild life. It is because of us that the wild life is still there. The bears and deer eat our corn and maize. If there will be no forest and agriculture, how will they survive? We use the forest for timber, leaves and fruits and kept it alive for our purposes.’ This was a claim which was not untrue. We witnessed ‘machans’ in their agricultural lands, which attested that there is still wild life around to destroy their crops, for the protection of which they have erected the ‘machans’.

Expressing his resentment against the urban-oriented rehabilitation residential complexes created at a nearby industrial town, namely Damanjodi, Mr. Bulka said, ‘The houses are not worthy of living. Those are small and narrow. You cannot plant a lanka or a mango tree in the yard. It is so small that your friends cannot assemble there.’ To our interjection that those are pucca (concrete) houses, he responded, ‘yes those are pucca houses, but it is not like our village. There is no room for our young boys and girls to dance. We cannot grow our food, as there would be no land. There will be no streams for us to use its water. We have to pay for everything such as water, food. We even have to pay for the funeral of our near and dear ones.’

A market-oriented existence, where everything is mediated through money and cash is not a very tempting proposal for them. This is because they will always be, in such a system, at the receiving end, as they are genuinely afraid, they will never have sufficient cash to be comfortable in that situation.

Thus they are fighting for freedom and dignity, none of which can be ensured in the industrialisation or the concomitant ‘rehabilitation’.

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