Will you die for your land ? (Cover Story)

     Twelve tribal villagers were shot dead by police on January 2 during a demonstration against the development of the Kalinga Nagar steel complex in the eastern state of Orissa. The impoverished protestors were demanding a halt to construction by steel developers on their traditional land.

     In 1992, the local government in Orissa seized the tribal land, paying the villagers a pittance in compensation. The 12,000-acre area was then designated as a steel complex, and lucrative leasing contracts were negotiated with local and foreign investors. Local people have repeatedly protested against the decision over the past decade.

     The massacre on January 2 occurred as villagers staged a demonstration against the construction of a boundary wall for a site leased to TATA Steel.

Name

Sex

Age

Village

Died

Status

Ati Jamuda

F

32

Chanan

Police custody

Unmarried

Bana Badara

M

35

Gadpur

Police custody

Married - 5 children

Rama Gagarai

M

35

Gadpur

Police custody

Married - 5 children

Landu Jarika

M

29

Bamiyagotha

Police custody

Married - 2 children

Bhagaban Soy

M

25

Gobarghati

Police custody

Unmarried

Mukta Bankira

F

30

Chandia

Police custody

Unmarried

Janga Jarika

F

27

Baligotha

Spot

4 children

Gobinda Laguri

M

14

Champakoila

Spot

Student

Sudam Barla

M

25

Belohari

Spot

Unmarried

Deogi Tiria

F

28

Champakoila

Spot

3 children

Rangalal Munduya

M

40

Baligotha

In Hospital

Single

Rama Ch Jamuda

M

36

Bamiyagotha

In Hospital

2 children

     Tribal people constitute more than five percent of India’s total population, and have long been among the country’s most oppressed and marginalised strata. Access to their traditional lands, which are typically remote but resource rich, has come under sustained attack in recent years. Successive Indian governments at both the local and federal level have promoted India as a haven for foreign investment, and have encouraged transnational companies to launch projects on land requisitioned from the tribal inhabitants.

     In Orissa, local authorities have made large sums of money from this process. As one tribal protestor explained to the BBC, “We were paid only 37,000 rupees ($US823) per acre of land whereas the government has sold the same land to the companies for over 300,000 rupees per acre.” In many cases, even the small amount of money promised to the inhabitants has been held back by pending lawsuits. Promises of jobs have also failed to materialise. Three local officials admit that just over a quarter of the displaced families have been given alternative employment.

     Eighty percent of the Orissa population are farmers and agricultural labourers, and inadequate public spending in agriculture and public infrastructure has led to a serious lack of employment opportunities.

     Until recently, tribal villagers living within the Kalinga Nagar steel complex area continued to cultivate the land, despite the state seizure of their property. They have demanded proper compensation for their land at current market rates and an adequate resettlement package that provides them with a means of securing their livelihoods. None of these demands have been met, however, and as the steel companies have expanded their operations, the tribespeople have come under government pressure and police attacks to vacate the area.

     The deepening gulf between rich and poor is evident in Orissa. Around 30 percent of India’s iron ore reserves and 24 percent of its coal reserves are located in the state. Despite this natural wealth, Orissa remains among the poorest in India, with about half of the total population living below the official poverty line. Indian and international companies, on the other hand, are expecting to make huge profits in the eastern state. The local government has signed contracts for establishing steel plants with 43 Indian and transnational companies, of which 13 have reached the commissioning stage. The contracts are worth a total of $40 billion to the state government, while the steel companies are no doubt forecasting tens of billions more in future profits.

     Among the foreign investors is Australia’s BHP-Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, which together with the Korean steel company POSCO, has invested $12 billion in an iron ore mine in Orissa. The operation is the single largest foreign direct investment venture in India. The rapid growth of the Chinese economy is also fuelling investment in Indian iron and steel. Total iron ore exports, now standing at 5 million tonnes, swelled five-fold in the last five years. Half of the country’s iron ore exports now go to China.

     The Indian ruling elite has ambitions beyond merely supplying China with the raw materials for its industrial expansion however. India is competing with China to attract foreign direct investment and to develop value-added manufacturing industries and cannot afford to allow protests to interfere with this strategy. For this reason, the Orissa massacre will not be the last.

.....Parwini Zora

On 4th Jan 2006, when the relatives were preparing the bodies for cremation ceremony, they saw that both hands of all six victims were cut off. Those close saw that the genitals of all four men and the breasts of two women were cut off.

See Full Article: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/jan2006/oris-j17.shtml

We selected and chose to publish this article among several on the web.

Above Data (see table) is collected from the fact finding report by JOHAR (Jharkhandi’s Organisation for Human Rights) & JMACC (Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee).

The Report can be found at http://www.firstpeoplesfirst.in

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