Delhi students investigate the mass struggle and state repression in Odisha

Preliminary report of the DSU fact-finding visit to Narayanpatna, Odisha

Democratic Students’ Union (DSU), Delhi

PRESS RELEASE:  A REPORT FROM GROUND ZERO

Tribal people of Narayanpatna in 2009

A team of students from DU, JNU and IGNOU belonging to the Democratic Students’ Union (DSU) visited Narayanpatna Block in the Koraput district of Odisha from 11 April to 16 April 2011. The objective of
the visit was to study the ground situation at present in the region where a militant mass struggle is going on for the last few years, and according to the media reports, has faced extreme forms of state repression. The aim was also to study the socio-economic aspects of
the social life of Narayanpatna region, and to look into the factors that have contributed to the emergence of this important peasant struggle in contemporary South Asia.

Narayanpatna is inhabited by sixteen tribal communities including Kui, Parija, Jorka, Matia, Doria and others, of whom the Kuis are numerically predominant. The adivasis, who constitute more than 90 percent of around 45,000 people of Narayanpatna block, are interspersed with Dalit communities such as Mali, Dombo, Forga, Paiko, Rilli, etc. Dominant castes such as the Sundis and Brahmins are numerically small but are powerful and influential. Though the
incursion of non-adivasis has a long history going back to the establishment of the Narayanpatna Raj centuries back, the Sundis have
entered the district after they were driven away from Coastal Andhra
during the Srikakulam armed struggle in the 1960s. The Sundis as well
as a small section of Dalits from the Dombo and Rilli castes too have
made money by exploiting the adivasis and selling them liquor. The
non-adivasis are around 5000 in number, and the ruling elite of
Narayanpatna belong to this group. It was also clear to us that the
identities such as that of landlord, liquor trader, money-lender and
politician are not separate or mutually exclusive, but usually coexist
in the members of the dominant classes of the region.

Over the last few years, the poor and landless peasants of
Narayanpatna, Bandhugaon, Simliguda, etc. have organised themselves
under the banner of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), and fought back
their tormentors the Sundi-Sahukar-Sarkar nexus. Even though CMAS was
working in the region for more than fifteen years, it was only in the
last three to four years that its anti-liquor movement took a decisive
turn. It reached a flashpoint in January 2009 when the rural masses of
Narayanpatna not only drove away the liquor traders from their
villages, but mobilized themselves in thousands to pursue them to
their stronghold, the towns. Four thousand people went to Narayanpatna
town and destroyed liquor factories and wine shops, including shops
selling foreign liquor. By late 2010, only two liquor shops were
running in the entire region, and that too in the block headquarters
of Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon where state’s armed forces are
stationed. In January 2011 more than 3000 CMAS members destroyed the
shop in Bandhugaon town as well. In villages like Baliaput, Mahua
trees from which cheap liquor was produced were destroyed under a
political programme of CMAS and BAMS (Biplabi Adivasi Mahila Sangha),
and today not a single Mahua tree is to be seen in Narayanpatna’s
villages. The prohibition in the sale and consumption of liquor was
almost total by 2009. The mass upsurge led to the fleeing of landlords
and liquor traders from the region, leading to the collapse of this
parasitic trade. The villagers narrated how Jairam Pangi, the
incumbent BJD MP from Koraput, tried to dissuade the people from the
anti-liquor agitation by claiming that it was a part of adivasi
culture, custom and worship, to which the people retorted that the
very instrument which destroyed their lives cannot be a part of their
devotion and sacrifice that is conducted for their common wellbeing.

The success in the anti-liquor movement encouraged the masses to
intensify the land struggle. The CMAS led the reclamation of
agricultural land from the landlords and sahukars which were tricked
out of the adivasis. Within months, we are told, more than 3000 acres
of such land were recaptured and distributed among the villages. As a
reaction to the growing tide of mass struggle, ‘Shanti Committee’ was
formed by the landlords and liquor traders with the active support of
the state administration on 4 May 2009. After the successful
culmination of the anti-liquor struggle and the intensification of the
land struggle by 2009, and particularly after the NALCO raid by the
Maoists in April that year, the state repression on the people and
their movement was also scaled up. One such incident of state
repression was the murder of Wadeka Singana and Nachika Andru at
Narayanpatna police station on 20 November 2009, followed by wanton
attacks, raids and combing operation in the region, establishing a
reign of state terror. Entire village populations are often forced to
take shelter in the forests and hills as fugitives. The government has
now virtually imposed a seize of Narayanpatna by deploying more than
5000 paramilitary troops including BSF, IRB, CRPF, and hundreds of
Special Operations Group commandos, Odisha police personnel and Shanti
Committee vigilante forces and closing off all the important entry and
exit points to and from Narayanpatna. Rather than addressing the
demands of the people, it is mobilising more and more troops to crush
the movement.

In the six days of our visit from 11 to 16 April 2011, we interacted
with the residents of above twenty villages spread out in the adjacent
blocks of Narayanpatna, Bandhugaon, Simliguda, Lakhmipur and Potangi,
and visited about twelve of them. Our first stop was Dimtiguda village
in the Alamanda panchayat of Bandhugaon block. We passed through the
village Jangri Walsa in Kabribari panchayat, where we met the family
of Kondahara Kasi who was arrested in 2010 for allegedly being a
Maoist. The plea of his wife to meet him in prison has been repeatedly
turned down. 14 persons associated with CMAS are presently in jail
from this village alone. The next village we visited was Silpalmanda
where we were told that Ratnal Madhava was arrested in March 2011 by
the Bandhugaon police and a false kidnap case was slapped on him.
Village Karaka Itiki under Borgi panchayat was the first village we
visited in Narayanpatna, where we heard stories of atrocities
committed in the region by landlords, liquor traders, the police and
now the Shanti Committee. There we came to know from the villagers
that eight out of the thirty houses in Masarimunda village were burnt
down by the CRPF in January 2011 after an encounter with the Maoists
in the vicinity of the locality. Just a month before this, CRPF
personnel destroyed houses in Goloknima village as well after another
battle with the Maoists, and looted Rs.8000 from the villagers.

The team could also talk to villagers from Jangri Walsa village. Madan
Merika, Poala Malati, Polla Bhima and Seena Mandangi described the
attacks from ‘Shanti Committee’ and Bandhugaon CMAS under the
leadership of Kedruka Arjun of CPI ML (Kanu Sanyal) party in 2009.
They attacked their village in thousands wearing police uniforms and
with firearms on the suspicion that the villagers have started to
align themselves with the CMAS Narayanpatna Area Committee under its
president Nachika Linga. Nariga Poala, Aashu Pirika, Bhima Kedraka,
Kasi Kondagari, Muga Poala, Penta Kondagari, Acchanna Poala and
Enkanna Poala of this village, many of whom are teenagers, were
arrested by the police later that year for allegedly being Maoists,
and kept in prison for almost 1½ years, and only recently were they
released on bail. K. Suhabsh and K Raman of Keshbhadra village of
Bandhugaon block testified to the atrocities committed by the police,
the Shanti Committee as well as by the Kanu Sanyal group led by Arjun.

In Upar Itiki village we were told that the people have collectively
undertaken developmental works under the leadership of CMAS, and
rejected the government schemes. Though the pace of the land struggle
has been reduced of late due to the intense state repression, the
villagers have continued to undertake developmental works with their
own initiative. They have completed 7 big irrigation projects in the
last two years, and three are under construction as one we witnessed
at Boriput village. The Block Development Officer (BDO) tried to
distribute money to the villagers for these works, but was refused by
the people. In February and March this year the CMAS gave a call to
stop all governmental projects in Narayanpatna in protest against the
continued atrocities by the state’s forces including arrests, torture,
forcible detention, etc. and demanding a halt to Operation Green Hunt
and withdrawal of armed forces. As a result of the call, all projects
such as NREGA, PDS, Indira Avash Yojana came to a halt in the entire
region for two months. The influence of NGOs, which was rampant till
the CMAS movement became popular, has also considerably waned, with
very little presence now in Narayanpatna block.

The land reclaimed by the CMAS in Manjariguda village under Borgi
panchayat was shown to us, where the villagers have collectively
cultivated 14 acres of irrigated land. We are told that in this
village individual plots have not been distributed to the landless
peasants so far, but will be done in the near future. Subbarao Somu,
Sitala and Kanta from Langalbera village who belong to the Dombo Dalit
caste, testified that poor people from both adivasi and dalit
communities have benefitted from the peoples’ struggle against liquor
and for land. He said that dalits inhabit two of the nine panchayats
of Narayanpatna – Borgi and Langalbera panchayats. They said that
there was no truth in the misinformation campaign that the struggle
has harmed the dalits, and that there has been an exodus of dalits
from villages in the wake of the movement. Somu said that around 50
families from only two villages of Gumandi and Podaradar have fled
after the land struggle started. He said that most of them were
involved in the liquor trade and were working against the interests of
the adivasis. Dinabandhu and Simadri from Borgi village informed that
the six landless Dalit families in their village have received 3 acres
of land in March 2011 from CMAS, and have irrigated the land by
putting community labour. Simadri said, “Those among Dalits who have
garnered wealth and become politicians tried to instigate a
contradiction between adivasis and dalits, but the poor have no
contradiction. The poor dalits of entire Narayanpatna supports CMAS
are in the struggle.” Gumpa Vidika, a dalit worker who is presently
the spokesperson of CMAS and is hiding from the state in fear of
arrest, also talked of the class unity between the adivasis and dalits
forged by this struggle in spite of the repeated attempts to pit one
against the other.

We were informed that 171 villagers connected to the CMAS have been
arrested so far, out of the 637 adivasi political prisoners jailed in
entire Orissa. We heard narrations of recent attacks by the
paramilitary and police forces deployed in the region on the villages.
The police entered Dakapara village on the night of 4 April 2011and
beat up villagers including Sirka Sika and Sirka Rupaya whom we spoke
to. They looted Rs.5000 and Rs.2500 respectively from the two
villagers. On a previous occasion, the government’s forces attacked
Sirka Bina’s house on 1 January 2011, detained him and forcibly took
him to the police camp, tortured for many hours and released him the
next day. His wife’s gold ornaments were also taken away by them. The
team members interviewed Sonai Hikoka of Dumsili village whose husband
Sitanna Hakoka was taken away by policemen from Lakhimpur police
station in November 2010 along with two others. While Kaila Taring and
Sodanna Himbreka, the other two villagers have been released by
police, there is no trace of Sitanna as yet. The police denied that
they arrested him. She filed a Habeas Corpus application in the Odisha
High Court, but her plea has been rejected recently by the court
reposing full trust on the police’s affidavit. Sonai says that her
crops, grain, and cattle were looted by the goons of Shanti Committee
when she went out to attend the court hearings. We visited Baliaput
village where we saw the dilapidated houses of Nachika Linga and
Nachika Andru which were burnt and destroyed by Shanti Committee
goons. We met Nachika Taman who spent more than a year in jail for
allegedly being a Maoist, and were released in bail just a week ago,
while Nachika Sanjeeva of his village is still languishing in Koraput
jail. In addition, two of the undertrials were killed by the police
through third-degree torture, and later it claimed that they have
committed suicide! Other prisoners are being subjected to regular
beating and harassment, and many have sustained grievous injuries at
the hands of the police and paramilitary forces. And these are only a
few instances which were brought to us by the villagers of the region
during our six days’ of interaction.

The team interviewed Nachika Linga, the president of CMAS Narayanpatna
Area Committee, and the ‘most wanted’ person for the police at
present. He informed us that the movement has moved beyond the narrow
limits of fighting for economic demands, and have held the present
political system to be responsible for the marginalization of adivasis
and the poor peasantry. We were told that the election boycott call
given by the Sangha during the assembly elections in 2009 was highly
successful in Narayanpatna, with very few votes being cast. He also
informed us that CMAS has been able to form its organisation in every
village of Narayanpatna block, and is spreading its base to the
adjoining blocks as well. Linga told that in spite of severe
repression, the people have been able to defend the gains of the
movement by resolutely depending on their collective strength, by
fortifying self-defence mechanism through the formation of Ghenua
Bahini, the mass militia of CMAS, and by educating the people in
political struggle. We also talked to the president and secretary of
BAMS, who told us about the overwhelming response of the women of the
region to the anti-liquor struggle waged by CMAS, which enthused them
to form a separate women’s organisation. BAMS have fought against the
patriarchal relations and customs within the adivasis such as the
two-wives system, and have achieved considerable success in their
endeavor.

The presence and role of the Maoists in Narayanpatna have also come
under discussion in the media in the past, and this was one of the
aspects we wished to investigate. From our interaction with the
political activists of the region, we learnt that the Maoist movement
started in Koraput from 2003, and soon garnered support from the poor
peasantry of the district. We are told that the movement has grown to
the extent of giving shape to embryonic forms of peoples’ power to
take place of the exploitative state power by forming Revolutionary
Peoples’ Committees (RPCs) covering two panchayat areas of
Narayanpatna block. The RPCs are presently concentrating their
energies in three heads: self-defence, agricultural development, and
health & education. The Maoist party seemed to have roots among the
working masses, and have so far been successful in withstanding the
armed assault of the state. The state, alarmed by the spread of the
movement, has sought to use brute force, and thereby further isolating
itself from the people.

The Narayanpatna struggle, we came to realise, is one of the most
important but least known movements of our times, and the corporate
media as well as the statist academia has played their roles in
presenting it in a distorted form. We appeal to the media, academics
and the people at large to visit Narayanpatna and expose the crimes
committed by the Indian state on its people, fighting for their
inalienable right to land, livelihood and dignity. The fact-finding
team wishes to bring out its experiences in Narayanpatna in a detailed
report in the coming days, so as to act as a corrective to such media
misinformation, to give voice to the peoples’ concerns and bring out
the reality which the Indian state so desparately wishes to hide.

The DSU Fact-finding team reiterates its solidarity with the peoples’
movement of Narayanpatna, and makes the following demands to the
Indian government:

1.      All the 171 prisoners associated with the Narayanpatna struggle
must be released unconditionally and immediately. The state must
ensure that the illegal arrests, torture and killings of people in
custody must be stopped in Narayanpatna.
2.      Cases against the office-bearers, activists, members and
sympathizers of CMAS, BAMS and other mass organisations must be
withdrawn, and these organisations must be allowed to work freely
without fear of attack or persecution. The ‘Most Wanted’ warrant on
Nachika Linga by the police must be withdrawn, and he be allowed to
perform his duties as the president of CMAS freely, without any fear
of intimidation and arrest.
3.      The personnel of the state’s armed forces who are responsible for
the loss of lives and property of the people of Narayanpatna must be
punished, and the people who suffered their atrocities must be
compensated by the government.
4.      The paramilitary and police camps in Narayanpatna must be withdrawn
immediately.
5.      The vigilante organisation called Shanti Committee must be
disbanded, and their members be punished for their crimes.
6.      The land reclaimed by the adivasi people of Narayanpatna under the
leadership of CMAS must be recognized by the government.
7.      The rights of the adivasis over their land, water, and forests and
minerals must be ensured, and they must be provided with the basic
necessities such as healthcare, education, drinking water, etc.
8.      Journalists, intellectuals, academics, activists and all those who
are interested to visit Narayanpatna and interact with the people must
not be prevented from doing so by the government, and it must ensure
their free movement to and from any part of Narayanpatna and Koraput.

Members of the DSU Fact-finding Team:

Kuldeep, DU,
Kundan, IGNOU,
Manabhanjan, JNU
Ritupan, JNU
Sourabh, DU

Contact: 9818975145, dsuatjnu@gmail.com

http://icawpi.org/en/india-news/751-preliminary-report-of-the-dsu-fact-finding-visit-to-narayanpatna-odisha

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