It is good to see prominent persons in the civil society voicing their concern over the increasing repression by the state government of Orissa, using the excuse of Maoists. This is an powerful appeal, made by a person very familiar with the tribal areas of Orissa.
I hope that arrest of Dr. Biswajit Roy will focus the attention of the civil society of Orissa on the deliberate and planned strategy of the state to use false cases, arrests and imprisonments to stiffle the voice of dissension, specially when it comes to people opposing the loot of this state's riches. Almost all the activists who have dared to come to forefront are either being arrested or have multitude of false cases filed against them. This includes persons like Abhay Sahu, Prafulla Samantra, Achyut Das, Lingaraj Azad, Lingaraj and so many others. When legitimate and non-violent voices of dissensions are sought to be shut down through threats, violence will come in. It is for the Oriya state and Oriya people to decide what they want.
Please find the video of Abhay Sahoo, the leader of PPSS, chained to his bed in the hospital - is this the dignity our government afford the leadership of a movement, which inspite of many provocations, tried to remain non-violent.
An Open Letter to Chief Minister,Orissa
Dear Chief Minister
Today the entire tribal heartland of the country is in turmoil and rather than addressing the basic socio-economic factors behind this turmoil with utmost dispatch, we are dispatching more para-military personnel with the belief that violence can be quelled with more men equipped with superior fire-power. We should understand that for far too long the tribal people have been robbed of their rights to resources around them both in the name of development and environment. Wily traders, moneylenders, contactors, liquor vendors and leaders often rolled into one, have pushed the tribal people to the brink of a precipice. Govt. servants, with some honorable exceptions, often sent to ameliorate their situation have become additional adjuncts to the exploitative machinery. Now that the tribal people have been dispossessed of everything and there is very little that can be taken away from them, Govt. money meant for their welfare is being siphoned off to fatten the same few who have retained their vice like grip over the tribal people. All Govt. legislations protecting their interest like prevention of alienation of tribal land, banning usury and bonded labour or even ensuring minimum wages have been flouted with impunity. Even the Forest Rights Act that provided some ray of hope got bogged down in litigations. And we have made many promises to them only not to be kept, and whenever some action was initiated that remained half- hearted and never taken to the logical conclusion.
It is in such a situation they only silently suffered from the pangs of hunger, deprivations, and all kinds of humiliations. When the guttural groans became too loud, they silenced them with mango stones, carcasses, and such other inedibles. While the majority of the tribal people chose to stay in their place licking the wounds of poverty and hunger, the venturesome from among them landed in city slums as flotsams and jetsams. Once freedom loving and free roaming now they got cribbed and cabined in extremely unhygienic conditions.
Ahimsa got a chance after Independence to ameliorate this situation. Gandhiji’s and Vinobaji’s men and women tried to solve through Bhoodan. If I remember correctly Koraput became the first district in the country to declare Zilladan. Not much came out of it. Soon the excitement evaporated. The exploitative machinery asserted with vengeance.
Ahimsa got a second chance when a series of radical legislations abolishing bonded labour, usury and alienation of tribal land etc. were passed. Air was filled with a lot of radical rhetoric and that also vanished. Tribal people proved no match to the machinations and manipulations of the crafty exploiters and their venal accomplices in bureaurocracy in thwarting the impact of all the protective legislations.
And today situation has come to such a pass that anybody including avowed Gandhians/ Sarvodaya Workers, NGO Workers who speak for them, and who espouse their cause are picked up as Naxalites/ Maoists and put behind bars. The most recent case in point is the arrest of a sarvoday worker Dr. Biswajit Ray. Police of course is too blunt an instrument to be sensitive, sensible and discerning.
The combined burden of cumulative injustice, deprivations and despair has become too great to bear any longer and the material became highly inflammable/ combustible. And when Gandhiji’s men failed, Mao’s men entered just as when there is a fire, air from neighborhood rushes to fill up the gap. And just as it is foolish to prevent air to come from the neighborhood instead of dousing the fire, similarly it does not carry any sense to imprison/ kill Naxalities/ Maoists instead of addressing the basic issues of exploitation and in justice.
Dear Chief Minister, what has been our response to this? To induct more Cobras, Greyhounds (and may be in future some battalions will be christened as Wild Dogs) with a greater skill to kill. We have never seen even a lanky constable protecting a tribal from a rapacious trader who almost forcibly takes away the produce from the tribal at a price before he / she could reach the weekly market. And we are prepared to induct any number of paramilitary forces at any price to protect his exploiters!
May be we will succeed in quelling the tribal upsurge with superior fire power and the Prime Minister and Home Minister at the Center, and here, the D.G. Police, the Home Secretary and you will congratulate yourselves in silencing the tribal land. But just as our Independence Movement was punctuated by four to five years of silence after a series of repressive measures, but it used to erupt again and again until Independence was achieved, similarly ensuring silence for some time should not be a source of satisfactions for us. (The Viceroy and his men who succeeded in putting down the Independence Movement for sometimes must have congratulated themselves. Isn’t it?
Let us not underestimate the power of the meek and the subdued. Did not that almost totally toothless man, that frail figure disposed of with utter disdain as a half -naked fakir could not only shake hand with the Emperor of the mighty British Empire, also freed the country from their clutches? Did not Lech Waleshaw, a factory foreman free the country from the grip of a regime supported by the mighty Soviet forces? And we always come across lowly grass asserting its presence in the black – topped road. And the tiny seed of a banyan plant can raze a huge building to the ground.
Dear Chief Minister, I humbly and honestly appeal to you to take
a) Measures forthwith to implement the laws already in the statue book whether restoring the tribals land taken away through fraud/fraudulent means, removing the legal hurdles in giving right over the forest land, stopping usury, closing all liquor shops (they have become bottomless holes) or ensuring implementation of PESA in letter spirit and abandon the present strategy of relying on brute force which will further alienate our tribal people and which is antithetical to the basic tenets of democracy and will never succeed to douse the flames of the fire of discontent permanently. Further induction of large number of paramilitary personnel, frequent combing operations may mean violation of dignity of girls and women, other abuses and brutalization of the society and disruption of normal tribal life and encounter deaths, which will be a sure recipe for further alienation.
b) Stop arresting/killing innocent tribal people and people who are working for their welfare. Constitute a committee with members from various segments to review every two months the progress made in stopping exploitation and removing injustice and also to review all cases of imprisonment of people declared as Maoists / Naxalites and fix non-negotiable timelines.
c) Take all possible steps to improve the quality of human resources of the tribal people and ensure employability of the tribal youth-both men women.
d) Reorient the development strategy to make it more participatory making tribal people’s interest paramount.
e) Take care of women and children of the victims of violence committed both by the state extremists.
In nutshell, give “ Ahimsa” one more chance. Should Ahimsa fail again, it would be a tragedy indeed. May be a bloodier battle would follow and at last the deceived and disposed would wrest what is due to them. At least that is the lesson of Mahabharat.
Dear Chief Minister, please ponder over it and act.
Thanking you and with regards