Nawarangpur: Thousands Organise Under The Red Flag For Land and Dignity of Life

Vijoo Krishnan

It took nearly 24 hours from
Bhubaneswar by rail and road to reach Nawarangpur District Headquarters. The
journey took eight hours more than required due to an extraordinary situation
prevalent in this part of the World. The Maoists had found an innovative way of
fighting American Imperialism-to blow up railway tracks that link these rich
regions filled with poor people to the other parts of Odisha. The express train
was literally being dragged to Damanjodi in Koraput District from where we were
to proceed by road. It was led by a pilot engine which went ahead to check if
all was well with the tracks and was followed by another train ahead of us.

 A school teacher who had
spent over 2 decades in the region, our fellow traveller, shared with us the
travails of living in Maoist terrain- threats, intimidation, extortion,
kidnappings, attacks and killings were all part of the game she explained. She
also claimed that their presence had not improved the lives of the Tribal
people and the only qualitative change was that the poor people got caught in
the cross-fire between the Maoists and the Police and remained in a perpetual
state of fear. She was also critical of the State repression in the name of
tackling the Maoist menace. Throughout our drive from Damanjodi to Umerkote we
found some traces of the situation she described- there were recurring Police
outposts, heavy presence of personnel of the Odisha State Police, Central
Reserve Police Force and the Indian Reserve Battalion, tell-tale marks of
Maoist attacks on the Koraput Office of the Superintendent of Police in the
Centre of the Koraput town that had been attacked years ago in broad day-light,
and a palpable sense of unease that was all pervasive. The main protagonists of
her story-the Maoists were invisible. People in road-side tea-shops claimed
they were hiding in the Dandakaranya forests in neighbouring Chhattisgarh
across the river and are visible only occasionally in the thick of the night
looking for food, shelter, money or to take-to task people suspected of being
Nawarangpur in South Western
Odisha was carved out of the erstwhile Koraput District and forms part of what
is known as the Dandakaranya region. It is surrounded by the Districts of
Koraput, Kalahandi, Malkangiri and Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada District. A four
hour drive over roads with little trace of having been tarred brought us to the
Umarkote Block, our place of stay for the night, by 7.30 PM. Early next morning
we travelled a little over 20 kilometres to reach Jharigaon Block where the Party
had been able to set up Office in a rented building. The steady flow of Adivasi
men, women and children with red flags coming on foot, in tractors or pick-up
vans was an inspiring sight. Soon thousands had assembled for the “Adhikar
Rally” organised by the newly formed Nawarangpur District Organising Committee
of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It was all the more inspiring to
note that this was an area with no presence of the CPI (Marxist) till 2 years
ago and it is braving different kinds of threats and intimidation that the
people came to be organised under the red flag. The Police had by then started
questioning our right to hold a procession through the Block up to the venue of
the Rally, although the mobilisation soon made them relent. Raising slogans
demanding the right over Jal, Jungle and Jameen (Water, Forest and Land),
against repression by Police, Forest Officials and Van Surakha Samitis,
demanding Schools and recruiting School-Teachers, opening more Anganwadi
Centres and Primary Health Centres with Doctors, seeking more Procurement
Centres and remunerative prices for the Corn, control over usurious
money-lenders and exploiting traders the thousands marched for over an hour to
reach the venue of the Rally. The Meeting was addressed among others by Janardan
Pati, CPI(M) Central Committee Member, Vijoo Krishnan, Joint Secretary, All
India Kisan Sabha, Sala Marandi, Secretary, Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch,
Jatin Mohanty, Odisha  State President,
Democratic Youth Federation of India, Rajesh Jani and Nuakhau local leaders of
the Party.
What is the reason for
such a turn-around? It is necessary to know the ground reality and the
struggles under taken by the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch, All India Kisan
Sabha and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to understand the reason for
the turn-around.
Repression and Denial of Rights
Village after Village
had almost a similar tale to tell, irrespective of whether they were Revenue
Villages or Jungle Gaons (Forest Villages). In the Villages of Gaibandha and
Dhokrikut in Chaklapadar Gram Panchayat of Jharigaon Block though they were Revenue
Villages there were no roads, tube-wells or potable water supply as well as no
electricity. In Telibhata and Nagjodi Villages in Umarkote Block which are
designated as Jungle Gaons where over 100 families reside there is no sign of
electricity, roads or water anywhere near their vicinity. Residents claimed
that between July to October every year they were entirely confined to their
homes as their Villages are cut-off from outside due to rains and absence of
any roads.
Although the BJD
Government claims that they are providing 25 Kg rice at Rs.1/Kg through the
Public Distribution System we found that in some Villages there were not even a
single beneficiary and in most Villages the beneficiaries were only about 20
percent of the total population. The Central Government move to further curtail
the beneficiaries in the context of this huge mass untouched by the National
Food Security Act is a matter of serious concern. It was also reported that the
Ration Dealers are informing people that from May onwards there will not be any
distribution of food grains. The situation is further complicated by the fact
that there is no implementation of the MGNREGA and distress migration is also
witnessed in the District.
While the basic
amenities for a dignified life and opportunities for ensuring livelihood
security are being systematically denied, the State has also shown total apathy
towards Health and Education in the District. Schools catering to over 200
students studying from Class I to VIII with a single teacher, without benches,
blackboards or toilet facilities, let alone mid-day meal are a common
phenomenon across the District. Over 80 percent of the Schools have either 1 or
2 teachers or does not function at all. It is only in Panchayat Headquarters a
slightly better situation was visible. Anganwadi Centres and Primary Health
Centres are not present in the vicinity of the Villages and are rare and far
flung. Primary Health Centres are more than 20 kilometres away from many of the
Forest Villages.
The people in Revenue
Villages as well as Forest Villages and those cultivating occupied land are
predominantly cultivating Maize. Vegetables, Sugarcane and Pulses also were
found. However, the Government extension services are totally absent and the
predatory agribusinesses as well as unscrupulous traders have been given a free
reign. Hybrid Maize by Pioneer and Monsanto is being promoted even as seeds
developed by Public Sector have been taken off the shelves. Traders give seeds
and fertilisers at high interest rates and Farmers are forced to sell produce
back to them as there are no Procurement Centres. Farmers reported that they
are getting as low as Rs.700/Qtl in some seasons and a high of Rs.1000/Qtl at
times although the Minimum Support Prices announced by the Central Government
is Rs.1350/Qtl. Artificial shortages of fertilisers and seeds, jacking up
prices on the pretext of shortages and black-marketing is rampant. No avenues
for ensuring remunerative prices for Minor Forest Produce are open to the
people. Indebtedness is another serious problem that is leading people in the
region to destitution. The local people have a saying describing the
unscrupulous moneylenders and their usurious interest rates which would roughly
translate as: “I gave 10 and you took 10. That makes it 20. Then comes the
interest.” The Adivasi Farmers reported that interest rates were well over 240
percent and often the papers misrepresent facts and show inflated amounts as
their debt. There is no regulation of the Private Money Lenders and there is no
effort to provide loans through Public Sector Banks. Even the money under the
Tribal Sub Plan in Odisha is either underutilised or diverted for other
purposes rather than for providing livelihood opportunities to the people.
Despite cultivating land
for generations and being in possession of Court documents almost 3 decades old
not a single person had been given pattas under the Forest Rights Act either
for their land or for their dwellings. Forest Officials and VSS are openly
flouting the Forest Rights Act and are refusing to take the Gram Sabha route. There
are repeated incidents of Forest Officials and Van Suraksha Samiti members
forcibly evicting the Forest land cultivators, destruction of standing crops
and plantations by the Tribal people. In Kapsabata Village in Burja Gram
Panchayat of Umarkote Block the Van Suraksha Samiti members patronised by the
ruling BJD destroyed standing crops in 40 Acres of land being cultivated for
generations by the Adivasis. In Jandriguda a Forest Village, Nagara Dongri,
Piplapadar and Loharaguda Villages in Badbarandi Gram Panchayat in Umarkote
Block standing crop on over 1000 acres of land was destroyed and trees were
planted by the Forest officials and VSS. This led to a spontaneous protest by
the Kisan Sabha and Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch and the people confronted
the Forest officials and VSS members being patronised by the Biju Janata Dal
and other ruling class parties. Activists including Rajesh Jani were arrested
and bail was denied to him. Police harassment and arrests by branding Adivasi
Adhikar Manch activists as Maoists have been reported from Manipadar, Kadali
Bhandar and Sahaj Bhandar villages in Patkhalia Gram Panchayat in Chandahandi
Block of the District. We also received reports that there was arrest of
activists a day after the Adhikar Rally on the pretext that they were
encouraging Maoist activities. In the neighbouring Malkangiri District which is
part of the much romanticised “Red Corridor” on the one hand threats from Maoists
as well as kidnapping of our activists have taken place while on the other hand
Party Comrades have been also arrested by Police on the charge of being
Resistance and Protection of Rights
The Communist Party of
India (Marxist), Odisha Krushak Sabha and the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch
have been intervening in the region for the last 3 years. It intervened in the
case of arrests on false charges of being Maoists and against police atrocities
as well as highhandedness of the Forest Officials. Hundreds of acres of land
was occupied and cultivated under the leadership of the Party and the Krushak
Sabha and Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch. In Jandriguda, Nagara Dongri,
Piplapadar and Loharaguda Villages in Badbarandi Gram Panchayat in Umarkote
Block over 1000 acres of land on which trees were planted by the Forest
officials and VSS were reclaimed and cultivation was done. In Haathibari
Village, Jharigaon GP over 400 acres which were being cultivated the Forest
Officials and VSS planted trees. In an organised way this land has been
reclaimed and the bountiful harvest which resulted from their toil was visible
during our visit to these Villages. In Ichhapur Village, Chacha Gram Panchayat
of Jharigaon 190 acres under us, Taliamba, Jharigaon Block 200 acres have been
occupied and are being cultivated by the Adivasi people. The Forest Officials
and VSS is repeatedly threatening the villagers and also in some places
planting trees. The intervention of the Party against arrests by Police on
false charges and successful action However, the confidence of an organised
resistance movement has emboldened the villagers to protect their land despite
all such efforts. Forest Rights Committees have been formed and applications
have been filed for the land even as their right to cultivate it has been
fiercely protected.
Struggles for opening up
more Procurement Centres, ensuring remunerative prices, ensuring loans at
affordable rates of interest, regulating the Moneylenders and Traders have been
going on. Due to our struggles 75 new Schools were sanctioned in the District
last year with around 35 of them in the Jharigaon Block which is one of the
worst in terms of educational infrastructure. Efforts are on to force the State
and Local Administration to ensure regular teachers and other facilities in the
Schools. Free Medical Camps extensively throughout the District is also planned
in addition to mounting pressure on the Government to set up many more well
equipped Primary Health Centres. It has been decided to spread the Krushak
Sabha, Adivasi Adhikar Manch as well as the Student Federation of India across
the District to take up issues in a more organised manner. Of the new recruits
into the Party many are illiterate and separate efforts for a literacy campaign
also will have to be undertaken. The first Party Class for nearly 100 members
of the Party was held and efforts are on to consolidate and expand in the
District. The 3000 strong mobilisation at the Adhikar Rally has given a big
boost to the confidence of the people and they are resolute to continue forward
the struggle for dignity with the red flag held in their hands. The struggle is
a tortuous one and the solidarity of people elsewhere is required to ensure
that these limited successes can lead to great victories for the oppressed
people of the region.