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Government's indifference towards non-violent protests led to tribal uprising in Narayanpatna of Orissa

"In Koraput region, noble thought failed to solve the land issue.  During the settlement operations the lands gifted to Bhoodan Yagna were not recorded in favour of the samiti.  In many cases, the lands donated in favour of Bhoodan Yagna Samiti have been re-occupied by the donors themselves."

Bidyut Mohanty & K. Anuradha : October 10, 2009

Tribals up in arms

The recent unrest among the tribals of the Koraput district particularly in the Narayanpatna block has received a great attention in the state of Orissa.  The tribal outfit known as Chasi Mulia Adibasi Sangh (CMAS) has raised a  century old  “Land issue” of tribals of Koraput region.  The CMAS members are reclaiming the land from the landlords of the area and their argument is that the land was belonging to them and they are cheated by the landlords.  They have occupied over 500 acres of private land and redistributed among the landless tribals of the area.  Several non-tribal families have left their villages in fear of attack.

As usual the administration is giving assurance to solve the land dispute at the earliest opportunity.   But, the struggle and the violence is gradually spreading to nearby areas.  Unfortunately, although Koraput is the part of famous KBK Plan (Koraput Balangir Kalahandi)/LTAP( Long Term Action Plan), there are no steps planned to solve this core issue of tribals.

This is not the first tribal uprising in the history of Koraput.  In the past, each decade has witnessed some kind of uprising and violence but without any substantial changes at ground level.  The land issue of the tribals of Koraput is complex, the result of centuries-old negligence of the revenue administration.  In order to understand the present land issue of the Koraput region there is need to understand the history of Koraput and land revenue administration background from the Kings and Zamidars to the present political regime.

The present undivided Koraput was former hill country of Jeypore.  The history of the land is the history of the primitive tribes who have made it their home.  As per W. Francis (Vizagapatnam District Gazetter, 1907), there is no doubt that the earliest inhabitants were the wild Kolarian tribes which still inhabit the hilliest parts of the district.   Later to arrive were the tribes of Dravidian origin, and particularly the kondhas.”  There is some inscription that shows some evidence of the existence of a kingdom from the year A.D.1061 in the region.   There is also historical evidence of a kingdom in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

From the Fifteenth century until the British period, a line of kings / zamindars were in the area.  Historians have opined that the king originated from the Solar Race; a general and feudal king of Kashmir.  Another account of the origin of the Jeypore house is given by Oram in the Circuit Committee’s report of 1784: the raja of Jeypore is descended from a Rajha, formerly a servant of ancient king of Jagarnath.  There are also other theories.  However, the kings were from the other region and ruled the area for centuries.

Land revenue administration during the king:

The land revenue administration was the ancient feudal system.  As there was no survey or settlement of land during the Rajha period, it was not possible to know what exactly was the extent of land with each Royt.  The extent was calculated in terms of yoke or seed capacity.  The lands were administered partly by Roytwari system and partly on village system called Mustajari.   In the roytwari system there was agreement between the landlords and tenants; there was a register of each village and Amin or villagers were  appointed by the estate as the revenue Naik.  There were very few villages under this system.

The mustajari system is almost the same as Gaontii system of tenure in Sambalpore.  The mustajair is an agent for the collection of rent, remunerated either by a grant of a piece of free land or percentage of the collections.  The office was hereditary and normally held by an influential person in the village.  The mustajaris are not required to keep any account of records of the holdings in village.  

As the king was from the coastal plains, there were many coastal people working for him to perform different services like revenue collection, defense, and religious rituals.  The majority of the amins and mustajaris were not tribal.  There was exploitation by the amins and mustajairs which forced many tribals to be displaced from their land, going deeper into the dense forest.  The inhuman system of Goti / Bethi was prevalent at that time.  There was also the system of Dana / mokhasa.   Dana (grants) are made for religious purposes, other services or domestic duties of Raja.  There were large extents of land for this purpose.

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Tribal uprising during British occupation

The British first established a factory in the year 1682 at Vizagapatnam, which  became an entry point to the Koraput region.  Captain Richard Mathew entered into the Koraput region on January 15, 1775, the first European to penetrate into the hill country of Jeypore.  The only interest of the British was to collect revenue from zamidars / kings.  In 1802, permanent settlement was introduced throughout the area but there was no direct administration until 1863.  In the pretext of “meriah”( human sacrifice) , “Sati”, misrule or anarchy, British  took the direct administration and  Lieutenant J. M. Smith  was located at Jeypore in January, 1863.  

British entry into the tribal land was not smooth and there were many uprisings by the hill people during the Colonial rule which were locally known as “fituries”.  In July 1864, there was an uprising of savaras of Gunupur taluk, where they killed an inspector and four constables.  With the help of king of Jeypore, twenty-four people were arrested and five of them were hanged.  Again in 1865, a similar uprising occurred and three tribal leaders were transported for life.  In April 1980, the Koyas of Rampa area near Malkangiri protested and captured the padia police station after a fight.  An inspector and six constables were killed.  The Koya leader Tamma Dora was attacked in July 1880 and killed by the British police.  In 1882, the Kondhas of Kalahandi rose against the Oriyas of the plains and murdered several hundred of them.  Bastar rebellion of 1910 - 1911 also had many repercussions in Koraput.  The most prominent tribal uprising was in 1922, led by Alluri Sitaram Raju, he was killed in 1924.  In July and August 1932, there was Kondh uprising against the British in Narayanpatna area, suppressed in September of the same year by armed reserve police.

Land revenue administration during British period:

The only interest of the British was to collect revenue from land and exploit the forest resources.  In order to increase the land revenue, they introduced many Acts but there was no attempt to simplify the land revenue system.  Under the terms of the permanent settlement of the British, the feudal estate was more powerful and the feudal system was reinforced.  With the increase in rent imposed by the British, there was more pressure on the tribal tenants to pay more rent.  There was also statutory concession, granted to the privileged classes of people regarding the use of timber and forest materials under the Jaypore forest rules and also privileges extended to them by the estate in 1921. Madras Estate land Act which governed the relationship between the land holder and the tenant came into force in the district from July 1, 1908 but it was not at all helpful for the tenants.  As far the rights over land was concerned, the British rule did not attempt to become the arbiter of any such rights, nor did it intend to set up any principles for their determination.

There was one important enactment during 1917 The Agency Tracts Interest and Land Transfer Act, August 14, 1917, to safeguard the interests of adivasis.  This was passed with a view to preventing transfer of lands from adivasis to non-adivasis, which was taking place rapidly in the area.  However, the bulk of the transfers in the district had already taken place before this act was passed.  

As per the final report on the major settlement operations in Koraput district 1938 to 1964, “people could not take advantage of the passing of this Act as they were uneducated and ignorant, even transfers made after the date.  The estate officials remained completely indifferent in the matter and muted the names of the transferees in the estate records.  This left practically no documentary evidence for proving transfer of the lands of adivasis to non-adivasis.  Further, this Act did not affect the relinquishment of land by adivasis in favour of the land holder.  So in several cases the Act was dodged by the adivasis relinquishing his lands in favour of Jaypore estate and the shrewd non-adivasi transferees in obtaining the same from the estate employees.”

The area was first treated as backward tract under the Government of India, Act 1919 and in the 1935 Act, it was classified as a partially excluded area.  In spite of all these Acts, the commercial despot and the imperialistic ambitions were prominent.  As a result, the life of tribals became worse.

A new chapter in the history of Jaypore country was began when the district of Koraput was formed and incorporated in the new Orissa province on April 1, 1936.  For the first time in 1938, there was a survey and record of rights operations carried out in the district in small scale.  The operation was suddenly suspended due to the world war of 1939 to 1945, then resumed in 1947 but priority was given to developing the area.

In Independent India

After independence, the survey settlement process started from the year 1951 and continued up to 1964.  The Government of Orissa adopted the plain table method of survey of Bihar and Orissa pattern against the chain survey method followed in Ganjam, the former being less costly.  But the plain table survey method became very costly for the tribals as hill slopes greater than 9 degree slope (their traditional agriculture land) are not recorded in their name due to unsuitable technique.  The proportion of private land of the area in Koraput district is 20%, in Malkangiri 19%, in Nabarangpur 30 % and in Raygada 20% .  

Out of this private land, the present composition is that around 30 % of the population (the majority non-tribals) have the 70 % of the total private land.  The existing amins, mustajars, inamdars, landlords and feudal heads recorded the majority of land in their name because of their proximity to the surveyors and better knowledge. Again, tribals became marginalized because of their lack of knowledge and shy nature.   

The initial euphoria of independence melted down very soon as there was no end of exploitation of tribals by the powerful people. The issue of land again cropped up in the area in different form with uprisings, some violent and some are non violent.

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Tribal discontent after 1950

The first uprising after Independence came in 1951, in Gunupur area under the leadership of Biswanath Pattnaik, also known as Koraput Gandhi.  After a long self analysis and reflection, Biswanathji started Bhoo Satyagrah.  He always considered Gopabandhu Choudhury as his teacher and guide and wrote to him about his idea of Bhoo Satryagrah, but he did not get any reply from his Guru.  

Without wasting time, he started organizing tribals in the 30-35 villages of Gunupur region and a land committee was formed.  During the Bhoo-styagrah, the satyagrahis used to request the people who had occupied their land to move, file cases against them and made the whole list of encroached land.  If the case could not be resolved within two or three hearings, the tribals used to declare and occupy their land.  

The Savara’s who totally followed the path of Mahatma Gandhi non-violence became an eye-sore to the government and it became a trouble and law and order problem.  During the Assembly session in June 1952, the question was raised on the same issue and the then Chief Minister Nabakishore Choudhury answered: “Savara’s tried to occupy their lands but they went without arms.   Since nobody heard their grievances on land matter they have formed on Bhoo-satyagrah Committee to get their land back”.   Some Revenue-Board Officials went and tried to end the dispute by mutual discussion but without success.  A few Bhoo-satyagrahis were also arrested at that time.  The core issue remains unsolved because there was not the political will to solve the problem.

By the end of 1970, the radical communist ideology had started capturing the minds of the poor.  Biswanathji maintains if the problems had been solved with genuineness, then tribals would have never adopted violent tactics.  In the 1950s, also there was discontent against the Machhkund dam in Koraput by the displaced people under the leadership of  Gangadhar Jhola.

In the meantime, Vinobha Bhave entered Orissa with his Bhoodan thought, but not much could be done in Koraput district.  The Bhoodan Yagna movement initiated in 1955 in the district and as per government records, nearly one lakh sixty five thousands two hundred sixty acres of land were donated in the district.  Odisa Bhoodan Yagna Act, 1953 was further amended to become the Odissa Bhoodan & Gramdan Act, 1971.  However, in Koraput region, noble thought failed to solve the land issue.  During the settlement operations the lands gifted to Bhoodan Yagna were not recorded in favour of the samiti.  In many cases, the lands donated in favour of Bhoodan Yagna Samiti have been re-occupied by the donors themselves.

In 1961, there was a violent movement by tribals against the exploiter landlord Hari Misra in the village of Balikhamar near Therubali in Raygada subdivision.  Hari Misra was the Dewan of  Kashipur Raja, from the coastal area and all the tribal lands were under his possession.  Tribals appealed with folded hands to him many times to return their land, without any success.  The matter went to the Court from 1952 to 1960 but without any result.  In 1961, tribals forcefully occupied their land and when Hari Misra opposed it, the tribals killed him on the spot.

In the years 1967, 1999, 2000 and 2004, there were uprisings against the powerful landlords, particularly in the Gudari area.  The discontent became violent many times and there was loss of valuable lives.  Since the British period, the response of the administration to the uprising of tribals was to suppress them with power and violence.  That practice is still followed today.   Four mega-dams (Machhkund, Kolab, Chitrakonda and Indrabati) and two projects (HAL & Nalco) added to the existing land issues of the tribals.  The lack of land-to-land rehabilitation policy increased the landlessness.  Large-scale commercial plantation such as cashew, eucalyptus (by JK & Mangalam timbers), sisal on the common property resources and on the so-called encroachment land further alienated the poor tribals from their land.

Land reforms Act:

Due to the uprisings and discontent people’s movements, many land reform Acts were enacted in the 1950s and 1960s.  Among them are Orissa Estate Abolition Act, 1952; Orissa Government Land Settlement (OGLS) Act, 1962; Orissa Prevention of Land Encroachment (OPLE) Act, 1972; OPLE Rules, 1985; Regulation 2 of 1956 as amended in 2002, Regulation 1 of 2000, Section 23 and 23-A of Orissa Land reforms Act (OLR), 1960 Distribution of Surplus Land, Orissa Estate Abolition Act, 1951.

The ceiling laws came into force with effect from September 26, 1970 but practically, the ceiling surplus land was not in the possession of the poor tribals in the area.  Many cases are pending with the judiciary and gathering dust on the shelf.  In many places the poor people are unable to raise their voice for their land against the powerful, distributed under the Law.  This fact was not known to all the revenue officials and they are silent on the issue.  The recent campaign “My land, my homestead” is nothing but a populist rhetoric which will not solve the land issue of Koraput region.  

The Regulation 2 of 1956 was not strictly followed and there was unholy nexus of vested interest groups.  As a result, a large amount of Scheduled Tribe land was transferred to non-tribal people.  There is also a problem of benami transaction and land mortgagee in the region.  In 1951, many hill tribal groups from the Agency Tracts Interest and Land Transfer Act, 1917 were de-scheduled which made the tribal land situation much more complex.  There are many groups who are Scheduled Tribe in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh but are general class in Koraput region.  There was no strong voice among the tribals of Koraput at that time and whatever some wise men decided in 1951 became a big problem for the tribal people of the region.  

In spite of legislations and schemes and all government Records, ground realities are different.  In many studies, it was revealed that the homestead land which was distributed to families is either unsuitable for homestead or never demarcated.  

Families have only the piece of paper without possessing the land.  In the case of ceiling surplus land, regulation-2 and the OLR Act, the beneficiaries are denied their rights by powerful lobbies.  The poor tribal and  SC families do not dare to enter their newly acquired land.  The recent computerization of old land records without updating is not at all a step towards materialization of land issues.

Immigration started from the Kings period and there was large scale immigration from the year 1932 following the opening of Raipur Vizianagaram railway line.  It is very clear that the inflow of immigrants into the region from other area has increased the land issue in the area.  

In the recent past, the inflow of population has increased manifold and in future it is likely to grow with the mining and other so-called development activities.  In this situation, there is a need to have special protection and the political will to safeguard the interest of the tribal people, particularly the land resource.

Recently, the state government became very active after the Narayanpatna uprising but present initiatives of state government will not solve the regional land issues.  1932, there was an uprising in Narayanpatna and it re-visited in 2009.  The core land issue of the region is the redistribution of land, for this there is need for a new law with the intent to implement.  The existing laws will not solve the issue, to solve the land issue there is need to think radically.  Just to keep it under the carpet is a temporary measure and the problem will crop up again in the near future in different form.  

Koraput region was declared as backward in 1919.  In 1993, the famous KBK (Koraput Balangir Kalahandi) programme was launched.  Surprisingly, one will not find any measures or plans on the fundamental issue of land under the KBK Yozana.  In the meantime, ninety years have passed since the region was declaraed backward.  There are many programmes, schemes, Acts, laws and reforms but the basic issue is still to be resolved.  In the coming KBK Plan there is a need to address this core issue of “Land”.

(About the author: Bidyut Mohanty works with the land related issues and K. Anuradha is a research scholar in Utkal University. This peice of writing is distributed by Janata Vikash Manch(JVM) as a part of its campaign for development of Orissa.)



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