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India Decides: Conflict prone Odisha needs special attention

 

Last updated Wednesday July 06, 2016

  Odisha, Politics, Narayanpatna, Conflict, Election 2014, India  
 
As the realities look like, conflict keeps growing in the forests and tribal hinterlands of Narayanpatna in Koraput of Odisha. Innocent tribals, who just want to live peacefully but with dignity by depending upon the forests and the forest lands, are being sandwiched between the forces that are parties in the conflict.  

Basudev Mahapatra

 
 

“How does the coming election matter to you? What possibility do you see in it?”

The questions seemed to be all nonsense to the tribal people living in the forest villages in Narayanpatna, home to prolonged conflict between indigenous people and the state over the land and forest rights, of Odisha's Koraput district. They were of the single view – “we don’t need election.”

“Leaders are fighting elections for their own purposes. Nobody bothers about our problems. So, we feel voting for them is all waste of vote,” said Kadu Mandingi of Talagumandi village.

As the issues relating to these tribal people seem to get missed out in the noise and din about tribal empowerment and protection of tribal rights, these tribal villagers are forced to live a life of deprivation and agony.

 

In such a situation, the ongoing tribal people’s movement that, at times, appeared like armed uprising looked more obvious and relevant than those motivated by any other force or intent.

Situated on the borders of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, Narayanpatna remained a centre of tribal movement and leftwing extremist activities as well. The place turned a major news point when MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly), elected from Laxmipur assembly constituency, was abducted by leftwing extremists in the year 2012. The abductors alleged that the state and, particularly, the MLA grossly failed in performing upto expectations of people and in keeping the promises he made before people.

It’s to be noted that abducted on March 24, 2012, MLA Jhina Hikaka was in captivity of leftwing extremists for 32 days till he was released on April 26, 2012.

If the police sources are to be believed, the forces are alerted about some sort of extremist activities in southern and western Odisha that go to polls on April 10, 2014. After such inputs, the state police and the Central para-military forces have intensified combing operations in forest areas of south Odisha that continue to remain Maoist strongholds.

While leftwing extremist activities are certainly a concern, the other concern is police terror. Termed by police as Maoist cadres or Maoist supporters, many tribal youth have left their villages and hide in the forests fearing attack or arrest by police.

Dinu Sirka of Jhodipadar village and Jira kendruka of Dumsil village are two such cases. Both are now hiding in a remote forest village as they are in police target. When asked how many tribals live hiding in the forest, they said, “Hundreds like us are living in the forests and remote villages to escape police action. We are all innocents but police terms us Maoists!”

Initially, the tribal people raised their voice against such acts of the police saying they were all wrong and oppressive. But they didn’t get any support from anybody in the police or, even, the administration. On the other hand, tribal people were taken to camps, put to torture, jailed and had to face trials for years. So, the tribal voice got suppressed and a courageous tribal community had to live in fear to escape illegal and immoral police action that the system sees as lawful.

As the realities look like, conflict keeps growing in the forests and tribal hinterlands of Narayanpatna. Innocent tribals, who just want to live peacefully but with dignity by depending upon the forests and the forest lands, are being sandwiched between the forces that are parties in the conflict.

In such a situation, expecting a free, fair and peaceful election in the place of conflict sounds to be quite unreal because police terror added with administrative apathy has alienated the ordinary people from the whole system of governance.

Now the question is, how can people be involved in the electoral process and voting by ordinary people and, particularly, these indigenous people be ensured, which is vital in any democracy?

Perhaps the only answer to ensure people’s participation in the electoral process is to adopt an inclusive approach than a suppressive one. Huge force deployment would only frighten the voters. Instead, allowing free convergence between people and political leadership would help getting people into the electoral process and politics.

 
   
 

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