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Undivided Kalahandi: Life becomes tough between Poverty and Police violence

 

Updated Sunday February 03, 2013

Odisha, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Maoist, Naxal, Police Firing  
 
In Odisha, undivided Kalahandi has always been a place of politically promoted poverty tourism. Almost every Government, soon after ascending to power, have made loud announcements to wipe away poverty and penury from the face of Kalahandi. But development, in real terms, still remains a distant dream for the tribal and poor people of these districts that remained the face of hunger and poverty. Parts of the Kalahandi and Nuapada districts that have become the ground of conflict because of growing Maoist activism now face the newest threat of increasing police violence that places the innocent tribal people at utmost vulnerability.  
Bibhuti Pati  
 

It was when union minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh, was loud about violence by armed Maoists and was also loud about his concern for the development of the poor tribal communities living in interior as well as forest areas of Kalahandi and Nuapada districts of Odisha, Four Tribal women carrying their infants were struggling to meet the leaders. Accompanied by another 6 tribal men came to tell the story of their plight to the union minister and the Member of Indian Parliament Bhakta Charan Das. They reached at the circuit house gate, requested the police and even fell down at their feet just to be allowed to meet both of the political leaders. However, their cry was not heeded to either by the police or anyone in the district administration.

 

Believed to be, or somehow portrayed as, the pro-tribal face of Congress Party, Jairam visited Kalahandi and Nupada districts of Odisha on January 14, 2013, talked with district administration, declared packages for the development of the tribal communities and left the place. The tribal women and their accompanist men from Khaliapada village couldn’t meet the minister. Why they were so desperate to meet the Minister and the MP?

Anti-Maoist Operation: Innocents face the brunt

“On 8th January, my husband had been to the dam for fishing. The same day, at around 3 o’clock, we saw the police force passing our village. We were clueless about the sudden appearance of police. Shortly after they passed, we heard the sound of gun fire. I along with other women ran towards the dam but warned by the police to stop. We came back to our houses. After a while, police left our village with their vehicle. A villager, Diba Majhi, was just shivering while confirming that the police had fired at the dam. In the evening I got the news that my husband was hospitalized being hit by bullet. Carrying my two kids, I ran immediately to the hospital wading in the darkness. In the hospital, I saw my husband Hari in an unconscious state while the doctors were attending him. The other villager who was also admitted for the same reason was Hube majhi. Both were in serious condition and were taken to Burla Medical College. We wanted to meet them but were not allowed by the police. It was only after Lalmohan, younger brother of Hube, went to Burla that we knew that they were encountered as being Naxals and were shot by police. My husband was mercilessly shot by the police at the dam. Now that he is hospitalized, we are starving. We are short of money. There is no money even for his treatment. We wanted to explain our plight and the injustice caused to us,” said Kamala and Raimati Majhi, wives of Hari and Hube Majhi respectively.

Undivided Kalahandi: A centre of poverty tourism

Undivided Kalahandi has always been a place of politically promoted poverty tourism. Almost every Government, soon after ascending to power, have made loud announcements to wipe away poverty and penury from the face of Kalahandi. Promises of building amenities to promote health service, education, agriculture and communication have been made repeatedly. Special programmes are announced by the Centre and the State as well for these districts. But development, in real terms, still remains a distant dream for the tribal and poor people of these districts that remained the face of hunger and poverty leading to selling of child.

Khaliapada and Nuapada are two villages in the Jatapada Panchayat that are afflicted by mal-nourishment and poverty. The people live in the villages are still part of the exploited and the hapless lot as the developmental projects made for them by the Government have never reached these villages. Despite the claim of constant efforts to upgrade the socio-economic status these people, the bleak image of abject poverty has only been the reality here. There is no one to scrutinize and analyse the situation and the reasons behind the failure of all programmes.

Khaliapada is inhabited by 100 odd families. The rough boulder clustered surface of the region makes Khaliapada inaccessible even by a bicycle. It was only after a walk on the stony foot-way of 7-8 KM in the forests that we had a glimpse of the Kucha road. Most of the villagers here are officially identified as ‘Landless’ who engage themselves in agricultural activities and fishing in the Khaliakhol Dam for 6 months. Rest half of the year they use to work as migrant labourers drifting to places like Raipur, Surat, Andhra and Mumbai.

Safety of people in jeopardy

Hari and Hube were scheduled to migrate to Raipur on January 10, 2013, to join a Brick kiln as daily wage labourers. On January 8th, around 3 o’clock, both of them had gone to Khaliakhol Dam for fishing. After spreading their nets, they were sitting on the dam. A villager Diba Majhi was working in a nearby agricultural land when the police entered into their village for combing operation. Considering Hari and Hube as Naxals, the police started firing at them without even seeking their identification. Diba Majhi on hearing the firing of the bullets ran away from the spot out of fear and came back home and thus narrowly escaped the police bullets.

“I was tilling on my land. Hari and Hube were sitting on the dam. Suddenly I heard a noise and, when I looked up, I saw police firing. Hube was hit by the bullet and he was lying on the dam. Hari was covered in a pool of blood. I was so scared that I took the path through the Jungle and came back home,” narrated by Diba Majhi, an eye witness to the firing by Police.

As news came to Hari and Hube’s family in the evening that both were in the hospital, seriously injured, Raimati, Kamala and other family members ran to the hospital. But neither Kamala nor Raimanti nor any member of their families were allowed to meet the firing victims. Hube was taken to the Burla hospital by the police. In the morning the family members of Hari were eventually allowed to meet and it was only after talking to him, they came to know the truth.

Hube was later shifted to Burla hospital by the police.

“Police claimed that Hari and Hube were injured because of the counter firing by the Naxals. The cost of the entire treatment of the two would be taken up by the police department.  Government aid would be provided to them. The police informed us not to give any statement before the media. They even threatened us of dire consequence if we don’t listen to them and follow their words. We get to hear that they are planning to frame many false cases against Hari and Hube to tag them as Naxalites. We had filed an FIR regarding the same. But there was no probe into it,” stated the family members of Hari and Hube Majhi.

It is believed by many that the police on seeing some food items near the Khaliakhol dam concluded that Hari and Hube had links with the Naxalites. But the villagers say that “Khaliakhol dam site is a picnic spot. Many people come here to see the dam, cook and feast. Seeing the leftovers of a picnic party, police established that they were Maoists sympathizers. We have never seen Naxals in our village or its surroundings. The police also have no records of any Maoists coming this way.”

Wives of Hari and Hube Majhi, Kamala and Raimati Majhi respectively, do not buy to the police claims and tell that the firing was by the police. Lalmohan, Hube’s brother, says that “there is no Naxal activity in our village, no arrests of Naxals ever in our village. My brother told me in Burla Hospital that the police fired at him and he was screaming in pain by being hit by bullet.”

As told by Hari and Hube, the torture they had to endure was because of the police. “I was in deep pain after I got shot and was screaming lying on the dam. Hube was running to escape the fire but he too fell down at a distance. Then the police came and carried us to the Nuapada hospital.” As told by Hari, the police asked them to maintain that they were hit by bullets from the Naxals. ‘You will get all help and aid from us. Just confess that the Naxals have fired at you’ said Hari as what the police asked him to do. “I didn’t know what happened later. When I opened my eyes in the morning I saw the doctors and nurses around me,” said Hari Majhi.

While on one hand, the incident of police firing at Hari and Hube Majhi is shocking and dire, the lost history of Khaliapada village makes it all the more distressful and painful on the other.

Khaliapada: Home to misery and injustice

On the border of Nuapada and Bargarh was the Mandusili village where, in the year 1975, the Dumerbahal watershed mission and the Bhutamunda dam project were started. The Bhutamunda dam project displaced Hari and Hube’s ancestors whereas, Trilochan  Majhi, Kirtan Majhi, Dhanu Majhi, Chaitan Majhi and Puta Majhi  were displaced from Dumerbahal village and came to the jungles in Khaliapada and started living there. 200 such families who were also landless didn’t get any compensation for the developmental displacement. Subsequently the Khaliakhol Watershed mission was the only source of their living. Since ages these villagers do fishing in the dam of Khaliakhol. But the police, for no valid reason, counted and encountered these innocent villagers as Naxals.

“The mountains, forests and streams make the geography of Khaliapada and it is through these forests and hills that the villagers gather their food. If they have to go inside the forests to gather and collect their food, then they come under police suspicion as Maoists and are put in jail or at the worst be encountered. If they do not go into the forests then they have to starve. If the police do not want them to go inside the forests, they should provide these people with alternate livelihood. The prime and foremost duty of the police, district Administration and Government is to provide justice to these hapless villagers,” said Surinder Tiwari.

Khaliapada village is an evidence of the never achieved ‘ivory-tower’ dreams shown by the governments at the State and the Centre. The 10 tribal villagers who came to meet Ramesh were stark example of under-development. “Even after Sixty five years of Independence and several announcements of special programmes and packages for these villages from time to time, the anguish and agony through which the residents of Khaliapada undergo is unbelievable if not witnessed by one’s own eyes. People ao the village are deprived from basic facilities like Education, health services, agriculture, communication etc. To add to all these, in the present scenario, anti-Maoist operations by the police has posed the biggest threat to these peace loving innocent villagers who are being killed as Naxals. Police bullets are being showered on people like Hari Majhi and Hube Majhi. These are all landless poor people toiling day and night to get rid of hunger suspected, without any basis, by the police of providing food to the Naxals,” said a local journalist Surender Tiwari adding that “These Tribals went to meet the Minister and the MP to narrate their sorrow and the torture that they had to endure because of the police but were not allowed by the police to meet them”.

While the government, in spite of numerous programmes and announcements, grossly failed in achieving desired development and bringing change in the lives of these people, don’t such acts of Police and the anti-Maoist forces, in the name of freeing the country from the biggest internal threat – as said by the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh – of Maoist extremism, qualify to become cases of attempt by the government itself to kill the innocent deprived citizens of the land about which the supreme court of India has expressed concern several times in many cases?

[Bibhuti Pati is an investigative Journalist from Odisha.]

Read the follow up story at: Nuapada: Innocents pay heavily for mistakes of a violent Police

 
 

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