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SORANA: Lot to speak, Nobody to listen

"The mandate of the apex court could not prevent the then Orissa government, political leaders and the law enforcing wings from firing at people and standing by the Mafia violating all norms and controlling the lucrative business of making dollars out of these gheris."

HNF Bureau : June 12, 2007

Sorana - a small fishing village on the banks of Chilka lake came to the front pages of leading national and regional newspapers after the reign of death created by Orissa's trigger happy police force on 29 May 1999 by spraying bullets on the villagers who gathered as protest to the illegal prawn gheris set by politically backed high profile Prawn mafias inside Chilka lake. As the illegal gheris restricted the communities from fishing in the lake and making their livelihood, the fishing communities gathered to execute the mandate of Apex court by abolishing the gheris what state government and State police should have done much before as their response to the Supreme court judgment. But instead, the mandate of the apex court could not prevent the then Orissa government, political leaders and the law enforcing wings from firing at people and standing by the Mafia violating all norms and controlling the lucrative business of making dollars out of these gheris. In the incident, four of the villagers died and forty were reportedly maimed by the trigger-happy police of Orissa.  

The reason behind the protest by fishing communities was State government's failure in abolishing the illegal gheris in Chilka lake even though Orissa High Court, Supreme Court and the Orissa Assembly House Committee had given clear direction for the same in 1993, 1996 and 1997 respectively.

Eight years have been passed. The political scenario is completely changed. Opposition leaders who wiped the tears off and roared against the then ruling government have successfully make their way into the corridors of power. The responsibility of weeping for them is taken over by the politicians who were in power at the relevant point of time and now sit on the opposition bench. The gheris still exist to make the prawn Mafias flourish. The Superintendent of Police and District Collector, who were then suspended by the government to save its face from political embarrassment, have been duly reinstated with the issue being diluted through march of time. The Commission and the Inquiries, the political drama that usually follows such incidents, ended their ponderous exercise in vagueness. The martyrs of those days are now lost in a blurred memory and exist in photographs neatly garlanded with ceremonial flowers. But the people who were maimed by the trigger happy police, and had thanked God for being fortunate (!) to escape death, are now the most unfortunate survivors. Those who had not fallen prey to the bullets are now the victims of the apathy of our well-meaning democratic government that claims itself to be 'of the people, by the people, for the people'. As further discontentment of the fishing folks of Sorana Village, abstract of the the long awaited report by the inquiry commission came to public which found the firing by police justified.

One of the maimed victims of this mayhem Dama Behera, now burdened with an emaciated wife and three unmarried daughters and living on knitting nets and occasionally running a betel shop with a regal asset of about fifty rupees, explains his experiences with the state government officials as “I met the Collector and other administrators regarding the promised rehabilitation, but they are still a promise. They always assured that the file is on its move from table to table. Now I have given up as I cannot carry my maimed body too often nor can I always afford the transportation. I do not have money for my medicines even”.

Although not maimed the bullets of police put 27 year Linga, only son of widow Magi Behera, to death putting the mother live in misery without any earning member in the family. Misfortune struck her again as her only daughter became a widow soon after. Being thrown out by her in-laws the daughter came to live with Magi. Both the hapless ladies have to cover about 10 to 12 miles a day to sell puffed rice just to earn a living till death. However, every 29th of May, Magi Behera is a sure mention the speeches as the proud mother of a martyr.

An errant tear gas shell on that day had reduced the houses of Trinath and Madhab Behera to ashes.  Neither have they received any compensation-money nor has their house been reconstructed. The political and administrative promises are now matched by a weird irony.  Kama Behera, wife of Madhab describes, “For years we have been living under a banyan tree beneath polythene shed.  Even we have been adjusting to that.  What hurts me more is the other programme of our benign government like family planning. I decided not to have any further child and bring no other soul to this world of misery for which I underwent family planning surgery twice by the doctor in the local PHC. Consequently after each operation I gave birth to two children.” Shall we call this the strange fertility of this lady or the barrenness of well advertised government policies?

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Bali Behera, Tuni Behera, Nalini Behera, Gopi Behera, etc. were injured on that day and are further wounded by the government’s apathy. They somehow manage a miserable living by selling dried fish around. They cannot work everyday because of the pain emanating out of their bullet-wound.  Each one had received a compensation of rupees twenty thousand, which is spent out long since. Now they have to incur an expenditure of Rs.700 to 1000 per month for their medicines. Their condition can be well calculated from this simple arithmetic. Even the association members left them alone to their own fate. All of them allege, “We have been betrayed by the Matsyajibi Mahasangha, who instigated us on that very day to stage the protest. Now, it's no more concerned about us.”

“We have been doing our perfunctory running around, meeting various administrative authorities, local political leadership and the concerned Ministers frequently.  But they only go on spinning promises and say that the necessary file work is still on and the formalities and the legal procedure is only taking its time”, explains the Mahasangha officials as a proof of their concern. Now the Mahasangha leaders are demanding for a CBI probe expressing their disagreement to the commission's report that supports the trigger happy police and its barbaric act of spraying bullet on agitating mass.

However, it's not only bullets that put some villagers of Sorana into death and wounded many others, the village once again saw the reign of death in 2003 when seven of its villagers died of spurious liquor consumption. Like any such incident government declared to compensate each deceased family with one lakh rupees soon after the incident which is not yet received by the people. However, the main culprit - a wine trader, has been sentenced by the court  to life imprisonment.

People of Sorana village have many more tragic stories to tell. But nobody from the government is there to listen to them and help them end their misery.



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