Politics of an Abduction

– Niha Masih

On the south eastern coast of India is the state of Orissa, one of the richest in terms of natural and mineral resources but one of the most underdeveloped in a country which takes pride in its double digit growth rate. It is one of the Naxal affected states where armed guerrilla groups have rebelled against the State, which they perceive to be brutal and apathetic.

The battle between the Naxals and the State has a long and unfortunately, bloodied history. The last few months saw a spate of kidnappings by the Naxals in Orissa and Chattisgarh who set forth demands for every release. The longest hostage crisis was the abduction of a tribal MLA of Orissa’s ruling party – BJD for over a month.  As the abduction of Orissa MLA, Jhina Hikaka, hit the newsstands, debates over Naxals holding the Government to ransom broke out in TV studios. However, our on ground investigation revealed how this could actually be a sordid tale of political opportunism by local politicians and a people’s movement allegedly with Maoist links. It leads to deeper concerns about the will of the state to tackle issues of neglect of its tribal population as well as raises questions on the intent of an increasingly combative form of activism.

Even after being released, emotions run high at Jhina Hikaka’s house. In the course of our investigation we came upon a letter of demands addressed to the Orissa CM, signed by Jhina and other BJD leaders from Koraput. Almost all of the demands raised by Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh or CMAS (a tribal outfit fighting for land reclamation alleged to have Maoist backing) found a place in it, from an enquiry into the Narayanpatna Police Station firing in 2009 to speedy release of tribals and CMAS members languishing in Koraput jails.

Juro Mauka at a CMAS memorial in Tendulipadar village, allegedly broken down by the CRPF. At 23 she is one of the nearly 130 members of CMAS who got elected unopposed in the Panchayat elections in February this year. Juro held the deciding vote for the election of the President of the Zilla Parishad of Koraput district as both BJD and Congress had the same number of votes. The deal secured her crucial vote and the BJD candidate won.

One of Orissa’s most wanted men and leader of CMAS, Nachika Linga, just over 35 years of age has been at the forefront of the Adivasi land reclamation movement for the last 15 years but which has gradually been resorting to a more violent approach, leading the Police to allege that they are a front organisation for the Maoists. He met us at a secret location to contend that the BJD did not honour the deal, which is perhaps what led to the kidnapping.

The origin of this flashpoint stems from a much deep rooted neglect of the area. More than 80 % of Koraput district is under the poverty line with tribals making up 60% of the population. Over the years, tribals argue that non-tribals took over more and more of their land, driving them into bonded labour often with the help of alcohol leading to widespread resentment.

A tribal woman walking past broken down houses in the town of Podapadar. What had begun as a people’s movement for land reclamation soon adopted a more aggressive stance and violent clashes in May 2009 saw Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh members ransacking homes of the Doms (Dalits) and Sundis (engaged in liquor trade) in the town of Podapadar, ultimately displacing more than 300 families.

Life in the Narayanpatna Police Station has not been the same since November 2009. On the 20th of the month large scale violence occurred at the site which led to two deaths and many arrests of CMAS members. While the official version of the story differs vastly from the CMAS one, in 2011 one of the courts acquitted many of the implicated tribals lending credence to the CMAS version.

In Nachika Linga’s home village of Bhaliaput, the tribals proudly show us the land they forcibly took over from Kancha Parida and Bubnu (both Sundis, and OBC caste) and Chitiro Bidika (a Dalit). The seized land now belongs to the entire village. Nachika Linga used to work as a bonded labourer for Kancha Parida for a derisory Rs 60 a year.

Most Central and State schemes have a poor record in Naxal-affected areas. On one hand, the Naxals have blocked implementation of these schemes and on the other there is corruption and official apathy. Even the otherwise successful NREGA has been riddled with corruption and poor implementation in Koraput district. Last year in a damning report by an NGO, it was found that more than 60 % of the people in the state did not even get one day’s employment leading the Supreme Court to order a CBI inquiry into the scam.

Tribal women in the village of Tendulipadar. While the State’s challenge remains on the development front, its high handedness in dealing with its alienated population has only worsened things with people getting caught in the crossfire between the State and those opposing it.


~ by Niha on May 31, 2012.

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