Searching for Justice and Peace in Eastern Central India – by Felix Padel

© copyright, Robert Wallis 2010

People outside India as well as inside it are becoming aware that there are thousands of local movements of people trying to save their land from being invaded and taken over by big corporations, and the contractors, subcontractors, NGOs, media firms, biofuel and seed companies, banks, hedge fund/private equity fund investors and others who serve and finance the mining companies. Living in India, Anthony Sampson’s title comes to mind from his Anatomy of Britain series: Who runs this place? The Governments or the Companies and Banks?

Village people (tribals and non-tribals alike) are trying not just to hold onto their land and homes, communities and age-old systems of cultivation, but also, as part of the same thing, to prevent ecocide: the long-term destruction of every aspect of the land and environment where they have lived for centuries ( If they accept displacement, even World Bank statistics show that displaced villagers’ standard of living drops drastically (in India, and as a worldwide pattern), and that they hardly ever regain their standard of living, let alone improve it (which by the Bank’s own standards, is meant to be a key requirement of any project). These movements are aimed at saving the people and their environment – “for what future will our grandchildren have if our mountains and streams are destroyed?” This is the land of their ancestors over thousands of years.

It is also the heartland of tigers, leopards, bears and elephants – the whole cast of Kipling’s Jungle Book. But the hunting mafia has taken a massive toll on all the cast, and these animals survive as best as they can, as far as they can get from Man. Even wildlife sanctuaries cause conflict, displacing yet more tribal villages from their forest. Tribal people and their forest are one: damage that bond and the culture and environment are slowly but surely killed, together: cultural genocide and ecocide.

British geologists in the 1900s named the base rock of south Orissa’s bauxite-capped mountains ‘Khondalite’, after “those fine Hill men the Khonds”. These mountains are classed as one of the world’s best deposits for making aluminium – prime strategic metal for the arms industry (‘Mining as a Fuel for War‘ at War Resisters International.

Preventing a whole series of mining projects are the movements. The war against the Maoists, ‘Operation Green Hunt’, acts as a filter that often draws attention and support away from these movements, as the situation escalates towards a classic resource war.

2,270 years ago, the “first recorded event of Indian history” was Ashoka’s massive attack on the Kalinga people in Orissa. By his own admission – was he really repentant, or was he just doing his own PR for history ? – he killed 100,000, and enslaved 150,000, while many more died of disease and hunger. The Kalinga did not have kings and they put up a terrible fight to try and keep their freedom. Ashoka’s two inscriptions in Orissa threaten the ‘forest tribes’: the Kalinga who could retreat to the mountains and forests to preserve their independence as best they could, and have lived there till today. The Konds’ name for themselves is Kuwinga, and there is no doubt they are essentially the same people. So the ongoing takeover of tribal land now conjures a structural memory of Ashoka’s terrible violence.

The PR now is gross. ‘Kalinganagar’ is the name of the steel complex with a dozen new plants in various stages of planning and operation, that has already displaced thousands of Adivasis of the Ho and Munda tribes (whose heartland is in Jharkhand), just beside the Sukinda chromite mines in Jajpur district of Orissa, characterised as “one of the ten most polluted places in the world” (by the Blacksmith Institute, USA).

Kalinganagar is where Adivasis who refuse to shift to make way for a huge new Tata steel plant have got together as the People’s Platform Against Displacement. They were fired on and 14 killed on 2nd January 2006, when police and contractors tried to start construction of the plant. Last November, Orissa’s Chief Minister conveyed his public thanks to the steel companies for constructing a new hi-tech Kalinganagar police station (making clear a collusion that was already clear, though rarely spelt out).

Police with goondas started an attack on the 20 or so protesting villages on 30th March, breaking houses, stealing possessions, wounding many with a new type of rubber bullet, and taking over people’s land and villages in the guise of building a big road across the area. The People’s Platform Against Displacement has made it clear throughout that they are not Maoists, and have kept their movement non-violent (e.g. The events unfolding now in Kalinganagar and the lack of cover in the media is a national disgrace and a severe blot on Tata’s name.

Who made proper mention at the Copenhagen summit on Climate Change about Orissa’s 40 new steel plants and the carbon emissions from making 60 million tonnes of steel per year – Orissa’s stated target ? Or are these essential for ‘India’s development’? How can it be ‘development’ to destroy ecosystems and communities of people whose lives are based on long-term sustainability – who have sustained in the face of assaults from Ashoka to the EIC to now, and who are fighting these projects with everything they gave?

Knowing one’s Indian history, what we witness is a return of the East Indian Company. It took power here on the east side of India in Bengal and Madras in the 18th century, taking over Orissa from 1803 onwards. And the subsidiary company it formed was called the Government of India, based around collecting tribute, and implementing the laws being made to facilitate this all over the country. The senior administrator of a District in India is still called the Collector or District Magistrate.

Analysing the causes of the current conflict, and the reasons why many tribal people join the Maoists, the following are some of the main ones:

1. The system of endemic exploitation of tribal people, coupled with ingrained disrespect for tribal culture.

2. The escalating dispossession of tribal people from their land and resources – by numerous industrial projects but also by the war itself. No one disputes the figures of 644 tribal villages burnt by Salwa Judum and an estimated 200,000 tribal refugees from these burnt villages.

3. The atrocities perpetrated on tribal villages by the Salwa Judum (a tribal militia created by a section of the government) and security forces, and the impossibility of getting justice through the courts. The case of Sodhi (she was one of a dozen villagers lined up and shot by the police – she survived, but as witness to the case at India’s Supreme Court, has been kept under ‘police protection’) and the villagers killed at Gompad has highlighted this impossibility of bringing security men responsible for atrocities to account, and the appeal of Maoists arises directly out of this impunity to prosecution. Numerous human rights reports and courageous journalism have highlighted a definite pattern of attacks on tribal villages, in which most of the village flees, and the women, old and young who don’t get away are raped, killed, tortured or taken away. The best aspect of Arundhati Roy’s recent article Walking with the Comrades is that she brings out the voices of young Maoist women and men. These voices need to be heard. All of them witnessed close friends and family raped and killed, and were motivated to join the Maoists by these atrocities. Having suffered such loss and witnessed such horror, if there is no chance of bringing the perpetrators to account, and the Maoists are there, offering comradeship and guns – who wouldn’t go with them?

4. However, the Maoist ideology and leadership believes in war, exactly as many do in the mainstream and military. War has an attraction, and we all need to fight internal as well as external battles to resist this attraction. What is happening is a polarisation into two sides who both believe in war, leaving no space for neutrality, truth and peace. The recent attack is a deliberate escalation of war. We should not blame the individual Maoist fighters, any more than the individual CRPF men: both are pawns in a game where leaders actually believe in sacrificing people’s lives, on a huge scale. Mao himself was one of the worst tyrants: during his rise to power as well as his ‘great leap forward’ (upping steel production, causing a massive famine) and cultural revolution, he was responsible for millions of deaths of innocent people and even loyal party supporters. He was a superb propagandist though, and in that, very similar to mining companies’ PR machine, turning truth on its head. The ideology he created promotes war, and promotes an escalation of war. We must not let this happen. Maoist attacks instigate huge-scale counterinsurgency attacks on villages. This pattern must stop.

5. In other words, the attack on tribal communities as a strategy to wipe out Maoists is paradoxically a principal cause of the growing strength of the Maoists. This mirrors the worldwide ‘war on terror’ (in Afghanistan, Iraq etc), where everyone can see that attacks on ‘terrorists’– and the ‘collateral damage’ on countless civilians whose outrage has no outlet through judicial process – have increased the number of ‘terrorists’ exponentially. In Dantewara, the systematic attacks on tribal villages are a campaign of terror. In other words, the primary perpetrators of terror are the security forces rather than the Maoists. In the recent attack, the Central Reserve Police Force people killed are human beings too and their death is very sad. Police in the area live in fear of attack. The difference is – armed policemen have signed up for a job that involves high risk of killing or being killed. Tribal villagers have signed up for no such thing. Current news portrays this Maoist attack as an outrage, and the CRPF armed policemen killed by the Maoists as ‘martyrs’. What of the countless villagers who have been killed and terrorised by the CRPF and other ‘security forces’? The tribal villagers living in the eye of the conflict are essentially innocent. If they often support the Maoists, they do so because they experience an invasion and atrocities in which they lose their land, food, families, culture – everything. We get to hear of only a tiny percentage of the atrocities committed by security forces in villages, while every killing by Maoists gets high publicity. (See some excellent examples of such journalism published in the New Indian Express, at http// – e.g. ‘Operation Tribal Hunt?’ 11 November 2009)

Arundhati Roy’s writings have come under fierce criticism, but she is not uncritical of the Maoists. While contrasting democratic features about how Maoists operate in terms of people’s councils and meetings where anyone can and does speak, she also comments that the present phase may well be a honeymoon period in which Maoists are wooing the people, and history shows this honeymoon doesn’t last. The voices of tribal Maoists and accounts of atrocities need to be heard a lot more widely if a Sri Lanka situation of all-out war and genocide is to be avoided, and Roy’s article has done an excellent job of bringing them out.

If there is a genuine move for peace, one essential step will be repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – this has often been called for, especially from the Northeast and Kashmir. This has become essential for the war in Dantewara. If it can be seen that security personnel who commit atrocities are punished this will automatically take wind out of the Maoist sails.

Human rights work is a prerequisite for peace. Tribal culture places a high value on Justice and Truth. Some kind of Truth and Reconciliation process will have to take place if the escalation towards war is to be halted. Responsibility lies on both sides. Where it does not lie is with the tribal communities, and when they know they can get Justice, Peace will prevail.

Dr Felix Padel is an anthropologist who has lived in India for 30 years. His latest book ‘Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel’ by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das has just been published by Orient Black Swan. ISBN: 9788125038672

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Categories: Living & Environment, South Asia


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9 Comments on “Searching for Justice and Peace in Eastern Central India – by Felix Padel”

  1. Gautam Joshi
    July 14, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    See what repot says. Who are the real agitators?

    Aggrieved tribals in Kalinga Nagar seek Orissa HRC intervention,

    Tribal families of Kalinga Nagar have urged the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) for intervention on the allegedly severe human rights violation.

    Petitioning the SHRC chairman on April 5, the members of more than 800 tribal families, already displaced from the acquired villages, and 2,500 families of the nearby 25 tribal villages of Kalinga Nagar area have alleged severe torture by the miscreants operating under the banner of the VVJM. It is alleged that the VVJM activists are continuously harassing the villagers and forcibly roping them into its so-called agitation with a view to grind own axe.
    As per their allegations, Sanjay Soy of Gobarghati died due to lack of medical treatment as the VVJM leaders did not allow him to go to hospital. Bira Hesa of Chandia could fortunately survive from the fatal assault. Parbati Rana of Bhuban lost her eye in Gobarghati due to pelting of stones by the VVJM miscreants on general public. Basant Badra of Gadapur was molested at the Duburi haat in front of more than 1000 people.
    While, VVJM leaders are enriching themselves by getting contracts and employments in the nearby industries, we are being deprived as we stand in support of the on-going industrialisation and development of the area. The double standards of these leaders are leading our families into deprivation, the petition further alleged.


  2. Balavadra sethi
    July 15, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Tata Steel Parivar is helping the local tribal people for better life. Following is one of the stories, which tells us about their positive approach towards the betterment of Kalinganagar people.
    Naguri Jamuda and her family became a part of Tata Steel Parivar after being displaced from Gadpur village and they now live in their own house in Trijanga-2 Colony. Tata Steel provided them with 10 decimals land and Rs. 1.5 lakh for house construction along with a monthly stipend and all other civic facilities necessary for complete well-being.
    Naguri has also joined ‘Sarjam Sakam’ SHG started with the help of Tata Steel and is now its Secretary. She and others like her are making a decent living by working in the Group. Under her leaedership, ‘Sarjam Sakam’ SHG has also been honoured by Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik. Naguri Jamuda has also visited various places like Ranchi, Keonjhar, Bhubaneswar, Puri, Berhampur and Baripada for trainings organised by Tata Steel on SHG management, leadership and accounting.
    She is also teaching children in ‘Balbari’ opened by Tata Steel. Naguri’s husband Somu had received training under the ‘Prerana’ programme and is now working in Tata Steel Fabrication Yard as a welder. Naguri admits that she had never thought that life had so much to offer and thanks Tata Steel for providing her family a secure future.


  3. Felix Padel
    July 16, 2010 at 8:13 am #

    Thanks for comments. What is incredibly painful to witness in Kalinganagar is the dividing of communities that have always been in solidarity together – a pattern of goonda-instigated attacks, compounded by misrepresentation in the media, (which Tata controls to an alarming extent), similar to what unfolded in Singur, where the fight over land for a car factory left many people dead and communities bitterly divided.

    In the Kalinganagar case, the propaganda against the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch (People’s Platform Against Displacement) has consistently alleged against the BBJM (= WJM in 1st comment) the very atrocities perpetrated on villagers who stayed put (refusing to be displaced). Reliable reports indicate that the BBJM has carefully avoided violence, even when leaders have been killed by goondas.

    In the ferocious police-orchestrated attacks on Kalinganagar villages that have escalated since April, police brought in already-displaced tribal people to trash their own and neighbours’ houses. A number of villagers are known to have died due to the police blockade, in a situation where as soon as people leave the houses (where they have always lived), these are likely to be trashed & possessions looted.

    ‘Tata steel bullets’ and related entries on youtube by Samadrusti (‘other view’) reveal a view of Tata’s actions quite the opposite of the benign corporate generosity image promoted by Tata in the media.

    ‘The unending war of Kalinga’ in New Indian Express (17th April, available on net) gives a close-up of the events unfolding in Jajpur district, where an area of natural beauty and strong community values has been turned into a hellspot of injustice, simply to force people off their land so that a Tata steel plant can be built.


  4. Sushma Hesa
    July 16, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    With the help of Tata Steel they are experiencing new life with new hope and better lifestyle, better education for their children. Life has changed for Laxmi Hesa and her family. Like many other villagers, Laxmi Hesa and her husband Damodar used to do work hard all the year, mostly as daily agricultural labourers, trying to make both ends meet. In the rehabilitation process at Tata Steel’s Kalinganagar project, the displaced family was brought to the Danagadi temporary rehabilitation colony.

    Laxmi is today a self-sufficient woman running a shop successfully at the colony itself. Her husband Damodar Hesa is also employed and has been working with a construction partner of Tata Steel after getting necessary technical training that was provided by the Company.

    Laxmi has become independent economically and has also planned her savings well. By managing to meet all household requirements with the earnings from the shop, she deposits her husband’s entire income in the bank for the family’s future requirements. The free supply of grocery items by Tata Steel for her family is also a great help to them.

    “Life has become easy now. I run the shop and my sister-in-law helps in the business as well as in the domestic works. We are a happy family and have been realising a big difference in our life at the village and here in the rehabilitation colony,” Laxmi beams while expressing her gratitude to Tata Steel.

    Laxmi’s journey to self-sufficiency is expected to motivate many more women of her community to march ahead in the process of development.


  5. July 17, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    It seems that Tata spin doctors have a database of PR stories to append to any article that tries to draw attention to what is really happening in East India and Kalinganagar in particular. See link below for another example. Tata should be ashamed.


  6. Lakshmi Jamuda
    July 19, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    We all should support the mega construction of Tata Steel Kalinganagar Project for the betterment of Orissa & our nation as well. Check this video


  7. Sakhi voi
    August 7, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    Thursday, workers at Tata steel project site at the Kalinga Nagar industrial area were driven away by the Supporters of Vistapana Virodhi Jana Mancha (VVJM). As per the media – nearly eight workers had reached on the site to begin work to level the ground when about 50 supporters of the Vistapana Virodhi Jana Mancha confronted them.

    For more info please visit:


  8. Dilip Parida
    August 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    It is surprising as to how far the members of BBJM can actually go. Even when their double standards are being exposed in different happenings almost daily, BBJM leaders are trying to put up a charade of honesty. It is a fact known to everybody that these people had taken compensation for their land a long fifteen years back. And yet they have just made pretexts for not leaving the land and continued to stay on without giving any heed to either law or reason. Tata Steel has been very lenient in this matter and the Company has always tried to look at people’s interests first. Therefore, they agreed to pay an additional sum of Rs 4 lakh per acre of land to be acquired. Surprisingly again, supporters of BBJM have accepted this money while at the same time they are carrying out anti-land acquisition agitation. Almost 90% people from Chandia, the so-called BBJM stronghold have accepted 5 lakh Rs for every acre of land. So this can only be seen and interpreted as an act of hypocrisy and selfishness. Isn’t it clear that if BBJM supporters had really been against industrial development, they would not have taken the money in the first place?


  9. November 2, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    i dont understand how people still think that a bunch of corrupt and greedy corporations and a capitalistic structure that we as a society are evolving from can help accomplish the overall good for the people. no matter how many programs or how many appeals are heard at the end of it we have to realise that the system is flawed and it should be accepted that greed is one of the biggest factors that we face as we who are well to do and live with this materialistic approach to life are most easily diverted from the truth, blinded by the glittering gold


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