We the undersigned strongly condemn the brutal police violence by Odisha Police that continued for hours on the villagers of Dhinkia in Jagatsinghpur district on January 14. The villagers of the entire region have been carrying out a protest against land acquisition by the district administration for Jindal Steel Work Utkal Limited.
On January 14, as people were gathering for a rally in the area, they were mercilessly assaulted by the police. The evening news on regional TV channels showed women and children being chased and beaten, groups of police raining blows on villagers thrown to the ground, bodies being trampled by the police and people running helter-skelter and crying for help. The police carried out a flag march.
Countless villagers were injured. Many could not step out of the area for treatment because of the terror and violence unleashed by the Odisha Police. The whereabouts of some of them are still not known. Phone calls continue to come about people missing who might be still hiding in the forest or among the betel vines.
Six people have been arrested that include Debendra Swain the leader of the people’s movement; Narendra Mohanty from Campaign against Fabricated Cases (Bhubaneswar) as he was visiting the area; and Muralidhar Sahoo, Nimai Mallick, Manguli Kandi and Trinath Mallick. The PC number is 21/22 GR-34/22 under sections 307, 147, 148, 323, 294, 324, 354, 336, 325, 353, 332, 379, 427, 506, 186, 149 of the IPC, CLA and PPDP Act. They were forcibly dragged to police vehicles without any information to relatives, kept in an unknown place, and presented to the magistrate in the wee hours of January 15. This was done deliberately to prevent them from demanding medical examination or informing anyone of ill treatment during police custody.
The village lanes are deserted now, there are police in the entire area and surrounding villages. They continue to be confined in terror and intimidation inside their houses. Many have had to switch off their phones too. Many people have locked their houses from outside and are using the back entrances.
Dhinkia has hundreds of dalit families who work as wage labourers in the betel vine plots or do fishing. Many are getting targeted by police excesses. On January 6, seven members of a dalit family have been arrested. They include Shiba Mallick, Sankar Mallick, Kaushalya Parbati Mallick, Kusum Mallick, Sarat Mallick, Sujan Mallick and Jhini Mallick.
On January 15, a team of Odisha-SKM and its supporters were stopped right outside Dhinkia from the Trilochanpur side when they were entering the area to investigate into the lathi charge incident and offer support and solidarity to the villagers. Over 50 to 60 men stopped the team on it way, hurled abuses and alleged that human rights defenders bring trouble to the village. They used threats, intimidation and foul language and were also smelling of alcohol intake. The team comprised: Mahendra Parida, Prafulla Samantara, Jyoti Ranjan Mahapatro, Pradipta Nayak, Santosh Ratha, Jambeshwar Samanatray, Sujata Sahani and Ranjana Padhi. Three team members registered a complaint in the Abhaychandpur Police station.
As we put out this statement, we hear that the police is knocking on each door and asking people to come out to form peace committees. It is a direct means to legitimize the loot and plunder of people’s land in the name of peace committees.
The complicity of the state government to acquire land for JSW through all means is clear as it continues to ignore appeals made by a wide section of people and progressive organizations.
Indeed, the silence of the Chief Minister makes it clear how complicit the state government is in using terror, violence and intimidation on behalf of corporations. The situation in Dhinkia Chaaridesh has revealed yet again the iron hand of authoritarian power to push back the gains made by the people’s struggle. Organizations and supporters of the people’s movement are also targeted. All this amounts to a systemic denial of villagers’ absolute right to protect their land, livelihood and lives.
It is well known how the people of Dhinkia Chaaridesh fought several years from 2005 to 2017 and emerged victorious in stopping the South Korean steel conglomerate POSCO. But the state is once again usurping hundreds of acres of fertile agricultural land and pauperizing betel cultivators, labourers and fisher folk. In addition to having kept the acquired land for POSCO in the Land Bank, the government is helping JSW with more land. The company is yet to get environment clearance. Last but not the least, a steel plant, captive jetty and cement factory that the JSW project entails will play havoc on the fragile coastline of Odisha with its increasing frequency of cyclones and receding land. The Odisha government needs to wake up to the destruction caused by mining of minerals and steel production that compounds ecological havoc.
We urge the Odisha Government to:
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