This winter, Orissa has seen a spate of encounters beginning with the now infamous incident in Bargarh district on December 27: two alleged Maoists were killed. Later they were identified as a BJP block president, also an anti-mining activist, and his associate. Barely a week later, on January 1, five more alleged Maoists were killed. Three of them were women. One was a 12-year-old girl, Janga d/o Ramrai Jamuda of Baligotha.
One week later, in Rayagada district, nine more were killed in their sleep on January 8. The incident has widely been described as a late night ambush by the Special Operations Group and not an encounter. This is the first time that encounters on this scale have taken place in both districts.
And then most recently, two alleged Maoists were gunned down on the morning of January 12, about 35 km away at Keonjhar near the village of Pancham.
The police said that 24-year-old Sadhu Munda and a teenager, Raju, from the Mayurbhanj district had been shot dead early in that morning. Strangely, the Raju’s body was showing signs of putrefaction by 3pm that day. Experts say putrefaction only takes place 72 hours after death.
Sadhu Munda, like Janga, had hailed from Baligotha, a village that is on the forefront of the Bisthapan Bidrohi Jan Manch protests against the Tata Steel project in Kalinganagar Industrial Park. It has often been accused of being a Maoist-front.
Kalinganagar Industrial Park had become infamous on January 2, 2006, when 12 tribals protesting against Tata Steel’s common corridor were killed in police firing. Since then, the villagers have faced frequent arrests,
attacks, and raids by police personnel as in April 2010 when the police fired plastic rounds into protesting crowds, and pro-BJD and Tata- goondas roughed up the BJP president Jual Oram’s convoy as well as journalists, as they attempted to enter Baligotha to address the BBJM members.
The leaders of the Bishpathan Birodhi Jan Manch, however, deny having any links with the Maoists. “We are stupid then?” Rabindra Jarika of Chandia village asks. “If we wanted, we could’ve sent 200 men into the jungles. But we resist peacefully, and we’re dying here,” he says.
In fact, Rabindra Jarika has faced threats from the Maoists in the past. He says they have been functioning in the Sukinda mines area, far from the villages protesting against Tata’s common corridor.
“Have the Maoists threatened you?”
“Twice.,” he replies.
“The Janshakti Maoist party or the CPI Maoist party?”
“Any idea why?”
“They say I am doing dalaalgiri.”
Children of war
Ten days after she was killed, no one from Baligotha had claimed Janga’s body. In that time though, the police claim that over 10 alleged Maoists, some of them minors, surrendered before them. Saley Pallei, also from Baligotha, was one of them. His mother would later take him to the Tata Transit Camp at Sukinda.
Meanwhile, Sadhu Munda’s brother, Nitchandra Pallei, from Baligotha, who lives in Tata’s Transit Camp called for a press conference in Jajpur, to plead with the Maoists to release his daughter and his son, who he claimed were still fighting with them.
The press conference was actually orchestrated by the police, who refused to stand before the cameras. A local journalist who attended the meet says he was prevented from taking pictures of Nitchandra.
“I took a picture of Nitchandra, and the policemen stopped me. They told Nitchandra to hold his hands together, and pose for the picture,” he says. The next day Nitchandra refused to speak to the press without police presence — or even collect Sadhu’s body from the police station.
Sadhu Munda, Janga Jamuda and Saley Pallei are perhaps the first examples of
exclusive development’s contribution to the recruitment of Maoist cadre.
While the gunning down of a 12-year-old Maoist had gone almost unnoticed in the mainstream media, the fact that the Maoists are recruiting minors did not. In fact, three of the alleged child-Maoists come from families that have been torn apart.
Nitchandra Pallei, for instance, had abandoned his son and daughter in Baligotha last April, when he had agreed to be rehabilitated by Tata, due to ill health. The state demolished his house and his children were left in the village without guardians. Janga’s father Ramrai Jamuda, had been shot dead two years ago, while Saley Pallei who surrendered to the police, had been virtually neglected after his mother, injured during the April 2010 attack, was taken to the Tata Transit camp after she was discharged from the hospital.
The different versions
To understand what has happened in Khurigan (Basangmali), Rayagada district on January 8, one has to look back into an incident on December 14, 2010, when in the village of Dhobasil in Kashipur block, five alleged Maoists, including two minors were arrested in what is described in the police First Information Report as “a meeting” with “weapons training.”
Dobasil is a small village of two hamlets, one belonging to the Kondhs, and another to the Jhodias. The Jhodia hamlet has nine homes, and it is a hamlet where the people have ration cards, but don’t get ration, where they have NREGA cards, but they don’t get work, where they have electric poles and wiring, but they don’t get electricity.
The families live on the edge of hunger, surviving on a little semme (beans) and some imli . Added to that, the Jhodias are not even recognised as tribals by the government. They are tribals living on tribal lands who are not entitled to the laws to protect them from land alienation.
According to the FIR, the police had received “prior information” that a meeting was taking place near “Singamui jungle,” so they had embarked on an operation, where they would eventually discover a meeting of 25-30 Maoists cadres along with 10 to 15 other supporters engaged in “weapons training”.
Along with the five arrested, the FIR goes on to mention several names as “Details of known/suspected/unknown/accused.” Rabi, Lenju, Mamata, Kamala would all be killed in the encounter, along with Sabyasachi Panda, the most-wanted Maoist leader in Orissa, and Lado Sikaka, a Dongria Kondh leader part of the Niyamgiri movement.
Also named were Bhagaban Majhi, who is an activist of the Prakrutik Sampark Surakhya Parishad, which has long struggled against bauxite mining and Utkal Alimuna International Limited.
In the FIR regarding the December 14 “encounter”, the police Inspector-in-charge of Kalyansinghpur police station claims, “Most of them had put on olive green dresses. From the dress code and the firearms with them, I became confirm (sic) that they are the members of the banned CPI (Maoist) organisation.” He then claims to have repeatedly asked them to surrender, after which the Maoists fired back to “kill and demoralise the police party.” The police would then fire two rounds, and the Maoists then “took to their heels in the jungle.”
Eventually the police managed to apprehend five people including two young girls. One of the girls, Koni Jhodia is mentioned to be 16 years old in the FIR. According to her ration card (prepared on August 1, 2010) she was only 11.
The villagers of Dhobasil remember it quite differently: Koni had run into a house when she saw the police approach and they had dragged her out. Sabita Jhodia (22) was also in her house, asleep, when she had been kicked and dragged out of the village. The villagers’ version of events has around 20 members of plainclothes policemen coming to the village accompanied by two other men, and asking for Sabita Jhodia. Sabita, an alleged Maoist, had returned to her village, after leaving her abusive husband.
“They put a gun to my neck and asked me where Sabita was,” claims Koni Jhodia’s older brother, Beladhara. At this point, the two other men were being held by the police in the middle of the hamlet, along with Sabita’s younger sister Lalita.
They allowed Lalita to go, only after they had dragged out of her house Sabita. Finally, they had gone to the Kondh hamlet of Dobasil, and taken away Jodi Jhodia d/o Shyam (wrongly identified as Anjali), who was also 10 years old. Her pregnant older sister said, “it was all Sabita’s fault.”
“After they took them away, we thought they’d be killed,” Koni’s mother Kaliapani Jhodia says.
The silencing of activists
Those killed in the January 8 encounter include three unmarried girls from Barigaon, Kashipur block — Sunita Miniaka d/o Massi, Seboh Miniaka d/o Sapora and Phulkoh Miniaka d/o of Uchaba. The people of Barigaon were not informed of their deaths, and discovered that the girls had been killed from the newspapers.
Bulika Miniaka of Barigaon has been fighting against land alienation for over 15 years now. He was one of the Kondh leaders jailed for over four months in 2004-2005, when the police had come to his village on December 9, 2004. Today, combing operations often disrupt life in his village of over 180 homes.
“This land is ours, this jungle is ours, these rivers are ours, these trees are ours, and who are these police people to come here? What do they want? Why are they here?” he asks.
“Who are the police to kill these people?” continues Bulika, “And those you kill, you should at least, tell us, you killed.”
The people of Barigaon held a feast to honour the dead girls, as per Kondh tradition. The killings led to the stalling of the Utkal project, albeit unsuccessfully, and a judicial enquiry offered no justice to the Adivasis. The killing of the three, as Maoists, has opened the latest chapter to struggles of the Kashipur Adivasis who have fought against the companies since 1993.