Oppression of tribals continues in Odisha

Oppression of tribals continues in Odisha

Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union leader Kanhaiya Kumar, on his release, stated that “We want freedom in India and not freedom from India”. Though, most of my friends felt a bit upset with this statement, this, I think captured something very important. The importance of this phrase lies in the way how we understand freedom as.

Let’s take the example of the Dongria Kondhs in Niyamgiri hills of Odisha. The Dongria’s are adivasis who have been living for generations in the Niyamgiri hills. It is an area of densely populated forest, deep gorges and cascading streams. This serene nature’s paradise has an important value for ecological and biological diversity. In 2013, the Dongria Kondhs won a heroic victory against the mining giant Vedanta resources to save their sacred hills.

The Supreme Court told Vedanta in 2013 that the Dongria’s must decide whether to allow mining on their sacred hills or not, and the Dongria’s unanimously replied in the negative to mining which was famously known as India’s first environment referendum. Since then, this Adivasi community has been a major victim of the state and corporate violence in different ways.

But now this referendum is under severe threat by the state forces. The state has reopened this issue by filing a petition for the right to hold a fresh referendum for the Dongria Kondh to pave the way for large scale mining operations. Indeed, the reason that has been cited in the petition clearly talks about the intent of the state.

In fact, at one level, this petition tries to undermine the earlier decision of unanimously rejecting mining activities in that area and on the other hand, the state is trying to create a new young aspirational class within the community. This is doing by playing out to the younger generations by claiming that with adults dying in the community and new ones growing up to have voting rights in the gram sabha, decisions should be up for review.

Resistance struggles

This petition by the state government raises two fundamental aspects. One is about the state’s undermining of a democratic decision to induce forceful development of a certain kind and the other is about the future of resistance struggles in Niyamgiri which today’s younger generations in the community will have to lead.

The first aspect lies in the way how we re-define state in terms of its mechanisms, access and justice. But, it’s the latter that requires a critical emphasis and analysis in terms of understanding educational institutes, curriculum and grass root movements as more and more Adivasi children are educated under mainstream educational models.

The Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences at Bhubaneswar is one of the classic examples of how these young Adivasi children are brought into the mainstream. In fact, one must understand that any mainstreaming model reflects education as commodity and not as knowledge. It is the knowledge of their cultures that will help them lead their future struggles and uphold their constitutional rights.  

In order to emphasis more, the recent incident being the killing of Monda Kadraka. Every year, the Dongria Kondhs celebrate their annual Niyamgiri festival called the Ghataparva paying their tribute to their supreme deity Niyam Raja – ‘King of Law’ whose abode is Niyam Dongar, the forest top. This year, this festival started from Febuary 26.

As the celebrations were under way, as a part of the ritual, Monda and Dambaru, two youths of the village were asked to bring a local brew from the hill. Accordingly, the two had gone to bring the local drink on the wee hours of Saturday when the police were conducting their combing operations. Monda stood on the ground, while Dambaru climbed up the tree to collect the drink.

The police officials mistook Monda as Maoist and shot him dead. Dambaru who saw this incident from the tree top saved his life and returned back to the village. Although the villagers have known that it’s not any Ma-oist that was shot dead but one of their own village youths when Dambaru described the entire incident in front of the village.

The police officials pompously claimed before the media about Jawans gunning down a Maoist. The body of Monda was not handed over to the family as per the murder case complaint registered against the police officials by Monda’s brother Drika Kadraka at the police headquarters Rayagada.

This recent event places emphasis on two issues. One, where civilians are being inflicted with violence and two how this community is being constantly oppressed by the state forces in order to give way for mining. One has to realise that education as part of the state’s oppressive tool in mainstreaming the youths in Adivasi community, which perpetually will displace and create a generational gap in terms of their culture, lifestyle and livelihood.

This mainstreaming educational model of Adivasi’s needs a counter-narrative for the freedom of the adivasis, their culture, their epistemological understanding and more for the future of democracy as diversity to exist in India.    

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