Skip to main content

Sarangi's films are a "passionate" voice against injustice both within and outside Odisha

Counterview Desk
Documentary film maker Deba Ranjan Sarangi’s latest release, “Those Stars in the Sky”, tells the tale of crusade against corporate giants trying to "appropriate" Odisha adivasi land, known for being rich in minerals. Also a well-known activist, Sarangi, who was arrested in 2016 because of his protest against mining practices, displacement, police impunity, and for raising issues of farmers’ suicides, was with the Prakrutika Sampad Surakhya Parisad (PSSP), which resisted mining operations by the Utkal Aluminium International Limited (UAIL) in Kashipur in the state.
Talking about his new film, Sarangi says, “When people die, they become stars is a common belief. This film promulgates such belief in view of those killed by the State forces like in police firing, fake encounter, in custody and by the private armies of the corporations. The killing of common people and the rise of corporations have been a reality since economic reforms in India."
He adds, "Under this pretext, this film is essayed between 2013 and 2018 when the State is engaged with a battle among its people for land acquisition of Vedanta, POSCO, and Aditya Birla’s alumina plant in Odisha.”
Shoma A Chatterji, writing in the Indian Cultural Forum mouthpiece, gives an account of the documentaries Sarangi has made:
Deba Ranjan’s “The Conflict – Who’s Loss, Who’s Gain”, a 90-minute film in Odiya sub-titled in English, produced by Pedestrian Pictures explores the lives of a tribal community in Odisha which finds itself on the wrong end of India's progress. Mass movements towards globalization and industrialization put their lives and livelihoods at a greater disadvantage than ever before.
The film also focusses on the communal violence in Kandha following the murder of Swamy Laxmananda on 23 August 2008, unfolding the sad tale of scarring violence inflicted on converts from lower castes by the upper castes in the area.
“The Conflict” is a courageous and pain-staking coverage and investigation set in real-time about the lives of a tribal community in Orissa. It offers a completely different perspective on the “development” model India tries to present across the media and in the public domain. It unfolds a tragic story on the misfortune of adivasis who are losing and will continue to lose land, their homes and their indigenous culture.
Tribals in Kandha and Kashipur have been suffering untold miseries thanks to a government that revels in playing the ignorant onlooker. The film also speaks about the adivasi community Kondh with whom Sarangi has been working for eight years before he made this film.
Deba Ranjan was part of the anti-bauxite mining struggle in Odisha. When the police fired and killed three tribals in Kashipur on 16 December 2000, he was just a few kilometres away: 
“Since then we have been trying to get justice and have been carrying a fight against the Aditya Birla group’s Utkal Alumina Company and here is where the Odisha police shot and killed three tribals to set an example for those who dare to protest. The Justice PK Mishra Commission was set up by the Government of Odisha to enquire into the case of police firing. But the Commission gave a clean chit to the police and justified the acquisition of land for the 'development' of tribals." 
The film opens on a field where there is an uneven row of martyrs' columns erected out of stones in memory of those who were martyred for the cause. Sini Soy, the middle-aged lady activist of Kaling Nagar talks about how she lost her son in the firing that happened on 2 January 2006. In December 2017, the judicial commission set up for the Kaling Nagar firing gave a clean chit to the police. This was similar to the Kashipur firing. “So, the film is a journey of these 17 years people’s movement of Odisha” says Deba Ranjan.
The flashbacks are shown in blue-tinted monochrome and turn to colour when we come back into the present. Almost 150-200 villagers were booked under a charge of attempt to murder (of the police) says SibramNaik who was arrested on the same characters in 2005.
Sibram says, “Our people were arrested on charges of dacoity, murder, and arson. They were sentenced to 16-17 months and then the company began its work. We lost our people, our land, and our water, but we did not get justice,” adding, “except smoke, what else did we get from the company? We just inhaled the smoke from the company free of cost,” and the camera pans to show industrial smoke coming out of the chimneys to fill the blue sky. He was sentenced for eight years by the Rayagada Additional District Judge Court.
Deb Ranjan Sarangi
One can see billows of smoke rising from the chimneys of the Utkal Alumina factory filling the sky. The camera then cuts to a dead body on an empty field covered with blue plastic over which a white sheet is drawn to cover it. With each killing and each dead body, the entire screen is superimposed with hundreds of stars spreading out on the entire frame like a metaphor illustrating the title of the film.
A human rights activist of Odisha, Deba Ranjan writes columns in newspapers on human rights issues. The film is definitely a passion for him. “Conflict” is his fifth consecutive film on the subject of oppression. “I made a documentary on Kandhamal when the anti-Christian violence happened in 2008. ‘At the Crossroads’ explored how the State is engaged with a war against its own people calling them as Maoists. ‘The Last Siddhantic Astronomers’ was my fourth film. It was on the life and work of Samanta Chandrasekhar, a mathematician born in the eighteenth century. ‘Those Stars in the Sky’ is my fifth film in a row,” says Deba Ranjan.
On March 2, 2013, three leading activists of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, namely Narahari Sahu, Tarun Mandal and Manas Jena were killed in a bomb explosion at the POSCO site. The camera takes a mid-shot of three dead bodies lying covered with a single white sheet on a field with villagers standing nearby. The camera cuts to a dead body garlanded with marigold flowers with the carriers and the crowd raising slogans of “Long Live”. We are given a glimpse of three burning pyres while an activist stokes the fires.
The entire film is visually rich but does not compromise on glamour at all. Instead, it chooses to narrate the tragic stories that underline the so-called “development” through the gross violation of human rights of the adivasis of different districts of Odisha. The camera moves to the empty huts in the village to enter the hut of Manas Jena and closing in on his widow with a small son. 
A framed photograph of Manas and his wife hangs on the wall. A weeping Manas’s wife informs us that they destroyed their betel farm too. “How will I manage to survive with my son?” she asks and adds, “It would have been better had the government killed me and my son also.”
On June 22, 2005, South Korea had signed a Memorandum Of Understanding with the Government of Odisha for a steel plant on the coastal area of Odisha. The camera moves to the centre of the Anti-POSCO Agitation Area at Jagatsinghpur District and we are taken to a man foldingbetel leaves and snipping off the stems in this betel leaves-rich area. A female voice-over fills in the pathetic details of how the government and its police did not spare the betel farms too.
“They began to destroy the fences with knives and when I protested, they called the lady police. The irony is that we were not served any notice of these unlawful demolitions. Four major political parties are responsible for bringing POSCO into Odisha. One spokesman, who supports the POSCO entry says, “When our elected representatives have brought the Company for the development of our State, where is the problem if we support the company?”
But the villagers are adamant. This is what they said, “The POSCO will be a curse for us. We are living here happily. But POSCO will bring us misery and death. They have cut down the forests along the coast despite our pleadings not to do so. If there is a cyclone tomorrow, our village will be washed away. Even a simple, low depression might cause 10-15 feet of water deposit here.”
But the POSCO spokesman insists that the life of the common man will be five times better than what it now is and also solve the unemployment problem. But how? When farmers are already tilling the soil. Rice, betel leaves and coconut and lots of medicinal plants abound in Odisha so how can illegal industrialisation disguised as development bring progress to the adivasis in the state?
Tapan Mandal, an activist of the anti-POSCO struggle was killed in a bomb attack by the goons of POSCO on 20 June 2008. A gravestone with a marble plaque bearing his name stands in his memory. Debendra, a villager, says that monarchy is in full swing through the spread of police oppression to control rebellion by the local villagers in the area. 
The government has deployed armed police to cover the entire DhinkiaPanchayat which shows how much they are in love with POSCO in Jagatsinghpur District. “We, the villagers of DhinkiaPanchayat have appealed to the nation to safeguard democracy in our area.
The Tata industries in connivance with the government and the police continue to spread the fear of arrest and are making every attempt to suppress the rebellion from the locals. On the one hand, the company is bribing the villagers steeped in poverty and on the other hand, they have engaged informers and middlemen by paying them a monthly honorarium.
Sini Soy who appeared in the opening scenes was arrested because the police labelled her a Maoist. “I am a part of the struggle, I am fighting for our rights. Here, whoever fights for rights is labelled a Maoist. She had lost her son Bhagaban Soy and when the police asked her whether she had any links with the Maoists, she said, “If after you have killed my son, you say I am a Maoist then yes, I am a Maoist.”
“The government and the Tata company have jointly killed us. My stand is – either you kill me or you send me to jail,” says Sini Soy who was jailed for 21 months with five criminal cases lodged against her. But she was acquitted of all of them.
The focus shifts to Niyamgiri Hills which is an anti-Vedanta struggle area. In 2006 Sterlite, a subsidiary of UK mining company Vedanta built a refinery in Niyamgiri Hills, Orissa, India. The intention was to mine bauxite from the Niyamgiri Hills, which is a reserved forest area. It is also home to indigenous communities who are dependent on it for their livelihood. 
Niyamgiri is the source of two rivers Bansadhara and Nagaballi. The refinery consumes 30,000 cu.mtrs of water per day severely affecting the ecological systems and the communities. The toxic waste material from the refinery pollutes air, ground and water. Since 2003 different groups have mobilized to fight Vedanta. Has the mining project, thrown hundreds of tribals living off and within Niyamgiri Hills into an uncertain future that spells their death?
Early in 2005 British mining company, Vedanta Resources began plans for a multi-billion dollar bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri Mountain in western India. The bauxite would feed Vedanta’s aluminium refinery located near the foothills. The first phase involved land acquisition and deforestation. In the bigger scheme of things this was just another industrial project in India, but closer to the ground, it threatened to destroy the culture and environment of the native Dongaria-Kondh tribe.
The region is riddled with many deaths due to malnutrition, mental pressures and fear. DrikaKadraka, an old man who was the leader of the Anti-Vedanta Movement in Niyamgiri hung himself to death from a jackfruit tree on November 15, 2015, for fear of the police. He was the key person of the movement.
Drika had farms in Chakata village in the MunijolePanchayat and like Drika, the Save Niyamgiri Movement against Vedanta has lost many of its activists. MandaKadraka, another activist was killed in an “encounter” by the paramilitary forces on 27 February 2016 and the police claimed he was a Maoist. Bari Pidikaka died due to lack of proper treatment in Rayagada Jail on 27 June 2017 after spending two years in jail. In 2006, Vedanta had constructed its Alumina Plant in Lanjigarh in Kalahandi without its bauxite mining lease.
When Vedanta began mining bauxite from Niyamgiri, the adivasis strongly opposed the move and the matter reached the Supreme Court. The firm is called SESA Sterlite Limited. A Supreme Court Order commanded a sensitization of the mining activity 10 km away from the top of the hill so that the central worshipping place of Niyamgiri remains undisturbed.
Finally, all village councils of Niyamgiri unanimously opposed the government of Odisha’s plan of giving mining lease to Vedanta and then, the Supreme Court cancelled the mining lease Vedanta was given. But the Niyamgiiri residents are not happy. “We will continue to fight till the factory at Lanjigarh is closed. LadoSikaka, leader of the Anti-Vedanta struggle says, “As long as the factory is there, the danger of our extinction is there.
The narrative is cut into by insertions of television news claiming the Make in India ideology that backs the mining projects of the different companies in Odisha. There are clips of a conference in progress at the Aditya Birla Utkala Alumina Company in Kashipur area held in 2015 that stands out as a biting satire on “development” according to the government and the multimillion MNC projects that involve the draining of the livelihoods and the very lives of the adivasis in different parts of Odisha. The conference is shown in Bhuvaneshwar with the state CM present alongside Kumaramangalam Birla, CEO of the project.
Then we get to see and hear of a chain of deaths resulting from severe malnutrition. 19 children of Nagada village in Odisha’s Jajpur district died of Bronchopneumonia and Malaria in July 2016 as a direct result of severe malnutrition. One news headline dated August 20, 2016 stated that the Government of Odisha “admits the death of 22 tribal children due to malnutrition” according to Child Development Minister Usha Devi.
Every year, children die of diarrhoea and severe vomiting and the villagers have neither money nor food to take them to hospital. This is more common in Nagada Hills in the Jajpur District of Odisha. But the adivasis and the local villagers are unwilling to let go. And the fight goes on though the sky fills up with stars and stars and stars.

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They

Haven't done a good deed, inner soul is cursing me as sinner: Aurangzeb's last 'will'

Counterview Desk The Tomb of Aurangzeb, the last of the strong Mughal emperors, located in Khuldabad, Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, has this epitaph inscribed on it: "Az tila o nuqreh gar saazand gumbad aghniyaa! Bar mazaar e maa ghareebaan gumbad e gardun bas ast" (the rich may well construct domes of gold and silver on their graves. For the poor folks like me, the sky is enough to shelter my grave).