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State 'attacking activists' to break tribal struggle for land in bauxite-rich Odisha hills

Counterview Desk 

The human rights network* Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), “strongly condemning” of slapping of the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on activists of the Odisha civil rights group Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, has said that this is being done in order to suppress “people’s movement against corporate loot.”
This, it said, is particularly being done to target the state's Dongria Kondh tribe, resisting corporatized destruction of the Niyamgiri mountains through various mining projects. Finding that the tribal resistance has continued to intensify, the state has intensified its repressive measures to dissuade them from engaging in any democratic struggle by abducting activists, charging them with anti-terror laws, changing titleship provisions to evict the locals from their lands”, it added.

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On 6th August 2023, the Odisha police lodged an FIR against nine people associated with the Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti (NSS) under charges of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and the Indian Penal Code. The charges came a day after two of NSS’ activists, Krushna Sikaka and Bari Sikaka, were forcibly abducted by the police in plainclothes from Lanjigarh haat in the Kalahandi district where they were meeting villagers to discuss upcoming celebrations of the World Adivasi Day.
When other NSS activists contacted police regarding this abduction, the police continued to deny it. In response, the NSS called for a protest in front of Kalyansinghpur police station, seeking the whereabouts of the abducted activists. When this protest was dispersing, the police even tried to abduct Drenju Krisika, another activist of the NSS, right from among the crowd and it was only the collective effort and strength of the villagers which prevented this abduction.
It is after this attempt that the police filed the FIR against the nine activists, which included names like the NSS’ Lada Sikaka, Drenju Krisika, Lingaraj Azad, the Khandualmali Surakhya Samiti’s British Kumar and poet Lenin Kumar.
These abductions and the use of so-called anti-terror laws against Adivasi activists few days prior to World Adivasi Day on the 9th of August is part of a larger attempt at state suppression of the larger democratic struggle that the people in Odisha, particularly the Dongria Kondh tribe, have been fighting in a bid to resist the corporatized destruction of the Niyamgiri mountains through various mining projects. In 2003, the Indian state signed a memorandum of understanding with Vedanta Limited for establishing a mining project for extracting the bauxite in Niyamgiri mountains.
The project would displace the residents of the mountains and surrounding areas from their traditional lands and cause vast environmental destruction which would have ramifications not only for the immediate residents of the area but for the people of Odisha at large, with Niyamgiri’s unique bauxite composition playing a major role in filtering river water which flows down across the state.
The vigorous struggle of the people of Niyamgiri against the state-backed corporations, against the corporate loot of people’s land and resources, led to a Supreme Court judgement which refused to permit Vedanta Limited from continuing their mining operations in Niyamgiri.
The judgement also highlighted how the state had flouted various legal provisions in granting Vedanta Limited the rights, even though the judgement itself did not ensure the end of mining operations in Niyamgiri, with the judges going so far as to inviting Vedanta’s subsidiary, Sterlite, to apply for mining in Niyamgiri instead.
As the residents of the Niyamgiri area continued their struggle to protect their rights to their own land in the subsequent decade, the state has intensified its repressive measures to dissuade them from engaging in any democratic struggle by abducting activists, charging them with anti-terror laws, changing titleship provisions to evict the locals from their lands and various other forms of police harassment and violence. It is important to point out that it is not only Niyamgiri alone but the entire region of Eastern Ghats where various such mining projects are threatening people’s lives.
Joint nexus of companies and state in pursuance of corporate loot of land and resources continue to attack and harass activists 
In fact, this incident is part of a larger intensification of state repression in Niyamgiri and surrounding areas. On August 6th, in Kashipur, Rayagada, protests and demonstrations took place against the operations bauxite hills of Sijimali and Kutrumali, projects of Vedanta and Adani Groups respectively. Vedanta hired another company, Maitri, to resolve the issue and hold gram sabha meetings to convince local residents in favour of the projects but stiff resistance from the people ensured that the company’s plans didn’t come to fruition.
This subsequently led to the activists organizing these demonstrations being picked up by the police late at night in a similar fashion as the above mentioned incident. These activists were recently produced in court and have shown signs of physical violence and torture. On 16th August, seven more people were picked up by the police from Sijimali area and will be presented in court soon, a clear attempt to suppress the democratic resistance of the people.
In its pursuance of an imperialist model of development, the state continues to attack activists to break the land struggle in these bauxite-rich hills. In the Niyamgiri incident, the two abducted activists were found after a writ of habeas corpus was filed in the High Court which forced the police to produce the activists, Krushna Sikaka and Bari Sikaka. While Bari Sikaka was released, Krushna Sikaka has been sent to jail due to a 2018 rape charge filed against him.
Since 2018, Krushna Sikaka has been participating in public meetings and demonstrations, but the police made no move on him for five years and this raises doubts on whether this charge is only to ensure Krushna Sikaka’s incarceration. Furthermore, one other accused in this case, Upendra Bhoi of the NSS, was initially reported missing by his family on 10th August but has now finally been located in Raygada jail on August 15.
The joint nexus of companies and the state in pursuance of the corporate loot of land and resources continue to attack and harass activists in this method which is not only undemocratic but exposes the anti-people imperialist model of development as such.
The Campaign Against State Repression demands quashing of bogus UAPA and other charges slapped against activists of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti and calls upon all democratic progressive forces to stand with movement against corporate loot.
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*AIRSO, AISA, AISF, APCR,BASF, BSM, Bhim Army, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, bsCEM, CEM, CRPP, CTF, Disha, DISSC, DSU, DTF, Fraternity ,IAPL, Karnataka Janashakti, LAA,Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, Mazdoor Patrika, , Morcha Patrika, NAPM, NBS, Nowruz, NTUI, People’s Watch, Rihai Manch, Samajwadi Janparishad, Smajwadi lok manch, Bahujan Samjavadi Mnach, SFI, United Against Hate, WSS, Y4S

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