A Conference on Rural Labourers in Neo-liberal India, Bhubaneswar (18-19 December 2010)

A second call for papers for

A Conference on
Rural Labourers in Neo-liberal India

18-19 December 2010

XIMB (Xavier Institute of Management – Bhubaneswar), Orissa, India

Supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada
and XIMB, Bhubaneswar, Orissa

Neoliberalism has affected India’s rural areas and the agrarian sector particularly harshly. Not only are peasants being dispossessed of their rights to land, water and forests, and of their meager entitlements from the state. But also rural labourers are being subjected to ruthless levels of exploitation on the farms and in agro-industrial units where they produce commodities for the rich domestic elite and for export to rich (and imperialist) countries. While the story of dispossession of peasants has (rightly) attracted much attention in recent times, what has often been neglected is the issue of the production of commodities, the associated process of exploitation, and therefore, the life of the labourers.

Without land or other forms of property and with dwindling welfare benefits from the neoliberal state, rural labourers find themselves in a precarious situation and form a major part of the ‘Republic of Hunger ’. They work as long as they live, and they live as long as they work. Many are footloose labourers constantly in search of work. In many places, employers even take away labourers’ freedom to sell their labour power, in order to cheapen the only commodity they possess and to discipline them. This is the case with bonded and child labourers. As well employers make use of gender and caste/tribality to lower wages of low-caste, women and tribal labourers and to pit one group of labourers against another. These social distinctions are no less used by political parties of the rich property-owning classes to divide and disarm the rural working class electorate. But at the same time, rural labourers (and poor peasants), in spite of them being geographically scattered, are engaged in an ‘uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight’ against exploitation and oppression.

The topic of rural labour in imperialized, poorer countries such as India indeed cries out for serious critical scrutiny. This must place rural labour (including semi-proletarian labour) at the center of our attention in terms of primitive accumulation which produces it and the capitalist accumulation process which exploits it, and in terms of its democratically organized struggles against capital and the neo-liberal state.

Papers are invited which speak to one or more aspects of the situation described above in the specific context of India . Specific topics of interest include:

1. ‘Primitive accumulation’ in relation to labour
2. Rural migrant labourers (working in villages and/or in urban areas)
3. Labour process in export-oriented agricultural production sites
4. Labourers in floriculture and aquaculture
5. Contract farming and rural labour
6. Rural reserve army of labour and neo-liberal accumulation
7. Technological change, rural labour and politics of production
8. Ruralization of capital in the age of ‘new’ imperialism and its effect on labour
9. Environment (e.g. climate change issues, including heat wave) and rural labour
10. Life and livelihood of the unemployed in the villages
11. Poverty/hunger of rural labour households
12. Credit relations (formal and informal) and rural labourers
13. Female labourers, neoliberal state and neoliberal capital
14. Capital and dalit/adivasi labour
15. Rural labouring bodies in pain: capital’s corporeal effect on labour
16. Reduction in state welfare provision and its impact on labourers
17. Government rural wage-employment generation programmes (e.g. NREGS)
18. Development NGOs and rural labour
19. Representation of rural labour in media and popular culture
20. Struggles of rural labourers and poor peasants against capital, landowners, and neo-liberal state
21. Rural labourers in progressive art and media

The original deadline for the submission of abstracts has passed. Though 5th December remains our deadline for receipt of the completed-papers from the authors whose abstracts have been accepted, some slots are now available with us for considering directly-submitted completed-papers from those that did not submit abstracts or whose abstracts did not get accepted; the deadline for these is 15th November.

Website: http://sites.google.com/a/ximb.ac.in/rlni/
E-mail (for inquiries): conf-rural-labour@ximb.ac.in
Tel: +91-94370-75075

Release of Report challenging claims about ‘benefits’ of POSCO Project (Oct 20, 2010)

Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group
Report By International Group Challenging Government’s Claims About Purported Benefits of POSCO Project

Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 11 AM – 1 PM (lunch will be served)
Indian Women’s Press Corps, 5 Windsor Place, New Delhi

Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO)’s proposed project in Orissa is the largest foreign direct investment project in India to date. It comprises a steel processing plant and a captive port in Jagatsinghpur district, and iron ore mining in Keonjhar and Sundergarh districts. The MoU for the project was signed in June 2005. The government of Orissa has pulled out all stops to get the project going and appears to have the support of the center, but the project has been stalled because of strong resistance from the local residents, a resistance that the government has tried to bypass and crush in myriad ways. The resistance has survived into its sixth year.

Based upon new research into livelihood, governance and environmental issues in Orissa’s Jagatsinghpur, Keonjhar, and Sundergarh districts, a US-based group of academics and professionals are poised to publish a startling new report that:

– challenges the purported benefits such as tax revenues and employment growth of the POSCO project,
– points to gross violations of the law by the State and Central governments, and
– raises troubling questions about the state of Democracy.

The report will be released at the press conference on Wednesday.


Girish Agrawal, California-based Lawyer and Civil Engineer, and one of the authors of the report
Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Professor Manoranjan Mohanty, Delhi Solidarity Group
Professor Amit Bhaduri

The Mining Zone People’s Solidarity Group is an international research group focused on India, with core interests in new economic policy. We have been following the development of several large projects in India. Between February and September 2010, MZPSG has investigated claims made by the Central and Orissa state governments, POSCO, and allegedly neutral research bodies such as NCAER about the benefits of the proposed POSCO integrated steel project and captive port in Orissa.

POSCO: Majority Committee Report Confirms Project Illegal

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

The Campaign welcomes the majority report of the POSCO enquiry committee released today. Three of the four members confirmed that the project is illegal and was granted clearances in violation of the law. Some key findings include:

* The forest clearance was illegal and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had no right to divert the land without the consent of the gram sabhas of the area.

* The people of the area are indeed eligible under the Forest Rights Act.

* The project may have a dangerous environmental impact on large numbers of people through its impact on water availability, air pollution, flooding, etc. Even when these issues were raised by government authorities such as the regional MoEF office and the State Pollution Control Board, both the Orissa authorities and the MoEF ignored them.

* The project was given environmental clearance in violation of the law and of procedure. The public hearing was a farce.

* POSCO suppressed facts in order to get around the law.

This confirms the facts brought up earlier by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, the CPI and numerous people’s movements over the past five years. Once again, the process of “development projects” in this country has been exposed as a criminal exercise in resource grabbing.

As expected, Meena Gupta, the former secretary of Environment who granted the environment clearance for this project, has dissented and said the clearance should stand. She has also tried to say that forest rights should be recognised “with a time limit” and that then the project can go ahead. This position flies in the face of law and justice. We have already had one experience of Ms. Gupta when she was the Secretary of Tribal Affairs and contributed greatly to the last minute dilution and sabotage of the Forest Rights Act just prior to its passage. Given her clear conflict of interest and the fact that three others of widely different perspectives disagreed with her, there is no reason to give her position much weight.

The Executive Summary of the Meena Gupta Committee Report
The Complete Report

Birendra Nayak on People’s Movements in Orissa

Birendra Nayak, Prof. of Mathematics, Utkal University, has been studying the movements in Orissa for the past 30years. In this interview, he talks to Correspondence and Radical Notes about the limitations of the very many struggles in the region and future possibilities.

Part -1

Part – 2

Part – 3

The Significance of the Vedanta Decision

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

The rejection of Vedanta’s application for permission to mine in Niyamgiri, Orissa, is being hailed as a step forward and a change in the country’s policy discourse. It is indeed all that; but it is crucial to understand why.

The project’s main problem was that it violated the Forest Rights Act’s provisions requiring “recognition of habitat and community forest rights” and the consent of the gram sabha prior to taking forest land. This sounds like technical legalisms. But the basic point is that, under the law, the Dongria Kondhs have the power to protect and manage their forests and lands. Simple, but unprecedented; it has never happened before.

Contrary to much of the media coverage, this is not a reflection of the Environment Ministry or the forest bureaucracy suddenly becoming “pro-tribal”. Even as Vedanta stands rejected, many other equally illegal projects are going ahead; most recently, the Polavaram dam, which will affect literally hundreds of times more people, was given final forest clearance in total violation of the Forest Rights Act. Polavaram will also affect members of the so-called “Primitive Tribal Groups”, who were the centrepiece of the Environment Minister’s statement on Vedanta. Meanwhile, more than 15,000 hectares of forest land have been illegally given in principle or final diversion clearance in MP and Chhattisgarh alone since 2006. Meanwhile, the Ministry is promoting programmes that themselves do not respect democratic control and involve large-scale land grabbing.

So, then, why did it happen? Electoral compulsions of the Congress party, say some. Targeting of opposition-ruled States, howls the BJD. The Sonia touch, says the business media. All of which are truisms, but they miss the real point. Every ingredient of the Vedanta decision – the public sympathy; the Forest Rights Act itself; the govenment’s sudden sensitivity to adivasi issues; and, most importantly, the resistance of the Dongaria Kondh people – was a reflection of people’s struggles, in the area and elsewhere. Vedanta was not rejected because Rahul Gandhi or Jairam Ramesh decided on a strategy in their head. It was rejected because, steeped in betrayal, illegality and mercenary brutality, the state machinery and the ruling party was forced by its own need for people’s support to, just once, comply with the mandate of democracy and justice.

And this is the real victory of this decision. On its own letterhead, in its own words, a Central government agency has come out and said: we should not take resources without the consent of the people. We should not grab lands and minerals without respecting people’s collective mandates. Of course they are continuing to do so, as rapaciously as before. But they have exposed themselves, and shown through their own words that they no longer have even the fig leaf of law to hide their robbery. And they have in the process opened a new space; for now their future robberies will be counterposed, in law as in reality, against the decisions of people’s assemblies, a small step towards a real democratic collectivity and real social control over resources. Thus does the battle for democracy grow.

When the Forest Rights Act was passed, we described it as “a victory and a betrayal.” So too is the Vedanta decision – a victory for the heroic struggle of the Dongaria Kondhs and for the spirit of democracy; and a betrayal, because the government will not comply with its own words. The struggle goes on.

India vs Indians: Peoples’ History of Orissa’s Dispossessed

Saswat Pattanayak

Tribal uprisings in Orissa were the first of organized assaults on the British, against the Hindu Kings, as well as on the Brahmin supremacists. The indigenous were united against oppression way before the Sepoy Mutiny took shape. They had no loyalty towards the kings and unlike the Paikas and Sepoys, they had no interest in releasing the royal families from British domains. In fact, the tribals shone in their capacity to challenge the Rajas as much as they expressed disdain towards British agents.

Therefore, when the native Kings of Khurda, Kanika and Kujang made a confederation to oppose the British invasion, the tribal agitators knew the kings had no motives other than to safeguard their royal privileges. Although Khurda Movement is usually declared as the first mass movement against the British following hanging of Jayakrishna Rajguru who has been eulogized profusely, its anti-imperialistic nature is highly suspect. Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar and his chief associate Krushna Chandra Bhramarbar Ray have been equally immortalized in history for their involvement in the anti-British movement. But the true champions of the organized revolt upon which the royal clan depended for survival were the forgotten tribal masses of rebels.

Khurda Movement did not start with Bakshi Jagabandhu, it started with 400 Kandhs in Banpur who came from the neighboring territory of Ghumsar. For seven years the movement lasted with the help of fellow tribals – the Kandhs, Savaras and Panas of Banpur, Nayagarh, Boudh and Daspalla. It was not the loyalists of the royal families, but their dissenting and oppressed subjects who took to arms and fought the British which indirectly benefited the needs of the local kings of the time. But the tribals never gave in to the manipulative designs of the kings either, thus constituting an independent stream in Orissa’s freedom movement, inviting wrath from the mainstream historians.

A. Das in “Life of Surendra Sai” (1963) decries the tribal revolts in Sambalpur. While glorifying Surendra Sai as a freedom fighter, the actual heroes of the revolt – the indigenous masses – have been portrayed as nothing less than crazy looters. Tribal uprisings have been compared with “the tyranny and lootings carried on by the Burgees of the Maratha days.” Surendra Sai, despite being a rebel claimant to the guddee of Sambalpur, was solely interested in the throne. To eulogize him as the charismatic anti-British hero while attacking the Gonds upon whose abilities he rode high, would be to use history as a paternalistic tool. And yet, for years into historical research, this is exactly what has been done. Surendra Sai has become a hero, while the tribal uprisings have been denounced as daylight robberies.

Ramnarayan Mishra in his paper, sponsored by Indian Council of Historical Research (1980), writes about Sambalpur following tribal uprising, “Life and properties were quite unsafe, the ryots could not raise their crops in their lands and as soon as they were ripe, they were looted and removed from the fields by these bands of robbers. There were day-light robberies and dacoity; the economic and social life of the people were completely paralyzed…Even now the days are remembered with alarm as the memories have come down from generations to generations. The atrocities of minor nature were the looting of cakes, which were being prepared by the housewife a certain evening, and the looting of all the belongings of the bride when she was on a procession to her father-in-law’s house for marriage….”

It is astounding to notice how the historians have continually felt sympathies with the landlords and the propertied class of Orissa. Mishra recalled the days with alarm when the tribal rose in revolt against the Brahmins in Sambalpur. Little did he pause to imagine the days from the lens of those that were forced to revolt. Much of the histories about Orissa still continue to be produced from the ruling class elitist visions of the past, part of the reason why the true history of peoples’ struggles is yet to be documented in totality.

Andrew Fraser in “Among Indian Rajah and Ryot” (1912) describes the Kalahandi revolution as though it were the responsibility of the Kandhs to forgive the Koltas. “The wretched prisoners fell at the feet of the leading Khonds and begged them to spare their lives; but they were told that none of the men among them would be spared,” he writes.

L.S.S. O’Malley in “Modern India and the East: A Study of the Interaction of their Civilization” laments the passage of the British interventions. Ramnarayan Mishra agrees with the old British thesis and writes, “The old ceremonies called the Mariah sacrifice which had been put down with great difficulty by the British officers some years before was revived. The sacrifice involved killing captives and hacking off pieces of their flesh which they buried in the fields as an offering to the earth goddess which would ensure their fertility.”

What O’Malley and subsequently, Mishra have omitted out of their deconstructions is that Mariah sacrifice was not merely about human captives. The tribal resistance was not nonviolent in nature, principally because it was always part of a defensive reaction, as opposed to the oppressors’ tactics which were premeditated murders. It is presumptuous to assume that the historically oppressed and dispossessed tribal population of Orissa show solidarity with the ruling class hooligans of Rajput and British origin who were profiting from the lands of the indigenous by imposing bonded labor terms upon them.

Therefore, even as ruling class histories suggest Orissa lost her independence after death of the last Hindu King Mukunda Harichandan, the tribals never really thought so. Contrary to mainstream belief that Muslim rule in Orissa was oppressive, there was no recorded revolt by the tribals against the Muslim rule.

Prasanna Kumar Mishra in “Political Unrest in Orissa in the 19th Century” (1983) writes, “The people of Orissa lost their independence from the sixteenth century, but could not fully express their dissatisfaction against the aliens throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Only when a foreign trading company began to rule through exploitation and oppressed them socio psychologically, the people woke up from their slumber and began to raise their voice against this foreign rule.”

What is crucial here is the fact that the first organized mass rebellions were organized by the tribal people of Orissa. They were organized against the British as well as against the Hindu (of Rajput origin) rulers of Orissa. Both the anti-British and anti-royal movements were part of the larger national struggle that were to arrive following the footsteps of the Orissan tribal revolutions.

In this context, it is important to observe the Mariah sacrifices. Dismissing them as mere tribal superstitions bordering on criminality is also a dismissal of their roles in the national freedom movements orchestrated by the oppressed subjects against the ruling classes. The human “sacrifices” had elements of not just violence as a last resort, but also of targeted violence with a distinct class character that eliminated landlords, dewans, British agents and associates of royal families. The British were afraid of the tribal movements precisely because of the violent nature of their resistance. It was an economic war justly organized by the majority oppressed against their minority oppressors. Not some religious abstractions, as later historians tend to stress.

Ramnarayan Mishra dismisses the tribal movement as nothing other than a selfish pursuit to guard their traditional interests, that had no bearing upon the freedom movement against the British. He writes, “The resistance movement (against the British) in the States was a middle class movement sponsored by the people of coastal areas and it had nothing to do with tribal solidarity.”

P. Mukherjee in “History of Orissa” (1954) writes that the reason behind tribal uprisings in Orissa was their apprehensions that alien rule intended to “assess their lands, punish their leaders for the religious rites performed by them.”

H. K. Mahtab in “History of the Freedom Movement in Orissa (1957) writes, “The Khond risings in Baudh, Ghumsar and Khandmal during the years 1846-1848 were just temporary show of disaffection and resentment of the Khonds at the governmental interference in their religious rites.”

Not only have the tribal contributions been grossly overlooked, and their participations have been looked down upon as anarchical, even many false heroes have been recreated in the process to overshadow the real ones. Fakir Mohan Senapati is one such historical character who has been eulogized at the expense of Dharanidhar Naik. Collective celebration of Fakir Mohan as a literary champion has also necessitated the destruction of his challenger, the other literary genius in Dharanidhar. Dharanidhar was duped not only because Fakir Mohan was a state agent interested to earn loyalty points from his beloved king who was otherwise an oppressive ruler, but also because Naik belonged to a lower caste not worthy of literary celebration. Likewise, British agent Superintendent Ravenshaw who organized military tactics to capture Dharanidhar remains immortalized to this day, whereas his roles in suppressing the tribal uprisings have been held with esteem.

It is again astounding as to how an entire state can celebrate the act of immoral trickery on part of the oppressive ruling class to capture a tribal hero. And yet, every primary school student in Orissa is taught precisely this. Capture of Dharanidhar is almost a climax in Oriya nationalism, whereas nothing could be farther from the truth. And when Dharanidhar emerged more popular after his imprisonment in the hands of Fakir Mohan, the upper caste upholders of Brahminical education started portraying the tribal revolutionary into a universal saint. Pandit Nilakantha Das and Pandit Gopabandhu Das subsequently claimed to have learnt from Dharanidhar, the saint, about life’s essences. Apparently, Dharanidhar gave them an apt philosophical lesson, “First try to be a true human being, and then only free the country.”

Ironically, the last of the tribal revolutionaries in the pre-1947 era, Laxmana Naik is celebrated today as the foremost tribal leader. It is so understood because Laxmana Naik led the movement which for the first time collaborated with the mainstream Congress strategies. Naik was beyond doubt one of the bravest and most courageous of leaders to have emerged anywhere. But he was only a successor to a long history of indigenous revolts in Orissa that witnessed countless distinguished tribal leaders like Dora Bisoi, Chakra Bisoi, Sadhu Jani, Nabaghana Kahnar, Bira Kahnar, Ratna Naik, Dharanidhar Naik, Nirmal Munda among others.

And more importantly, these leaders found their subsistence not through royal scriptures or British mentions of honor, or national awards by the independent republic, but through innumerable masses of people who supported them throughout their long and historic struggles against land-grabbers – both foreign and domestic. Their historic struggles ever so radical, fundamentally unforgiving towards their oppressors.

And no matter how much the lousy, corrupt, and incompetent administrations of this day work overtime to ignore the vision of the indigenous for a socially just world of equality and prosperity, of ecological respect and communitarian solidarity, the courageous blood of the tribal ancestors still boils in the veins of their successors. And through the movements today once again against the oppressive ruling elites stationed in Bhubaneswar, New Delhi, Washington DC, London, Kolkata and Seoul – the blood shows.

The blood narrates Orissa’s history as the history of tribal uprisings against socio-economic injustice. And that, her future, too, shall be shaped by the mandates of the dispossessed, not by the whims of the oligarchs.

India vs Indians: Revolution never ends in Orissa

Saswat Pattanayak

Freedom will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear….
I do not need freedom when I’m dead
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread

– Langston Hughes

Using brute police force to silence indigenous peoples’ mass uprising in Orissa is not just an act of sheer cowardice and criminality; it is a decision founded upon gross ignorance of the unique stream of struggles which characterize the class war in the land that has witnessed more organized revolutions than enforced reforms.

Orissan tribal uprising has a definitive historical pattern. It is not exclusive to the current state of unrest. The administrations – both Union and the State – deliberately fail to acknowledge the peoples’ organized movements as thus. It is not a Maoist prerogative to envision the path of violent resistance among the oppressed in Orissa. Quite the contrary, actually – it is the continuation of radical dissent among the peoples of Orissa that has generated a certain Maoist character within the struggle.

The indigenous in Orissa have never retired from their relentless rebellions against the land-grabbers. They have violently challenged the zamindars, formed alliances against the kings, conspired to overthrow the British, and have demonstrated ample courage in battling caste supremacism. Tribal resistance movements in Orissa have consistently targeted foreign interventions via expropriation of their lands that threaten to result in economic distress.

Prof J. H. Hutton (quoted in G.S. Ghurye’s “The Scheduled Tribes”, 1961) observes, “All these rebellions were defensive movements: they were the last resort of tribesmen driven to despair by the encroachments of outsiders on their land or economic resources. As such they could have all been avoided had the authorities recognized the aboriginals’ grievances and taken steps to remedy them out… but before the pressure on the tribesmen had made an outbreak unavoidable. Indeed anyone with first hand experience of conditions in the backward areas must be surprised, not by the occurrence of risings, but by the infrequency of violent reactions on the part of the aboriginals to the loss of their ancestral lands and to their economic enslavement.”

Ghumsar Risings

One of the first organized revolts by the indigenous, known as Ghumsar risings, during early 19th century, illustrates how the people have cried for freedom from invaders, both local and global. Ghumsar, a small estate in Ganjam district was ruled by the Bhanja dynasty. Owing to default in revenue payment to the Empire, the British intervened in the affairs of Ghumsar and its ruler Srikar Bhanja was deposed in 1800 CE. When the British took control of Ghumsar after overthrowing Srikar’s son Dhananjaya, it was Dora Bisoi, a leader of the Kandhs (who was awarded the title of Birabar Patra) who won the support of the common people as well as Kandh chiefs to decide on the fate of Ghumsar. Since a Kandh leader could not be allowed to rule, Bisoi brought a 12-yr old girl and substituted Dhananjaya’s son of that age with her and ruled the estate on her behalf. Dora Bisoi was the leader of the masses and this was the reason why the Collector of Ganjam failed to arrest him for over three years.

Administrative officers did their best to harass Bisoi and finally, he escaped to Torabadi at Soroda. The Kandhs then garnered support of the Savaras in this movement against the British and the royals. In the meantime, Srikar Bhanja was again placed on the throne, but he failed to manage the affairs properly upon which his son Dhananjaya was reinstalled on the condition that he paid the dues to the British. British force under Sir Henry Taylor finally occupied Ghumsar in 1834.

Dora Bisoi, the leader of the anti-Bhanja rebellion now led a revolt against the British which claimed lives of several British soldiers and burnt down British camps. British Government appointed a special officer George Russell to capture Dora. Rebel leaders including Kollada, Galeri, and Durgaprasad lent support to Dora in their collective fight against the British, while they found shelter in the mountains of Daspalla and Nayagarh.

Special Commissioner Russell unleashed one of the greatest assaults upon a resisting people that changed the character of India’s freedom movement. The British offered an unprecedented Rs 5,000 as a reward to anyone who could capture Dora. Many rebel leaders were captured and hanged, but Dora escaped first to Patna before escaping to Angul. It was there that the Raja of Angul handed him over to the British and received the reward. Dora Bisoi died tortured in a state prison of Madras. But his ability to lead and create many rebel leaders in Orissa continued to inspire. Great Oriya patriot and nephew of Dora Bisoi, Chakradhar Bisoi took his place and Ganjam’s destinies were reshaped after what the people demanded, not what was imposed from above.

In Banpur, the Kandhs alongwith another low caste people Panas organized their struggle under the leaderships of Krutibas Patasahani, Sadhu Jani and Dunai Jani. Kandhs of Baudh also joined the movement and were united by leaders such as Nabaghana Kahnar, Bira Kahnar, and Madhab Kanhar. The Kandhs remained united in struggle for social justice and economic improvements against both the British and their Rajas. All efforts by the British to divide and rule over the tribals drastically failed.

Mariah Revolt

Elsewhere in India, people used to heed to their Kings as mediators between them and the British. Not so in Orissa. When the British could not accept their defeat in the hands of the Bisois and people of Ganjam, they used the Kandh practice of Mariah sacrifice as a moral justification to attack the indigenous. Chakra Bisoi flat refused to negotiate and the British brought the King of Baudh to intervene. Chakra Bisoi and his comrades not only defied the Baudh King, they burnt down the camp of the British agent and forced the Raja to be sent back with them.

Chakradhar successfully organized the Kandhs in the territories of Angul, Ghumsar, Boudh, Patna, Kalahandi and Paralakhemundi. He also led the Savaras in Paralakhemundi, the peasants in Nayagarh, as well as the Kandhs of Ranpur and Daspalla.

In 1846, right after rainy season, British officer Macpherson marched into Kandhamal to recover his prestige. His troops managed to burn down some houses of the Kandhs. But the Kandhs organized to strike back and plundered in every direction, making the revolt more widespread than before. Orissa’s tribal revolt against the royal thrones as well as British officers became such a matter of concern that the Madras unit of British Government sent a whole army under the command of General Dyee to control the situation. Government of Bengal cooperated with General Dyee to put an end to indigenous revolts.

Tribal leader Nabaghan Kahnar of Baudh and Chakra Bisoi harassed the British no end. Rani of Sonepur, Raja of Angul and Raja of Baudh tried their best to apprehend them and a reward of Rs 3,000 was declared this time. Failing in all their efforts to suppress tribal resistance, Raja of Baudh had to cede Kandhamal to the British.

Governments – both British and the feudal – tried all measures, including arresting Rendon Majhi, head of Borikiya Kandhs of Kalahandi on charges of performing human sacrifices. Most warrior class among the Kandhs, the Kutiya Kandhs joined the larger tribal movements and demanded the release of Majhi. Zamindar of Madanpur was removed when he failed to act against the rising violent rebellions. In the meantime, Chakra Bisoi escaped to Ganjam and joined with the Saoras to rise in rebellion under leadership of Radhakrushna Dandasena. The British ruthlessly attacked and burnt down scores of villages and hanged Dandasena.

Many rebel leaders were hanged and eliminated by the British forces. But this never stopped the march of the revolts. When the Baudha Raja in collaboration with the British oppressed the downtrodden in his state, a new leader Narayan Maliah led the Kandhs to lead yet another violent rebellion.

Bhuinya Risings

In 1868, the Bhuinya revolts determined the shape of things to come in Keonjhar. The newly appointed King Dhanurjaya was not recognized by the Bhuinyas. Tired of being brutalized by the royal family, tribal leader Ratna Naik led a popular agitation against the king. The Dewan of Keonjhar Nanda Dhal took help of officer Ravenshaw, the Superintendent of the Tributary Mahals. But the Bhuinyas did not remain silent for long. They rose in revolt, captured Nanda Dhal and Raja’s other associates, and plundered Keonjhargada, the kingdom.

The Bhuinyas found support from the Juangs and the Kols. The Deputy Commissioner of Singhbhum marched to Keonjhar and demanded that the indigenous groups return the captives. The Bhuinyas refused to cooperate and the Deputy Hayes requisitioned for another contingent of army from Singhbhum. Equipped with bows, arrows and swords, the Bhuinyas bravely confronted the British armies but had to finally surrender. Ratna Naik was captured by the Paiks of Pallahara on August 15, 1868 and brought to Cuttack. Paiks who were agents of the British helped arrest several hundreds of tribal revolutionaries. In a show trial, seven were sentenced to death, 27 were transported for life and 149 revolutionaries were imprisoned. Ratna Naik and three of his comrades were hanged in Cuttack.

Dharani Meli

Minor in age, but a boy of immense moral courage, Dharanidhar Naik of Bhuinya tribe was well educated for his age. The Raja of Keonjhar even appreciated his talents. But when he attempted to educate the fellow Bhuinyas, it did not sit well with the king. Dharanidhar, his brother and friends did not bury the lessons of their education. They organized the bonded labor class of Keonjhar against the King and demanded that they be paid for their work.

This infuriated the King of Keonjhar who had fancied that his tribal subjects were forever deemed to remain as slaves. Dharanidhar, even at such young age, did not submit to various temptations as offered by the King, and went ahead to foster a spirit of resistance among the oppressed indigenous peoples. Many of them then joined Dharanidhar in submitting a petition to the Superintendent of Tributary Mahals. The Superintendent obviously did not act upon the petition and the Raja arrested the petitioners.

Dharanidhar then went on to organize the people to revolt against the Raja. This shocked the ruling class. Dharanidhar led the people inside the palace and looted the palace and distributed the ill-gotten wealth among the people. The King of Keonjhar fled to Anandapur and sent his Assistant Dewan Fakirmohan Senapati to control the situation. Superintendent Ravenshaw also helped the King by sending a detachment of British force to Keonjhar.

Fakirmohan resorted to ugly tricks against the tribal leader. He assured Dharanidhar that the British police was there to help the tribal people. Dharanidhar on good faith appeared before the police officer, but little did he know that Fakirmohan was acting on behalf of the King and the British to punish the poor people who demanded their rights to dignity of life. Dharanidhar and his comrades were arrested and sent to years of rigorous imprisonment by the royal-feudal-bureaucratic-British nexus.

Sambalpur Revolution

Not only were the Adivasis exploited economically, they were also culturally forced to submit to higher-caste whims. The tribal deities were Hinduised and the indigenous were compelled to show allegiance to the protectors of their new Gods. In the guise of developing personal relationships between the rulers and the ruled, the indigenous peoples were routinely recruited to fight on behalf of the ruling class.

Sambalpur was a classic instance of cultural exploitation during the Sepoy Mutiny. Surendra Sai, a claimant to the guddee of Sambalpur used the Gond and Binjhal tribal chiefs to wage a war against the British Government because the British opposed Sai’s demands. The Gonds of course cooperated in resisting the British, but they also figured out that they were being manipulated by the ambitious ruling class hierarchies.

Sambalpur and adjoining areas were inhabited by the Gonds and the Binjhal tribes who enjoyed autonomy in governance, economic and political. When the king of Sambalpur died without a son, the British Government let his widow Rani Mohan Kumari to succeed him. The patriarchal upper-caste mindset prevalent in the kingdom could not allow a woman to govern the state. The biggest opponent happened to be Surendra Sai, a royal descendant from the Chauhan Raja of Sambalpur, who himself aspired to the throne.

Under the prevailing tensions, the British removed the Rani and replaced her with Narayan Singh who was also from the royal family. The Gonds agitated against Narayan Singh who was appeasing the higher castes by creating 37 Maufi tenures. The Gonds made remarkable progress in Sambalpur. They shook the foundation of royal families which were ambitious in their designs and atrocious in their actions against the dispossessed indigenous.

The Gonds brought Sambalpur to a standstill and organized mass movements to teach a lesson to the Brahmins and the royal family collaborators. In a historic episode now described as “Gond Maru”, the Gonds attacked higher caste people, burnt down their ill-gotten wealth and killed the caste supremacists who were encouraged by the royal families. King of Sambalpur entrusted a Brahmin talukdar of 96 villages with the task of putting down the tribal agitation. The Adivasis rose in revolt against the prescript and killed several Brahmin landlords. The British Government directly intervened to suppress the uprising, but considerably failed to.

Kalahandi Uprising

Kalahandi revolt was a direct result of economic exploitation of the Kandhs by the Koltas, a class of prosperous agriculturists from Western Orissa. Kandhs had been the pioneering agronomists in Kalahandi for generations, and yet, the Koltas, with financial and military backing of the kings expanded their reach. The Rajas supported the Koltas under the pretext of receiving higher rents, and the Koltas stopped at nothing to exploit the Kandhs, resulting in an agrarian revolt by the latter.

In May 1878, the Kandhs organized a meeting in Balwaspur where they decided to defend themselves against the Koltas. The British Superintendent of the State intervened to stop the Kandhs agitation. The Kandhs resolved to attack whoever came on their way. Several Koltas were killed and many more taken captives by the Kandhs in a mass agitation movement.

The British, acting on behalf of the wealthy, sent additional forces from Raipur, Ganjam and Sambalpur to suppress the Kandhs agitation. Ten Kandh leaders were hanged. Although “peace” was restored, the Koltas were afraid of committing any more atrocities upon the Kandhs in the region.

Gangpur Revolt

Attacks on the tribal sovereignty in Orissa continued from both the British regime and the rulers of the princely states. In 1897, several tribal village chiefs were forcibly replaced by the royal ruling class. In Gangpur, the Raja installed the aristocratic oligarchy of Sambalpur in charge of the tribal population.

The indigenous peoples led by Madri Kalo organized a mass agitation movement against Agharia and the rich elites. The Raja sought help from the British to suppress the tribal agitation, but open revolt by the oppressed remained difficult to counter. Many poor people were captured on charges of committing dacoities, but the class/caste war in Gangpur continued without a pause. In 1938, Gangpur witnessed a serious agrarian discontent when Mundas were forced to pay higher rents. The Munda uprising led by Nirmal Munda demanding exemption from payment of land revenues to the colonialists resulted in British intervention causing the Simko firing which killed 41 tribal rebels.

Revolution Never Ends

Orissa’s indigenous never ceased their strikes against the oppressors. Countless revolts – varying in scale – resulted from the organized dissent. This is the nature of struggle that the poorest section of Orissa have engaged in since centuries. It is unlikely that they shall abandon their freedom movement now, simply because the seat of power has been transferred from the white-skinned elites to the brown-skinned ones.

And just as the indigenous organizers were correct in their assessment of human values in the past, it is more likely that keeping in view the status quo of power dynamics in independent India, their dissent towards the power this time around, too, is indicative of appropriate impatience towards prevailing rampant social injustice.

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it…”: Naveen Patnaik’s motto

The morning of 12 May 2010, the Chief Minister of Orissa Naveen Patnaik decided to tell a big fat brutal lie with the hope that it comes true merely by saying it. Was he echoing somebody from World History?

Courtesy: Samadrusti

Kalinga Nagar: The demolition of houses

The forced demolition of houses sparked protests amongst the village women which led to the police firing.

Courtesy: Samadrusti

Kalinga Nagar: Another kind of weapon for mass repression

Courtesy: Samadrusti