Pour some milk into the pan and switch on the flame. At first, there is stillness and vapour that can be missed. Next, the noise tells you that the milk is rumbling, followed by the cream rising up. By then it is too late – even if you lower the heat, the cream is beyond your control. It falls off the pan and leaves you with a sight and smell that are not pleasing. The rest of the milk simmers down by the time you extinguish the flame, but much milk has been lost. But if you choose to stay blind to the discontent of the boiling molecules of the milk and choose to let the heat roll on, not only will the cream spill, but the rest of the milk – relatively calmer – will spill too, until there isn’t any left in the pan. The pan is left black and with an odour hard to miss – it cannot be used anymore.
Seeing the milk boil on the mud hearth inside that tiny hut – no electricity, no toilet – the corollary of the boiling milk and the mutiny that shook Kalinganagar in 2006 is evident.
No wonder then most of the active members of the Bisthapi Birodhi Jan Manch (BBJM) haven’t visited the nearest town since over a year. This means they haven’t been able to go out shopping for bare necessities (a tribal family needs to purchase only oil, kerosene and salt from the market, for their survival); they haven’t been able to address any domestic emergency like ill health; they haven’t been able to watch any blockbuster movie to drown themselves into another distant world; they haven’t been able to ‘hang out’ with friends who live far away. This is the kind of ‘house arrest’ they are subject to, and daily, one has to calculate the routes around their villages from which one would not be ‘noticed’.
As I shared the angst of the ‘house arrest’ on my third day in Kalinganagar on June 23, I realized that every family had a story to tell about that winter day in 2006 – a story of boiling milk that overflowed and woke up the Orissa government. Stories of death, injury, loss, anger, grit. And hope. Through bits and pieces, I had learnt what had happened – 12 people were killed including three women, three others later succumbed to their injuries, scores of people were injured, several men continue to be arrested on false charges of murder. But I realized that there was an interesting history behind the mutiny.
By 2005, Rabi Jarika was a ‘wanted criminal’, for championing BBJM. In October 2005, he had gone to Bhubaneshwar – about 200 kms south – to attend a conference on grassroots resistance. By the end of the first day at the conference, he had received news that cops from Jajpur had arrived in Bhubaneshwar to arrest him. Just when he had decided to return home, he was picked by the cops.
The people's person: Rabi Jarika rushes to his farm every morning at 8 am
The tribals had heard that Tata would begin its work of leveling the fields from January 2, 2006. They were ready to face the bulldozers, but not the bullets. It was a Monday. Around 9 am, about 1,000 policemen and hundreds of those who had begun to support Tata, arrived near Champakoyla village, which is closer to the main road. Cops began to fire indiscriminately, leaving 12 dead on the spot and several injured. Rabi was released on January 26, 2006, owing to the tribals pressuring the authorities to release him. The authorities had to comply – they had faced flak for the incident and could in no way afford to scar itself anymore.
“You were still in jail when the firing took place. It must have killed you because you were in a relatively safer place while your people were butchered…” I asked Rabi, choosing my words carefully. Instead he laughed and said, “I was proud of my people.”
“You see, when I was arrested in October 2005, the people were very angry. They channelised their anger into active resistance – they managed to stop all the leveling work that was going on across villages, they began to patrol the villages, and they were defiant of the wicked ways of the goons. But Tata too had decided that enough was enough. So that’s when they used force to begin the leveling work. Imagine, if in my absence the people had managed to do so much, they can achieve a lot more with the seething anger of having their own people being killed.”
“Didn’t the villagers carry any bows and arrows at that time?”
“They did, but didn’t use it. Sometimes I feel they should have used them; but on second thoughts, it would mean that our people were attacking our own brothers – who had now become goons. Yes, they have defected for the lure and love of money, but we still have our conscience intact.”
The pride in the strength in his people can be seen dripping in Rabi’s smile. Later in the day, I roam around the village. It is easy to ask a young boy for a lift on his bike or cycle to avoid the 3 km walk to a neighbouring village. Unlike in the cities, it is easy to open the heart out to the adivasis. I go to meet Ranjit Bankira, a lanky 20-year-old youth from Chandia village, who lost his mother during the uprising. “When we heard that the police had come, we all rushed out. If we managed to stop the police at Champakoyla, we could prevent them from entering our village. My mother ran ahead, and in the same row, there were seven other people. We all had noticed a rope on the ground at the lake near Champakoyla, but never thought it to be suspicious. When they crossed it, there was a blast. It was a landmine. My mother died instantly, but they took her body away. They returned it few days later, after it was decomposed. But her palms were missing. The cops said that it was for identification. They returned a pair of palms several months later, but evidently, they were not hers,” Ranjit said, with the help of his maternal uncle Babli Jamunda, who could speak better Hindi.
Ranjit Bankira got the job of a peon, 'thanks' to his mother being killed by a landmine
The family received compensation from the state and central governments, while Ranjit got the job of a peon at a school. But there are valid reasons why he is still unhappy. “The school is 17 kms away, and I was lucky to already have a bike. But I have to reach there at 10 am; I get home at 5 pm. I have no time to tend to our fields. If any day they find that I am not good at my job, they will fire me. By then, the farm will be in a bad shape. Does the government calculate all this before offering some job to placate an angry man?” I then realize that it is 11 am, and he said that he had taken the day off as he wanted to tend to his farm. “It is also the day of the haat (weekly market), but it will be tough to go. The goons will disappear from the road only by late afternoon. By then, the market will draw to an end.” I get his point. Most of his friends are jobless and yet immobile, but they look forward to the day of the haat when they can all hang out together. But they cannot. Friends, family, countrymen – everyone here worth one’s trust has become a foe.
I ask Babli about his residence, he tells me it is right across the street (which is just about two feet wide and a red puddle), “next to the tomb of Laxman Jamunda”. Babli tells me that Laxman was his paternal uncle who was a 55-year-old bachelor and stayed with him. I had heard about Laxman’s death too – it was about a fortnight in the month of May this year when there were a strong of news of deaths from Kalinganagar, thanks to some like journalists RR and PDM, and a filmmaker who made small videos of the atrocities through the use of hidden cameras and put them up on Youtube for the world to see. “So tell me what happened on May 12 this year,” I prod Babli.
Laxman Jamunda: Rest-In-Piece
“Our villagers, who no more lived here as they had given their land to Tata and had accepted the rehab package, had come dressed as cops. They claimed that they wanted to take away all the things which they had left behind in their house. Now tell me, which house would still have anything useful, if you return to it after four years? Anyway, so we let them take the things and soon we saw that bulldozers razed down those houses. Sometime later, they began to raze down the houses of those who still lived here – after all, they were protesting the land grab. Some women were in the houses which were being attacked and they began to scream. We ran to see what was happening. The goons – or, those who earlier lived in our village – began to attack with the arrows they carried. We had no time to react but to run and escape. We didn’t know that the cops were also waiting in another corner. They too struck; one bullet hit my uncle Laxman. They took away his body instantly. It has been two months today, and yet we haven’t received his body.”
I pay my respects to the stone tomb, which is draped with a red cloth. Red, for the seething anger. Red, for the blood that been spilt. Red, for the reasons why a people decides to make the bow and arrow a part of their anatomy, wherever they go. I decide to meet Dabar Kalundia – the man wanted by the police for ‘crimes’, but who is being constantly wooed by people in the administration. It is raining and all around me, I see only green. I wonder why, for the love of another green, should drops of red need to discolour this natural green. I hear the rumble of a bike – but there are two women pillion riders already. It is a 3 km walk to Baliagot village.
Dabar is not at home; I meet 20-year-old Surendra Bandara ande explain that I am a journalist and Dabar’s friend. His look of suspicion fades and offers to show me something ‘interesting’. We walk for a while when he tells me why he is sitting at home jobless. “If I apply for a job, they will reject me during the medical test.”
“Why? You look fine to me!”
“I have a bullet wound below my groin.” He explains that on the day of the mutiny, he was shot. He called up his father – who was in the postal service in Cuttack – and within 30 minutes, he sped his bike to Cuttack (a 90-minute drive from Kalinganagar), through another long convoluted route, to avoid the cops. “I managed to somehow reach Cuttack before the cops blocked all exit routes. I was in the hospital for the next six months. My 12th class exams were held in March that same year, but I couldn’t appear for them. Now, there is no point in completing my studies as I will anyway not get any job. I might as well live in the village and work for the movement,” he explained.
His ordeal was not to end after he was released from the hospital. He was arrested in October 2009 on charges of murder, dating back to the bloody Monday on January 2, 2006. He was released this year in March. By now, we have reached the spot that he wanted to show me. It is the 4-lane Common Corridor project, which, the government claims will reduce the distance to Duburi Chack for the people living in the nearby villages. “There can be no shorter route other than through our village. And anyway, they say they want to make it a pukka road so that we can ply our ‘vehicles’ – which is nothing beyond a bike. But the majority walks. And who would want to walk on a road which doesn’t have a single tree under which one could take shelter on a hot day?” True to his words, the land is suddenly barren till a large extent.
“We were sent a letter by IDCO (Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation) which stated that we would have to surrender 5 acres of our land for the project. IDCO is responsible for buying or grabbing the land from people, and giving it off to the highest bidder. We returned the letter, and told them that we were not ready to give our land. March 30 this year was the day to inaugurate the Common Corridor, which we call as ‘daman’ (repression) corridor. We protested but they beat up several of us. Ever since, they have tightened their grip around Kalinganagar, and today’s scenario of a ‘house arrest’ is a result of that incident,” Surendra states it all nonchalantly.
The Common Corridor runs through Surendra's farmland. 'That's where I get my food from. That's the land that has kept generations of our family alive. That's the land for which the government is ready to even kill us.'
We walk back to his house for some water. His house, like the most houses in rural India, are the most ‘eco-friendly’ – everything is taken from the Earth; every element used is ‘biodegradable’. He points out to a heap of hay behind. “That was part of our house. We went and stayed there on days when there would be too many visitors. On April 9 this year, the family who lived behind our house had come along with the cops and a bulldozer, to raze his old house. We were ill-prepared to face the huge contingent of police, and so, instead of facing them, we ran towards the hill. When we returned later in the evening – when we were sure that the cops had left – we saw that along with our neighbour’s house, this part of our house was also brought down.”
Later that night, it rained heavily and begins to thunder. Between the moments of the room being lit by lightning, and the drops of water occasionally dripping from the low roof, I fell asleep. A bad dream woke me up at 3 am – I dreamt that someone was chasing me on the fields with the words that the house will be razed. I saw that I was running through the fields, but I had reached my residence. I look around but cry aloud out of sheer frustration – what will I take along with me? Bank papers? Educational certificates? The laptop? The telephone diary? The meager jewellery bundled into a handkerchief, tucked behind the clothes in the wardrobe? The old tattered love letters? The book which prevented me from drowning myself into depression? The blackened photograph of smiling Gods who seem to promise the fruits of being hopeful? I shuddered till I fell asleep again; I woke up in the morning and it was still raining.