These are complex times, when change is a mantra of development, progress and success derive skewed meaning; times where compatible and indispensable are a social dialectic; goals are material, aspiration and hope are apportioned in tangibles. Set in these changing times of liberalization and privatization, major players in mineral processing industries are coming forth to invest in the mineral rich state of Orissa, in the south-east of India.
One of the ramifications is a large involuntary displacement of the resident population of marginalized sections, some of them tribals, who’ve lived in these forests for centuries. However, there is stiff resistance by some farmers against the proposed displacement. These movements have experienced severe restraining methods and the state’s brutal suppression, as in the case of TATA at Kalinganagar, Vedanta at Lanjigarh and Posco at Jagatsinghpur.
Farmers simply distrust the government and feel they are being asked to sacrifice far more than the compensation and resettlements are able to provide. Subhash Mahapatra, one of the farmers fighting for his rights, posed a simple question to me “If I don’t want to sell it, do I not have the right to say no?”.
Inherent in the farmers’ struggle for land against the state and industry is close social and emotional association with their land. Through the language of struggle against this dispossession of land the people are speaking a different version of development where values like self-dignity is one of the central themes. With my current project, I am trying to document this relationship of people with their land and language of their struggle against this dispossession.
I personally feel, the choice to do what they want to do with their lands should remain with the rightful owner i.e., the farmer. They aren’t anti-industry, or anti-development. “You know, I always dreamed there would be electricity in my village one day,” Mahapatra, a farmer opposing Posco says, pointing to electricity poles with no wires leaning at a 60-degree angle in his village, planted by a zealous politician who vanished after elections five years ago. “Do I want my children to go to a school? To get jobs? Of course.”Their struggle is an example of such struggles all across India, over time. I feel my work is an important means to carry the message of their social and emotional association with land and the courage, determination and their right to dignity. “Over our dead bodies,” a Kondh leader once told me with conviction and resolve, during one of my visits to the region.
A young Dongria Kondh man consumes the local drink after a long day of hunting. Village Khambesi is the remotest of the villages and is closest to the mining site and will be directly affected by mining in Orissa.
Villagers of the Dongria Kondh tribe gather around after the day of hunting in the jungles of Niyamgiri Hills. Niyamgiri hills and the tribes come under direct threat of extinction because of expansion and mining plans of the aluminium company, Vedanta.
An anti Posco sign is seen on a house wall in village Dhinkia in Orissa, India. The local population of small villagers along the proposed Posco site have started a campaign and do not want to give away their land for the proposed Posco factory.
Subulu Munduya (50) poses for a portrait with traditional arms inside his hut in Balighato village of Kalinga Nagar industrial Area in Orissa, India. Subulu’s bother, Ranglal Mundaya died during a police firing on January 2nd, 2006.
Villagers are seen at the local temple which also acts as a campaign office in village Dhinkia in Orissa, India. The local population of small villages along the proposed Posco site have started a campaign and do not want to give away their land for the proposed Posco factory.
Villagers are seen at the local temple which also acts as a campaign office in village Dhinkia in Orissa, India. The local population of small villagers along the proposed Posco site have started a campaign and do not want to give away their land for the proposed Posco factory.
One of the villagers (name withheld) poses for a photograph on his land that was forcibly taken by him for the construction of a trolley way. Now since the conveyor trolley belt is constructed, Vedanta sources say the company is ready with the mining plan. Bauxite ores will be extracted from the hilltop and will be brought to the plant site through a conveyor belt.
Many villagers take on the responsibility to guard the gate leading to their village Dingkhia in Orissa, India. These villagers have formed an agitating group, “Posco Pratirdh Sangram Samiti” to oppose the construction of Posco port in their village.
Women walk past a field against the background of Vedanta plant in Ijirupa village in Lanjigarh, Orissa, India. The huge bauxite deposits in Niyamgiri have led the Vedanta group to set up an alumina refinery at Lanjigarh, making the tribals apprehensive about their habitat. The UK-based Vedanta Resources has come under immense pressure from human rights and environmental groups to abandon its plans to mine at the Niyamgiri mountains in Orissa for bauxite (to extract aluminium). The dig site is considered a sacred ground by the local Dongria Kondh community and has attracted support from conservationists from across the world.
Posing with her son and daughter, Savita Mandal, the widow of 34-year-old Dula Mandal shows the photo of her deceased husband. Dula Mandal died on the spot in his village (Gobindpur) on June 20th, 2008 when the pro-Posco agitators threw a bomb at their group. Clashes between supporters and opponents of the Posco project injured 50 people, and angry farmers have erected a bamboo gate at the entrance to the village of Dhinkia to keep outsiders away.
43-year-old Suresh Kumar Dash is seen with his grandson while the later gets ready to go to a makeshift school in village Dhinkhia, in Orissa, India.
“Over our dead bodies,” a Kondh leader told me during one of my visits to the region. However, filing of rights and claiming their dutiful right to the land is going slow at the moment; confusion reigns as people grapple with how they should file the claims. The long and slow struggle against the corporations (and the government) is adversely hampering the movement and villages are also divided into camps. It seems, the process of land acquisition will not be so easy after all.
Orissa is going through a “steel revolution”. In the past few years, the state government has signed more than 40 MoUs with companies, both domestic and foreign, signing off 20 billion tonnes of iron ore. But it has also meant destruction of the natural habitats of people, flora and fauna. The deal with Posco has been met with protests by the local people, but the government continues to turn a blind eye to the concerns and dangles the carrot of employment generation. In retaliation, the villagers have erected the fences for the protection of 1,235 acres of land to be acquired by Posco company. Proposed steel project would displace all families of this village so they are determined not to leave their soil. If the plant is constructed, the villagers from Dhinkia will be the first ones to be displaced.
An old women consoles another woman while she mourns the death of a family member at the transit camp in Badagabapur, in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa. Posco Transit Camp is being set up for people who have been driven out of their villages for being pro-Posco, where they live on the side of a highway on $80 a day shared between 195 people.
Jema Banara shows the photo of her father, Ameen Banara in their house in Balighato village in Kalinga Nagar area in Orissa. Ameen was shot during a peaceful protest on May Day (May 1st 2008) by TATA goons outside the ROHIT factory in Kalinganagar Industrial area.
Sanjit Das is a self-taught Indian photographer based in New Delhi. His interest in social issues is seen through the backdrop of India’s changing economic and political landscape.
His photography documents the country’s rapid transformation from rural economy to global superpower, with a focus on the people – especially women and children – who are living through the change.
Sanjit’s work is published internationally by Businessweek, Le Monde, Newsweek, The Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, TIME and others.
In 2007, Sanjit was featured in a book showcasing contemporary Indian artists, ‘Made by Indians’ published by Gallerie Enrico Navarra.
Sanjit is represented by Panos Pictures Agency.