Bidesi Gouda

My life is tied up with the Balimela Dam project. We were displaced two generations ago. My life, my father's life, and his father's life are all tied to the project. When I was young, Balimela Dam project workers didn't have good facilities and weren't getting good wages. They would struggle, and the police would be called in. My father would be arrested, people would be beaten up. My father was involved in many struggles and would go to jail often. He was the trade union chairman. People would come to him with their problems. We struggled a lot at home too. We had a big family – both of my father's brothers and their families also lived with us. Those days were different. Whether we got food or not, we would get by. My fondest memory from this time is of the social workers who would stay with, live with us like they were relatives. They taught me English and today I can understand English and speak a little of the language, all because of them. Back then, I didn't know they were social workers, I thought they were all my relatives... I studied till the class 12th level. I couldn't study after that because my father was in jail and there were financial troubles at home. After he was back, I studied to be an electrician at the ITI. But I didn't get a job. People who paid bribes got jobs. People were too scared of my father to ask him for a bribe, and he was not the kind of man who would ever pay anyone a bribe either! Today, I work as a driver in the launch service across the 83 kilometre reservoir of the dam. This is not a steady job but on daily wages. I manage around three to four thousand rupees a month. I got this job because of a ship training course I have done. But I have also done many other kinds of manual labour – in saw mills, setting up pipelines, as a painter, setting up machinery... I would go sometimes to the office of the Malkangiri Adivasi Sangh even as a child, because my father was associated with it. After he died, I became a full time volunteer. Even when I was working as a labourer, I would volunteer my time for 10-15 days at a stretch. Now half my time goes to the launch service, and half to the Sangh. I work 10-15 days a month with the Sangh. I go wherever I am needed, wherever there is trouble. My family is angry with me for this. I myself have been to jail 4-5 times now, but I have no regrets! The Sangh has a lot to do. None of my community's problems have been solved. On top of everything, we are surrounded by police camps to ensure that adivasi voices get muffled. The government has only resettled people who have a title to their land. The people who didn't have titles are surviving somehow in the jungles above the water. They have no facilities, they don't even exist on voter lists. There are villages that don't exist on government records at all. People from my own village have been displaced without getting any compensation, without getting anything in return... The dam is now a dead project. People who had jobs are now reduced to coolies. Even after 60 years, people do not have titles to the land they are living on. How will they be issued caste certificates and proofs of residence? How will they send their children to school? Today there are police camps everywhere because our neighbourhood has been labelled a Naxalite belt. The CRPF harnesses us regularly – it is tough to even go to the bazaar for the people of the 7 Panchayats in this region. I want to be a Community Correspondent to work on securing people's rights to jal, jangal and jameen. Our andolan has been on for many years, but our reach is still limited. I want to make videos and show everybody how we can unite to fight for our rights. It is tough for us to unite people because they have been displaced from different places, they come from different castes and tribes. But the good thing is that the leaders of many castes and tribes are with our Sangh. Some people have been able to get land. People are beginning to share our hope, to believe in our success – that we can stay within the law and fight for our rights! I want to use my camera to unite people. I don't understand why different adivasi groups find it tough to unite. They have the same problems but they find it so tough to unite. How will they bring change if they don't come together? As a Community Correspondent, I want to show the world that if you fight for your rights you will be able to achieve what you want. I heard of Video Volunteers through Debaranjan (Odisha editor), who would come to our area when the movement was active. I didn't have a camera but I needed to take photos of the movement to send to the press. He told me about this training. There can be problems in the work of the Sangathan because of my lengthy absence – but I came. We desperately need to engage with the media. In our area, senior media persons don't report any facts. It is only government news and police news! They are paid monthly retainers and the hidden truth of things never comes out.