My name in Ranjit Dehury. I am 25 years old. I have only recently joined Video Volunteers’ as a Community Corespondent from my district of Dhenkanal district, Odisha. There are many injustices that my community has to face on a daily basis but you may never head of us because our problems are never on the news. I tried to document just one such injustice on my camera to show you the conditions in which my community survives.
In retaliation, I was roughed up, threatened and bullied by an ‘influential’ local person. The authorities and officials all the way to the district level have been mute spectators to the entire event. They’ve given me empty assurances when I demanded justice. I cannot trust them to bring change. Me and my community are asking for your support.
Around 6 months ago from today, I had noticed some mining activity in the village of Lochapali. I asked around and found that it was a laterite mining operation. They had dug up a huge pit- around 200mts wide and 300mts long. Along the periphery of the pit at a distance of less than 20 mts away were around 10 to 15 houses of an adivasi settlement and also the main panchayat road which connects the village together. It seemed like a suspicious operation. With its proximity to the community, it was putting people’s lives at risk. Come night and any unfortunate individual or a playing child could fall into the unguarded and unlit pit.
The Odisha government has clearly stipulated that any mining activity should take place atleast 50mts away from the nearest public spaces and roads. I carried out some investigations, I asked people I knew, some activists in the area and I soon realized that these mines were an altogether illegal and criminal operation run under the sway of Hemant Sahu, brother of the headman and son of the ex-headman, a man with considerable influence in the region.
I decided to shoot my video on the morning of 27th December 2012. I reached the site at 9 in the morning. I first called up the Revenue Inspector of the region. He immediately informed me that there was no permissions were given and the mines were illegal. I asked him if he can do anything about it and he told that it was not within his powers to do. I would be better off contacting the Sub-Collector and the Tehsildar. I called the Tehsildar.
The Tehsildar could not believe his ears when I told him about it. He informed me that permission was given to Mr. Sahu to dig a lake at the site and definitely not a mine. Before the call was over, he promised me he would look into the situation. Right after, I called the police. They clearly told me that they cannot do anything about the situation.
In case the authorities deny it, I have a recording of the call with me.
At around 40 minutes past nine, I was done with the calls and began to document the site and the workers cutting the stones. The workers testified that they had been mining in the region for the past few months and were working under the instruction of Prafulla Sahu, Hemant’s father. Meantime, Hemant Sahu arrived on the site on his motorcycle. “How dare you call the Tehsildar?,” he asked me. He began screaming at me and at one point, began to run at me looking to bash me up. I made a run for it. In between balancing my equipment and running for my life, I also called the police and asked for help, twice. But Sahu caught up with me and there was a brief scuffle. He left me alive but not before threatening dire consequences to my life and limb if I continued to pursue the matter with the authorities.
I called up the police again. They asked me to go to the hospital, get my own medical report and then go over to the station and file my FIR. When I arrived at the Sadar police station, I asked them why they didn’t help me. The official’s maintain that they were busy and didn’t have the time to look into every issue which crossed their table.
As of today, the mines are currently in operation. Hemant Sahu is one of those who will stop at nothing. He will ply you with alcohol, he will bully you, he will threaten you until you give way to him. My FIR against him has amounted to less than nothing. The official’s maintain that there were no witnesses.
I’m disappointed with the authorities reaction. I brought the case to their notice. I have relentlessly pursued it. I have give them DVDs with footage of the illegal activity. I don’t understand why they are not investigating the mine? They promise me that they will catch and confiscate the trucks but that doesn’t solve anything. Why are they not going to the root of the issue? The mine owners are stealing from the people’s land and the law is acting like a bystander. It is disheartening sight to witness but I am determined. I am not going to let go.
When i received my camera after my training, I had told my companions that I have but one mission. I look around and I see common people like you and suffer a hundred injustices in perfect silence. We are at the mercy of select few who go about bending the system to their needs. They acquire money and power by operating in a void where democracy has failed. The authorities pocket the loose change and keep their silence.
They must be held accountable. And it is our responsibility, you and I, to speak out against their authority.
Silence was yesterday. In the new year, we will reclaim our voice and our rights.