On 22nd June 2005 the Government of Odisha signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the South Korean Steel Company POSCO enabling the latter to set up an integrated steel plant and captive port in Jagatsinghpur District Odisha.
Since its inception the project has been met with resistance by the people of Jagatsighpur who stand to lose the land on which they have depended for generations.
The Village councils of the concerned villages have time and again reiterated their opposition to any acquisition of their land as the people will lose forest land, water bodies and rice-paddies in the area, which are important sources of livelihood.
Despite this the government has gone ahead and forcefully acquired the land resulting in gross violations of human rights, of laws like the Forest Rights Act (which gives the people of the land final say on its use) and of several international treaties ratified by the Indian Government. The sentiments on the ground are that the government cares more about POSCO than its own people.
For eight years the people of the land have led a peaceful resistance movement to hold on to their land and livelihoods. The sit-ins, hunger strikes and non-violent protest rallies have been met with brute force from authorities who have resorted to using rubber bullets and lathi charges among other means.
The misuse of sedition laws and arbitrary arrests have often been used to break up the movement. An independent fact-finding report by the Alternative Law Forum estimates that more than 800 people have been framed with false charges and consequently arrested.
For those who have escaped arrests life in the village continues in a shadow of fear. Several residents have professed to experience feelings of trauma, stress, chronic anxiety and depression and insomnia. Some haven’t stepped out in 6 years for fear of arrest. Seeking essential services like medicine are near impossible.
“The repeated condemnation of the state government has had little affect on it. The state continues to perpetuate its tyranny on the people… Every night our villagers sleep in the fear that the police forces and POSCO goons will come and capture our land. They want the people to get tired and resign”, says PPSS spokesperson Prashant Paikaray.
The people are determined to hold on what is rightfully theirs. Most openly declare that they will die fighting but wont give up their lands.
For more background information on the movement read here