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.
During the eight year long movement women have been at the forefront of the struggle. They stand face to face with the police forces and often the POSCO hired goons taking the brunt of any physical assaults on the crowds gathered. They guard roadside checkpoints throughout the night and have assumed prominent leadership roles within POSCO Pratirodhak Sangram Samiti (PPSS).
Their participation has come under criticism from various fronts. Statements ranging from “they are being used as pawns” to “it is unfair to use women and children as human shields for the police” have been made.
A peaceful rally organised on 7th March 2013 to oppose a fresh spate of land acquisition and to commemorate International Women’s day ended with a lathi charge on the women gathered. Two of the women protestors stripped naked to show their opposition to this assault. Immediately, the case was taken up the pro-POSCO camp caricaturing the ‘naked protest’ in mainstream media outlets as ‘a deliberate assault on women’s modesty’ by the PPSS.
The women however make it clear that they have joined of their own free will as they feel they stand to lose the most in the event that POSCO does succeed in trying to evict them from their land.
“People blame Abhay Sahoo for putting the women of the movement in danger but what will he tell us that we already do not know?” asks an irate Shanti Das, a prominent face of the anti-POSCO movement.
Physical injuries are only a small fragment of what the women in the movement have had to deal with. For years now they haven’t been able to seek proper health care for themselves. Many feel that they are unduly mentally and physically harassed by the authorities.
“Pro-Posco thinks that if they can physically and mentally oppress and suppress the women they will stop leading the struggle and the movement will falter. They are wrong”, says Manorama Khatua.