Lalgarh redux? Living in shadow of fear in Orissa’s Narayan Patna

KORAPUT - Around two months ago, armed men hoisted a red flag over the family land of a non-tribal in Narayan Patna block in Orissa’s Koraput district. Officials admit Narayan Patna is Orissa’s own Lalgarh in the making as a tribal upsurge against alleged land grabbers is spurring the Maoists to spread terror.

Local tribals, with the backing of the Leftist guerrillas, have virtually laid siege to the forested block in their so-called war against the “land grabbers”. The area has been cut off from the rest of the world for almost two weeks as the dispossessed tribals have blocked all connecting roads by felling trees and denying access to the administration.

The tribals have been accusing outsiders and non-tribals of grabbing their land and the government of not doing anything. Now it seems the tribals have found a patron in the Maoists in their fight for land.

The tribal upsurge which began some six months ago under the banner of the Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), an organisation of dispossessed tribals, has now forced more than 400 non-tribal families to flee their homes and seized more than 2,000 acres of land belonging to non-tribals. The total population of the area is 45,000, of which 15 percent are non-tribals.

“It was terror out there. We feared for our lives and decided to let go of our land and property,” said Pitabas Tula, one of the affected people who lost his family farm land in Narayan Patna.

Tula, who now lives with his family in neighbouring town of Rayagada, told IANS that the CMAS had forcibly taken away two acres of their farm land which was in his family’s possession for more than 50 years.

“They came one afternoon and hoisted a red flag on our land, and announced that the land is now free,” Tula said.

Tula added that the tribals have so far occupied thousands of acres of land belonging to non-tribals in about 30 villages in the block, which the national media has compared with West Bengal’s Lalgarh where the Maoists fuelled a similar tribal unrest and took control of the area before it was won back last week.

Residents and officials here say the Maoists, who are active in 16 of the 30 districts of Orissa, want to strengthen their hold in the area by taking advantage of the tribal agitation.

“The Maoists want to tighten their grip in the area through the tribal agitation in the manner they have done in Lalgarh,” said a local official requesting anonymity.

He also blamed the CMAS of being a shadow outfit run by the Leftist ultras or being used by them for their own benefit.

However, the CMAS denies it has anything to do with the Maoists.

“We have no business with the Maoists. Our objective is to liberate the tribal land which was illegally occupied by outsiders, landlords and corporate houses,” Srikant Mohanty, state convenor of CMAS, told IANS.

“We have been fighting for our land for the last 15 years and we have the people’ mandate for it,” he said, adding that the CMAS does not believe in snatching land from poor individuals even if they are not tribals.

On why they didn’t approach the administration, Mohanty said: “We had been requesting the government for years to withdraw the illegal allotment of tribal land to corporations and landlords. But the government didn’t do anything, forcing us to take action ourselves.”

He said that his organisation has so far occupied more than 500 acres, including the seizure Saturday of about 100 acres owned by Andhra Pradesh-based S.T.M. Plantation Company in Bandhugam near Narayan Patna.

Mohanty denied reports that they were threatening non-tribals who resisted giving up their land.

“We believe in mass movement and condemn all sorts of violence. But there are differences within our organisation,” he said, referring to the radical faction within the CMAS led by Nachika Linga.

According to police and locals, Linga, a tribal in his 30s, is spearheading the violent movement to restore tribal lands from the non-tribals. His group has also been blamed for damaging nearly a hundred houses belonging to “land grabbers”.

“The is no doubt, Linga is hand-in-glove with the Maoists,” Deputy Inspector General of Police (South-Western Range) Sanjeev Panda told IANS over phone.

“Though he is not the sole authority in triggering the violence in the region, he is responsible for forcing a number of non-tribals to flee their homes out of fear. And the rest of violence including the blowing up of telecom towers, the land mine blasts and the road blockading are by the Maoists,” he said.

On what action the police have taken, Panda said they have already started clearing the road blockades.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram visited Koraput last week during which he reviewed the law and order situation and asked the state police to form a special task force and chalk out new strategy to combat the Maoist menace.


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