I visited the proposed POSCO site and stayed there for about 10 days from the 13th March till the 21st March 2012. During the course of my stay there were quite a few eventful things that happened. I shall try to write them down in the following few paragraphs as part of my experiences.
Firstly, I had an interpretor in the name of Siddharth Mahaparto, who at 23 was very convinced about being part of the struggle and is a determined youngster. Most of his family members believe that the project will bring them more benefits than losses, and he says that they feel so as they are all part of the government services or working for some MNC elsewhere and feel that if they sell their land here they can go and settle in the city of Bubaneshwar. So due to this difference of opinion he stepped out of his house a year and a half ago and has since been an active member of the movement. He has some experience with computers as well as clicks and uses the camera to some extent. And he was very good at interpreting for me as well as interacting with the people in the village as quite a few of them knew him.
On the third day of my visit, Siddharth was visibly frustrated and left me at the PPSS office and said will return after he freshens himself. I agreed and spent my time talking to the people who had come to the office and later went back to the house that was hosting me. The next morning, when I wanted to go out and interact with the villagers I looked for Siddharth and asked around for him but none of them knew his whereabouts. Finally I left to Dhinkia along with two other people and when we were there we received this call saying Siddharth has been arrested late last night when he had gone to Balithutha to eat some chat. On further enquiring I found that he has a case (false of course, like the many other cases on the people here) under sec 302 (Murder) against his name which is an non-bailable offence. Just a few weeks ago another of the anti-POSCO activists was arrested when he had gone out to his fields.
The people in the villages of Dhinkia, Govindpur and Patna have been living under constant threat from the state, but they have shown further determination and conviction in the movement to keep the project away. On the other hand, the release of Abhay Sahoo from prison was an event of relief and motivation for the people and they are awaiting the return of their leader to their village.
The ground situation at the proposed POSCO site is still full of activity everyday. the people keep informed of themselves of the latest happenings about the project. For instance, the fact that POSCO has applied to the Paradeep port trust to use the port for the time being was followed by the villagers on the news and was part of the discussion in the meeting after that. The discussion is not just limited to the office but keeps happening throughout the village as well. Men, women of all age groups discuss about the latest developments.
There was also a medical camp that was organised by friends of the movement in all three villages. The camp had a Paediatrician, a Gynaecologist and a general physician attending to the locals. Although there was not much of a crowd during the initial two days in Govindpur and Patna, there was a sizeable number of people in Dhinkia. The response even though lukewarm, made the people understand and believe that there are supporters outside their village in their struggle against the neo-liberal agenda of the Government of Odisha in bringing the POSCO project here.
The current time is the season for the cashew as well as paan cultivation and the people are all engaged in it in full vigour and making up for the lost income same time during last year as they were all in the Dharna throughout March-June. But even now a group of 25-35 go everyday and sit in the dharna site everyday and this is done by the villagers taking turns.
During my stay there, there were other ‘outsiders’ also who had come in at the pretext of researching and wanting to understand the perspectives of the people. Initially he was welcomed, but after listening to him initially they were apprehensive about him and tried to stay away from him as well.
Finally, I also got to speak to a few of the people who have lost their land from the village of Nuagaon. On chatting with them I learnt that they are very unhappy with what has happened to them and now as they have become landless, they come to Dhinkia and Govindpur to work as labourers in the Paan and Paddy fields. They also mentioned that they are now struggling to keep their forests intact as well and are protesting against the state taking charge of their forest as well.
The mood in the villages is more or less upbeat and they are always alert and lookout for information about the project as well as keep a constant guard about the people visiting the villages.