Bhubaneswar: Mostly frail women, old and young, stood up to the blows that the police rained on them with canes, some of them stripping partially in protest. Several of them were injured in the lathicharge but the undeterred women of Odisha’s Govindpur and Dhinkia villages have threatened to strip en masse if the police is not withdrawn from their area immediately.
As the world celebrates Women’s Day, these village women are engaged in a bitter tussle with the administration to stop land acquisition for the Posco steel project. They also want the five platoons of police still deployed at the site of the proposed mega project in Jagatsinghpur district withdrawn.
The state government had resumed land acquisition, which involves clearing betel plantations in the villages, four days ago. The drive began only hours after three anti-Posco protesters were killed in a bomb attack. The activists allege that supporters of the Posco plant were behind the attack.
The women who clashed with the police on Thursday belong to the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti ( PPSS ), which has spearheaded the anti-Posco agitation for the last eight years. They said hundreds of them would strip if their demands are not met.
Posco is a South Korean company that proposes to set up a 12-million-tonne-per-annum steel plant near the port town of Paradip in Odisha. It is the largest foreign investment in India.
The government says it has acquired about 2,000 acres of land in the region in 2011 and needs to acquire another 700 acres, mostly in Govindpur area, for the project. It says the villagers have agreed to the land acquisition. But the villagers deny this and the stand-off has continued for some time now, with the administration being forced to abandon land acquisition activities every now and then.
It had stopped clearing plantations on February 6 in the face of a stepped-up agitation. During their protests, the villagers have also fronted children.
BHUBANESWAR/GOBINDAPUR: The anti-Posco agitation added a new chapter on Thursday when some women went semi-nude at Gobindapur village in Jagatsinghpur district, around 200 km from the state capital, protesting police deployment to expedite land acquisition work for the proposed mega steel plant.
As a few hundred agitated villagers, including large number of women and children, marched towards the police camps at Mangalapada hamlet demanding its removal, police attempted to disperse them, leading to a clash, leaving about 20 villagers injured.
Collector (Jagatsinghpur) S K Mallick said leaders of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) used women as shield to prevent entry of police and other officers to Mangalapada. “Police only dispersed the agitated villagers by using batons when they marched towards the police camps,” SP (Jagatsinghpur) Satyabrata Bhoi said.
“The police attack is condemnable. It speaks volumes about the state government’s attitude towards democratic movements,” PPSS president Abhay Sahoo said.
But what left cops stunned was a handful of women baring part of their body. This was the maiden occasion when the anti-industry brigade, opposing Posco’s proposed 12 billion US dollars project for about eight years, resorted to such a thing.
“The women were protesting against deployment of police in their village. They had no option as the government had turned a deaf ear towards them,” Sahoo told TOI.
The scene of the event was Gobindapur, part of Dhinkia gram panchayat, where the government has been acquiring land by dismantling betel vines and felling trees. It had acquired around 250 acre in the first week of February and a few more acre during the past few days. No land acquisition was done on Thursday apparently due to the project opponent’s threat to go nude and also the resumption of the Budget session of state Assembly after a nine-day hiatus. “We have temporarily stopped dismantling betel vines,” Mallick said. The government says it has acquired around 2000 acre and needs another 700 acre so that Posco could begin its first phase work.
On Wednesday, Sahoo had said women and children, as part of ‘democratic resistance’, would stage a nude protest anywhere in Dhinkia gram panchayat if the administration did not stop land takeover immediately. On Thursday, said, “Whenever the government restarts land acquisition, we will go to any extreme. Our protest will be non-violent.”
Bhoi said police would book a case against Sahoo for abetting obscenity. “How could he know that women would go for a nude protest? It is evident he is abetting such an act. We will register a case against him shortly,” he said. Police said Sahoo could be booked under the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986.