Preliminary Observations of a Fact Finding by WSS in Odisha

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), an all-India platform of women’s organizations, constituted a fact-finding team to inquire into the situation of women in the areas of democratic struggles agasint large-scale mining and industrialization projects in Orissa. This team visited three different areas between 7-11 November 2011, namely Jagatisnghpur- Kalinganagar, Kashipur-Niyamgiri and Gajapati. Through this brief note we would like to share our observations, preliminary findings and concerns that emerge from this visit. In these areas, the team talked to the women, to activists, journalists and the local authorities, where needed.

It emerges that in all three areas women and children there are being very seriously affected in several direct and indirect ways.

A very grave and urgent concern is the presence of a very large number of security forces in Kashipur and Niyamagiri for undertaking combing operations in the name of combating naxalism. In many villages in these areas the people are extremely agitated and disturbed by the behavior of the forces. We were told that the security forces were regularly roaming around, marching into the villages, beating up people, breaking open the doors and barging into their houses, destroying their fields, taking away grains and chicken, and accusing them all of being Maoists. Women specifically complained that they were asked about their menfolk, and were told that they were all Maoists, and that is why they (the security) were coming to their villages. The women also complained that their mobility has been severely restricted – they are extremely terrified by the very sight of these men in `cabra’, walking around with guns while the women and men themselves are unarmed and simply cannot protect themselves in any fashion. They are not able to go freely to their fields, to the forest, to fetch water, and to perform their other regular household chores. We were told that these men watch the women while they work in the fields or when they bathe in the river.

We were told of at least 10 cases of brutal gang-rape by the forces in Kashipur – Niyamagiri area. In few cases when the people tried to file cases, the police either said that they had no powers in such incidents, or drove them away saying that they were lying. In one instance of rape of a Dongria Kondh woman it was told that money by the forces was given to the villagers to not to reveal this. In another case the girl had become pregnant. The people of one village in Kashipur feel that they are being intimidated and harassed because three of the five girls who died in the January 2011 encounter belonged to their village.

Yet another alarming finding is the targeting of the activists in these struggles. We were told that in a case of death, some of the activists have been named in the FIR. However, we were unable to see the FIR.

Large number Dalit and Adivasi women in the villages around the Vedanta refinery in Lanjigarh are also facing various forms of violence and harassment. While the loss of livelihood for many families is a significant issue, women told us that men and women from villages along the boundary of the refinery were not given work in the refinery. They were taunted and driven away, and were finding it difficult to get any employment or wage labour there. To add to this, they were all being branded as thieves, involved in theft of company property. We were told that the local police station was at the service of Vedanta and was not for the poor people. In one village we were told that since the past week or so the police were regularly visiting the village in the evening and harassing the people. Women were scared to go out anywhere. We were also told of one case of gang-rape and death of a young girl inside the plant premises (sometime in 2009). The girl was a wage labourer and did not return from work. When the parents started making inquiries it emerged that such an incident had taken place. We could not meet the parents to get details. There are also few reports of girls not returning from work from the plant, which needs to be investigated.

The findings in Jagatsinghpur area, where there has been a long-drawn struggle against the POSCO project, are equally serious, and need urgent attention. A very critical issue is the restriction on the mobility of the people. People coming out of the area to access even health facilities are being harassed or detained or arrested. As a result people are not being able to replenish food stocks or avail of any medical care. A crisis situation appears to be building up in the area. A quick examination of some women by one of our doctor members indicates that women, especially pregnant women, are facing immense stress and difficulties, due to lack of vegetables-fruits, etc in their diet. Surprisingly, people in the Transit Camp set up by POSCO-India are also facing huge problems, the main one being the lack of livelihood. The families we spoke to desperately want to return to their village and their lands.

In this difficult time, we appeal to all progressive, women’s rights organizations and democratic rights organizations in Orissa to join us in this effort to address these serious issues of violence against women perpetrated by the state.

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)

12 November 2011
Bhubaneswar, Orissa
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