The SDM Tamnar, a representative of the District Administration of Raigarh district, openly issued vituperative and abusive threats to intimidate and harass villagers engaged in a peaceful anti-mining protest, and in particular, targetted Rinchin, a WSS member and a village organizer who has been living with these villagers for the past three years.
Chhattisgarh has long been a battleground where the state, in collusion with corporate capital, is waging a war against Adivasis who are resisting the model of “development” – based on brutal extraction and explotation of natural resources- that is being forced on them, in flagrant violation of the laws of the land and Constitutional rights.
Tamnar Block in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh is the site of one such struggle. The Jindal group of companies has taken over large tracts of land in this area, in flagrant violation of land acquisition laws and procedures. The company has also continuously flouted all environmental norms laid down for blasting, dumping of waste, controlling dust pollution and mitigation of environmental damage. SECL (South Eastern Coalfields Limited), the current custodian of coal mines in this area, is continuing its mining operations without giving the local people jobs citing that it is merely a custodian though it continues to extract coal from the mines.
On November 1, villagers from six villages of Tamnar came together to enforce an “economic blockade” of the mining operations by sitting on the roads and preventing truck traffic. The main demands of these affected people are fair compensation; cancellation of illegal benami transfers in the name of Adivasi employees; compensation for houses damaged by blasting; provision of passage and access between affected villages; rehabilitation and livelihoods for all those who were dependent on the acquired land, and strict adherence to environmental laws for future operations.
Instead of paying heed to the legitimate demands of the villagers, the administration tried to sideline the protesters by bringing in village middlemen and land brokers, many of whom were immediately identified as BJP goons and the same company stooges who had manipulated people into selling their land at throwaway prices. In particular, Mr Pradeep Kori, the SDM Tamnar who came to visit the dharna site on 3rd November 2016 refused to allow women to speak, ordering them to stay silent until he gave them permission to speak.
Despite these attempts to subvert the struggle, the villagers stood firm. At 10.30 pm on the night on the sixth day of the dharna, after a four-hour long negotiation ended in standoff, the villagers refused to lift the chakka jam until their demands were met.
This infuriated the SDM who launched an abusive attack against Rinchin, a WSS member and local activist who has been working in the region for over three years. He launched a tirade against her, accusing her to of poisoning people’s minds against the company. Calling her an “outsider”, the SDM threatened that she would be killed and buried on the spot and warned that not only should she leave the dharna spot, but she should never be seen in the district again.
Apart from threatening Rinchin’s physical well being, Mr Kori also gave an ominous warning to the villagers that anyone who gave “these outsiders” shelter or engaged with them in any way would be booked and imprisoned. He continued this torrent of heckling and abuse and forcefully ended the blockade.
The actions of the SDM are not only in unseemly and in poor taste, they are also in clear and open violations of the rules of conduct for officials of the district administration. The fact that an officer representing the district administration could publicly threaten, abuse and attack women activists, demonstrates the complete indifference of the administration to the sufferings of the people, and its unwillingness to carry out its duty of upholding the Constitution and the rule of law. By labelling grassroots activists and journalists as “outsiders” and warning local communities to not engage with them, the administration is showing its contempt for the Constitutional rights of every citizen of India to live and work where they choose to.
The message is clear: anyone who raises a voice against the unjust actions of the state will be considered fair game for violent reprisals.