19th June. This report, directly from a Foil Vedanta team on the ground in Niyamgiri, tells a shocking story of the month long imprisonment of a group of Dalit women and children displaced by Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery. The testimonies provide clear evidence of the collusion of Vedanta and police working as one, and show the callous nature of their outright disregard for human rights or basic morality. Foil Vedanta is now following this case up with local lawyers.
Please also see the video interview with Padma Tandi here.
On 10th June 2013, a team of three Foil Vedanta activists visited Badapada village in Lanjigarh. Badapada is a Dalit village, where the villagers had lost agricultural land to Vedanta when the company was establishing the Lanjigarh refinery. As a result of Vedanta not adhering to any of its resettlement promises, the villagers have registered an association called “Vedanta Land Loser’s Association”, to demand proper implementation of the rehabilitation processes and to seek accountability from Vedanta and the state for promises made to them before the refinery was set up on their land. Mr. Kumar, a retired school teacher, who is the President of the Vedanta Land Loser’s Association, told us,
“The agricultural lands of the Dalits in this village were taken away by Vedanta. We were promised Rs 3 lakh compensation, but the compensation provided to us has been a scam and very erratic, people have received varying amounts ranging from 25k to 1 lakh rupees. We have done so much Andolan. We have organised numerous demonstrations and rallies, we blocked the nearby railway line on one occasion. We have petitioned and submitted memorandums to everyone — the Chief Minister, the Governor, the Orissa Human Rights Commission, Jairam Ramesh, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Still there has been no solution. No-one is listening to the poor. Everyone one is the company’s ‘dalal’ (agent). We have had to face so much pain and hardship because of Vedanta, and we are constantly threatened and harassed. The company has completely destroyed our lives. Our villagers were promised jobs in the refinery, till date it has not given anyone in the village even a coolie’s job. This company is full of lies. We do not have our lands anymore, and we do not have any jobs. How are we supposed to survive? Who will listen to the poor? Everyone has been bought by the company”
An incident of blatant human and child rights violation emerged from the village, adding to a series of incidents so far. The villagers informed us that twelve women from the village had been arrested on false cases on 7th April 2013. They had been kept in jail for one month and three days. What was most shocking was that there were also two minor children, both of two years of age who had also been kept in custody with their mothers during this period of time. This is a very serious violation by the Odisha state police. We immediately had a impromptu meeting of the ten women who had been arrested. Initially, the women were scared to give any statements, given their harrowing experience in jail. However, on being persuaded by other villagers, they opened up and provided us with some very shocking testimonies.
“I am a widow, whose hardships have increased many fold ever since the company came here. I was walking around the refinery area, when I slipped and fell down, and hurt myself. The other women ran towards me to make sure that I was ok. Suddenly, several policemen arrived and started beating me. They also dragged and pulled the other women” —- Padma Tandi
“We had ran to see if Padma was ok. Once the police arrived, they started manhandling us. There were two women police, but they were just standing by. The male policeman started dragging and pushing us, and pulled our hair. All of us were forcibly put inside a Vedanta vehicle. That was the most atrocious thing. Why was the state police dragging us into a Vedanta vehicle? If they had to arrest us, they should taken us in a police van, not in a Vedanta gaari! We were taken straight to the Bhawanipatna court.” – Kanchono Suna
“They took two children also into jail. My son, Bulbul Nihal, two yrs and Aditya Nihal, son of Saraswati Nayak, also two yrs – were in jail with us. What crimes have these little children, who have just learnt to speak, committed? The police and company have no right to keep kids in jail like this!” – Doini Nihal
“ We have no proper information about the court case that has been registered against us. We saw our lawyer being paid money in the police station. The police and lawyers have been bought by the company. There is no-one to listen to the cries of the poor. When the police had taken us in the Vedanta vehicle on 7th April, which was a Sunday, we were told that we would be released by the following Tuesday, the 9th. However, we stayed in jail for a whole month and three days. The police and company is trying to scare us, to intimidate us, so that they can break our will, our voice and our struggle.” – Jamuna Durga
Following are the names of the women and children arrested by the police, as recalled by the villagers:
- Suryamukhi Tandey
- Saraswati Nayak and 2 year old child, Aditya Nayak
- Jamuna Durga
- Kanchona Suna
- Savita Harijan
- Babuli Harijan
- Maya Suni
- Guloni Harijan
- Neela Batisona
- Gourimoni Tandi
- Doini Nihal, and 2year old child, Bulbul Nihal
The women were also not provided the free legal aid they are legally supposed to have access to as Dalits. They stressed how they do not have the financial resources to engage with the legal process, and hence it is used a pressure tactic by Vedanta to silence voices.
Foil Vedanta members are now trying to get access to court documents on this incident, and we will be updating very soon in this regard.