After inspection of the villages peacefully resisting the POSCO project in Odisha, the NCPCR has justified the children's participation in the ongoing agitation terming it 'voluntary'.
Children’s participation in the resistance was criticised by some people
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had sent a 3-member team on July 4, 2011, for an on-the-spot inspection of the area of the POSCO project in Jagatsinghpur District of Odisha. Its objective was to examine whether children were being used, misused or abused by the elders by involving them in the on-going protest against the POSCO project in the area. The inspection, including interviewing children, was in response to a complaint to NCPCR that children were being used as ‘human shields’ to protect adult protestors from police action to enforce acquisition of forest land for the POSCO project, and that children were forced or coerced to demonstrate on the frontlines by lying down on the ground to block entry of police and government officials into forest lands of their villages. (Read more here: http://www.d-sector.org/article-det.asp?id=1644)
The people of eight affected villages (Dhinkia, Govindpur, Nuagaon, Noliasahi, Polang, Bhuyanpal, Bayanakandha and Jatadhar) have been opposing the POSCO composite mega-project by organizing themselves for non-violent resistance, agitation and protest as POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti. The peaceful resistance began in 2005 soon after Government of Odisha (GOO) signed an MoU with Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) of South Korea.
The State government is increasingly embarrassed since the land acquisition for POSCO project is being opposed by locals who have resisted entry into the area over the past six years despite heavy administrative and police pressure. The administration has used all means to intimidate the agitating locals through indiscriminate beatings and criminal cases against over 1,000 people, including many women. Notwithstanding its repressive approach, the peaceful resistance of local villagers continues to be in the best Gandhian tradition.
Odisha government’s land acquisition efforts intensified in early 2011, and larger police contingents have been deployed in an attempt to intimidate the agitators. The Samiti has arranged that people from every home take turns to sit in dharna daily on the land to be acquired, and on any given day there are always around 150 people squatting on the land. This has been going on for six years. But when police appears to use force, the entire village of nearly two thousand people turns out in full strength.
The CWC team withdrew silently when locals asked its members to explain how children could pack their books and go off to school when their parents are being attacked by police forces. And in any case how can children study when their school is occupied by police forces?
Few months ago, local children too joined their parents and elders in the resistance demonstrations. This was done in a novel manner, said to be the first of its kind in the world; children lay down in lines on the hot earth under the blazing summer sun, blocking the path of the police and government officials.
The children and women lying down on the ground succeeded in stopping the fully armed police forces clad in riot gear. The police then used loudspeakers, to warn and threaten the agitators every 15 minutes that police would attack if they did not vacate the land. But the protestors didn’t move, and thereby succeeded in stopping the police advance, and thus far have saved the lands from acquisition.
While participating in the people’s dharna on July 15, 2011, this writer was witness to a surprise visit by Jagatsinghpur District Children Welfare Committee’s (CWC) team of five persons including one woman and Chairperson R. N. Das. The CWC team which was investigating reasons for children participating in the frontlines of the struggle spoke to Samiti leaders and other locals sitting on dharna. Though they did not find any child at the dharna, they tried to explain that it was wrong to force children to miss school and face violence by sitting on dharna. The CWC team withdrew silently when locals asked its members to explain how children could pack their books and go off to school when their parents are being attacked by police forces. And in any case how can children study when their school is occupied by police forces? Further, the children who were age 6 when the resistance began are 12 years old now and are well aware of the causes for their parents' agitation. Children know that if their parents are displaced by the POSCO project, their future is also ruined.
However, the NCPCR, based on its inspection on July 4, clearly stated in its report, "The children think that they are protecting the interest of their families which is contrary to the allegations that children are being coerced to participate in the agitation. The anxiety / apprehension on account of the prospect of displacement and loss of the source of livelihood for their families, has been apparently affecting the minds of the children. It appears to be a factor behind such conduct by the children”.
NCPCR also condemned Government of Orissa for police occupation of schools and failing to provide midday meals in schools, and also noted that “the district level officers of the women and child development department and school & mass education department appear to be oblivious of their responsibilities in respect of these children”.
The word “pratirodh” appears in the name of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti because the reason for forming it was to oppose the POSCO project to protect people's lands and livelihoods. But the name conceals the fact that it is actually a movement that protects and strengthens people's constitutionally assured right to life and livelihood. Their 6-years long on-going peaceful struggle against forced acquisition of their land by the government for a corporate project is unique as children are also actively participating in it. These children are demonstrating the power of peaceful resistance to the might of the state in a way Mahatma Gandhi would have applauded and perhaps himself joined were he alive. Gandhiji non-violently opposed unaccountable and cruel (British) power used against ordinary people. Many decades later in independent India, the people of Jagatsinghpur and elsewhere in the country are following his example but against their own governments' violent anti-people actions. But now there is a new dimension; children are in it. The valiant children of Govindpur, Dhinkia and other villages deserve appreciation.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are
personal and do not necessarily reflect the
views of d-sector editorial team.
S. G. Vombatkere
Maj Gen S. G. Vombatkere (VSM) (retired) is engaged in voluntary work with Mysore Grahakara Parishat, and is a member of National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Settled in Mysore, he is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA.
Other Articles by S. G. Vombatkere in Political Development
> Duties and Rights > Economic and Social Rights
Lying down for Justice Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Hundreds of children are opposing the government plan to acquire lands and forests for the Posco plant. This unique action by children is a warning to the policy makers to reconsider their development strategy before it is too late to make a course correction.
Farmers know what they need Friday, February 26, 2010
As sustained propaganda to establish private laboratory's control over farmers' rights is gathering momentum, a unique Farmers' Jury comprised of small and marginal farmers from diverse communities and regions asserted their right to be consulted for farm research and policy making.
Sustained pollution of major rivers; continuous decline in groundwater reserves; priority allocation to non-consumptive sectors; and, growing disparity in water distribution only indicates that the worst is still to come!..