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Land rights violations in India meet continued resistance

Posted on February 8, 2013 by Ryan Schlief

On February 15, WITNESS joined 250 other international organizations in an open letter to the government of Odisha, condemning the violence and the forced evictions. Read more here.

At 4:00am on 3rd February, 12 platoons of police forcefully entered two villages in the eastern state of Odisha in India to forcibly take land. At least 6 women, children and elderly people were seriously injured. 50 people were arbitrarily detained, and one person was arrested: Debendra Swain, a community correspondent with Video Volunteers, a WITNESS ally in India. Debendra remains in custody today, and international human rights organization Frontline Defenders has called for his immediate release and for all charges to be dropped.

A week before the police violence and his subsequent arrest, Debendra made this powerful video showing his village and describing why the community is resisting.

Communities in Odisha have been at the center of a seven-year long resistance movement against the Government of India’s plans to allow the South Korean steel company POSCO to build a steel plant and port.  In all, 4,000 families are affected by the project and at US$12 billion, it is the largest foreign commercial project in the country. As we have seen in forced evictions around the world, the might of money unfortunately seems somehow to outweigh a government’s obligations to its own people. It is truly a credit to the local communities and those supporting them that this project has not gone forward over the last seven years.

There are other significant obstacles facing the Government.  The Forest Rights Act states that no forest land can be diverted without the informed consent of the local council, and these two village councils in particular have refused.  In March 2012, documented concerns about the project also led to the environment impact statement for the POSCO project being suspended by the National Green Tribunal, which was established to adjudicate such concerns. The memorandum of understanding between the Government of Odisha and the South Korean company expired in June 2010.

But despite all this, the Government of Odisha has attacked and threatened these communities in its desire to move the project ahead anyway.

Debendra Swain, a Video Volunteers correspondant, documented the his community's struggle against forced evictions. He was arrested in the police raid, and has not been released.

Debendra Swain, a Video Volunteers correspondent, documented the his community’s struggle against forced evictions. He was arrested in the police attack and has not been released.

The police allegedly destroyed 15 farming plots on February 3rd, and another 9 on February 4th. Further attempts by the police to destroy more plots on February 4th was prevented by 2000 villagers who protected the plots.  The destruction of crops is more than just a threat to the villagers to get off their land. The Government also has taken away the significant investment each family put into growing each plot and the anticipated income when they harvest.

Read more about the violence on 3 Feb in the public statement released by the Housing and Land Rights Network.

Debendra Swain also produced a series of videos that document the voices of the people in his village and their reasons for opposing the POSCO project. In one of the videos, Debendra describes how and why he makes videos to document the stories and struggles of his community.

Watch Debendra’s videos and see the Odisha POSCO struggle unfold in this Human Rights Channel playlist. 

After days of protests in Odisha and public concerns expressed throughout the country, the Times of India reported today that the Government of Odisha would temporary halt the land acquisition. But this is only a temporary halt. There have been reports this week that the Government is simultaneously considering plans to speed up this project.

Now your involvement is needed to ensure that the families who would be affected by the POSCO project are at the center of discussions determining their future.

TAKE ACTION

* Video Volunteers has created an action page with more information and updates about the land rights struggle in Odisha.

* Sign a petition demanding that the Chief Minister of Odisha stop the acquisition of land in Odisha for the POSCO project.

* Take action to release human rights defender Debendra Swain.

* Watch a full account of the struggle in Odisha in the video Dividends of Resistance by the Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group.

* Read updates on Twitter by searching for the hashtag #peoplevsPOSCO .

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