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Normalcy Far from Returning to Kandhamal

Eyewitness reports in the first fortnight of October from Kandhamal describe the miserable conditions in which the victims of the recent riots in this district of Orissa continue to live. It is clear that the government's claims of a return to normalcy in the area are false and that much needs to be done. People are leaving the camps to live in towns and even to other states. There is a palpable fear of insecurity among the survivors.

interview to the CNN-IBN: news channel (telecast on October 12, 2008).

COMMENTARYnovember 1, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly12those who have returned to theirvillages, under what circumstances? The decrease in numbers in the relief camps as asserted by the Orissa govern-ment is no indication of people returning to their villages. Many people are head-ing for other states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala while hundreds are seeking refuge in other towns in Orissa. There are more than 250 people in Bhubaneswar supported by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and they receive relief from the government too. Many people have taken shelter in Missionaries of Charity at Jaanla, near Khurdha. There are many instances of people having travelled eitherdirectly from Kandhamal or from relief camps to seektemporary shelter in the houses of relatives. They live incognito and spoke to us pleading for anonymity. Relief is being organised by relatives or a few well-wishers in a clandestine manner. Such places include Cuttack and Berhampur and possibly many others. At a very con-servative estimate there are at least 200 people in Berhampur. According to local people who are offering support, the ad-ministration has assured their safety and security provided they meet no one and take no relief. Any such interaction is supposed to draw the attention of the local Bajrang Dal elements which the administration is keen to avoid. There-fore, safety is assured at the cost of the survivors maintaining silence and to the police anonymity. How are they then expected to seek support or even file their first information reports (FIRs)? The terror and anxiety of the people who are in Berhampur underline anything and everything they have to say of their current situation. A 32-year old man has his wife hidden in his uncle’s house as the latter’s family is Hindu. The family is too terrified to keep the wife for long as it worries that this will be discovered by the local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members. His two children aged four and two are with him. He is anxious about his wife’s safety and states clearly that he has to leave for Allahabad where a cousin will help him become a coolie as itismostimportant for him that his family issafeand together. He has been a small cultivator but is today ready to take on any hardship to have his family safe. He says we are adivasis; we can do any work how-ever hard it is... It will take time but I will do well in whatever I do. Our lives are no longer safe in any place there in Kandhamal, not even here, not even in relief camps. What is the fault of these children? I have to bring them up properly. Other people shared their thoughts about the possibility of moving to Kerala. Leaving Kandhamal and Orissa is a certainty for them as many others have already fled Orissa. The exact estimate of how many such people have already left and are leaving is any-body’s guess as the number of such people is on the increase. A 55-year old survivor who is helping many people seek refuge told one of us that you only need to go to a railway station and you will find people either roaming around or waiting to leave as soon assome relative or acquaintance provides them money. All of them want to go any-where other than to their villages.The Terrible Dilemma Most people we spoke to are too shocked to even think of returning to their villages. Almost every person has an identical story to share of being approached by local RSS cadre or theRSS-organised village committees or panchayats to consider converting from Christianity to Hinduism. This has generally happenedtwice,once usually before attacks have taken place in villages and others when theadivasishad been hiding in the jungles. The Sangh parivar has given the Christiansachoice:to change their religion to Hinduism and they can come back to their villages; or, “to get lost”. Photocopies of an application form, addressed to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have been circulated. Anybody wanting to convert to Hinduism can sign it and send it to the local leaders and only then would they be allowed to return to the village. Following the appli-cation, some rituals are being performed, and a fine has to be paid varying in amount from Rs 350 to 1,500. Some people have already made this choice. And we met a few people who have signed it but have also fled. A 33-year old man said he had to sign the form or other-wise he risked being killed. Hesaidthat even after that he did not feel safe.Yet another survivor told us in a similar vein that it is not easy to stay even after signing because in any case they would be coerced to do what the Sangh parivar is engaged in, i e, join the violence against Christians.Returning back to the village is fraught with many other problems too as the terror and the boycott persist. In Baliguda block, 14 families from Madinada village, who had taken refuge in the camp, have been persuaded to go back to their village. Their houses were burnt during the violence in August. After going through various rituals of peace-building efforts, the government officials took these families to their villages. They were given 10 kg of rice, 1 kg of dal and a few utensils. In the village, nobody talks to these families. They cannot sleep at night fearing attacks from the hostile villagers. They are afraid to go to the marketplace. They used to live by collecting and selling fuel wood and leaves. Now they do not have the courage to go to the market. These families EPW on JSTORThe Economic and Political Weekly is now on JSTOR. Past issues of EPW from 1966 to 2002 are currently loaded on JSTOR archives. Institutions with access to JSTOR can read and download all EPW articles from 1966 onwards at these archives. EPW issues will be available on JSTOR with a moving wall of five years.Readers can visit http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublication?journalCode=econpoliweek for more information.Please note: While access to EPW on JSTOR archives are available only to participating institutions, EPW has been working to digitise its issues going back first to 1966 and ultimately to 1949 (Economic Weekly). The first batch of an expanded archives will be available on the EPW site from January 2009. These will cover 1989 to the latest issue, and by April 2009 they should extend up to January 1949. These archives will be available to all subscribers of EPW.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW november 1, 200813are extremely poor. They were given job cards but not a single day’s work has been provided under this scheme. Duringthe 2007/2008 December-January violencetoo, these families had fled their village and taken shelter in a relief camp in Baliguda for two weeks. A young woman of about 20 breaks down while talking about her family’s stay in this camp. She had lost her one-year old child in the camp. Their houses were not destroyed at that time. But out of fear of being attacked they had left the village. They continue to be mar-ginalised; one can surmise from here what return has in store for the thousands of such families.On the way back from a Christian basti one met a poor adivasi woman making bundles of fuel wood for sale. Asked about the National Rural Employment Guaran-tee Scheme (NREGS) and work available,it was found that she had no idea about the 100 days of employment guarantee thatthe scheme promises. When enquiredastowhy people are not talking withtheChristian families, her facial expression immedi-ately changed. She started asking ina hostile tone “who told you that we are not talking? Did those people tell you?” Driving through the roads in Kandhamal, one would notice the remains of deserted houses, either broken or burnt, anddam-aged churches. While this was not shock-ing, what one had not anticipated were saffron flags flying atop the houses in what is so-called “Hindu villages” now. Inthe small town market places, as in G Udayagiri, a saffron flag is flying in front of every “Hindu shop”. Saffron flags are displayed prominently for sale in shops. And there was a broken church too with a saffron flag. Obviously, the Sangh parivar has used force, coercion and violence in full measure in Kandhamal as part of its “crusade”. Conditions in Relief CampPeople are staying either in school build-ings or in tents put up in the school premises or adjoining open fields. The open field camps stink unbearably when it rains. There has been an outbreak of gastro-enteritis and fever. This has also beenre-ported in national dailies (Times of India; September 20, 2008, ‘KandhamalGrapples with Disease, Rain’). Temporary toilets constructed by the administration are not in usable condition; while adults go out for defecation, children are using the campsite field. Dogs and cows freely roam around in the camp. The people in the camps have been given just one set of clothes each: one saree, one petticoat and a blouse for women, a dhoti and a shirt for men and one pant and a shirt/frock for children. Adults have been provided with one blanket each. There is no provision of sanitary clothes for women. Two buckets have been provided for one tent where six to eight families are put up. Similarly the number of mats provided is not enough to cover the floor spaceinthe tent. Though one mosquito net is to be provided for a family, not all familieshavereceived it. Each family is provided with one soap, a small pouch of washing powder and a pouch of hair oil. Children and Their EducationOne of the biggest setbacks is the abrupt ending of children’s education. There is no mention or hope of being able to go back to the same schools. At a few places books have just been distributed but no provision to engage the children in edu-cation or related activity. Many children in relief camps cry in their sleep or shout in deep sleep at the attackers. This has also been reported in dailies (Times of India, October 7, 2008; ‘IfIReturnThey Will Kill Me: Riot AffectedChildrenRefuse to Go Back to Their Homes’). As the families have to begin life from scratch, it seems highly doubtful if the amount of effort and hard work that had gone into these children being sent to school in the first place can be repeated again.Violence against WomenWhile the gang rape of a nun has got muchpublicity, there have been two other incidents of rape. It is not possible at this moment to surmise the exact number of incidents of sexual assault and let us hope the number is few. What is more pervasive however is the fear and terror expressed by almost all women we met. This is true not only of women who have to go out of the camps to defecate and also bathe but also of all women who are on the move in searchofrefuge or hospital or public transport. The provision of sanitary napkins or cloth for menstruation is not there. Pregnant mothers are in bad shape. Meanwhile, miscarriages have happened too. Rendered completely homeless, their insecurity in negotiating with new and strange people in new places continuously makes them vulnerable, leave alone safe or normal as the government would like us to believe. Some of them recalled with horror how the mobs cried out “we will do the same to your women what you did to our mata”(referring to the assault on Bhaktimoyi Mata, a disciple who was killed along with LaxmananandaSaras-wati on August 23).Restoration of Normalcy Pointing toward the decrease in numbers in the relief camps as an indication of people settling down or normalcy being restored can be the crudest joke the Orissa government can play at a time when the entire demographic profile of the district itself is getting drastically altered over-night. In response to the chief minister’s assertion in the CNN-IBN interview that action is being taken through arrests of over 1,000 people in the state, one can only say that it is too little and has come too late. The perpetrators of the mass scale of violence loom large in every lane and street. Virtually all people we have spoken to say that almost all attackers be-long to their own village or neighbouring villages. The terror of going back to the same neighbours is palpably high.Government institutions have to create an atmosphere of safety for peace to pre-vail so that people can even begin to think of appealing for relief or recording the crimes committed on them or resuming their lives. Relief camps need to be as-sured of basic cleanliness and hygiene asright now they are fast becoming a breeding ground of illnesses like malaria, diarrhoea and gastroenteritis. Records need to be maintained of people coming in and where they are going to so that a mere drop in the total number is not proclaimed by the administration as signs of people returning to their houses. Com-plete security needs to be given to refugee camps as there are still regular attack on camps (bombs being thrown or water tankers being contaminated or squads of
COMMENTARYnovember 1, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly14women from the local“durgavahinis” threateningthepeople in the camp (Times ofIndia, October 1, 2008,‘3Bombs Near G Udayagiri Relief Camp’). Relief needs to be provided to hundreds and hundreds of people in neighbouring towns; they do not figure in any government records as our interviews revealed. And they are only too keen to be provided support and relief and help in registeringFIRs. FIRs need to be registered for each and every family that has been attacked, and whose property has been looted, on whom injuries have been inflicted, and for the loss of livestock, for plundering of the year’s stock of grains, mental torture and abject humiliation. Children have to be sent back to the same schools. Last but not least, houses need to be rebuilt. The current communal onslaught has happened in one of the poorest districts of the country; over 75 per cent people in Kandhamal district live below the poverty line. Thousands of us need to speak up if we wish for people to live with dignity and not leave it to only the Chris-tian community to help out. Even if we can hope for all this to happen, it might still take many years for the situation to become “normal”.The Technician in the Establishment: Obama’s America and the WorldVinay LalOn November 4, Barack Obama will in all likelihood be elected the 44th president of the United States. As against the euphoria in the rest of the world about such a presidency, this article reads into his 2006 book (The Audacity of Hope) and his campaign speeches, a different kind of Obama. He emerges as a technician who is best equipped to fix broken policies and get America working once again. One can only hope that a US that is once again working does not mean a US that is more efficient in its exercise of military domination and even more successful in projecting its own vision of human affairs as the only road to the good life. To believe in Obama, one needs to hope against hope. Barack Obama is poised to become the 44th president of the United States. Many see in the ascendancy of a black man to the highest office of the world’s hegemon a supremely historic mo-ment in American if not world affairs. Such is the incalculable hold of the US, in times better or worse, on the imagination of people worldwide that many are more heavily invested in the politics and future of the US than they are in the politics of their own nation. There may yet be method to this mad-dening infatuation, for Iraqis, Afghanis, and Pakistanis, among many others, known and unknown, the target at some point of the military wrath and moral unctuousness of America, may want to reason if their chances of being bombed back into the stone age increase or decrease with the election of one or the other candidate. The French, perhaps best known for the haugh-ty pride in their own culture, were somoved by the events of September 11, 2001,which the Americans have attempted to install as a new era in world history, rendering 9/11 as something akin toBC or AD, that Le Monde famously declared, “Nous sommes tous Americains” (“We are all Americans”). One doubts that, had it been Beijing, Delhi, or Dakar that had been so bombed, the French would have declared, We are All Chinese, Indians, or Senegalese.That old imperialist habit of presuming the royal We, thinking that the French or American we is the universal We, has evidently not disappeared. Obama vs McCainThere can be little question that Obama’s presidency would be much preferable to that of McCain. If nothing else, his presi-dency is not calculated to be an insult to human intelligence or a complete affront to simple norms of human decency. After eight years of George W Bush, it seemed all but improbable that America could throw up another candidate who is, if not in absolutely identical ways, at least as much of an embarrassment to theUS as the incumbent of the White House. But one should never underestimate the genius of America in throwing up crooks, clowns and charlatans into the cauldron of politics. It is likely that McCainhas a slightly less convoluted – or should I say jejune – view of world history and geography than Bush, nor is his vocabulary wholly impoverished, but he will not strike anyone with a discerning mind as possessed of a robust intelli-gence. McCain has already committed so many gaffes, accusing (to take one example) Iran of training Al Qaida extremists, that one wonders whether his much touted “foreign policy experience” amounts to anything at all. In America, it is enough to have a candi-date who understands that Iraq and Iran are not only spelled differently but consti-tute two separate nations. Obama seems so far ahead of the decorated Vietnam war veteran in these respects that it seems pointless to waste any more words on McCain. Obama writes reasonably well, and has even been lauded for his skills as an orator; he is suave, mentally alert, and a keen observer of world affairs.Vinay Lal (vlal@history.ucla.edu) teaches history at the University of California, Los Angeles and is presently with the University of California Education Abroad Programme in India.

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