Saturday, March 23, 2013

Queers Against A Government of Oppression

At Nigah, we are dismayed by the impunity with which the Government of Orissa treats its citizens in the POSCO project-affected areas of Jagatsinghpur district. We strongly protest the violence unleashed against protesters, the systematic misuse of criminal law to register false cases against affected villagers, and the prioritizing of corporate interests over those of local residents.

The POSCO project has deliberately ignored legal and constitutional safeguards from the start, dealing both with the environment and land acquisition. In late 2005, the Government of Orissa signed a MoU with the Korean steel maker POSCO to build an integrated steel plant in Orissa. As part of the MoU the Orissa Government intended to acquire 4000 acres of land for the project site, and additionally 2000 acres of land for POSCO to develop a township. The MoU expired in 2011 and a new one is currently under negotiation. However, as of 2012, the government has acquired 2000 acres and is still forcibly trying to acquire 700 acres more, in the gram panchayats of Dhinkia, Gobindpur and Patana in Jagatsinghpur district. Meanwhile, the project’s environmental clearances stand suspended by the National Green Tribunal, because POSCO under-represented the environmental impact of the project to the Government of India.

The land that the Orissa Government is acquiring for POSCO is fertile land, which means that people live here and earn their income from farming it, or gathering forest produce from it. Beginning in 2005, the villagers who live here have strongly objected to the coerced land acquisition, and to loss of their capital assets and means of livelihood. Instead of engaging in democratic conversation with affected villagers, the government has been quashing dissent through violent, underhand and undemocratic means.

For example, earlier this March, women frantic to save their crops and prevent their land from being forcibly acquired stripped off some of their clothes in protest in Gobindpur village. The government’s reaction to this desperate action was heinous: it chose to try to delegitimise the protest by charging four of the protesters with indecency and obscenity. Furthermore, when goons acting on behalf of POSCO hurled a bomb in Patana village, killing three anti-POSCO activists, the Orissa Government charged that the bomb was created by the activists themselves, and significantly delayed medical attention to those injured.

The Orissa Government has destroyed the means of livelihood of the poorest villagers in Jagatsinghpur, by tearing down betel leaf plantations. It has falsely registered a large number of criminal cases in order to intimidate protesters and threatened to arrest them if they leave their villages. It has crippled health services, even in critical situations. The Orissa Police is biased, not protecting protestors and enabling their harassers. The Orissa Government has gone to the extent of terminating jobs of its employees who protest the land acquisition. The government hones in on the “indecency” of the poorest and most vulnerable populations of the state, and is utterly blind to the brazen indecency of displacement, coerced land acquisitions and silencing through intimidation that it perpetrates.

This is no different from what happened in Singur and Nandigram, West Bengal and what is happening in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu. State governments have been shutting down dissent through intimidation and violence. The Orissa Government is following suit. This is an unacceptable trend in which state governments place the interest of corporate partnerships over those of their citizens, couching their actions in the Trojan horse language of ‘development’.

At Nigah, we stand for a politics that values equality and justice as its core. As queer people, we maintain that it is impossible to be queer by circumscribing our politics to LGBT rights alone, without turning our gaze to the wider world that also impacts us. We see struggles against widespread injustices on the bases of gender, sexuality, religion, caste, class, language and region, as interconnected with each other.

We strongly object to the violence unleashed against the people of Jagatsinghpur. We object to the destruction of crops by the Orissa Government. We object to the registration of false cases as a means of stopping democratic dissent. We object to biased functioning by the Orissa Police and unfair termination of employment by the state government.

We demand the end of government-mandated violence in Orissa. Protesters follow democratic processes to register their opposition, and we demand that the Orissa Government – as an embodiment of democracy – do the same. We demand that it take seriously the legal and constitutional rights of its citizens and of the environment, and that it not surrender these to the interests of corporations.

Nigah is a queer collective based in Delhi.
More about us on our blog:

New Delhi, 23 March, 2013 

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