The mystery of the missing tribals

More than 40,000 Jhodias, the ‘principal tribe’ of Orissa’s Kashipur, find themselves disenfranchised for reasons nobody’s willing to admit or accept

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | April 15, 2013


Hapless tribals of Siriguda village trying to figure out how to get their legitimate status back
Hapless tribals of Siriguda village trying to figure out how to get their legitimate status back

Malati Jhodia, a young woman of Siriguda village in Orissa’s Kashipur, could have led a better life had she got what is legitimately hers, a scheduled tribe certificate. In absence of it she was denied the job of an anganwadi worker last year, which would have meant a princely sum of Rs 2,000 a month. Apart from her tribal status, the fact that she is a young bride from the village would have gone in her favour. Now she has to struggle as an ‘asha karmi’ (health worker) to find a pregnant woman willing to go to a government hospital for delivery so that she gets her quota of Rs 600.

For Pabitra Jhodia, her 26-year-old neighbour, it is tough to arrange for books, stationery, school bag and uniform for his six-year-old son who goes to a government school. His only source of cash is alashi, a mustard-like plant grown for oilseeds, that fetches him Rs 2,000- 3,000 a year. His daughter will soon be going to school. Had he got his certificate as a tribal, he could have sent his son, and then the daughter, to a residential school meant for them which would have taken care of all their expenses, including food, until class 10.

I couldn’t meet Khit Jhodia’s 10-yearold son and 14-year-old daughter. Both were away at the time, herding their cattle somewhere up in the hills. The father regrets having pulled them out of school because he couldn’t afford it any more. If only he could get the certificate identifying his tribal status, the children’s education would have been taken care of.

About 30 km away, in Dimundi village on the outskirts of Utkal Alumina’s plant in Kucheipadar, a Jhodia youth sits in gloom as he narrates how his family had to shell out Rs 23,000 as donation to study in an ITI institute in Koraput from the compensation amount they received for their land acquired for the company. “No Jhodia of Kashipur is getting certificate as a tribal. I went to the tehsildar several times; the most recent one was four months ago. The tehsildar said I belong to the general category,” he says.

Missing Jhodias

There are, in fact, thousands of Jhodias who are being deprived of education, stipends, scholarships, cycles meant for girl students, jobs, subsidised loans for housing and agriculture and many such benefits that the government provides for the tribals in this picturesque land of rolling hills in the Maoist-affected Rayagada district. Without their certificates, they are being treated as general category people.

This is quite intriguing. For, the district gazetteer of Koraput, 1966, clearly spells out the “caste and tribes” of Kashipur in these words: “The principal tribes found are the Jhorias, the Pengu Khonds and the Khonds.” (Just as ‘d’ in Odisha and Odia became ‘r’ in Orissa and Oriya then, Jhodias were spelt Jhorias.)

There wasn’t a problem until late 1980s. The first ST list of Orissa, notified in 1976, mentions ‘Paroja’ as the scheduled tribe (serial number 55), in the present context. The Jhodias were recognised as a ‘sub-section’ of Paroja (“endogamous section of the Paroja”). There exist hundreds of land and settlement records and certificates issued by the district administration showing that the Jhodias belong to the Paroja tribe.

There are also several official communiqués from the district collector of Rayagada to the Kashipur tehsildar between 1989 and 2010, confirming their tribal status and directing that such certificates be issued to them. The last one was written on May 13, 2010, by the present collector, Dr Nitin Bhanudas Jawale, the concluding line of which reads: “Hence, these instructions be strictly followed and no such eligible persons in whose RORs (record of rights) his caste (has been) mentioned as Jhodia and he otherwise belongs to non-tribal group be denied ST certificate.”

When the 1976 list was amended and published in 2003, ‘Paroja’ was replaced with several variations of Paroja, its subsections including variations of Jhodia, but not ‘Jhodia’ per se. There were, in fact, 12 communities that replaced ‘Paroja’ – Parja, Bodo Paroja, Barong Jhodia, Poroja, Chhelia Paroja, Jhodia Paroja, Konda Paraja, Paraja, Ponga Paroja, Sodia Paroja, Sano Paroja and Solia Paroja. Inclusion of ‘Jhodia Paroja’ seemed to provide some leeway, but it was not to be. 

While seeking to include Jhodia in the ST list, the state government had issued executive instructions that Jhodia ‘being synonymous’ to Jhodia Paroja and a section of the notified tribe Paroja, the members of the Jhodia community should be recognised and extended the benefit of the ST, after field verification. This didn’t work because of a 1996 supreme court order. In the Nityananda Sharma vs State of Bihar case, the apex court had said the presidential order notifying the lists of SCs and STs, and the subsequent amendments to these lists made by the parliament, were “conclusive” on which no courts had jurisdiction for interpretation.

The present tehsildar, Sushant Singh, admits that the Jhodias used to get the ST certificates earlier and availed all benefits thus accrued but this was discontinued after the apex court order, which left no scope for interpretations. He says he now issues ST certificates only to those whose land and settlement record (carried out in 1993-94) mentions their caste either as ‘Paroja’ or ‘Jhodia Paroja’. Not the others. As it happened, most of the community members who had faced no inconvenience in the past and were unaware of what awaited them, had recorded their caste as ‘Jhodia’, the usual practice, during the land settlement of 1993-94. That landed them in a soup.

Mystery Deepens

According to Makarand Muduli, president of the Paroja Samaj, a body set up in 1997 to fight for the restoration of tribal status to the Jhodias, there are about 23,000 Jhodia voters in Kashipur alone and the population of the community is over 40,000.A majority of them have lost their tribal status. In protest, they had even boycotted the last assembly elections in 2009. 

Muduli, a Jhodia, says the problem first surfaced around 1987 when some community members were denied the ST certificate. Protests that followed forced the state government to provide intermittent relief but after the 1996 apex court judgment, this was no longer possible. 

Under pressure, the state government started sending proposals to the centre to include ‘Jhodia’ in the ST list since 1989 but it was a clumsy effort. The last proposal before the 2003 notification was made on November 20, 2002. The centre sat over it and the state conveniently forgot it until 2006. In 2006, the centre said the registrar general of India (RGI) had “rejected” the proposal on four grounds: (a) the state’s recommendation about Jhodia is based on a single village study; (b) as per the socio-economic features given, Jhodia is not a tribe but a caste, as they suffer from social disabilities and treated as untouchables by the caste Hindus; (c) the report doesn’t reveal similarity in socio-cultural traits between Jhodia and Paraja; and (d) published literature doesn’t support Jhodia as synonym of section of Paraja.

The state responded back the same year with some more details, which was clearly not adequate and was rejected two years later in 2008. Taking the second rejection by RGI as a plea, the tribal affairs ministry at the centre also rejected it. Now, a fresh broad-based ethnic study covering five blocks of four districts (Rayagada, Koraput, Nawrangpur and Kalahandi), prepared by the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI) of the government of Orissa, has been submitted (May 2010). Given the current pre-occupation of the RGI with the census, it is unlikely to be taken up any time soon.

Mining Interest

Given their presence and the historic nature of injustice, one would have expected the political parties to kill each other to champion the Jhodia cause. But the fact is, just the opposite has happened. This is not unusual for Orissa. Not a single political party, save a marginal player like the Communist Party of India (CPI), has supported any of the revolts brewing against mining and industrial projects in the state. And it is not difficult to understand why.

Kashipur drew attention to itself first because of starvation deaths in the 1960s and 1980s and later, the discovery of its rich bauxite deposits. Once NALCO, a public sector unit, started mining the Panchapatmali hills and set up its refinery in adjoining Koraput district in mid 80s, Kashipur became the next target. Industrial houses lined up to sign MoUs with Orissa. Utkal Alumina, a joint venture of Hindalco and Alcan Aluminium, came into being in 1993 and by September 1995, it had received environment clearance from the centre to mine the Baphlamali hills and set up a plant in Kucheipadar. L&T and Balco (which Sterlite took over in 2001) too signed up MoUs to mine the Kuturumali and Sasbahumali, respectively, around that time. Soon, Aditya Aluminium too jumped in and will be setting up its plant and a mining venture shortly. But surveys of villages around the bauxite carrying hills had begun in late 1980s.Notice the remarkable coincidence of a peaking interest in bauxite with the beginning of the trouble for the Jhodias of Kashipur.

Fifteen years of protests and the consequent violence and deaths saw many (Tata and Sterlite) fleeing the scene. Norsk Hydro of Norway abandoned its plans for a joint venture when persecution of the tribals became too much of an ethical issue for it to ignore. But Utkal Alumina persisted, despite a huge uproar over the Maikanch killings in December 2000 in which three people were shot dead and several others were injured by the state police. All the dead were officially identified as the Jhodias – Abhilas Jhodia, Raghu Jhodia and Jamudhar Jhodia. So were the injured. That gives another clear clue. Three villages under the Utkal Alumina’s Baphlamali mining project – Mikanch, Paikkupakhal and Andrakanch – are all Jhodia-dominated ones.

“Out of this Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel”, a book by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, provides an account of how all the constitutional rights of the tribals were bypassed to acquire their land in Kashipur. The pattern was confirmed by the N C Saxena committee earlier this year which looked into Vedanta’s Niyamgiri project in Lanjigarh (adjoining Kashipur in Rayagada).

According to Rayagada collector, 3,432 acre of land have been acquired for mining and 2,638 acres (2,155 acre of which is private) for alumina plants in Kashipur block. These are spread over 27 villages. Land in four more villages is being acquired for Aditya Aluminium.

Giridhar Gamang, who as chief minister in 1999 claimed to have forwarded a proposal to include the Jhodias in the ST list, is unequivocal in blaming the mining lobby for the tribal community’s plight. “The industry manipulated the case (to rob the Jhodias of tribal status) in fear that the land acquired on their behalf would be taken away,” he said.

 

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