Rape Culture, Capitalism and India

By Saswat Pattanayak

Looks like, rape still continues to shock virtuous people in India. Or was it just this latest one? The one that took place in Delhi? Was it because the “izzat” of India’s capital city has now become the new concern? The honorable India has to be reclaimed in all “her” full glory where the goddesses are worshipped and women assaulted?

Or is it that the unprecedented outrage in Indian society today owes to the fact that this rape was of the “more brutal” variety? Since most of us don’t do that kind of “iron rod” rapes. We are the gentler varieties?

The very fact that instead of debating about the status of women in Indian class society, we are expressing disgust at an incident of rape says the extent to which we have surrendered ourselves to corporate media agenda-settings. Sure, the rape was gruesome and sure a woman was tortured and probably shall not survive. But the nonplussed manner in which the Indian society at large is responding to this incident underscores the collective denial about the degraded status of women in India, if not a clear refusal on part of the suddenly agitated, to confront the social realities.

The truth is sexual violence against women is inherently a dominant feature of feudalism/capitalism, where women necessarily are objects to be owned, conquered, glorified or abused, and such treatments are by extension, because they are not meant to be equal stakeholders in the society. Whereas the indignation is rightful and the protests against rapists are steps in the right direction, the larger demands for death penalties/castration/hanging etc are only that much more a vicious reaffirmation of the existing law and order framework.

What is too often forgotten in such times of “awakenings” is that the law and order system within a capitalistic setup typically works to benefit the men over the women, since patriarchy and capitalism are inextricably paired together. Within a framework of exploited labor, women must be especially commodified as they remain the very foundational private property. And if the women belong to further oppressed groups such as the Dalits in India or blacks in the United States, they are counted as nothing more than mere flesh, mere statistics. Religions and dominant cultural heritages sanction rape against these “lowly creatures”. And so commonplace becomes the organized violence against them that reports of their abandonment rarely ever generates collective outrage, let alone justice.

Scripturally, all major religions in the world have treated women as second-class citizens, if not downright slaves. Women have defined roles to play, approved cultural norms to adhere to. They are systemically deprived of reproductive rights, or even of rights to enjoy their status as sexual beings. Within a political-economic setup where women are treated as objects to be controlled, they have no say in matters of marital rapes either. In fact, marital rapes – where the largest concentration of rapes are to be found – remain sanctioned by religious codes. Divorce procedures are made complex while domestic violence goes underreported.

Even when divorce processes are facilitated with ease, women continue to remain dependent on men, because of disparity in economic equality, barring isolated cases where they earn more than the men in their lives. Domestic lives and tensions are confined within families owing to fears of undesirable social repercussions, and consequent stigmatizations. In a heteronormative order, an unmarried woman, or a woman without a husband, or an unwed mother must come to terms with legitimized violence. And the expectations from men to protect the women under similar circumstances – which has become a celluloid epic in cultural extractions – goes on to cement this unequal relationship even further. Women necessarily need men because the law and order systems within capitalism are juridically geared to serve male interests. Until the male “savior” surfaces, the woman must continue to suffer.

All the outrage about the Delhi incident are entirely uncalled for simply because treating rape as shocking devalues the reality. It is insulting towards women whose rape cases have been dismissed at the courts if they at all were allowed to reach there. It is absolving religions of their scriptural allowance for rape to take place to begin with. It is also undermining the roles mothers play in raising their children with religious codes of uncritical submissions. It undermines the roles – especially, educated and relatively empowered women play in tolerating their abusive husbands, their violent sons and privileged brothers.

Once domestic violence is normalized even while remaining the largest contributor to rape culture in capitalistic setups, women get equally oppressed by their secondary masters – the national patriots, and their holy cows, the military officers. Atrocities of American military are well known. What is lesser known is the way Indian military emulates it. “Encounter” killing and rape are integral to the culture of militarism in India and aided recently by the draconian law, “Armed Forces Special Powers Act” (AFSPA). Taking recourse of this and patriotic license providing for such systemic flexibilities, military assaults and tortures of Indian women and children continue all over India, not just in North-Eastern regions or Kashmir. The latest trend is brutalizing the indigenous peoples in the name of combating Maoism in the “tribal belts”.

Demanding castrations and death penalties are the easiest ways to appear moralistic while letting the system sustain its sexist character. If righteous people are really serious about hanging the rapists, they will be surprised by the sudden decrease in the military forces of any country, once such a law is duly implemented. Which is not a bad thing at all, but it will still be striking at the consequences, rather than the roots. And eventually, such death penalty rhetoric (which would enable the rapist to not just rape, but also to kill the victim in an effort to not leave behind any evidence of crime), are dangerous distractions from the core issue – the crisis of capitalism.

Focusing on gender wars and demonizing all men as beasts and all men as potential rapists is highly regressive and counterproductive. Asking that men give up their privileges is akin to asking capitalists to give up their wealth. This is utopian at its best, and reactionary, at its worst. Blaming the victim is as bad a strategy as disempowering them. By depending on the men to change their paths is to evince faith in patriarchy, just as expecting the police to end rape culture is to assert faith in capitalistic judiciary. The reality is most rapes do not take place outside of the inner circles of the victims. The very devaluation of women – the necessary condition for capitalism to flourish – is the primary enabler of rape culture. Not only are men assured of the “availability” of women for their gratifications – be they in full-blown capitalism of commodified women, or in feudal setups ensuring arranged marriages, they also end up becoming sexual toys for the men – and conversely, their inaccessibility resulting in forcible submissions – go beyond mere morality.

Boycotting a few corporate brands and killing a few greedy men do not alter the conditions of capitalism, just as hanging a few rapists and calling men beasts do not alter patriarchy. However, challenging patriarchy or racism in all their forms is a very effective method to wage war against capitalistic status quo, precisely because sexism and racism are inherent to capitalism. But what is paramount is the critical consciousness-raising that takes into account the need for women to remain accountable as much as the men, so that the war against capitalism to put an end to patriarchy have equal stakeholders. Empowering revolutions, not sheer anarchy and disorganized/misdirected/media-driven anger can firmly end the violence against women and children – a goal that is not just desirable or ethical, but an absolute necessity for realization of a socialistic world.

When it comes to gender violence, there is nothing as a “current crisis”. Getting surprised at the Delhi Police insensitivities is also foolish, since it is then assumed that by taking on a certain position – be it that of the cop, or the officer, the gentleman or the father – the person suddenly will renounce his privilege. Clearly, it is not the responsibility of the police force to make sure that rapes do not happen. Certainly not within the same society whose basis of economic reality is itself suspect. And contrary to the prevailing outcries, rape culture is not exclusive to India. Indeed, the United States, the citadel of capitalism is deeply entrenched by rape culture. Quite naturally so, because rape culture is not merely a byproduct of cultural factors; it is primarily the culmination of exploitative economic conditions. Incidents of rape in India have witnessed an eight-fold increase over the last four decades, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Widening economic divides among people, and especially among men and women coupled with powerlessness among the most oppressed have ensured that whereas murders have increased by 106%, incidents of rape in India have increased by 792%.

However, if some immediate measures must be taken/preached within the Indian context, they must include women’s participation more than ever. It is perhaps politically correct to say that men should be asked not to rape, but such a placard overlooks the fact that men are conditioned to be disrespectful towards women within a family culture; such attitudes do not suddenly manifest within a rape culture later on. The family units in individualistic societies are spearheaded by male patriarchs and hoodwinking divine blessings, who, in turn, are legitimized by the political-economy that forces women to remain enslaved to the system.

The necessary reforms therefore must begin with women putting a stop to their worshipping of gods – be they the husbands or be they the religious figures – both of whom benefit immensely from capital accumulations. Women must take responsibilities for their own inactions and of their reactionary stances. If children they must raise, they must not indoctrinate them with religions that eventually recycle the same societal values of patriarchy for the next generations of men. They must not demand uncritical obedience from their children towards the regressive elderly. They must not expect competitive selfish gains from the children in their quest to pride themselves as parents of success stories. While demands for harsher punishments for the rapists may be just and proper, they must not become the goals in themselves. In fact, confusing stricter laws as revolutionary victories alone allows for the oppressive ruling classes to grant concessionary justice to uphold and legitimize their status-quo, until the next incident captures media attention.

The onus lies with the working class men and women to understand revolutionary theories and practices so that they can collectively challenge and overthrow existing capitalistic status-quo that inherently sustains sexist, racist laws and benefits from patriarchal conditionings. What’s important is not to ask men for mercy or police for protection, but to form alliance with every revolutionary formations to overthrow the last vestiges of feudalism – the patterns of caste violence, the licenses to rape women in the name of religious sanctions, the sacrosanct marriages – and to organize a communistic future that will no longer depend on legal interventions from the capitalistic judiciary.

(Originally published by Kindle Magazine)

Advertisements

Why is Hurricane Sandy a Political Issue?

President Obama and his administration have been exchanging high-fives and posing for stock images to bring home the point that Sandy’s aftermath is being dealt with successfully. Reassuring this to the rest of the world, the president then visits his campaign rallies. And after his inspiring speeches are registered the liberal media spins portray how neighbors should be helping each other, how communities should come together and how individual charities make all the difference in resolving natural disaster crisis. They paint the aftermath a victory for a president who hugs the visibly grateful citizens with a confident smile facing the camera. We are Americans, and we are always victorious, no matter what challenges we face, the stenographers parrot the administration lines in corporate newsrooms day after day while raking in advertisement money for their journalistic services. Things are under control and even the New York Marathon preparations are. And if the Marathon race doesn’t start from Staten Island, no sweating required. The next fanfare championship is getting held nationwide, come Tuesday. Don’t forget to join the celebrations. Don’t forget to vote the millionaire orators back to power.

Except that, there is a problem here. Maybe too many of them to find a place in this essay. Partly because most tragedies related to Sandy are not being covered by the media whose major source of revenue is from electoral campaign teams at this point and they cannot afford to upset their bosses. And the executive branch, let alone conveying to us effectively the tragedies is choosing to depict it as an electoral victory of showmanship for a clueless leader.

As a bystander to this ongoing crisis, waiting for the food and the milk to be stocked back in the local grocery stores here in Queens, as a jeopardized New Yorker waiting for the public transportation system to resume full service, let me attempt at painting just a slightly different picture.

The truth is there has been no aftermath to Hurricane Sandy. The storm is still very much alive and kicking the livelihoods of millions of people in this country. Being a survivor and chronicler of the killer cyclone in coastal belts of Orissa (India) exactly 13 years ago, I am acutely aware of two simple premises: devastations of a storm are not felt when its at the peak, and that the natural disasters that hit the headlines are invariably human-made trail of tragedies. They do not bring along surprise elements with them. Precisely because of such predictability of natural disasters, there are functional Met offices and salaried task force professionals who are required to address the inevitabilities all year round.

Hurricane Sandy therefore was not supposed to be a fluke nor was it supposed to render millions of people homeless and hundreds dead. Weeks of predictions and media engagements with weather maps and NASA images and boasting of American priorities were the signs of how devastating the approaching times were going to be. But what they also were indicative of was that the governmental administration and the respective agencies directly responsible for addressing the consequences were going to be better prepared, considering Sandy had claimed 61 lives in Haiti on its course. What it meant was that the United States government which is duly elected to hold offices of power to administer on behalf of its citizens was meant to be constantly prepared to face and address challenges. What it meant was that the government had access and willingness to access, all the areas affected by a natural disaster of such enormous potential. What it meant was that the politicians and those that they appoint as bureaucrats were supposed to be sensitive to the needs of the people who were going to be impacted by the storm. That, the required assistance was not just going to be promised via press meets and television channels that made no sense to the affected masses rendered hapless without electricity, but that the access to basic needs of the affected were made available to the people as they were required.

What the Obama administration has failed to act upon is everything that was desirable and possible. Five days after Sandy hit the coast, if the administration had no visual footage of how an entire borough of New York City looked like, let alone displaying a willingness to access the territory, that is a failure of the political will of an administration which has been mandated by the people to practice good, ethical and humane governance. When the media channels finally made their way to interview helpless citizens in Staten Island several days after Sandy and they found the women saying they are literally dying out of access to food and basic utilities and the President of the country is cheerfully applauding the works of his campaign team in far away political trails, that is a failure on part of the political will of an administration that was put to place to prioritize agendas based on needs of people, not greeds for reelections.

If several townships and villages still are submerged in sewage water in New Jersey, stinking to the point of turning off the anchors inside newsrooms in Atlanta, and yet the President and the governors pat each others’ backs on accomplishments and pose with wider grins to declare Obama’s bipartisanship abilities as an incumbent, it is a political tragedy of massive proportions that shamelessly cashes on distressed emotions for gleeful votes.

If the federal government can send drones to monitor Pakistani air space and fails to send helicopters to Staten Island to carry food, medicines and drinking water, and if the commercial airlines at JFK and LaGuardia are able to fly across the border while the administration cannot send essential relief items to its own citizens stuck in darkness in Rockaway, Queens, then it is crude reflection of a failed politics at Washington DC and it is time for the president to stop patting backs of his officials.

Even as the FEMA continues to be showered with praises by the president and the liberal media there are millions of people without essential amenities, access and hopes. There is no telling when the electricity will be restored, when the roads will be cleared, when the sewage water will be pumped out, when the proliferating infections will be addressed, when drinking water will be made available to millions of Americans, if at all the insurance companies will be kept aside and the government will offer assistance to people to rebuild their homes and businesses, there is no telling when medicines will reach the needy, when the toddlers will have access to milk, when the people can get food at local stores or gas at the local pumps. When long queues of vehicles parade New York City streets to wait for hours until they get access to a rare petrol pump, there is no telling when the rest of the country devastated by Sandy will be on the roads to recovery once again. When new-born infants are hand-pumped by luxury hospitals of Manhattan on their ways to evacuation, there is no telling when rest of the healthcare units will attend to the suffering patients existing in abysmal darkness in the cold winter nights.

Even a country languishing in the Third World offers its needy people with minimum compensations from the government to address emergency situations, but in the United States, the epicenter of inhuman capitalism, there is no telling when if at all, the sufferers will find any funding that are not bound by loan shark terms, just to re-envision their lives after this unfortunate and entirely mismanaged tragedy of highest proportion. There is no telling when the government if at all, will take any steps towards distributing blankets at the very least, so the millions of people shivering in devastated regions can cover themselves up and be able to at least sleep during lingering dark nights.

Hurricane Sandy is all about politics. It is more about politics than Hurricane Katrina was. This is the week of reelection for the Democratic Czar and his liberal cronies who have constantly manipulated the media headlines to suppress the truths about their wrongdoings, be it their offerings of tax breaks to the rich and the corporate bailouts for the very financial institutions that crumbled the economy, or their warmongering foreign policies that have taken thousands of innocent lives worldwide, or their incompetent domestic policies that perpetuate the jobless scene for the twenty-three million Americans in home, their refusal to admit absolute inefficiency in passing favorable laws during the first two years when they were in majority while waiting for the second half of the term to blame oppositional politics for their own failures, or their suppressing the truths about gun-control and their aiding of drug mafia in the “Fast and Furious” investigations whose truths were so dangerous for the regime that the Nobel laureate Obama had to invoke executive privilege to justify suppression of facts, not to mention their continuous torturing of the truth seekers such as Bradley Manning and those that support transparency. The Democrat Czars outrightly lied about Libya and the killing of the diplomat by citing a Youtube video as the cause behind the violence without admitting that the real causes of the massively orchestrated 9-11 protests worldwide were a result of Obama regime’s failed foreign policies of aggression that have perpetuated warfare abroad with hatred and terror funding. The American government has lied to its people about Muhammad Gaddafi and conveniently depicted him as an Islamic terrorist to gain a manufactured consent for his atrocious murder while the Obama regime was constantly funding the reactionary fanatic groups in Libya to oust the secular regime with an aim to create geopolitical imbalance in the region that would proliferate the needs for continued wars. Guantanamo Bay is still wide open and Iran is the next battleground for this regime that must win this electoral bidding once again to continue its onslaughts world over. The US administrations have historically thrived with lies and deception, most of which targeted towards their own citizens. Be it the legacies of anti-Soviet hysteria which a war hawk Kennedy made money and power off, or the epochs of Korean and Vietnam War, the US presidents have constantly lied to the American people with help from their media establishments. But what has remained a constant are the popular oppositions to the White House be it in forms of antiwar movements or anticapitalism demonstrations on the streets. What sets Barack Obama aside is the brilliant manner in which he has continued the legacies of suppressions with an ease of a successful liberal. He has perfected the skill of sabotaging peoples’ organized efforts against systemic failures and furthered it to the point where the people are silenced – with their own will. And as a result the very antiwar movements that brought Obama to power today languish in anonymity while the war-president proudly adds names to the unprecedented kill-lists and indefinite detention rolls that would make even the infamous “Patriot Act” (timely upgraded each year by Democrats) look like a highschool skit.

Occupy Wall Street movement could have perhaps sustained and even gained grounds under another administration, but the Democrats quickly seized the moment to hijack most of the dissent by depicting the White House power itself as the victim of American capitalism. The word hypocrisy lost its original meaning under Obama administration as the biggest bailouts and governmental supports to the greedy corporates of the world were successfully projected as the most desirable necessities. Deliberately manipulative statements of Hillary Clinton regarding Libyan crisis was brushed aside as the result of uninformed intelligence officers and when the emails surfaced to the contrary, both the Vice President and the President lied to the American public with such enormity that the citizens have now started dismissing Libya as “just a four deaths” casualty.

And with Sandy appearing like “just a few hundreds mess” despite devastating millions, the administration has started suppressing facts related to misgovernance and bureaucratic red-tapism. When five nursing homes in Rockway beach were directed by government officials to not evacuate even as they clearly fell within the Zone A, no one is mentioning about lack of governance. When two siblings, aged two and four, died in the storm, reporters questioned why their neighbor did not open the doors, but there is no question asked as to why the entire region was so inaccessible for officials and relief workers all these days. If media can reach nook and corners of flood affected areas to declare “breaking stories” every now and then, what possibly has been preventing the government officials from reaching out to the affected people with basic food, clothing and shelters? How long are the victims of American capitalism supposed to remain grateful towards their perpetrators for the false reassurance that they are being taken care of?

Hundreds of patients silently suffered the storm because they believed in the government for weeks that everything was being taken care of. Even after days have passed since the storm worst-hit the areas, people are still silently believing the government when the President says that everything was being taken care of. Tens of thousands of “public housing” residents were forcefully evacuated because power needed to be disconnected in lower Manhattan and yet within two days the rich started functioning again amidst cheers and whistles at the Stock Exchange right in the middle of the Sandy’s eye. And the people following their dreamy pied piper are believing the President when he implies that in taking care of the Stock Exchange, the dead will find justice. The lying President and his unprepared team suddenly turn teary-eyed and appeal to the neighbors to help each other in times of crisis while they merrily resume the services of Wall Street capitalism with generators and drinking water and food supplies without a blink. When millions of people continue to brave the winter nights without heat and fill plastic bottles with water from fire hydrants, the Obama administration loses no moment in providing electricity to the “Freedom Tower” right in Lower Manhattan catering to the wealthiest of the lot in this country.

Contrary to how the Obama regime paints the picture, the hurricane Sandy was not an unfortunate event. It was an inevitable one. What is unfortunate is the embarrassing administration in Washington DC today and the capitalistic economic system that it supports and furthers, the farcical elections that it holds by spending $6 billion of taxpayer money towards an extravaganza at a time when hundreds of men, women and children are found dead and thousands missing owing to governmental apathy and administrative inactions.

If the corporate honchos at Wall Street can get power back and running in two days, there is no telling why grieving mothers and dying toddlers must remain without power and suffer without food; communities devastated and neighbors estranged; while the government turns its focus towards “swing states” to plead for votes while condemning the victims of its administrative disaster to the whims of charity.

But then, in this strange world of Obama and his liberal cronies, the Stock Exchange has more “power” than its “natural” victims.

Saswat Pattanayak, 2012

Occupy Wall Street: Challenges, Privileges & Futures

“One who tells the people revolutionary legends, 
and who amuses them with sensational stories, 
is as criminal as the geographer 
who would draw up false charts for navigators.” 

– HPO Lissagaray, “History of the Paris Commune of 1871” (1877)

The challenges to Occupy Wall Street are many. Some even more critical than the very issues the protestors are fighting against. Whereas it claims to be the 99%, yet the movement practices the age-old privileges of class and race blindness. Similar to most white liberal movements, the OWS is hardly inclusive of the people of color. Although the spirit is radical and the intent is revolutionary, the movement itself suffers from a lack of critical understanding on how race and class intersect. In reality, 99% of people do not form a class in themselves. This is because the 99% of population comprise a significant amount of aspiring rich, a “middle class” category of people who have steadfastly refused to side with the poor working class whenever the latter has organized itself. In the US, this segment of opportunistic liberal citizens have always believed in the country’s racist foundations, its heritage of exclusionary democracy, and its segregated educational system, and amply benefited from patriotic allegiances. And as a result, they have lent unconditional supports to electoral reforms that sustain an individualistic social order, to corporate policies that help private business thrive, to political outfits such as the Democratic Party in recent times, which upholds the status quo in every level of governance defining American imperialism.

In the current romanticized version of revolutionary zeal at the Wall Street protests, there is a marked denial on part of the “General Assembly” of the movement that it could be perceived as supportive of the status quo. Proudly boasting of a movement without specific goals and leaders, the movement publishes formal newspapers and handouts clearly stating its disavowal of “Tea Party” right-wing movements. Not only is the OWS appearing left-wing and liberal – a political lineage that may not find endorsement among the 99% of people – it is also claiming to be without ideologies and specific goals. OWS is in a state of denial that anarchism of various forms are themselves ideologies, and the organizers of the movements are their leaders, the money which enables publications of the “Occupied Wall Street Journal” has sources to its sponsors. If rejection of current economic situation is the inspiration for the movement, the rejection of the current economic situation is the goal.

The biggest challenge for the OWS is to humbly acknowledge that it is a movement driven by a specific ideology which refuses the use of violence as a revolutionary tool, demands increased taxes for the rich, envisions student debt relief, opposes the Tea Party politicians, demands “direct democracy” as a political approach, and has raised over a half a million dollars within a couple of weeks to fund its campaign. And, it has allowed MoveOn, a multimillion dollar partisan initiative to speak on behalf of OWS to the media. The Occupy project has organizers who decide when the General Assembly will take place, which celebrity will address them, which entertainers will put up shows, which specific websites will be declared “official”, which post-box addresses the charity checks will be received at, and what heads will the money be spent on. Despite massive financial assets, when the OWS refuses to replace the drums of an activist which was destroyed at the protests, it is unilaterally decided by the specific organizers.

In their postmodernist hues, when political movements decry ideologies, refuse to take sides on political issues and pretend to distance themselves from power struggles, they smack of redundancy at best, and hypocrisy, at worst. When the educated youths refuse to acknowledge their race and class prerogatives, and claim that their movements let everyone have equal voice, it speaks of the gravely misplaced understanding of how freedom of speech is interlaced with entitlements. If the Occupy movement has not attracted majority of Black and Latino people into its fold, it is a sad reflection of how the movement has failed to address the needs of the most oppressed while boasting of representing them.

People of color are disproportionately incarcerated, disenfranchised, and unemployed in the United States. There is a rigid American class society in place ever since the country was founded. And yet, “class” as a realistically oppressive concept is seldom discussed in the country. Without any necessary critiques of the class society, majority of white liberals almost never understand their hidden privileges. They unequivocally endorse similar newspapers, television channels and textbooks that are inherently biased against class and race analysis. They invariably exalt founding fathers who owned slaves, presidents who denied racial disparities, and swear by the prison-military-industrial complex of the largest imperialistic society in history of humanity. OWS is based on the primary notion that the American society was absolutely democratic and fulfilling until Reagan spoilt the show. If they tried to include black people who suffered the brutality of every presidential regime in American history, the Occupy movement would not be wishing for the American democratic model to continue while singling out Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street has every possibility of becoming its own nemesis. A separation of economy from politics of the day is naive and reactionary. Merely opposing a bunch of corporate houses in the Wall Street without disrupting the political climate in Washington DC is a hopeless distraction. Calling for arms may or may not be a suitable alternative to political misrule, but to clearly disavow any use of violence while calling for “revolution” is a utopian approach. In fact, just around the time when majority of Americans were clearly fed up and were beginning to demonstrate repressed anger with the entire political establishment, when a Malcolm X demand for replacement of the existing political economy by “any means necessary” was going to be a possibility; a movement that preaches nonviolence and targets a few corporate houses as the only stumbling blocks in the path to progress while giving the Democratic Party and its fundraisers a space within its platform either defies progressive logic, or works towards crushing collective demands for concrete replacements at the corridors of power, in lieu of possible electoral gains in the coming year.

The problem with a movement such as OWS is that majority of white liberals who protest at Wall Street do not live in colored neighborhoods, nor do they acknowledge that they have any similarities with the poor working class of the country, the homeless and the destitute of America, the black families whose children are imprisoned without trials, the Latino construction workers whose health issues are not covered by any insurance corporations that the otherwise liberal Democratic Party leaders have been receiving donations from. Yet, year after year when neglected teenagers from minority communities are routinely murdered and assaulted and detained without justice, most white liberals refuse to show up at demonstrations led by minority leaders to challenge the police state. The OWS should be a venue for rendering apologies with an effort to seek supports of lesser privileged comrades, not as a self-proclaimed glorified uniqueness in the history of protest movements.

Serious issues have been affecting the majority of people in America; they are all for real. They have been well known crisis, nothing abstract to articulate for months on. The tall claims for forming “consensus” through direct democracy are also without merit considering that a huge majority of people that are apparently being represented by the OWS, are the very folks who are not privileged enough to join the “General Assembly”; and timely decisions must be taken on behalf of them without waiting for any consensus. This demands for organized leaderships charting out the most pressing – and therefore, known – issues affecting the most oppressed.

For instance, unemployment crisis is neither new nor shocking for the people of color in this country. Racism is alive and thriving at an institutional level. And demonstrations and marches have been carried out by black people in this country against unjustified administrative policies concerning wars, atrocities, discrimination, and immigration procedures. People of color vastly are drafted into the military facilitated by an economic system that has failed to work for them from the days of slavery. It is not a mere coincidence that Wall Street is not controlled by racial minorities. In fact, it is a common knowledge that capitalism was founded by plantation/slave economies.

That, the majority of working class folks of color who survive by dodging random bullets in their abjectly neglected neighborhoods shall suddenly identify with the rich spoilt educated group of youngsters that abruptly woke up to an accidental American nightmare while having always lived amidst downtown luxuries remaining predictably clueless on specific demands of a movement, is an insensitive expectation. That, the “illegal aliens” from the restaurant kitchens owned by overprivileged “citizens” who are upholding American flags at the Occupy Wall Street, will somehow join this movement to sing glories of “First Amendment” rights of the liberals selectively granted by a Constitution that refuses to recognize people in dire despair as full human beings, is utterly inconsiderate a demand.

A movement which fails to adequately address the needs of the most oppressed among the oppressed is a movement that somehow must end up diluting the most basic needs of the society with the peripherals. Such a movement can only enhance general cynicism, which is certainly a desirable wake-up call, but transformative revolutions that address the roots and not just symptoms call for agenda-driven optimism, armed organizations for self-defense, and principled leaderships with theorized visions that must replace political economies which have failed their subjects for hundreds of years.

Occupy Wall Street has the same potential of evolving into a revolution as countless other marches across the globe. The first American peoples’ revolution would have well begun, if occupations had inculcated limitless revolutionary imaginings, duly recognized the possible sparks, drew the most oppressed to clearly charted out radical visions in a timely manner, dissociated itself from the very political parties and electoral systems which have historically facilitated capitalism and phony democracies,

After all, there are no surprises in revolutions. They are historical necessities.

(Saswat Pattanayak, 2011)

India vs Indians: Peoples’ History of Orissa’s Dispossessed

Tribal uprisings in Orissa were the first of organized assaults on the British, against the Hindu Kings, as well as on the Brahmin supremacists. The indigenous were united against oppression way before the Sepoy Mutiny took shape. They had no loyalty towards the kings and unlike the Paikas and Sepoys, they had no interest in releasing the royal families from British domains. In fact, the tribals shone in their capacity to challenge the Rajas as much as they expressed disdain towards British agents.

Therefore, when the native Kings of Khurda, Kanika and Kujang made a confederation to oppose the British invasion, the tribal agitators knew the kings had no motives other than to safeguard their royal privileges. Although Khurda Movement is usually declared as the first mass movement against the British following hanging of Jayakrishna Rajguru who has been eulogized profusely, its anti-imperialistic nature is highly suspect. Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar and his chief associate Krushna Chandra Bhramarbar Ray have been equally immortalized in history for their involvement in the anti-British movement. But the true champions of the organized revolt upon which the royal clan depended for survival were the forgotten tribal masses of rebels.

Khurda Movement did not start with Bakshi Jagabandhu, it started with 400 Kandhs in Banpur who came from the neighboring territory of Ghumsar. For seven years the movement lasted with the help of fellow tribals – the Kandhs, Savaras and Panas of Banpur, Nayagarh, Boudh and Daspalla. It was not the loyalists of the royal families, but their dissenting and oppressed subjects who took to arms and fought the British which indirectly benefited the needs of the local kings of the time. But the tribals never gave in to the manipulative designs of the kings either, thus constituting an independent stream in Orissa’s freedom movement, inviting wrath from the mainstream historians.

A. Das in “Life of Surendra Sai” (1963) decries the tribal revolts in Sambalpur. While glorifying Surendra Sai as a freedom fighter, the actual heroes of the revolt – the indigenous masses – have been portrayed as nothing less than crazy looters. Tribal uprisings have been compared with “the tyranny and lootings carried on by the Burgees of the Maratha days.” Surendra Sai, despite being a rebel claimant to the guddee of Sambalpur, was solely interested in the throne. To eulogize him as the charismatic anti-British hero while attacking the Gonds upon whose abilities he rode high, would be to use history as a paternalistic tool. And yet, for years into historical research, this is exactly what has been done. Surendra Sai has become a hero, while the tribal uprisings have been denounced as daylight robberies.

Ramnarayan Mishra in his paper, sponsored by Indian Council of Historical Research (1980), writes about Sambalpur following tribal uprising, “Life and properties were quite unsafe, the ryots could not raise their crops in their lands and as soon as they were ripe, they were looted and removed from the fields by these bands of robbers. There were day-light robberies and dacoity; the economic and social life of the people were completely paralyzed…Even now the days are remembered with alarm as the memories have come down from generations to generations. The atrocities of minor nature were the looting of cakes, which were being prepared by the housewife a certain evening, and the looting of all the belongings of the bride when she was on a procession to her father-in-law’s house for marriage….”

It is astounding to notice how the historians have continually felt sympathies with the landlords and the propertied class of Orissa. Mishra recalled the days with alarm when the tribal rose in revolt against the Brahmins in Sambalpur. Little did he pause to imagine the days from the lens of those that were forced to revolt. Much of the histories about Orissa still continue to be produced from the ruling class elitist visions of the past, part of the reason why the true history of peoples’ struggles is yet to be documented in totality.

Andrew Fraser in “Among Indian Rajah and Ryot” (1912) describes the Kalahandi revolution as though it were the responsibility of the Kandhs to forgive the Koltas. “The wretched prisoners fell at the feet of the leading Khonds and begged them to spare their lives; but they were told that none of the men among them would be spared,” he writes.

L.S.S. O’Malley in “Modern India and the East: A Study of the Interaction of their Civilization” laments the passage of the British interventions. Ramnarayan Mishra agrees with the old British thesis and writes, “The old ceremonies called the Mariah sacrifice which had been put down with great difficulty by the British officers some years before was revived. The sacrifice involved killing captives and hacking off pieces of their flesh which they buried in the fields as an offering to the earth goddess which would ensure their fertility.”

What O’Malley and subsequently, Mishra have omitted out of their deconstructions is that Mariah sacrifice was not merely about human captives. The tribal resistance was not nonviolent in nature, principally because it was always part of a defensive reaction, as opposed to the oppressors’ tactics which were premeditated murders. It is presumptuous to assume that the historically oppressed and dispossessed tribal population of Orissa show solidarity with the ruling class hooligans of Rajput and British origin who were profiting from the lands of the indigenous by imposing bonded labor terms upon them.

Therefore, even as ruling class histories suggest Orissa lost her independence after death of the last Hindu King Mukunda Harichandan, the tribals never really thought so. Contrary to mainstream belief that Muslim rule in Orissa was oppressive, there was no recorded revolt by the tribals against the Muslim rule.

Prasanna Kumar Mishra in “Political Unrest in Orissa in the 19th Century” (1983) writes, “The people of Orissa lost their independence from the sixteenth century, but could not fully express their dissatisfaction against the aliens throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Only when a foreign trading company began to rule through exploitation and oppressed them socio psychologically, the people woke up from their slumber and began to raise their voice against this foreign rule.”

What is crucial here is the fact that the first organized mass rebellions were organized by the tribal people of Orissa. They were organized against the British as well as against the Hindu (of Rajput origin) rulers of Orissa. Both the anti-British and anti-royal movements were part of the larger national struggle that were to arrive following the footsteps of the Orissan tribal revolutions.

In this context, it is important to observe the Mariah sacrifices. Dismissing them as mere tribal superstitions bordering on criminality is also a dismissal of their roles in the national freedom movements orchestrated by the oppressed subjects against the ruling classes. The human “sacrifices” had elements of not just violence as a last resort, but also of targeted violence with a distinct class character that eliminated landlords, dewans, British agents and associates of royal families. The British were afraid of the tribal movements precisely because of the violent nature of their resistance. It was an economic war justly organized by the majority oppressed against their minority oppressors. Not some religious abstractions, as later historians tend to stress.

Ramnarayan Mishra dismisses the tribal movement as nothing other than a selfish pursuit to guard their traditional interests, that had no bearing upon the freedom movement against the British. He writes, “The resistance movement (against the British) in the States was a middle class movement sponsored by the people of coastal areas and it had nothing to do with tribal solidarity.”

P. Mukherjee in “History of Orissa” (1954) writes that the reason behind tribal uprisings in Orissa was their apprehensions that alien rule intended to “assess their lands, punish their leaders for the religious rites performed by them.”

H. K. Mahtab in “History of the Freedom Movement in Orissa (1957) writes, “The Khond risings in Baudh, Ghumsar and Khandmal during the years 1846-1848 were just temporary show of disaffection and resentment of the Khonds at the governmental interference in their religious rites.”

Not only have the tribal contributions been grossly overlooked, and their participations have been looked down upon as anarchical, even many false heroes have been recreated in the process to overshadow the real ones. Fakir Mohan Senapati is one such historical character who has been eulogized at the expense of Dharanidhar Naik. Collective celebration of Fakir Mohan as a literary champion has also necessitated the destruction of his challenger, the other literary genius in Dharanidhar. Dharanidhar was duped not only because Fakir Mohan was a state agent interested to earn loyalty points from his beloved king who was otherwise an oppressive ruler, but also because Naik belonged to a lower caste not worthy of literary celebration. Likewise, British agent Superintendent Ravenshaw who organized military tactics to capture Dharanidhar remains immortalized to this day, whereas his roles in suppressing the tribal uprisings have been held with esteem.

It is again astounding as to how an entire state can celebrate the act of immoral trickery on part of the oppressive ruling class to capture a tribal hero. And yet, every primary school student in Orissa is taught precisely this. Capture of Dharanidhar is almost a climax in Oriya nationalism, whereas nothing could be farther from the truth. And when Dharanidhar emerged more popular after his imprisonment in the hands of Fakir Mohan, the upper caste upholders of Brahminical education started portraying the tribal revolutionary into a universal saint. Pandit Nilakantha Das and Pandit Gopabandhu Das subsequently claimed to have learnt from Dharanidhar, the saint, about life’s essences. Apparently, Dharanidhar gave them an apt philosophical lesson, “First try to be a true human being, and then only free the country.”

Ironically, the last of the tribal revolutionaries in the pre-1947 era, Laxmana Naik is celebrated today as the foremost tribal leader. It is so understood because Laxmana Naik led the movement which for the first time collaborated with the mainstream Congress strategies. Naik was beyond doubt one of the bravest and most courageous of leaders to have emerged anywhere. But he was only a successor to a long history of indigenous revolts in Orissa that witnessed countless distinguished tribal leaders like Dora Bisoi, Chakra Bisoi, Sadhu Jani, Nabaghana Kahnar, Bira Kahnar, Ratna Naik, Dharanidhar Naik, Nirmal Munda among others.

And more importantly, these leaders found their subsistence not through royal scriptures or British mentions of honor, or national awards by the independent republic, but through innumerable masses of people who supported them throughout their long and historic struggles against land-grabbers – both foreign and domestic. Their historic struggles ever so radical, fundamentally unforgiving towards their oppressors.

And no matter how much the lousy, corrupt, and incompetent administrations of this day work overtime to ignore the vision of the indigenous for a socially just world of equality and prosperity, of ecological respect and communitarian solidarity, the courageous blood of the tribal ancestors still boils in the veins of their successors. And through the movements today once again against the oppressive ruling elites stationed in Bhubaneswar, New Delhi, Washington DC, London, Kolkata and Seoul – the blood shows.

The blood narrates Orissa’s history as the history of tribal uprisings against socio-economic injustice. And that, her future, too, shall be shaped by the mandates of the dispossessed, not by the whims of the oligarchs.

(By Saswat Pattanayak, 2010)

India vs Indians: Revolution Never Ends in Orissa

Freedom will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear….
I do not need freedom when I’m dead
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread
– Langston Hughes

Using brute police force to silence indigenous peoples’ mass uprising in Orissa is not just an act of sheer cowardice and criminality; it is a decision founded upon gross ignorance of the unique stream of struggles which characterize the class war in the land that has witnessed more organized revolutions than enforced reforms.

Orissan tribal uprising has a definitive historical pattern. It is not exclusive to the current state of unrest. The administrations – both Union and the State – deliberately fail to acknowledge the peoples’ organized movements as thus. It is not a Maoist prerogative to envision the path of violent resistance among the oppressed in Orissa. Quite the contrary, actually – it is the continuation of radical dissent among the peoples of Orissa that has generated a certain Maoist character within the struggle.

The indigenous in Orissa have never retired from their relentless rebellions against the land-grabbers. They have violently challenged the zamindars, formed alliances against the kings, conspired to overthrow the British, and have demonstrated ample courage in battling caste supremacism. Tribal resistance movements in Orissa have consistently targeted foreign interventions via expropriation of their lands that threaten to result in economic distress.

Prof J. H. Hutton (quoted in G.S. Ghurye’s “The Scheduled Tribes”, 1961) observes, “All these rebellions were defensive movements: they were the last resort of tribesmen driven to despair by the encroachments of outsiders on their land or economic resources. As such they could have all been avoided had the authorities recognized the aboriginals’ grievances and taken steps to remedy them out… but before the pressure on the tribesmen had made an outbreak unavoidable. Indeed anyone with first hand experience of conditions in the backward areas must be surprised, not by the occurrence of risings, but by the infrequency of violent reactions on the part of the aboriginals to the loss of their ancestral lands and to their economic enslavement.”

Ghumsar Risings

One of the first organized revolts by the indigenous, known as Ghumsar risings, during early 19th century, illustrates how the people have cried for freedom from invaders, both local and global. Ghumsar, a small estate in Ganjam district was ruled by the Bhanja dynasty. Owing to default in revenue payment to the Empire, the British intervened in the affairs of Ghumsar and its ruler Srikar Bhanja was deposed in 1800 CE. When the British took control of Ghumsar after overthrowing Srikar’s son Dhananjaya, it was Dora Bisoi, a leader of the Kandhs (who was awarded the title of Birabar Patra) who won the support of the common people as well as Kandh chiefs to decide on the fate of Ghumsar. Since a Kandh leader could not be allowed to rule, Bisoi brought a 12-yr old girl and substituted Dhananjaya’s son of that age with her and ruled the estate on her behalf. Dora Bisoi was the leader of the masses and this was the reason why the Collector of Ganjam failed to arrest him for over three years.

Administrative officers did their best to harass Bisoi and finally, he escaped to Torabadi at Soroda. The Kandhs then garnered support of the Savaras in this movement against the British and the royals. In the meantime, Srikar Bhanja was again placed on the throne, but he failed to manage the affairs properly upon which his son Dhananjaya was reinstalled on the condition that he paid the dues to the British. British force under Sir Henry Taylor finally occupied Ghumsar in 1834.

Dora Bisoi, the leader of the anti-Bhanja rebellion now led a revolt against the British which claimed lives of several British soldiers and burnt down British camps. British Government appointed a special officer George Russell to capture Dora. Rebel leaders including Kollada, Galeri, and Durgaprasad lent support to Dora in their collective fight against the British, while they found shelter in the mountains of Daspalla and Nayagarh.

Special Commissioner Russell unleashed one of the greatest assaults upon a resisting people that changed the character of India’s freedom movement. The British offered an unprecedented Rs 5,000 as a reward to anyone who could capture Dora. Many rebel leaders were captured and hanged, but Dora escaped first to Patna before escaping to Angul. It was there that the Raja of Angul handed him over to the British and received the reward. Dora Bisoi died tortured in a state prison of Madras. But his ability to lead and create many rebel leaders in Orissa continued to inspire. Great Oriya patriot and nephew of Dora Bisoi, Chakradhar Bisoi took his place and Ganjam’s destinies were reshaped after what the people demanded, not what was imposed from above.

In Banpur, the Kandhs alongwith another low caste people Panas organized their struggle under the leaderships of Krutibas Patasahani, Sadhu Jani and Dunai Jani. Kandhs of Baudh also joined the movement and were united by leaders such as Nabaghana Kahnar, Bira Kahnar, and Madhab Kanhar. The Kandhs remained united in struggle for social justice and economic improvements against both the British and their Rajas. All efforts by the British to divide and rule over the tribals drastically failed.

Mariah Revolt

Elsewhere in India, people used to heed to their Kings as mediators between them and the British. Not so in Orissa. When the British could not accept their defeat in the hands of the Bisois and people of Ganjam, they used the Kandh practice of Mariah sacrifice as a moral justification to attack the indigenous. Chakra Bisoi flat refused to negotiate and the British brought the King of Baudh to intervene. Chakra Bisoi and his comrades not only defied the Baudh King, they burnt down the camp of the British agent and forced the Raja to be sent back with them.

Chakradhar successfully organized the Kandhs in the territories of Angul, Ghumsar, Boudh, Patna, Kalahandi and Paralakhemundi. He also led the Savaras in Paralakhemundi, the peasants in Nayagarh, as well as the Kandhs of Ranpur and Daspalla.

In 1846, right after rainy season, British officer Macpherson marched into Kandhamal to recover his prestige. His troops managed to burn down some houses of the Kandhs. But the Kandhs organized to strike back and plundered in every direction, making the revolt more widespread than before. Orissa’s tribal revolt against the royal thrones as well as British officers became such a matter of concern that the Madras unit of British Government sent a whole army under the command of General Dyee to control the situation. Government of Bengal cooperated with General Dyee to put an end to indigenous revolts.

Tribal leader Nabaghan Kahnar of Baudh and Chakra Bisoi harassed the British no end. Rani of Sonepur, Raja of Angul and Raja of Baudh tried their best to apprehend them and a reward of Rs 3,000 was declared this time. Failing in all their efforts to suppress tribal resistance, Raja of Baudh had to cede Kandhamal to the British.

Governments – both British and the feudal – tried all measures, including arresting Rendon Majhi, head of Borikiya Kandhs of Kalahandi on charges of performing human sacrifices. Most warrior class among the Kandhs, the Kutiya Kandhs joined the larger tribal movements and demanded the release of Majhi. Zamindar of Madanpur was removed when he failed to act against the rising violent rebellions. In the meantime, Chakra Bisoi escaped to Ganjam and joined with the Saoras to rise in rebellion under leadership of Radhakrushna Dandasena. The British ruthlessly attacked and burnt down scores of villages and hanged Dandasena.

Many rebel leaders were hanged and eliminated by the British forces. But this never stopped the march of the revolts. When the Baudha Raja in collaboration with the British oppressed the downtrodden in his state, a new leader Narayan Maliah led the Kandhs to lead yet another violent rebellion.

Bhuinya Risings

In 1868, the Bhuinya revolts determined the shape of things to come in Keonjhar. The newly appointed King Dhanurjaya was not recognized by the Bhuinyas. Tired of being brutalized by the royal family, tribal leader Ratna Naik led a popular agitation against the king. The Dewan of Keonjhar Nanda Dhal took help of officer Ravenshaw, the Superintendent of the Tributary Mahals. But the Bhuinyas did not remain silent for long. They rose in revolt, captured Nanda Dhal and Raja’s other associates, and plundered Keonjhargada, the kingdom.

The Bhuinyas found support from the Juangs and the Kols. The Deputy Commissioner of Singhbhum marched to Keonjhar and demanded that the indigenous groups return the captives. The Bhuinyas refused to cooperate and the Deputy Hayes requisitioned for another contingent of army from Singhbhum. Equipped with bows, arrows and swords, the Bhuinyas bravely confronted the British armies but had to finally surrender. Ratna Naik was captured by the Paiks of Pallahara on August 15, 1868 and brought to Cuttack. Paiks who were agents of the British helped arrest several hundreds of tribal revolutionaries. In a show trial, seven were sentenced to death, 27 were transported for life and 149 revolutionaries were imprisoned. Ratna Naik and three of his comrades were hanged in Cuttack.

Dharani Meli

Minor in age, but a boy of immense moral courage, Dharanidhar Naik of Bhuinya tribe was well educated for his age. The Raja of Keonjhar even appreciated his talents. But when he attempted to educate the fellow Bhuinyas, it did not sit well with the king. Dharanidhar, his brother and friends did not bury the lessons of their education. They organized the bonded labor class of Keonjhar against the King and demanded that they be paid for their work.

This infuriated the King of Keonjhar who had fancied that his tribal subjects were forever deemed to remain as slaves. Dharanidhar, even at such young age, did not submit to various temptations as offered by the King, and went ahead to foster a spirit of resistance among the oppressed indigenous peoples. Many of them then joined Dharanidhar in submitting a petition to the Superintendent of Tributary Mahals. The Superintendent obviously did not act upon the petition and the Raja arrested the petitioners.

Dharanidhar then went on to organize the people to revolt against the Raja. This shocked the ruling class. Dharanidhar led the people inside the palace and looted the palace and distributed the ill-gotten wealth among the people. The King of Keonjhar fled to Anandapur and sent his Assistant Dewan Fakirmohan Senapati to control the situation. Superintendent Ravenshaw also helped the King by sending a detachment of British force to Keonjhar.

Fakirmohan resorted to ugly tricks against the tribal leader. He assured Dharanidhar that the British police was there to help the tribal people. Dharanidhar on good faith appeared before the police officer, but little did he know that Fakirmohan was acting on behalf of the King and the British to punish the poor people who demanded their rights to dignity of life. Dharanidhar and his comrades were arrested and sent to years of rigorous imprisonment by the royal-feudal-bureaucratic-British nexus.

Sambalpur Revolution

Not only were the Adivasis exploited economically, they were also culturally forced to submit to higher-caste whims. The tribal deities were Hinduised and the indigenous were compelled to show allegiance to the protectors of their new Gods. In the guise of developing personal relationships between the rulers and the ruled, the indigenous peoples were routinely recruited to fight on behalf of the ruling class.

Sambalpur was a classic instance of cultural exploitation during the Sepoy Mutiny. Surendra Sai, a claimant to the guddee of Sambalpur used the Gond and Binjhal tribal chiefs to wage a war against the British Government because the British opposed Sai’s demands. The Gonds of course cooperated in resisting the British, but they also figured out that they were being manipulated by the ambitious ruling class hierarchies.

Sambalpur and adjoining areas were inhabited by the Gonds and the Binjhal tribes who enjoyed autonomy in governance, economic and political. When the king of Sambalpur died without a son, the British Government let his widow Rani Mohan Kumari to succeed him. The patriarchal upper-caste mindset prevalent in the kingdom could not allow a woman to govern the state. The biggest opponent happened to be Surendra Sai, a royal descendant from the Chauhan Raja of Sambalpur, who himself aspired to the throne.

Under the prevailing tensions, the British removed the Rani and replaced her with Narayan Singh who was also from the royal family. The Gonds agitated against Narayan Singh who was appeasing the higher castes by creating 37 Maufi tenures. The Gonds made remarkable progress in Sambalpur. They shook the foundation of royal families which were ambitious in their designs and atrocious in their actions against the dispossessed indigenous.

The Gonds brought Sambalpur to a standstill and organized mass movements to teach a lesson to the Brahmins and the royal family collaborators. In a historic episode now described as “Gond Maru”, the Gonds attacked higher caste people, burnt down their ill-gotten wealth and killed the caste supremacists who were encouraged by the royal families. King of Sambalpur entrusted a Brahmin talukdar of 96 villages with the task of putting down the tribal agitation. The Adivasis rose in revolt against the prescript and killed several Brahmin landlords. The British Government directly intervened to suppress the uprising, but considerably failed to.

Kalahandi Uprising

Kalahandi revolt was a direct result of economic exploitation of the Kandhs by the Koltas, a class of prosperous agriculturists from Western Orissa. Kandhs had been the pioneering agronomists in Kalahandi for generations, and yet, the Koltas, with financial and military backing of the kings expanded their reach. The Rajas supported the Koltas under the pretext of receiving higher rents, and the Koltas stopped at nothing to exploit the Kandhs, resulting in an agrarian revolt by the latter.

In May 1878, the Kandhs organized a meeting in Balwaspur where they decided to defend themselves against the Koltas. The British Superintendent of the State intervened to stop the Kandhs agitation. The Kandhs resolved to attack whoever came on their way. Several Koltas were killed and many more taken captives by the Kandhs in a mass agitation movement.

The British, acting on behalf of the wealthy, sent additional forces from Raipur, Ganjam and Sambalpur to suppress the Kandhs agitation. Ten Kandh leaders were hanged. Although “peace” was restored, the Koltas were afraid of committing any more atrocities upon the Kandhs in the region.

Gangpur Revolt

Attacks on the tribal sovereignty in Orissa continued from both the British regime and the rulers of the princely states. In 1897, several tribal village chiefs were forcibly replaced by the royal ruling class. In Gangpur, the Raja installed the aristocratic oligarchy of Sambalpur in charge of the tribal population.

The indigenous peoples led by Madri Kalo organized a mass agitation movement against Agharia and the rich elites. The Raja sought help from the British to suppress the tribal agitation, but open revolt by the oppressed remained difficult to counter. Many poor people were captured on charges of committing dacoities, but the class/caste war in Gangpur continued without a pause. In 1938, Gangpur witnessed a serious agrarian discontent when Mundas were forced to pay higher rents. The Munda uprising led by Nirmal Munda demanding exemption from payment of land revenues to the colonialists resulted in British intervention causing the Simko firing which killed 41 tribal rebels.

Revolution Never Ends

Orissa’s indigenous never ceased their strikes against the oppressors. Countless revolts – varying in scale – resulted from the organized dissent. This is the nature of struggle that the poorest section of Orissa have engaged in since centuries. It is unlikely that they shall abandon their freedom movement now, simply because the seat of power has been transferred from the white-skinned elites to the brown-skinned ones.

And just as the indigenous organizers were correct in their assessment of human values in the past, it is more likely that keeping in view the status quo of power dynamics in independent India, their dissent towards the power this time around, too, is indicative of appropriate impatience towards prevailing rampant social injustice.