“This hill is a sacred place. It contained water that flowed in its many streams. The forests surrounding the hill held fruits and flowers, plants and herbs. Medicinal plants such as harida, bahada, amla, neem and bisalyakarani grew here in abundance. In the fertile fields on foothills, we grew rice, ragi, bajra, mandia and alasi. In our backyards, we also produced vegetables. There was a vast stretch of arable land where our domestic animals grazed. We sang and danced and used to make merry on the lap of nature. We worshipped our Nature’s gods and goddesses; offered pujas to deities and spirits who fulfilled our dreams and aspirations. This hill was the source of our unending joy; human misery did not touch our lives. The earth here sustained us; the water washed away our pain and agony; the fire invigorated the mind; the wind gave us our life force and the sky connected our mind to celestial bodies. The hill was and still is our life. It is sacred.”
I tried to assess Rajni’s words which conveyed a sense of loss. I asked her, “This is a mere bald hill. How can it be so sacred for you? How can it be the very essence of your existence?”
Rajni suppressed her tears and her anger and started laughing. She continued, “Your shameless democracy has brought the hill to this state. The sacred faith of the tribe has been shaken; they are deceived. Your elected representatives have robbed the people of their faith to achieve what they call progress.
To this so-called development we are saying its a demonic development. They have offered the hill to wealthy capitalist. They have fed the minds with the theory of demenolatry’s development or progress and prosperity by raising bauxite from the hills. They are trying to teach us lessons ofdemonology of development. The story I told you as we climbed the hill was the story of our life in the past. And now whatever you see here on this hill is the cruel reality of the dying hill.”
She continued, “You dismiss our faith as superstition. This does not help us; it only harms us. Instead of advancing towards development, we are led towards devastation. The climate has become unhealthy; there is no life here, only death is waiting on the wings. By winning over a handful of elected representatives you only devastate our hills and forests. You play to the hands of wealthy industrialists.”
“We used to offer puja to our deities; we offered fruits and animals to appease them. We did it for the well being of our community, but you people said it was our superstition. What will you say to the sacrifice of the faith of a community by the so-called people’s representatives who play to the hands of a few wealthy businessmen and industrialists? You can imagine the horror of the loss of man’s deep-rooted faith and his deep love. This has precisely happened to the hill,” she said.
“What’s name of this sacred hill? What is its history? What is the story that still lives in public memory?” I asked Rajni.
“The hill was endowed with abundant natural resources. The villages on the foothill bear eloquent testimony to the unforgettable story of its joyful past,” replied Rajni. “Children bounded over the rocks, by the sides of the deep rivers and lonely streams, wherever nature led them. We loved nature. And Nature never did betray the heart that loved her. It was her privilege, through all the years of this our life, to lead us from joy to joy.”
She continued, “We call this hill Baphlimali. In our tribal language, the hill is called dangar. On one side on the foothill, there flows the Indravati River. Hundreds of villages and thousands of acres of fertile land lie on other sides. More than twenty five perennial streams spurt from the hill. Forests provide a green cover to the hill. The bauxite mine underneath protected the ground water. The so-called agents of progress called this bauxite the fruits of sin. The wind of progress would blow rapidly once this bauxite is removed, they said. See how Baphlimali is dying and Indravati is drying today as the evil of exploitation is spreading all over this sacred hill.”
Rajni’s words had a lasting impact on my mind. I felt as if a ghost was dancing madly under the cover of development. Baphlimali’s past has been crushed in achieving false progress. Exploitation was clearly noticeable on the naked body of the bald hill. I could read the anguish of the dry stream and the grim story of devastation which was in store for the future.
Kashipur is a village located in Odisha’s mineral rich Rayagada district which was carved out of erstwhile Koraput district in 1992. The village at an altitude of 827 metres above sea level could be approached from undivided Koraput and Kalahandi districts. The name appears in government files of both the districts. Kashipur, an area of darkness. Hunger and malnutrition, disease and death often spread in the village.
Administrative officers move the village’s name from the records of one district to those of another as per their convenience. Dignitaries and VVIPs including the country’s Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of the state visit Kashipur to see the horror of hunger. Announcements are made to provide food to the hungry, only to get their votes in election time. Ministers make such announcements. Kashipur today stands witness to many such unfulfilled promises.
Funds provided by the government are often embezzled by petty officials and political workers. As a result, Kashipur’s geography changes, but not its fate. No government implemented programmes to develop cultivation, improve communication infrastructure, healthcare facilities, and to manage forests and stream water in Kashipur. There was no one to review the implementation and no one was answerable to people. It was clear when Rajiv Gandhi gave financial assistance to Kashipur.
In the wake of starvation deaths which first surfaced in 1987, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited the area and introduced a developmental package called Orissa Tribal Development Project (OTDP), under which International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) allocated Rs. 60 crore to develop this area.
However, there were irregularities in implementing the project; most of the money was cornered by middlemen, contractors and politicians. The development of Kashipur depended on communication, healthcare, cultivation and forest management in the traditional way. Neither the local political workers nor administrative officials were ready for this. In this way, the occurrence of starvation deaths in Kashipur has been used to get assistance which has been a good source of income of a handful of unscrupulous middlemen who work in connivance with petty officials.