:Biju Mathew, kafila.org

MARCH 13, 2013

This is a guest post by BIJU MATHEW

Tarun Mandal, Narahari Sahu and Manas Jena are dead, blown up by what the media has described as a “crude” bomb. All bombs are crude. They kill. They are meant to destroy flesh and bone. They are aimed at sucking out life. Lakshman Mandal battles for his life in a Cuttack hospital. He knows how crude a bomb is. Hopefully he will live to tell the tale of its crudeness.

This is a partisan piece. But it aims to produce balance. Almost all media reports so far have had a strong spin that the three – Narahari, Tarun and Manas – were killed while making a crude bomb. So says Mr. Satyabrata Bhoi, Jagatsinghpur SP. Nobody has bothered to ask him any further questions. It’s quite understandable. Asking any more questions might make the entire spin untenable. For instance, they could have asked: why is it that something illegal, such as crude bomb making, was being done out in the open and not within the confines of a house? Especially given that for the last month, the police have been constantly in and out of the village? Especially because there are at least a few dozen pro-POSCO folks in the village? Why would three leaders of an oppositional movement sit outside on the porch of a house that is fully identified with POSCO Pratirodh Sangran Samiti (PPSS) and make bombs – openly, for all to see – at 6.30 PM when there is enough light for anybody to see them? Isn’t crude bomb making normally confined to the indoors? How many incidents do we know of where crude bomb making was happening outside in broad daylight? Isn’t the RSS, the most famous outfit that makes crude bombs and occasionally manages to blow up its own, always known to make its bombs indoors?

Do these seem like too basic a set of question? If so,  its simplicity is only paralleled by the holes it can open up in Mr. Bhoi’s story.

Maybe we should ask a few more complicated questions. Who are the dead? Why not ask this question and see if its answer fits the profile of somebody you think could sit in the open and make a bomb? Three of the four – Narahari, Tarun and Lakshman – were/are senior leaders of the PPSS. With their main leader, Abhay Sahu, in-and-out of jail and facing risk of further arrest under trumped up charges, these were the men who were holding everything together for PPSS. The fourth, Manas, was an upcoming leader and is the brother of yet another PPSS senior leader, Prakash Jena. If the media had bothered to talk to the residents of Gobindpur they would have known that Narahari was getting ready to walk through the village to announce a meeting. ‘Narahari sir’ as he was popularly known (because he also taught at the local school on occasion) was a man of impeccable reputation – courageous and incorruptible. Who stands to gain by wiping out the second rung of the PPSS leadership in Gobindpur? Why has no one bothered to ask who these men were, or what their position was in the ongoing struggle? What were their roles in the village? Who stood to gain the most from their death?  Lakshman is a landless laborer. He does not own a single decimal of the land he is defending. How come this has yet to be reported on? Why would a landless msn be in such a struggle, let alone make bombs?

Not good enough? Surely, just this much should be enough for any critical minded journalist who takes his/her trade seriously. But then why not ask a few more questions? There are indeed more that could be asked.

This is not the first bomb to explode in Gobindpur. These were not the first lives lost to bombs. In the recent history of this village-in-struggle, this is the second bomb. The first went off on June 20, 2008 during an anti-POSCO demonstration, when a similar ‘crude’ bomb was hurled at the demonstrators. One person was killed. The only person to have died in what has largely been a non-violent struggle, but for the numerous times that the villages have been attacked by either the police or pro-POSCO goons. And the only person who had died so far was Tapan Mandal, Tarun’s brother. What do we have to say to a family that has given two children to the struggle?

Here is where the ruthlessness of this enterprise becomes most evident. The main accused in the complaint filed regarding the murder of Tapan Mandal is Prafulla Mohanty, a local BJD, pro-POSCO activist. And the main eye-witness cited in the complaint? Narahari Sahu.

Prafulla Mohanty has the honor of being accused in at least half a dozen more complaints about attacks on the anti-POSCO villages. The investigation of Tapan’s murder has been languishing for four years now. Mr. Bhoi and his posse have not moved an inch on the only killing that had happened so far. And Prafulla Mohanty? If anybody bothered to ask some of the locals, they would have been told that ever since the police attack of four weeks ago, Prafulla Mohanty has been walking around Gobindpur threatening anybody he can find. Its been reported that Mr. Sangram Mahapatra, the local Industrial Development Corporation of Orissa (IDCO) chief caught on video brutally beating a villager, has been calling PPSS leaders up on their mobile phones and doing the same. Who is a better candidate for arranging and detonating crude bombs: a landless agricultural worker or a BJD goon whose every effort has been opposed by the very same people who are now dead?

I first met all four – Narahari, Tarun, Manas and Lakshman – during my second visit to Orissa to research betelvines in June 2010. Narahari was amongst the first people in the village to lead me through a paan-kethi shed. He was meticulous in outlining the economics of betel leaf. He walked me up and down a shed and made me count the number of rows of the vine. I was introduced to Tarun and Manas. But today, I can’t remember anything they said, their contribution to the focus group, their gestures… I would feel better if I could. As if my feeling better matters. Lakshman came across as a quiet and withdrawn person initially. I asked him why he, who had no land, was part of the movement? For a brief moment, he looked away – fixed his eyes on the ground below him – and then looked up at me. “Why not?” he asked me.  CPI State Secretary Diwakar Nayak issued a statement on Thursday that Lakshman’s life was in danger – that he may still be killed. He urged the State to give Lakshman police protection. How ironic.

[Biju Mathew Is Associate Professor of Business at Rider University, NJ and a coordinator of the Mining Zone Peoples Solidarity Group (www.miningzone.org), a research and advocacy collective that has published the most comprehensive report on the POSCO project to date – Iron and Steal: The POSCO India Story. He is also a co-author of a recent EPW article that analyzes the faulty assumptions underlying the Social Cost Benefit Analysis used to justify the POSCO India project.]