We the undersigned strongly condemn the arrest of Abhay Sahu, the leader of the anti-POSCO movement in Orissa and condemn the attack of the Naveen Patnaik government on democratic people's movements.
Abhay Sahu, the visionary leader of the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti was arrested unwarranted by the Orissa police near Pattamundai in Jagtsingpur district in the evening on 12 October 2008 on his return from the hospital after a medical check-up. The same night he was sent to the Central Jail in Choudwar in Cuttack district. Despite his fragile health condition, he was not given any medical help till the evening of 15 October 2008.
The motive of the state government behind Abhay Sahu's arrest can clearly be seen as an attempt to repress people's fight over their traditional and constitutional rights to lands and livelihoods and to divert public attention from attacks on Christians in the state so that it goes on unabated.
Orissa has been reeling from crisis lately. The bare statistics reveal that 180,000 people have been displaced by recent floods because of the 'presence' and mismanagement of dams; at least 50,000 Christians made refugees by Hindutva hate campaigns and killings.
It is shocking how the anti-POSCO movement has been virtually censored from the media and has faced titanic odds during the past three years. Nevertheless, the movement has succeeded in delaying the construction of a gigantic steel plant along with a new port on Orissa's coast, which will render thousands of people landless and jobless.
The main aim of the POSCO project is to get iron ore from a magnificent mountain in North Orissa called Kandadhara (Sword's Edge): an extraordinary peak with dense primary forests and rich biodiversity inhabited by adivasis for millennia, where one of India's highest waterfalls falling down a cliff face is visible from miles away. The mining giants , through the eyes of the state's myopic vision, can only see the reserve of iron ore underneath. The fact that so much forests and wildlife and so many tribes have already been devastated by mining in North Orissa does not seem to count!!!!
It's a well-known fact now that the Naveen Patnaik government is selling Orissa for a song, caring little about the gross human rights violation and environmental crimes associated with it.
The POSCO project is a gigantic corporate crime, an attempt by a multinational corporation to seize the land and resources of the people and of the nation. The POSCO project will hugely benefit no one except POSCO itself. Moreover, the state government's moves to hand over the land are illegal and a criminal offence under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
When serious violence erupted, on 29 November 2007, and bombs were thrown by goons at a crowd consisting largely of women, senior IAS officer, Priyabrat Patnaik, made a statement on TV, "Those people [who oppose the project] have been taught a lesson." Shouldn't he have been immediately dismissed from service for inciting and glorifying violence in a democracy while holding a responsible position
By arresting Abhay Sahu, does not Naveen Patnaik send out the message that Orissa and its innocent people be damned, no one will be allowed to stand in the way while metal and mining giants plunder the state's natural resources and pauperise its people with the help of the government!!
The police had filed numerous false cases against the leaders of non-violent struggles, while taking no action against those responsible for several violent attacks on the people of the area. The malafide cases against Abhay Sahu will now be used to unjustly detain him, in order to silence him and to intimidate those opposed to the project: a practice the state administration has been scrupulously displaying wherever there is dissent against its destructive development agenda.
It seems that silencing Abhay Sahu is more important than containing the ensuing communal violence by the state government.
It is extremely essential, for the survival of Indian democracy, that Abhay Sahu be freed immediately and the POSCO project be cancelled.
We call on the Naveen Patnaik government to
Â· provide medical aid to Abhay Sahu immediately;
Â·make a stand for civilised and democratic values and order Abhay's release;
Â·cancel the POSCO project and withdraw all police deployment from the area immediately;
Â· prosecute all those responsible for violence against the people of the area and compensate the people for the repression that they have suffered; and
Â·stop similar repression elsewhere in Orissa where people are fighting for their choice of livelihoods and human rights (such as in Niyamgiri, Kashipur, Kalinganagar).
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