August 16, 2008
Yesterday I returned to the U.S. after spending three and a half weeks gathering information about the anti-displacement movement in India. I traveled across five states in central and eastern India to the sites of projected industrial and mining projects and real estate developments. I spoke with hundreds of villagers who are threatened with displacement and with many dedicated activists who are helping to organize the people’s resistance.
On the evening of August 12, I was returning to the state capital of Orissa, Bhubaneswar, after spending a day in the area of Kalinganagar. This was the site of a massacre of 15 tribal farmers in January 2006 by Orissa police who were protecting the construction site of a large steel plant owned by the Tatas, one of the biggest industrial houses in India. Since then the farmers and their allies have stopped construction in its tracks, much to the consternation of Tata Steel and the Orissa government.
At approximately 8 pm, the car transporting us was pulled over by local police for a traffic-related reason. My translator Pratima Das, my guide Pradeep, our driver, and I were taken to a police station for questioning. For the next eight hours, all of us were interrogated, first by the local police, and then by the chief police official of the state of Orissa. The latter was particularly hostile, accusing me of being an “anti-government agitator.” When I insisted that I was a teacher researching the issue of forced displacement in India, he insisted that only “communists” would be interested in speaking with villagers.
After a night of harassment by the Orissa police, I was dropped off at my hotel at 4 am and told to stay there while they “verified” my story with U.S. Homeland Security and Interpol. I was questioned once more in my hotel room the following day. Whether due to the efforts of my local friends, or the police leaking the story to the press, or both, I was interviewed by two TV stations and a local newspaper in my hotel room. A press release issued by Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (the nationwide Anti-Displacement and People’s Development Movement) produced many phone calls and emails to government officials in Orissa and New Delhi. In addition, supporters of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle called Indian embassies and consulates in many countries. These calls undoubtedly made it more difficult for the Indian authorities to detain me any longer.
Shortly before I left Bhubaneswar, I heard that Pratima and Pradeep had been arrested and charged with serious political crimes that can keep them behind bars for many years. This is an outrage which has to be vigorously protested. Pratima and Pradeep are guilty only of being anti-displacement activists and introducing a foreign friend to the realities of India’s villages and the devastating impact that capitalist “development” will have on tens of millions of people in India in the coming years. As soon as I hear from friends in India, I will send you information on how to support the immediate release of Pratima and Pradeep from jail.