By Ghasiram Panda
The joy of being the first Munda tribal lady candidate to pass Matriculation ebbed for Jayanti when she was unable to produce her caste certificate and her name was included in the general category in college. Her father rued, “I ran from pillar to post but I could not obtain the caste certificate of my daughter. The rule book says I must own land to get one. I do not have land Sir, so I have no caste!”
Esaranti Purti, aged 22, is another lady belonging to the same Munda community. She wanted to compete as a ward member in the last Panchayat elections. She filed her nomination, but was rejected on the ground that she could not produce a caste certificate. The reason was the same. Not having land she could not procure a caste certificate and was thus deprived of her democratic rights. Many such examples can be found if one visits the village of Gendarmal.
Surrounded by forests and mountains, the village of Gendarlamal is situated in the S Patrapali Gram Panchayat, Ulunda Block of Birmaharaj Sub - division in the district of Subarnapur. Around 40 families reside in this village. All belong to the Munda community. Manuel Barla, a resident of the village, reveals that all originally belonged to the Sundargarh district. They used to live in the villages Sanajal, Raksi, Bimalagarh of Banai area. Gradually those villages were affected by the mining industry. They lost the land of their ancestors, the forests were destroyed. The many avenues of livelihood slowly faded away.
Inspite of the difficulties they had continued for a long time working in the mines. The Munda’s are very hardy. They know the art of leveling the fields. They prefer to engage in agriculture rather than in mines. Wandering here and there, searching for better opportunities, they chanced upon the present village of Gendarmal around 40 years ago. This deserted village found new life in their presence. They leveled the nearby forest area and embarked upon what they know best, agriculture. Gradually they forgot the pain of having to leave their ancestral villages.
Working in the forests, the fear of forest officials always bothered them. The nearby villages too kept pestering them despite their four decades long habitation. Threats were frequent. In such turbulent times, the Forest Rights Act 2006 ushered hope in their troubled lives. They looked forward to a better and more secured future. They expected that they would soon receive titles for the forest land they occupied. However government apathy has put paid to their aspirations. Their dreams remain unfulfilled.
With help from a local voluntary organisation, they filed their claims in January 2009, duly supported by the Palli Sabha. The District Administration is yet to respond to their applications. This is painful, says the Secretary of Ayesa, Sri Kamalakanta Sahoo.
Displaced by the mining policies of the government and ignored by the government authorities who are sitting on their claims, these tribals are being denied their lawful rights. The original inhabitants of the earth are struggling for their existence and face an uncertain future. Shall we be forced to remain a witness to their plight?
A/68, Saheed Nagar
+91 - 9438341794