The Odisha police on Tuesday arrested the daughter-in-law of the co-convenor of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, a tribal outfit that has opposed bauxite mining in the ecologically sensitive Niyamgiri hills since 2003. This came weeks after prominent environmental activists and organisations across the country wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemning the home ministry for listing NSS as a Maoist organisation in its latest annual report.
Rayagada District Superintendent of police K Siva Subramani told Scroll.in that 20-year-old Kuni Sikaka, daughter in law of NSS’ co-convenor Dodi Pusika, was arrested from Gorta village in the Niyamgiri hills. “We apprehended her after she was found to be a Maoist. Now we are motivating her to surrender. She will get all benefits as per the state government surrender policy if she surrenders,” Subramani said.
The NSS alleged that she was picked up at midnight on Monday by the police and paramilitary forces from her home. Sikaka is also the niece of another top NSS leader, Lada Sikak.
Dodi Pusika has said that his daughter-in-law is not connected with the Maoist movement and that the police had arrested her to put pressure on and create fear among NSS activists. NSS has been fighting against mining in Niyamgiri by multinational Vedanta company.
In 2010, Lada Sikaka had been picked up in similar manner by plainclothes officers and kept in unofficial custody for three days. He was unconditionally released after there was public outrage. “I was beaten with bamboo cans and told to confess that I was a Maoist,” Lada said.
After Lada’s story was carried in national papers, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi had felicitated him in Lanjigarh.
Niyamgiri is home to around 10,000 members of the Dongria Kondh (pictured above), which is a vulnerable tribe. Their struggle against bauxite mining by aluminium major Vedanta has been on since the company signed an MoU with the Odisha government in 2004 to mine the hills through state owned Odisha Mining Corporation. The deal would have allowed the corporation to mine enough to feed its 1-million-tonne alumina plant at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi. However, the mining proposals were rejected by 12 gram sabhas held by tribal communities in the region, as per a Supreme Court order.
However, NSS alleges that there have been attempts by the government to link their movement with the Maoists’ in order to revive the mining plans.
In the past three years, several tribals have been arrested by the Odisha police on charges of being or supporting Maoists. Haribandhu Kadraka, a member of the All India Kishan Mazdoor Sabha that works for the land rights of tribals, was arrested in October 30, 2014 for being an alleged Maoist. “However, when public opinion mounted with over 1,500 tribals holding demonstration before the Odisha Assembly, police did not press charges against me and I was granted bail after three months,” Kadraka said.