Kandhamal Dalits’ turmeric crop may be stolen
20 October 2008
After losing their homes – more than 4,300 log huts, mud and brick houses have been burnt down – the 50,000 Christians o0f Kandhamal in Orissa hiding in forests for two months or living as refugees in government and NGO camps across the state, also risk losing their precious crops of the world famous aromatic turmeric and ginger to marauding neighbours egged on by Hindutva hordes.
Losing the crops will not just be losing the last hope they had of an income, it also marks the end of so much labour of love, and so much hope.
A very large number of the Dalits and Tribals — Christian, Hindu or traditional religionists — of the Kandhamal plateau in the heart of Orissa state are marginal farmers and rural workers for whom the turmeric and ginger added to the pittance they earned from selling forest produce such as seeds of the sal trees, resin, and mango and jackfruit.
Even this was a big racket with middlemen, most of them Oriyas of the upper castes and trading classes from the big cities, buying the produce for a song, and selling it at a five hundred to a thousand per cent profit. The ginger and turmeric grown organically on the hill slopes and valleys, fed by rainwater and tilled in backbreaking labour, are so aromatic they are used in medicines and in the cosmetic industry.
Church and other NGOs had in fact been working with the small farmers, or rather with their wives, to see how they could cut out the middlemen. This was one reason all the moneyed men were financing the late Lakhmanananda Saraswati in his war against the Church.
The Panos Dalits face a twin crisis. Many of their fields have been taken over by Tribals under the newly implemented Forest Act. This had started happening after the December 2007 violence. Now with the men and women missing, the crops are at the mercy of the neighbours and others who have been mobilised by the traders and the Sangh activists.
Experts say a majority of the big traders are outsiders from Gajapati or Ganjam districts and even from as far as Cuttack, who form the middle and upper castes and are traditional supporters of the Hindutva groups. A few Panos who had become traders have always been under pressure.
Kandhamal ginger is understood to be available in the United States, Germany and Netherlands, and Japan. About 12,000 hectare is recorded as under turmeric cultivation with an annual production of just over 10,000 tonne.
And now the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal have started targeting Union police forces, many of whom are said to be trainees. Reports say sections of the Central Reserve Police Force are frequently ambushed, and forced to run away.
The VHP has also launched a media campaign against the CRPF, accusing its policemen of harassing Hindu women.