Orissa Dalits face trouble enjoying chief minister's gift
A group of Dalits in Orissa have been asked by the authorities to vacate land that was gifted to them nearly four decades ago by a chief minister.
At least 50 illiterate Scheduled Caste families at Sadashivpur village in Malkangiri district were given lands to build houses and for cultivation in 1964 by the late Sadashiv Tripathy, the then chief minister.
Tripathy settled the tribal families inside a reserve forest. The village that came up was named after him.
The population of the village has now increased to 450 and all its 80 households survive on agriculture.
But official records have continued to classify the village as reserved forestland, with not even a single acre having been formally allocated to the Dalits, Jagdish Pradhan, president of the NGO Aahabhagi Vikash Abhiyan (SVA), told IANS.
Officials of the forest department have asked the Dalits - who form the lowest rung of the caste-ridden Hindu society-to vacate their lands, he said.
Even after running from pillar to post, the Dalits were unable to get their record of rights.
Both the forest department and the revenue department also say there is no evidence of the villagers cultivating their lands prior to the 1980s.
"If the people settled by a chief minister are being denied their rights, one can imagine the fate of tribals and dalits in thousands of other villages in Orissa," Pradhan said.
Another example is Jayanti Nagar village, located about 20 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar.
Jayanti Nagar has about 40 households, mostly of the Munda tribe who were settled in the area in 1969. The government had then helped them build houses under a housing scheme.
NGO activists say the Munda Dalits are being harassed by forest department officials as well as wild elephants from the nearby Chandaka wildlife sanctuary.
"The forest officials say they too don't have the record of rights. Where shall they go now?" Pradhan asked. "It is totally unjustified and illegal."