<SiteLock

Odisha: Role model for the Upper Castes in fighting Corona

 

Roshan Padhan

roshan pradhanWhen they say everyone is equal before law, it is the biggest lie in India. If we look at some news reports in one Odia newspaper, Sambad, this is very evident. While the Odisha government is boasting about its strict and successful implementation of the so-called lockdown, its burden is being disproportionately borne by the poor Dalits and Tribals. After the first phase of lockdown was over, and the migrant workers had run out of food and money, they had completely lost faith in the government. As the Odisha government made no efforts to bring them back, they started returning on their own. Most of the news reports focused on how they were flouting the lockdown and entering the state at night through agricultural fields and sea routes, and successfully criminalized them.

The situation of migrant labourers is already precarious because of loss of livelihood and vigilante groups not letting them enter their own villages. This criminalization by the media and state has led to increased vulnerability among them.

The Odisha government and the Odia middle class is more concerned about the planning of the Cart Festival in Puri than helping the thousands of migrant workers stranded in other states without food. It is evident from the 25th April issue  of the Sambad, in which the meeting held at the so-called Jagad Guru Shankaracharya's place for the Cart Festival featured as the front page news, while migrant workers' plight was on the 12th page.

roshan odia 1

The so-called king of Puri touching the feet of Sankaracharya
Picture courtesy: Sambad Newspaper

roshan odia 2

Some ritual held at Puri on the day of Akashya Tritya
Picture courtesy: Sambad Newspaper

 When it comes to brahminical rituals, all rules are bent. We see many images of these rituals in Puri as well as in Sambalpur where all the norms of the so-called social distancing are flouted openly. Neither are they wearing masks nor maintaining physical distance as is evident from the images published. However, the reporting of these events is quite contradictory to these images, where the devotees are praised for following all the rules of the lockdown.

roshan odia 3

roshan odia 4

Pictures from a ritual held in different parts of Sambalpur
Pictures Courtesy: Sambad Newspaper

 In Odisha the government has made a rule that one has to pay a fine of 200 for not wearing a mask. Poor dalits and tribals in rural areas don't carry that much cash with them always. I have often seen them either calling their relatives for cash or being forced by the police to borrow money from a nearby acquaintance to pay fine. The amount is sometimes higher than their daily income. Mis-information and rumors are so rampant that people who can't afford to buy food items are forced to buy face masks. The fear of the police is such that people without footwear and shirts but with face masks is a usual sight.

roshan odia 5

Pictures from a ritual held in different parts of Sambalpur
Picture Courtesy: Sambad Newspaper

 In another news report, 33 Tribal families have been evicted by the Odisha government in Kalahandi district saying that they were living in a reserve forest area. When the government is advising everyone to 'stay at home', these tribal families are evicted from their 'homes' and forced to stay in open during such harsh weather. If we see this in contrast to the clearance given by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in this month to 16 projects which are going to hamper the ecologically sensitive and reserve forest area in the name of national development, we are forced to question the priorities of the government. If anyone poses a danger to the environment, it is the Baman-Bania state and not the tribals.

roshan odia 6

Photo courtesy: Facebook

 If we consider some of the policies of compensation/relief in Odisha, we realize that these are very Brahminical in nature. Some of the poor are provided with 1500 rupees per month and extra ration during this period, and in some panchayats cooked food is provided to some families. But the priests of Puri temple, which is the most affluent temple in Odisha, are provided with 5000 rupees per month. Even if some of them are poor they should have been given the general relief package. This difference can be explained only by the hierarchy of occupations in a caste society, where priesthood which is completely unproductive, is seen as a superior occupation.

roshan odia 7

Photo courtesy: Facebook

The state government rightly announced the compensation for doctors, if they die during this pandemic, to be 50 lakh and that they will be given the status of martyrs. But, the sanitation workers who are predominantly low paid contractual Dalit workers, and now working at even greater risk to their lives, are not even acknowledged or recognized. Now, consider the above image: why didn't anyone come up with such an image of a sanitation worker, instead of a doctor, engaged in manual scavenging holding a broomstick. The act of depicting any god's face (in this case Lord Jagannath) on the body of a sanitation worker could generate outrage. This explains the stigma attached to sanitation workers and the caste-based occupation they are engaged in. How else can you explain an absence of any formal announcement regarding a monetary compensation for their death during service? Unlike doctors, they are expected to die while doing their low paid work, whether we are facing a pandemic or not, just because they are Dalits: their lives are dispensable.

Now that the protests by Odia migrant workers in Surat and many more pathetic stories of Odia migrant workers in other states have become national news, the Odisha government is talking about bringing back the migrant workers. But it seems to be nothing but an empty rhetoric. The Odisha government does not even have the approximate numbers of migrant Odia workers or even the places in which they are working, as most of them are engaged in highly informal setups. The numbers reported in the Odia media are not even close to the actual numbers of migrants. These high numbers of migrant laborers resulting from distress migration, rampant caste atrocities, and displacement of Tribals is completely invisibilized in the political discourse and mainstream media in the state.

News reports of deaths of migrant Odia workers are a daily event and have been completely normalized. These deaths are not seen as a marker of a failed state; rather any error or delay in any ritual at Puri temple is seen as such. Death of the migrant workers never generates a prime time debate, whereas we see numerous prime time debates over some insignificant error in rituals in Puri temple. That's why, even now in the time of the pandemic, the migrant workers are portrayed as carriers of disease and criminals and their plight is completely ignored, whereas Brahminical rituals are carried out with complete impunity flouting all rules of lockdown.

~

References

 http://sambadepaper.com/imageview_111427_148773_4_76_25-04-2020_0_i_1_sf.html
http://sambadepaper.com/imageview_112512_11419924_4_76_27-04-2020_12_i_1_sf.html
http://sambadepaper.com/imageview_112541_12354977_4_76_27-04-2020_4_i_1_sf.html
https://www.impactnews.in/not-safe-even-during-lockdown-185-acres-of-land-within-national-parks-and-sanctuaries-proposed-for-diversion-by-national-board-for-wildlife/
https://www.orissapost.com/81-odia-migrant-workers-arrested-in-surat-for-violent-protests-over-lockdown/

~~~

 

Roshan Padhan is from Bargah (Odisha) and is a PhD scholar in the School of Economics,  University of Hyderabad, working on Economics of Education.

Other Related Articles

Atrocity on Dalits in Ramojipeta, Telangana: A fact-finding report
Sunday, 29 November 2020
  On the day of Dussehra, Ramojipeta, a village in Illanthakunta Mandal of Sircilla district from where the Chief Minister's son, Mr. K Tarakarama Rao (KTR), was elected, witnessed a tragic... Read More...
The Indian State during the Pandemic: Serving the Savarna, Invisibilising the Bahujan
Thursday, 26 November 2020
  Raina Singh, Theresa Joseph & Shafiullah Anis  Ambedkar Reading Group met online on 10th May 2020 with the motive to read, understand, discuss and debate from an anti-caste... Read More...
The fence-sitter of Tamil Nadu politics: Superstar Rajinikanth
Wednesday, 25 November 2020
Keerthi Nathan Tamil Nadu has a long history where Dravidian politics is associated with the Tamil cinema industry and they both go hand in hand because the Tamil film industry has produced three... Read More...
Jharkhand: The Curse of Development and Displacement
Monday, 23 November 2020
  Dr. Md Afroz & Md Tabrez   Introduction The formation of Jharkhand on the pretext of development and change in the life of local people was actually a political gimmick to encash the... Read More...
After a series of dismal performances, what is the future of Congress?
Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Keerthi Nathan The Mahagatbandhan alliance comprising of RJD, Congress and the Left parties have given a tough fight to the ruling NDA in the recently held elections in Bihar. Although the RJD has... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

My journey towards understanding men in society!
Tuesday, 30 June 2020
  Harshali Nagrale Every girl dreams about something or the other to be in life. But, in the journey from being a little girl to growing up into a woman, her dreams' wings are cut in different... Read More...
Poverty of Philosophy within Liberals in Understanding Anti-Caste Politics
Wednesday, 24 June 2020
  Omprakash Mahato There are social scientists who develop their views on caste through textual means, attending conferences and seminars, observing society from a distance etc. While reading... Read More...
Can you unlove your stars?
Wednesday, 19 August 2020
  Amarnath Sandipamu  Please read the previous part of this article here. Manufacturing a star A film is a cultural product that takes shape through the labours of over 24 departments... Read More...
Kashi-Mathura Baki Hai: A Glimpse of Hindu Nationalism in Ayodhya
Saturday, 13 June 2020
  Ratnesh Katulkar The decade of 90s had witnessed two landmark political movements, Mandal and Kamandal. The Mandal movement was based on social justice while the Ram Mandir roused majoritarian... Read More...
The incompatibility of RSS-BJP’s agenda with the idea of India: A Zero Hour prognosis
Wednesday, 10 June 2020
Salman Farissi In 2019, when BJP won with a bigger majority than ever before, the minorities of the country, especially religious minorities, were not only disappointed but deeply distressed. While... Read More...