| The children and the police (right) keep guard. Pictures by Sanjib Mukherjee
Dhinkia, April 10: First the Ulfa in Assam, and now anti-Posco protesters in Orissa.
After putting the women on the guard for last two years, the anti-Posco protesters are now planning to thwart a wave of government intrusion by putting children in the line of fire during police operations.
“Children between the age of 5 to 15 years will lead the agitation with the parents remaining behind them,” said Abhay Sahu, leader of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), the outfit which has been spearheading the agitation against the Posco project for the last two years.
“They are the future citizens who should lead the agitation,” he said.
Over 4,000 families in three gram panchayats of Jagatsinghpur district protesting against the Rs 52,000-crore steel project of Korean steelmaker Posco on their land are bracing for a violent confrontation with the police.
After a stand-off with farmers in Dhinkia, Gadakujanga and Nuagaon for over a year and a half, an exasperated state government today pushed a massive number of armed policemen around the three villages ahead of a possible force-in.
With the PMO convening a special meeting on April 19 to discuss the fate of the Posco project, the Orissa government has been pushed to act ahead of the crucial meeting.
In the next one week, about 350 policemen plan to enter Dhinkia and the other two gram panchayats, which the agitators have transformed into a no-entry zone for the administration over the past 20 months. Anti-Posco agitators have erected nine wooden gates to prevent the entry of government, police and Posco officials into the three gram panchayats of Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujang to be affected by the proposed steel plant.
Though the district administration had issued notices to 11 leaders asking them to remove the barricade, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. “We will try to persuade the anti-Posco protesters to remove the illegal barricades. If they don’t relent, we will be forced to take action according to law,” Jagatsinghpur SP Y.K. Jethwa told The Telegraph.
The Opposition has already sounded an alert for the rulers. “I warn the government and the chief minister that they would be responsible for any untoward situation,” leader of Opposition J.B. Patnaik said at a press conference in Bhubaneswar.
The children, though, are not exactly well-conversant with the turn of events at their villages over last 20 months. Rinki Nayak (8), a student of Class V at Dhinkia Primary School, fumbled when asked what she knew about the anti-Posco agitation and if she was ready to go on the offensive against the police. She would, the little girl said as an afterthought, as the Posco plant would destroy the paddy fields and betel vines.
But Rajeshraj Swain, a Class X student, was much more articulate. “I would participate in the agitation since the steel plant would mean losing my home,” he said.
The children are being trained to guard the gates erected by the anti-Posco agitators and a number of them — Rosi Bradhan, Kalyani Nayak, Susil Nayak, Mili Swain, Rinkina Nayak, Sonali Nayak, Dolly Nayak, Anand Baral and Binod Baral — were seen sticking to their task diligently at the right end of Dhinkia village.
Jagatsinghpur SP Y.K. Jethwa is aghast at the move. “If the leaders put the innocent children in front we will have take action against them for such an illegal move,” he said.