Arrest Killers of Tribal Leader Shyam Patamajhi, Kotagarh, Kandhamal

The sudden attack and ghastly killing of much loved tribal leader, Shyam Patamajhi on the night of October 9 has generated outrage in Odisha even as attempts to suppress the news have been made by the Kandhamal police and administration in connivance with the ruling BJD government. Shyam Patamajhi of Kotagada Block, Kandhamal district was a dynamic leader at the forefront of the struggle against exploitation of poor Adivasis (tribals) and Dalits by the Sahukars(trading communities), government officials and officials of the forest departments.

Tribal Leader Shyam Patamjhi
Tribal Leader Shyam Patamjhi

See Press Clipping of local Odisha paper

Shyam Patamajhi was inspired by the Campaign for 'Tribal Self Rule' and 'Our Government in our Village' led by Late Dr. B.D. Sharma. In the year 1993 Shyam along with others leaders like Netra Manseth, Parasar Patamajhi and Salmon Bada Majhi had formed 'Pahadi Sangram Manch' (Struggle for Hill People) and continued the movements under the banner of that network of hill peoples demanding special status to backward Kandhamal district. During these mobilisations, they had organised a 'Pada Yatra' from the remote Kotagada area to Kandhamal  district headquarter joined with thousands of tribal and Dalits against exploitation of bureaucracy, businessmen, Sahukars, police and forest officials and demanded minimum basic facilities for the people of the area. They also organised a Cycle Rally from Kotagada to State headquarter Bhubaneswar (350 km) to place their demands before the Chief Minister at that time. 

In 1996, the Government through a notification declared the 'Kotagada Wildlife Sanctuary’, an act that threatened the homes of thousands of tribals and Dalits. They faced eviction from their homes, and the threat of loss of livelihood with the access to the land and forests in the Kotagada, Tumudibandh and Daringbadi blocks being affected.

It was against this anti-people move by the then government 'Pahadi Sangrami Manch', Banabasi Suraskhya Parisad and Adivasi Manch had organised mass agitations across Odisha in these districts which Shyam Patamajhi continued to play a vital and leading role. The continued mass agitation became more effective when around 60,000 voters of the area had boycotted to vote for Phulbani (Kandhamal) Parliamentary constituency in 1998 General Election. Shyam became more popular among the people in the movement against declaration of Sanctuary after the vote boycott. . He was elected as Panchayat Samiti Member from Subarngiri Gram Panchayat in the year of 2002 and due to his dynamic leadership and pro-people character he again elected as the Chairperson of Kotagada Panchayat Samiti, a post which he held till 2007.

This movement empowered, politically and otherwise the poor tribal and Dalits of Kotagada area that were finally able to assert their constitutional rights before government officials. Until this mobilisation and organisation, it was non-tribal, business communities and Sahukars (traders) who dominated the local Gram Panchayat elections, often taking decisions that went again the interests of the tribals. There was no representation or reservation of tribals in these local bodies until then. After the enactment of the Forest Rights Act (20065) Shyam, through his organisation, was actively engaged and motivating people for an assertion of forest rights through the exercise of their power and authority vested with the Gram Sabha under the act.

Even during the infamous targeting of Christians during the communal pogrom in the  Kandhamal district in 2008, Shyam Patamajhi, played a pro-active role in helping to safe-guard the minorities of Kotagada area, openly challenging communal forces, an act that had infuriated the Sahukars and intruded trading communities. Due to his brave and dynamic leadership there was not a single incidence of communal attack on the minorities in the Kotagada area during 2007-2008.

Targeting his dynamic personality and leadership, after 2008, the police and administration allying with the traders lobby have tried to label him ‘Maoist’ and even lodged fake and fabricated cases against him. Though he was arrested in several cases, he was subsequently acquitted in all. With an objective to utilize his popularity for the sake of vote politics the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) had even succeeded in absorbing him into the party to take advantage of his popularity and glorify his contribution towards tribal community before by-election of Kandhamal Parliamentary constituency in 2014-15. However, the influential non-tribal leaders of ruling party and some power hungry tribal leaders were not interested in giving a space to Shyam Patamajhi.

After the gruesome killing on the night of October 9, passersby found a dead body of Shyam Patamajhi lying near the market nearly 30 metres distance from a liquor shop. His dead body was under his motor cycle. The first impression locals got that he died in an accident. Soon after when the police were informed and evidence of brutal bashing (injuries) could be seen on face and his teeth were broken. Two of his hands were broken. Immediately locals made a criminal complaint of murder. Finally, the SDPO Baliguda reached the spot and sniffer dogs were brought to trace the murderer.  Today, there is widespread discussion about the motive behind the murder –allegations of the nexus between business community and vested political leaders are doing the rounds. However four suspected accused detained in connection with Shyam’s murder have been released after elected representatives exercised pressure on the police.

The people’s organisations like Banabasi Suraskhya Parisad and Adivasi Adhikar Andolan have decided to take the issue to street protests and fight for legal battle for ensuring justice to the killing of the mass leader. At this moment, the demand is for the immediate arrest of all culprits involved in this murder. The wider call is for one and all to to carry forward the unfinished work of deceased Shyam Patamajhi.

(The writer is Convener, Banabasi Surakshya Parishad, Kandhamal)



Related Articles