Sambalpur, Orissa: When all of western Odisha celebrated the festival of newly harvested grains, the Nuakhai, more than 250 Dalit families from the centuries-old settlement of Ghunghutipali, near the Maa Samaleswari temple in Sambalpur, were not from festive mood.
“Why should we celebrate Nuakhai when there is no happiness around? asks an angry Ramatanu Deep (28), who is one of the locals protesting the state government’s plan to expand and beautify on the 16the-th century sanctuary.
Following the beautification and expansion of Shree Jagannatha and Shree Lingaraj temples, the state government intends to execute the 200 crore SAMALEI (Samaleswari Temple Area Management & Local Economy Initiatives) project to develop 108 acres in and around the Samaleswari temple.
The project has become a source of concern for the residents of Ghunghutipali, who are betting daily. “We welcome the beautification of the temple but do not agree with the relocation and rehabilitation plan,” Ramatanu said. Newsclick.
History of Ghunghutipali
The history of the colony dates back over 400 years to the reign of Balaram Dev, the first Chauhan king of Sambalpur. When the Samaleswari temple was built, the king brought in some families from Ghunghutipali, located in the town of Patnagarh in the district of Balangir, to play the traditional Dulduli Baja instrument during the rituals. Families then settled there and their number gradually rose to more than 250.
Families were also encouraged to maintain cleanliness around the temple in addition to playing the instrument. As Dulduli Baja became popular and people from other castes started playing it, residents began to lose their livelihood. To make ends meet, they started working as daily gamblers or as sanitation workers.
“Even after staying for over 400 years, we did not receive any pies. Now, the administration has decided to move us, ”explains Ramatanu. His compatriot Raghu Deep (32) recounts Newsclick, “We have been staying in this colony for many years. The work area and the school are nearby. But the administration wants to rehabilitate us in Durgapali, which is far away, which is why we are opposed to the resettlement proposal.
Temple expansion plan
The project involves the construction of a one kilometer footbridge to parikrama, separate entry and exit gates, emergency facilities for the temple office, an interpretation center and the preservation of Gopalji Math. Accommodation, parking, toilets, information kiosks and donation centers are among the other features of the project. In addition, a housing center for servants and a 30-meter-wide road will be constructed between the temple and the Mahanadi Gate Road to assist in the conduct of Mahanadi’s daily aarti.
“We started to demolish government quarters in the first phase and will proceed to other areas according to plan. The area required for temple development will be cleared under the drive, including Kamli Bazaar (a local small business owner’s market) and other areas, ”said Subhankar Mohanty, law enforcement officer, Sambalpur Municipal. Corporation. Newsclick.
Saroj, an activist, poet and resident of Sambalpur, said they initially believed that beautifying the temple area would attract more tourists. “But we later learned that about 108 acres surrounding the temple would undergo a facelift, which would end up displacing several residents. When so many people are deported, there should be a public hearing. But the government is unwilling to hold a public hearing or discuss the eviction and rehabilitation plan with local residents.
Another resident who requested anonymity alleges that the project is a new way of “taking over land”. “In fact, people are being displaced or uprooted, but the government claims they are donating in the name of God. It’s a new way of grabbing land, ”says the resident.
the hustle and bustle so far
In June 2020, the district administration asked residents of Ghunghutipada to attend a meeting on the issue of displacement. “We asked for Pattas land, financial support for building houses, and jobs for youth employed by the temple board. We wanted the administration to rehabilitate us as the servants living in the surrounding area, ”explains Ramatanu. “We too have served the Goddess for generations. But the rehabilitation plan was discriminatory.
Another resident Naba Kishore Bag said the administration wanted to rehabilitate them in Durgapali, which is “far from our settlement.” We want to be rehabilitated in a nearby neighborhood. We told officials that once you agree to rehabilitate us in a neighboring area, only then begin the investigation. Otherwise, we will not leave the premises ”.
However, “officials, accompanied by the police, surveyed the area despite our protests,” says Ramatanu.
Residents, including women and the elderly, and small business owners even started a Jal Satyagraha in Mahanadi by standing waist-deep in water and demanding details of the rehabilitation plan.
“We have lived near the shrine for decades. Most of us have been rocked by serious hardship as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. We live in fear of displacement, some of us having already received eviction notices, ”protester Subodh said.
Ramatanu recounts how the locals knocked on all doors to express their resistance. “The memorandum we submitted to the district tax collector was also sent to the prime minister, as well as the deputy and deputy from Sambalpur. We wanted to make them aware of discrimination and express our demands, ”he says.
Sambalpur MP Nitin Gangdev had raised the issue in parliament asking for proper rehabilitation of residents of Ghunghutipada and jobs for young people employed by the temple board.
Residents also submitted a memorandum outlining their grievances to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. “About 60 residents of our colony staged a protest in Bhubaneswar and submitted the memorandum to the Office of the Chief Minister (CMO). We have received a letter from CMO informing us that the district administration will look into the matter, ”Bag explains.
Frustrated and angry, residents filed a complaint with the High Court. “We are now waiting for the court to dispense justice. Only then will we celebrate Nuakhai and have Nabanha (newly harvested grain after puja). Until then, we will continue our protest, ”declares a determined Ramatanu.