Force vs Children at the Posco zone

Bhubaneswar:  It is force versus children in the battle for land to set up South Korean giant POSCO`s proposed mega steel project in Orissa`s Jagatsinghpur district where the anti-displacement stir has entered the decisive phase.

While state government has accused the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), a body spearheading agitation, of using the children as a "shield", the villagers sought to differ.

"We involve children in the agitation to counter the state`s brute force which is trying to forcibly acquire land without consent of the farmers." PPSS President Abhay Sahu said.

About 300 children are leading the anti-POSCO agitation for last 12 days as the state government deployed more than 600 armed security personnel to enter into Dhinkia gram panchayat, considered as epicentre of the six-year-old anti-displacement movement.

"I believe the children should never be used in agitation. The persons, be it their parents, should be held responsible for using them in this manner," Orissa`s Women and Child Development (WCD) minister Anjali Behera said.

The minister said she would like to initiate action against the persons involved in the practice. "It is cruel to make children agitate under scorching sun and heavy downpour," the minister remarked.

Jagatsinghpur Additional District Magistrate (ADM), S K Choudhury, also demanded action against those having `dragged` children into the agitation.

"We leave it to the civil society to consider whether the anti-POSCO brigade`s use of children is legal or otherwise," Choudhury said.

Not buying the logic of the powers-that-be, social activist Swami Agnivesh argued, "I don`t see anything wrong in children taking up the cause of their parents. Above all, they are not left alone to fight with the government. The children are accompanied by their parents and seniors of the village."

Striking a dissenting note noted child right activist Anuradha Mohanty said children must not be used in any form of agitation.

"No one including their parents should be allowed to violate rights of children," she said.

The little ones, however, have their own argument.

"Can the state government or POSCO provide us a better future? It is our parents who will sustain us. If they are going to lose livelihood, who will give us protection," said 11-year-old Rosalin Patra, a class-VII student of Gobindpur Upper Primary School.

Like Rosalin, many students from Dhinkia High School and Patana Primary School have `voluntarily` joined the `do-or-die battle` against POSCO project.

Bapina Mandal, whose father was killed three years ago during an anti-POSCO agitation says, "Having already lost my father in the fight now it is left for me, my mother and elder sister to carry on the agitation on our own."

Bapina`s mother Sabita Mandal said, "The soul of my husband can rest in peace if the fight of my children along with others put a halt to the POSCO project over fertile land."

Echoing Bapina, Bikar Mohanty, a class-III student, said emphatically, "isn`t it better to die in a movement than facing starvation death."

Admitting that children`s studies were affected due to their involvement in the agitation, PPSS leader Abhay Sahu claimed they have roped in teachers and provided black board and study materials to teach children at the dharna site.

"Swami Agnivesh is a witness to facilities provided to children," said the suspended sarpanch of Dhinkia and PPSS Secretary Sisir Mohapatra.

Agnivesh recalled "during my visit to Dhinkia area, I taught children about the environment. They were dumping plastic water pouches here and there. I taught them to collect the plastic pouches and put all in a pit."