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The truth about Kandhamal

The truth about Kandhamal

Author: Sachi Satpathy
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 8, 2008

The recent Kandhamal crisis in Orissa has attracted international attention.. The media, activists and intellectuals are trying to give the whole issue a communal colour. Nobody is trying to understand that the violence has nothing to do with religion. The present crisis is a manifestation of an age-old caste conflict between the Kui-speaking tribals and the Schedule Caste Pana community. Kandhamal district comprises 52 per cent tribals and 19 per cent scheduled castes -- 90 per cent of the population here lives below the poverty line.

The conflict between the Kui-speaking Kondh tribals and the Pana community peaked when the latter initiated an agitation to be included in the Schedule Tribes list, arguing that they too spoke the same Kui language as the tribals of the district. But the Government of Orissa did not approve of their demand. The Kui-speaking tribals too opposed this move for obvious reasons.. This aggravated the conflict between the two communities. Even a Pana Cabinet Minister of the present Government was allegedly sacked because he supported his community's demand for inclusion in the ST list.

History informs us that there have always been problems between the Panas and the tribals. After bifurication of Phulbani district into two new districts, the tribals demanded that the district be renamed as Kandhamal. Looking at the serious disturbances and the loss of life this agitation involved, the State Government decided to give the tribals what they wanted. However, this renaming of the district was not acceptable to the Panas, who wanted to retain the original name Phulbani of their district.

The issue of religious Conversions has added fuel to this simmering fire of enmity between the two communities. Most of the Panas are Christian converts. But the tribals, who are mostly unaffected by conversion activity in the area, could not digest the fact that people in the region were being converted into another religion.

The solution to the present problem lies with the arrest of those responsible for the murder of Swami Laxmanananda, the incident that sparked the violence. Also, one cannot deny that the crisis is intrinsicaly linked to the issue of poverty. It is because of this that the two communities are fighting over the ST reservation pie. Kandhamal district must be included in the KBK special package grant to uplift the socio-economic standards of the people there.

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