//Displacement and Its Impact on Women in Orissa

Displacement and Its Impact on Women in Orissa

Prof Asha Hans

Displacement is becoming a contentious issue as States take the road to fast economic growth. Though development induced displacement poses as one of the most critical challenges to women, in most reporting on displacement, their standpoint has been excluded.

Displacement in Orissa is due to large projects which cover not only industry but also mining, dams, industry, wildlife sanctuaries, Special Economic Zones and defence establishments. In this road to more and faster we tend to forget the people who suffer from this race and are excluded from the process. Today's displacement is the result of policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. Globalisation is not a new phenomenon but its history can be linked to imperialism and western nation's search for more markets and primary goods.

We, therefore, need to remember how imperial countries became richer and the gaps they created between the rich and poor. We need to decide if we should make the same mistakes? While it is easy to say that the process of Globalisation is unstoppable and makes the people rich we again need to ask whom does the process make richer? In a poor country and especially a State where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line and the same percentage being women fall in the same category what happens to them?

Displacement, it is observed, is almost always forced and not voluntary. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement based upon existing international humanitarian law and human rights instruments, which serve as an international standard to guide governments in providing assistance and protection to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), is rarely followed.

When a `developmental' project commences, all public eyes are on the `development', not on the cost. More significantly, since this is just a `cost', statecraft and governmental procedures reduce cost to compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement, thus turning the entire thing into a game with the government and the plant/mine owners etc., trying to minimise `cost' as much against a weakened and displaced claim making group of people. In this group, the women are always invisible.

The banality of bargaining which is unsuitable to catch the public eye and become visible only when someone dies (the larger the number dying the more the visibility), or there is breakdown of law and order, or a sit-in strike, and a counter violence, which we may choose to call mimetic violence as in the Kalinga Nagar case. Though in the bargaining processes women are missing in protests they lead the way.

To take up invisibility, one can look at the voices of the displaced women in the wake of the construction of the Hirakud Dam in Orissa way back in the 1950s. For fifty years voices of women displaced by the dam and asking for justice has gone unheard. They live in camps, the socio-economic process produced by displacement undermining their rights and entitlements.

The displacement camps are the bio-political paradigm of modern governmental power; lives of families, victims, direct victims, their children and their men and women, all these are lumped together in this bio-political existence, which acquires its specific character of existence through the governmental function of protection. Protected but not improved, maintained but fed and clothed at a bare level, herded together in a shelter but the armour of gender, age, or physical and mental inability taken away

The Adhapara Camp of Hirakud for instance is one of the many such camps lost in wilderness. In this particular camp displaced villagers including the women have been forced to change their occupation due to land alienation. The irony is that the village has the Hirakud Dam reservoir on one side and the power plant (ITPS) on the other but the village has no electricity, no safe drinking water source and no irrigation facility for whatever marginal cultivation is done at the periphery of the village. The women of this village have been subjected to police atrocities and also jailed when they protested against the ITPS establishment in 1990 and their displacement a second time.

In displacement, in Orissa as elsewhere, it has been observed that women become the worst sufferers as they lose livelihood, face problems regarding water, sanitation, medical and the education facility, their dependency increases on their husband and their sons and the cultural change and present environment is found to be uncongenial. As Orissa moves to industrialisation and setting up of SEZs, women will continue to suffer unless radical measures are taken.
In this context, we need to learn from the collapse of the East Asian economies where subsequently defeminisation of export based economy took place where older and young women were forced into insecure employment. Many migrated or were trafficked. Initial exhilaration of new work cannot replace the life in camps and future defeminisation.

We must not ignore the basic fact of general poverty and dispossession of people of resources and that once a section of population is pushed to the margin, it is difficult for them to come back to the mainstream of life – not only because they start living in camps (the mark of invisibility) but because these camps and other such settlements of terra incognita, devoid of even elemental educational and medical care facilities, symbolise the target of governmental strategy, that sections of population groups are to be included, yet they will be kept in a state of exclusion.

Thus in a state of displacement, which is an abnormal condition, violence will occur at each micro level and moment, it will be a life without care – thus no health facility, no educational support, no extra food, no aesthetic delight etc. In majority of the cases it is the women who are targets of violence and who miss out on literacy and health acre.

What can we do? In an initial stage human rights protection would mean that a legal recognition of the IDPs as a category is absolutely necessary. Without this recognition at the national level, it would be difficult to ensure their basic rights.

Consultative mechanisms have to be devised so that in the formulation of policies for the relief and rehabilitation of the IDPs by the government institutions and national and international NGOs, the experiences, opinions and preferences of the displaced themselves are given utmost priority.

The national human rights institutions have to be sensitised more about the perils of the IDPs and especially women. Special attention must be paid to women and especially female-headed households.

The writer is President of `Sansristi', a Bhubaneswar-based research orgnisation working on gender issues.

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The above is part of a larger study on South Asia done by the Calcutta Research Group in collaboration with the well-known Brookings Institute. The study reproduced voices of displaced from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and India. In India, North East, Gujarat, Orissa and Jammu and Kashmir were covered. `Sansristi' a research based think tank working on gender issues carried out the Orissa study.

Kalinga Times,