Children too have a right to say no to POSCO sign now

28 June 2011

To
Dr Shantha Sinha
Chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights
5th Floor, Chanderlok Building, 36, Janpath,
New Delhi - 110 001

Sub: Request to be heard in connection with complaints against Children being 'used' in anti-POSCO movement in Jagatsinghpur District, Odisha

Dear Madam,

We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned at the recent developments of accusing POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), the organization spearheading a peaceful, democratic movement for more than five years against forceful land acquisition for the proposed POSCO project in Odisha, for using children as shields in the movement. The department of Women and Child Development of Government of Odisha has also initiated an investigation of the matter. We also understand that representations have been made before you by certain forces in Delhi complaining about the violations of child rights in the area by the anti-POSCO movement in Jagatsinghpur district. The news report suggests that you have assured that the Commission would take immediate necessary action against the culprits The news is available at

We believe that the allegations and accusations against PPSS is an attempt to diffuse the focus of the peoples struggle and make a nuisance about an issue that does not hold any truth. It is true that children have been at the forefront of the recent protests against the government's attempt to forcefully take the land of the people of the area for the proposed steel plant. However, they have joined the protest as part of their families, whose entire livelihood and existence are threatened by this project. When both the state and central governments remain deaf to their numerous appeals, these protests are an inevitable attempt by the people of the area to halt the illegal seizure of their land for the project. While the children, women and men in the area are peacefully protesting against the project, the administration went ahead and declared yesterday (27 June 2011) that the protest was illegal as its using children and announcing with the loudspeakers to leave the area or face consequences. Presence of heavy police force in the area continues to create a threatening situation for people in the area.

While you may be thinking of initiating an investigation based on the complaints you have received, we would like to bring to your notice a few facts that may supplement to your efforts:

1. The upper primary school in Balitutha (one of the entry points to the proposed project area) has been occupied by the police force since 2007 making it impossible for children in the area to have a normal schooling experience. For the past four years, children of this school are forced to sit outside either on the veranda of the school or under a tree or even no classes on many occasions while the state police continue to occupy the school. There have been news reports on this as well. The children are not even allowed to use the toilets as the police have virtually taken them over leaving children with no option but go out in the open including the girls.

2. Schools in Balia, Kujanga, Gada Kujanga, Andhari, and Bijipur are also occupied by the police forces for months denying children education in the process. The policemen right in the space that children should occupy clean their weapons, test-fire for practice, and also engage in drinking alcohol and merry-making, etc., creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the community in particular and leaving damaging images of terror in the tender minds of the children.

3. This situation is prevailing in the area despite the fact that there have been two court orders viz., Kolkata High Court judgment on Lalgarh and the Supreme Court order on Dantewada, directing the forces to vacate the schools.

4. More than one thousand armed police were deployed in the area and threats were made repeatedly over loudspeaker, including to the hundreds of children present there, that the protesters would be lathi-charged, tear-gassed, and beaten if they did not disperse. This continued for days while the women, children, and men of the area were lying on the hot sand under an intense sun, embracing their land that they do not want to let go.

5. The acquisition of land and resources from the area will render people homeless, leading children to have a completely uncertain future. The resistance to the proposed project and forceful land acquisition has been to protect their present resource base, culture, identity, and a secured future. This is the reason why children have joined the resistance and have been in the forefront in the recent protests. As the Samiti said in a press statement on June 12th, their children have joined the protest because their future and their security are at stake, and because their parents do not wish to see them reduced to lead a precarious existence. Given that the "compensation" offered by the government is less than a year's income, it is clear that this project will destroy the livelihoods of these families and force their children into destitution. The children are directly witness to constant threats and intimidation by the state and company goons for the past six years, and they clearly understand by now what would befall them if their land and their parents livelihood options are taken away for the said project. And, no law restricts the rights of a child to protest when s/he thinks that injustice is being done to her/him!

6. The agitating people have faced severe repression several times in past five years and there is constant fear of being arrested looming large in the minds of people. In fact, many of the parents in the area had been imprisoned in past five years for resisting the project and in such situation; children had to fend for themselves.

We do not understand how the rights of children are upheld by the state in the current situation and how it will be upheld in the wake of their homelessness. Isnt the state itself engaging in an act of violating the rights of children? We want to know why action should be not taken against the state for forcing the children to stay away from one of their fundamental rights, i.e., right to education! We do not understand how the state and those organizations who are trumpeting about violation of childrens rights for they joined the protests have suddenly become so concerned about childrens rights. Where were they when the police was attacking the people including the children in the area in May last year? Wherere they when company supported goons bombed at people in November 2007 that left several parents severely injured. We wonder where these defenders of child rights were to be found when the police filed hundreds of omnibus FIRs against the villagers of the area, imprisoning many villagers for months on end and depriving the children of parental care. We wonder why they seem to care nothing for whether these children have any future, or whether they believe that the forcible arrest, beating, and impoverishment of their parents is in the interest of the children.

We urge the Commission to look at the act of forceful and illegal acquisition of land in Jagatsinghpur in Odisha as a violation of rights of children and hope that the Commission will consider that those approaching it in this regard do not come with clean hands, and that these facts will be given due consideration before any action is taken.

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Information

Lea TravisBy:
Entertainment and MediaIn:
Petition target:
Chairperson, NCPCR, India

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