In June 2005, the Orissa government signed the country’s biggest foreign direct investment deal yet with the South Korean steel manufacturer Posco for a $12 billion (around 65,856 crore) plant near Paradip in the mineral-rich state. Livelihoods in eight existing agricultural and fishing villages were to give way for the project that was intended to be spread over 4,004 acres, of which 2,958 acres are forest land. The steel mill would be accompanied by a captive port, power plant, and township.

Nearly eight years on, the plan continues to spark pitched battles between authorities and villagers, and divide communities on the ground.

The village of Dhinkia remains the heart of the anti-Posco agitation. It has held out a steadfast non-violent resistance, refusing to have its profitable betel vines, paddy farms, community forest lands and homesteads jettisoned. Residents have dug in their heels, barricaded the village, petitioned courts on the project’s numerous violations, and made desperate pleas to be allowed to determine their future.

State authorities have often resorted to brute force, destroying betel vines and taking over lands in neighbouring villages in intermittent police operations, including a particularly violent one in February-March. Over the years, they have also filed criminal cases—including charges of sedition and obscenity—against hundreds of villagers in a bid to end the opposition. An analysis put out in February by a lawyers’ collective, the Alternative Law Forum, put the number of cases against villagers at 230. The lawyer who represents many of the villagers said in March that this number had gone up in the last two months.

Posco India’s external relations officer Ansuman Pattnayak said his company is not involved in any of the strife on the ground. “It is the state government which is clearing land for the project...villagers are in favour of it," he said. He also confirmed that in light of the strong protests in Dhinkia, the company would begin work on the plant when half of the required 4,000 acres is acquired, and eventually expand to its original plan, spanning land in all eight villages.

But the villagers of Dhinkia—especially its women—say they are not giving up.

Photographs by Chitrangada Choudhury

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