Resisting Dispossession: The Odisha Story by Ranjana Padhi and Nigamananda Sadangi, Delhi: Aakar Books, 2020; pp x + 311, ₹695.
As Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru spoke of India’s tryst with destiny on the night of 14 August 1947, those opposing the Hirakud dam in Odisha (formerly Orissa) already had a taste of the future—they were in Sambalpur jail for their anti-dam protests (p 56). This little-known fact in the book highlights in a way how the new country would deal with opposition to its attempts at nation-building. The notices for land acquisition for the Hirakud dam on the Mahanadi river, which would displace 1,00,000 people, were issued in 1946 and the groundswell of protest was met with force. A year later, on 12 April 1948, Nehru while laying the foundation for the Hirakud dam, on the Mahanadi river, the country’s first largest multipurpose river valley project after independence, told the villagers, “If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country” (Viegas 1992: 53). Thirty years later, when a study was done on the displaced people, they were continuing to suffer (Viegas 1992: 47).
Nehru’s famous quote on suffering and his allusion to the Bhakra Nangal dam as a temple reflected India’s development paradigm, even if he regretted gigantism in projects, some years later. The stories of resistance to these temples by the people of Odisha, starting with the Hirakud dam, is the main theme of Resisting Dispossession: The Odisha Story. Activists and writers Ranjana Padhi and Nigamananda Sadangi have written a history of Odisha from below which gives a face and voice to the dispossessed communities who fought for their lands. And in this highly engaging collection of stories, the daily lives and struggles of people are intertwined with their timeless relationship with nature and their culture, threatened by various public and private projects. In 11 chapters, the authors portray the postcolonial history of Odisha in narratives of movements against development projects from the gigantic Hirakud dam to the more recent Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO) project.