Abhay Sahoo, 55, Jagatsinghpur, Odisha
ABHAY SAHOO is a soft-spoken man and hardly comes across as someone who has more than 50 criminal cases slapped against him. He believes this is the price he had to pay for raising the people’s voice against the destruction of their habitat under the garb of development. Sahoo is the president of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) and is at the forefront of the agitation against the proposed $12 billion steel plant.
Ever since PPSS was formed under Sahoo’s chairmanship on 11 July 2005, he has carried out various agitations against the Odisha government’s move to acquire 4,000 acres for POSCO’s plant.
“The first case (an attempt to murder) was registered against me and 57 others in 2006 when we led a successful protest rally in Dhinkia village, which forced the minister to cancel his programme,” recalls Sahoo.
From then onwards, it has been a constant fabrication of charges against him and the organisation. According to a PPSS member, around 208 cases have been slapped against 1,435 men and women protesting against POSCO.
“The police has booked me under every possible section of the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code; all of them are fabricated,” says Sahoo. “When I was first taken into custody for 18 months in 2008, I had 37 cases slapped against me. When I was put in jail for a similar term in 2011, I had 14 more cases lodged against me. Here’s an illustration of the police harassment: A random person had committed suicide. I didn’t know him; I had no clue about where he hailed from. But that suicide was shown as murder and I was named as the main accused. If the police thinks that they can break our spirit this way, they are living in a fool’s paradise.”
Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.