‘The village elders made me sign an agreement promising that I would be loyal to her’

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By G Vishnu

IN THE mid 1990s Kashipur’s air was charged with dissent. Young people were on a collision course with the crusaders of globalisation. Everywhere the talk was of apocalypse. There was no place for love. Saroj and Anchal respectfully disagreed. They met at a protest against the setting up of Utkal Alumina, a mining corporation. But the company was not an obstacle to their love. It was the worlds they came from that thought them incompatible. Saroj was an upper-caste Hindu in Sambalpur, 350 km away, and Anchal was born to a poor Kondha subsistence farming family. She spoke Kuyi until the biggest change in her life — the arrival of the “kompny”. As a teenager in the movement, she learnt Odiya and Hindi.

For a while both lived in denial, aware of serious implications on the movement and community. Having proposed to Anchal, custom demanded Saroj take mahua to her father and get him to drink it in order to add his acceptance to his daughter’s. What ensued was the age-old debate on relationships blooming between Adivasi and non-Adivasis. Saroj was not the regular Sanka Maji from the next village, an Adivasi family expected for their daughter. The elders asked Saroj to sign an agreement notifying his loyalty to Anchal. Saroj’s family had little to say but the State had some problems with him. He spent two jail terms of 50 days each, accused of theft and loot, and then acquitted. “Those periods were traumatic. I’d fight with everyone, from my relatives to constables, to visit him in jail,” says Anchal.

The couple now lives in Sambalpur, with their daughter, 4-year-old Rimjim. Saroj eschews faith. Anchal believes in nature. They argue. They fight. They burst into gales of unstoppable laughter when asked what their definition of love is. “Too difficult question,” they protest.

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