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Beautification Drive Strikes Shrill Note in Dulduli Baja Players of Odisha Temple

Rakhi Ghosh |
Ghunghutipali residents are against the state government’s displacement and the rehabilitation to beautify Sambalpur’s Samaleswari Temple.
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The Residents of Ghunghutipali demand rehabilitation in the nearby area instead of Durgapali, which is far from their colony.

Sambalpur, Orissa: When the entire western Odisha was celebrating the festival of newly harvested grains, Nuakhai, the 250-plus Dalit families of the centuries-old colony of Ghunghutipali, near Sambalpur’s Maa Samaleswari Temple, were not in a celebratory mood.

Why should we celebrate Nuakhai when there is no happiness around?” asks an angry Ramatanu Deep (28), who is one of the residents protesting the state government’s plan to expand and beautify the 16th-century shrine.

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Samaleswari Temple, in Sambalpur, Odisha.

After the beautification and expansion of Shree Jagannatha and Shree Lingaraj temples, the state government intends to execute the Rs 200 crore SAMALEI (Samaleswari Temple Area Management & Local Economy Initiatives) project to develop 108 acres in and around Samaleswari Temple.

The project has become a cause of concern for the Ghunghutipali residents, who are daily wagers.  “We welcome the beautification of the temple but disagree with the displacement and rehabilitation plan,” Ramatanu tells Newsclick

History of Ghunghutipali

The colony’s history dates back to more than 400 years during the reign of Balaram Dev, the first Chauhan king of Sambalpur. When Samaleswari Temple was built, the king brought in a few families from Ghunghutipali, located in Patnagarh town of Balangir district, to play the traditional instrument Dulduli Baja during the rituals. Subsequently, the families settled there with their strength gradually growing to more than 250.

The families were also asked to maintain cleanliness around the temple besides playing the instrument. As Dulduli Baja became popular and people from other castes started playing it, the residents started losing their livelihood. To make ends meet, they started working as daily wagers or sanitation workers.

Even after staying for more than 400 years, we didn’t receive land pattas. Now, the administration has decided to displace us,” says Ramatanu. His fellow resident Raghu Deep (32) tells Newsclick, “We have been staying in this colony for many years. The work area and the school are near. But the administration wants to rehabilitate us at Durgapali, which is far—that is why we are opposing the resettlement proposal.” 

Temple Expansion plan

The project envisages the construction of a one-km-long walkway for parikrama, separate entry and exit gates, emergency facilities for the temple office, an interpretation centre and the preservation of Gopalji Math. Accommodation, parking, toilets, information kiosks and donation centres are among the other features of the project. Besides, a housing facility for servitors, and a 30-metre wide road will be constructed from the temple to Mahanadi gate road to help conduct the daily Mahanadi aarti. 

We have started demolishing the government quarters in the first phase and will proceed to other areas as per the plan. The area required for the development of the temple will be cleared under the drive, including Kamli Bazaar (a local market of small business owners) and other areas,” Subhankar Mohanty, enforcement officer, Sambalpur Municipal Corporation, tells Newsclick

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The residents of Ghunghutipali protest in front of the temple gate.

Saroj, an activist, poet and resident of Sambalpur, says they initially thought that beautifying the surroundings of the temple will attract more tourists. “But we came to know later that around 108 acres surrounding the temple will get a facelift, which ultimately will displace several residents. When so many people will be evicted, there should be a public hearing. But the government is neither willing to hold a public hearing nor discussing the plan about eviction and rehabilitation with local residents.” 

Another resident requesting anonymity alleges that the project is a new way to “grab land”. “Actually, people are being displaced or uprooted but the government claims that they donating in the name of God. This is a new way to grab land,” the resident says. 

the Agitation so far

In June 2020, the district administration asked the residents of Ghunghutipada to attend a meeting on the issue of displacement. “We demanded land pattas, financial support for constructing houses and jobs for youths employed with the temple trust board. We wanted the administration to rehabilitate us like the servitors residing in the surrounding area,” says Ramatanu. “We too have been serving the Goddess for generations. But the rehabilitation plan was discriminatory.”

Another resident Naba Kishore Bag says the administration wanted to rehabilitate them at Durgapali, which is “far from our colony. We want to be rehabilitated in a nearby area. We told the officials that once you agree to rehabilitate us in a nearby area, only then begin the survey. Otherwise, we will not leave the place”.

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The inhabitants of Ghunghutipali protest the rehabilitation plan of the state government.

However, the “officials, accompanied by the police, surveyed the area despite our protests”, Ramatanu alleges.  

The residents, including women and the elderly, and small business owners even started a Jal Satyagraha in Mahanadi by standing in waist-deep water and demanding details of the rehabilitation plan.

We have been living near the shrine for decades. Most of us have been reeling under severe hardships due to COVID-19 crisis. We are living under the fear of displacement with some of us already served eviction notices,” says protester Subodh.    

Ramatanu mentions how the inhabitants knocked on every door to express their resistance. “The memorandum we had submitted to the district collector was also sent to the Prime Minister, and the MP and the MLA of Sambalpur. We wanted to make them aware of the discrimination and state our demands,” he says.

Sambalpur MP Nitin Gangdev had raised the issue in Parliament requesting for proper rehabilitation of Ghunghutipada residents and jobs for the youths employed by the temple trust board. 

The residents had also submitted a memorandum mentioning their grievances to chief minister Naveen Patnaik. “Around 60 residents of our colony staged a protest in Bhubaneswar and submitted the memorandum at the chief minister’s office (CMO). We received a letter from CMO informing us that the district administration will look into the matter,” says Bag.

Frustrated and angry, the residents have filed a case in the High Court. “We are now waiting for the court to do justice. Only then we will celebrate Nuakhai and have Nabanha (newly harvested grain after puja). Till then, we will continue our protest,” says a determined Ramatanu.

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