By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
In the age of branding where media decide what you need and impose upon you even the ‘leaders’ in the opposition, those who work tirelessly for the rights of the people are not merely ignored but forgotten too. Manas Jena is an activist intellectual contesting on Indian National Congress ticket from Jajpur reserved constituency of Odisha. As a friend of Manas who has known him over a decade and half, I am requesting friends in India and abroad to support him wholeheartedly. For the people of Jajpur, which is not only his birthplace but also his ‘karmbhumi’, Manas Jena in Parliament would be a voice which Odisha’s Dalits and Adivasis need today as most of the leaders elected from Odisha have been lackeys of the corporate and communal politics.
Manas is well versed with law particularly when the issues of land, mining and human rights are concerned. He did his Masters in Economics from Utkal University and followed it with a bachelor degree in Law. After completing his education Manas jumped in social movement and building up network of organisations working for the Dalits and Adivasi rights. He knew most of the organisations in Odisha working for the Dalits and Adivasis those days were actually dominated by the upper caste elite leaders whose concern on basic issues of caste based discrimination and untouchability remain questionable as most of them would treat these issues on purely ‘economical’ grounds and maintain silence on socio-cultural violence inflicted on the marginalized communities. Manas actually build up the narrative of the marginalized in Odisha and groomed youngsters from these communities to lead.
In the year 2002 Manas and his friends promoted Orissa Mines Area People’s Action Network (OMAPAN) as an informal forum to address the issues relating to Mining, Livelihood, Environment and Land and Displacement in mining areas of Odisha. OMAPAN is actively working in Jajpur, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundergarh, Jharsuguda, Sambalpur, Angul, Dhenkanal, Balangir, Koraput, Kalahandi and Bargarh districts in Odisha. The organization has over ten thousand members in these districts.
Odisha Dalit Adhikar Manch (ODAM) was formed in the year 2004 for the promotion and protection of the rights of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes in Odisha. The forum consists of advocate, human rights activist, journalist, students, farmers, women NGO and peoples movement leaders who are actively working in the field of Dalit and tribal rights in Odisha. Now ODAM is actively working in 30 districts in Odisha. All districts have district committee and in 20 districts having block committee too. According to Manas, ODAM have thirty thousand members all over Odisha who are actively working in the issues Untouchablity and Caste Discrimination, Atrocities on women, Bonded labour issues, Land, Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan, Scheduled Tribe Sub-Plan and Education issues in Odisha.
Manas Jena is the founder secretary of Development Initiative (DI), which he established along with other friends in the year 1995, registered as a society under SR Act 1860. It gave him the opportunity to work with various international and national organizations as well as social movements. DI played a pivotal role in highlighting the cause of Dalit and Adivasi in the state and contributed to the political discourse from marginalized groups perspective of Dalit, Adivasi issues, human rights violation, mining- displacement and environment, poverty and caste- based discrimination through its field work and political leadership at state level with continuous and consistent engagement with the state, media and CSOs. It has capacitated hundreds of activists from among marginalized communities in the state and continuing as a passionate advocate of civil and political rights of people
Long back, Manas Jena was National Co-Convener, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). In 2005 and later since the year 2006, he was also a former National General Secretary, National Federation of Dalit Land Rights Movements (NFDLRM) for several years. This gave him the opportunity to travel extensively to all parts of India for promoting Dalit land Rights movement and monitoring work of the federation members and attending workshops, seminars, movements events, network meetings ,alliance meetings representing the Federation. Later on his focus has been more on issues relating to Dalit and Adivasi rights on areas of untouchability, caste-based atrocities, land rights, education of Dalit children and ethnic and communal issues in the state of Odisha. I have led a number of advocacy delegations to concerned Ministry, Embassy, political parties and addressed media conferences in different parts of the country. Through my involvement, I have a wide range of contact and association with number of people and organizations in every state and at national level.
But the most engaging part of Manas’s work in the past one dacade has been his association with Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India (CERI) as its core group member along with responsibility for Odisha state. CERI, is a forum of activists working for advocacy at National and International level for the proportionate representation System through Electoral Reform in India. The campaign engaged with advocacy with political parties, Election Commission of India. It also organizes workshop and seminars on Proportionate Representation System (PRS) to educate the people.
Manas Jena also participated in various World Social Forums in 2001 and 2005 in Karachi and Nairobi. He also visited Geneva to participate on UN conference on discrimination issues.
The most outstanding part of Manas Jena’s activism is his documentation work and persistent writing regularly on various newspapers and journals. He edited NAGARIKA ADHIKAR’ , which is a compilation of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe prevention of Atrocity Act 1998 Rules 1995 and other related law and government order for Dalit and tribal people in Odisha as well as India. It is hand book for human rights activist in Odisha.
He wrote ‘DALIT FREEDOM FIGHTERS OF ORISSA’ where he has collected history and bibliography of Scheduled Caste freedom fighters in Odisha those who contributed during the freedom struggle and fight against British.
His articles published in daily pioneer have been compiled entitled ‘Inclusive Development of Odisha’ Vol-1, Vol-2 and Vol-3 have been published so f ar.
Manas Jena’s weekly column in daily Pioneer gives you in-depth understanding of developmental issues of Odisha particularly in relation to Dalits and Adivasis. There are very few activists among the Ambedkarite circles who speak so strongly on the issue of development with convincing arguments as well as great convictions. We have shared platforms and ideas on the issues of land questions as well as electoral reforms where Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India widely debated and discussed the issues of Proportional system and how could it be implemented in India.
Political parties rarely respect intellectuals and activists and we have seen it when our parliament remain silent on wider issues of Adivasi displacement and atrocities on Dalits. No serious discussion takes place. Media too is not bothered about these issues and create its own brand. We have seen more focus on ‘leaders’ emerging from prime ‘universities’ who have been wronged and need supported but to impose them on people without an iota of work shows what media as well as some of the paratroppers want on us. They want imposition of TV created actors on us whether for Modi or against ‘him’. This is an easier way to deny the legitimacy and space to those working on the ground for years. Manas Jena is among those activists who has sweat in the difficult tarrains of Odisha, worked people consistently and remained with them. He has wider understanding of the issues of the people particularly those of the Dalits and Adivasis and therefore is the best candidate from his region to represent people in Parliament.
Manas is an avid follower of Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s ideology but he accept other great leaders and freedom fighters too. It was he who informed me once about the work of Jawahar Lal Nehru on the issue of abolition of Zamindari Abolition when the bill was presented in Parliament. A vociferous reader and people’s activist, Manas Jena’s presence in Parliament will definitely give voice to thousands of voiceless people of Odisha who had representative but not really belong to them but to crony corporate. Isnt it shocking to see the kind of leadership emerge from Odisha, a state which has a huge Dalit and Adivasi population but leaders rarely speak about their issues. Isnt it an irony that a state with 17% SC population and 23% Adivasi population does not have fair representation and most of the time the Patnaiks, leading Odisha in every walk of life, leaving space for Brahmins to manage temples and to some extent in bureaucracy. This is a glaring example of how the powerful castes actually manipulate electoral system. Normally, when we look for census of Odisha, these days, we do not get the OBC numbers and their numbers are merged with the ‘general’. So it is said that Odisha has 60% general population which is a very clever way to justify the dominance of Brahmins and Kayasthas in politics. It is time that Odisha politics give its due share to Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs. Perhaps the OBC movement in Odisha needs to wake up and seek its share. I cant believe that there are no OBCs in Odisha.
Odisha has been a victim of corporate ‘development’ which has rendered millions of adivasis and dalits homeless. It is the place where the Sangh Parivar is attempting to pitch Adivasis against Dalits. Odisha still is one of the most conservative states of India where Dalits are not allowed to enter the temple. A place which has strong Buddhist links and where the Adivasis revolted against the British Raj, Odisha independence has been hijacked by the brahmanical elite. Dalits still face discrimination socially at various levels.
We hope people of Jajpur will vote in large number and elect Manas Jena as their representative for Lok Sabha on April 29th. Dedicated activists entering parliament will give it much bigger variety and strengthen democratization of not only polity but also of society. We need voices like him in Loksabha who can articulate voices of the Dalits adivasis and counter things spoken against the marginalized communities particularly when many of these members do not speak up. A victory for Manas Jena will pave way for building up a new Dalit Adivasi alliance in Odisha which will be stronger and long term making way for their political empowerment in the state.