NEW DELHI — Women around India protested for improved rights on Friday, International Women's Day.
But a day earlier, women in India's Odisha state clashed with police over a more specific fight: the proposed development of a steel plant on land villagers use for farming.
A few hundred people in the village of Govindpur marched Thursday to protest the presence of a police force deployed to expedite state acquisition of the land for steelmaking giant Posco Steel.
Women young and old made up much of the protesting force. As Indian news site NDTV wrote:
"Mostly frail women, old and young, stood up to the blows that the police rained on them with canes, some of them stripping partially in protest. Several of them were injured in the lathicharge but the undeterred women of Odisha's Govindpur and Dhinkia villages have threatened to strip en masse if the police is not withdrawn from their area immediately."
"The police attack is condemnable. It speaks volumes about the state government's attitude towards democratic movements," said Abhay Sahoo, president of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, the group protesting the land acquisition.
The villagers have been protesting against the $12 billion steel plant project proposed by South Korean giant Posco.
On March 3, three people were killed when a bomb exploded in the Patana village of Odisha. The police suspected anti-Posco protesters were making the bomb themselves, while the protest group's leaders said they were attacked by supporters of the project, according to Agence France-Presse.
Land acquisition for industrial projects remains one of the most controversial issues for the Indian government, even as a bill designed to reshape India's laws of eminent domain languishes in parliament.
The trouble is that India's modern rulers are hardly more sympathetic to the rights of the country's poor tribal peoples than the British colonizers that Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi fought to expel. And because they're home grown usurpers, instead of foreign occupiers, India's new colonizers also far less willing to capitulate to non-violent resistance.
This isn't the first time that Indian women have stripped to try to shame the government into listening to their demands. In 2004, a group of women in the northeastern state of Manipur stripped naked to protest against a law that grants Draconian powers to the army, billeted there to fight a separatist rebellion that has simmered for decades.
Unfortunately, the Odisha women's protest is likely to fall on deaf ears.