Emergency at Grassroots in Jharkhand


Adivasi women protesting against displacement at Kathikund in Dumka
Adivasi women protesting against displacement at Kathikund in Dumka

By Gladson Dungdung 22 May, 2008 

The thousands of tribal men, women and children had gathered in the blazing sun of mid summer at Pokharia village of Dumka district in Jharkhand on May 8, 2008. A “Dishum Baishi” the highest meeting of Santhals’ self governance, was organized to deal the grievous situations, pronounce judgments and punish the middle men. These tribals had come from 60 villages of Santhal Pargana region to punish Nalin Soren the Agriculture Minister of Jhakhand, Jai Prakash Toppo the Officer-in-Charge of Kadhikund Police Station and five villagers including Lakhiram Hansada, Kirani Marandi, Kalamuddin Ansari, Samsuddin Miyan and Mahijuddin Miyan of Amgachi village for working in the interest of the proposed Thermal Power Plant at Amgachi in Dumka, which the villagers are opposing from the beginning.

According to the “Dishum Baishi”, the minister’s crime was severe because he had attempted to cheat the Santhal community by offering Rs. 13 lakh cash, one vehicle and Rs. 20 thousand per month as honorarium to the village-head Fulo Marandi of Amgachi of Dumka district for convincing the villagers to surrender their land for the proposed power plant. The other five villagers were found guilty because they had guided Basant Soren the son of Sibu Soren in approaching the village head while he had visited to Amgachi village to convince the village head for the project, and the crime of the police officer Jai Prakash Toppo was for denying to hand over these five middle men to the villagers during the meeting of Dishum Manjhi on April15, 2008.

In the “Dishum Baishi” the judgments were pronounced; the Minister, Police Officer and five villagers were socially boycotted, which will continue till they accept the crime and apologize to the community in written. All seven people including Minister were declared as ‘brokers’ and it was also decided that these people will not be allowed to enter into the villages and the Santhals will not give them even a glass of water till their reunion with the community is accepted. It was also declared in the “Dishum Baishi” that the land will not be given for the company at any cost and every one would be punished who would be found guilty in land alienation activities. After hearing the judgments, five middle men accepted their fault and given a written application and assured that they will not go against the decision of “Dishum Baishi” and also not help the company.

The administration of Dumka had made several attempts to disrupt the meeting of “Dishum Baishi”. It was the history for Santhals that the first time 700 police forces were deployed in the traditional meeting of tribals. The police officers spread baseless news about the cancellation of the meeting. The village guards (Chaukidars) propagated the messages by saying that there will be firing in the meeting therefore the villagers should not go for it. The cadres of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha also threatened to the villagers by stating that if they want to die then they should go for the meeting. The drum beating was also not allowed in local markets as it is used to spread messages traditionally. The truck owners were refused to transport people from other districts to the venue.

The threatening messages were propagated in the different ways. It was also told to the villagers that since some Muslims are found guilty by the tribals therefore they have planed to throw bomb in the meeting. Finally, the administration of Dumka called off an emergency meeting of the village heads in district headquarter. The village heads were told that since the government has made a provision of giving salary of Rs 1000 to the village heads and the administration has decided to sanction the money in the meeting therefore all the village-heads must have to participate in the meeting. But even after the series of severe disruption; the “Dishum Baishi” was conducted successful, where more than 3000 tribals participated.

The problem had started in the region in 2005 when the Kolkata based CESE Company signed MoU with Arjun Munda then the chief minister of Jharkhand for setting up a mega power plant with the capacity of 2500 mega watt with an estimated investment of Rs. 4,000. The company wants 1000 acres of land for the plant, where thousands of people will be displaced and 6 villages will be completely ruined in the proposed project site therefore the villagers are resisting against it.

The people’s resistance had begun in the region in November 2007 when the project site was identified, survey was started and the villagers were given notice for acquiring their land. After seeing the people’s resistance, Nalin Soren the agriculture minister, Sibu Soren’s kin Basant Soren and 5 middlemen involved in the matter for convincing people. When the villagers came to know about it, they had organized a meeting of “More Manjhi” (regional meeting of Santhal traditional self governance) on April 15, 2008 at Amgachi village, where Jai Prakash Toppo the officer-in-charge of Kathikund Police station was arrested by the villagers for protecting the middlemen.

After seeing the tribals’ unrest against the land acquisition in the region, the S.P. of Dumka, Sidhu Hembrom threatened the tribal activist Munni Hansada for her involvement in people’s mobilization against the power plant. He said the she will be thrown behind the bars if she continues the activities against the company. He questioned her that if Guruji (Sibu Soren) is not opposing it then why are you mobilizing people against the plant? Are you a bigger leader than Guruji? A case was also filed against Muni Hansada and villagers accusing them for disrupting the development project and depicted them as the Naxalites. But Munni Hansada and villagers did not lose the patience and they organized the “Dishum Baishi” successfully. But after the meeting, the villagers are being threatened by the administration. Tribals are told that they must take money as compensation for their land with in a month or be ready to leave the land by force.

Tribal activist Mahadev Hansada has condemned the activities of the minister and the district administration of Dumka. He said that it is a shame for us because a tribal minister is indulged in selling the land of the poor tribals and the officers are also involved in it whose prior responsibility is to protect the tribals’ land of the region. The law makers have violated the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act 1949, Chotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908 and Panchayat (Extension in Scheduled Area) Act 1996, which are made for the protection of tribals’ land. Therefore, now we are determined to protect our land at any cost. “We shall not surrender our land till we die”, he added.

The irony is that the tribal leader “Guruji” Sibu Soren had started his political career with the struggle for the protection of tribals’ land and against their exploitation. But today he has changed his mind and advocating for the industrialization which means illegal loot of tribals’ land and destruction of the livelihood resources in Jharkhand. The main aim of the Jharkhand movement was also to protect the natural resources of the region, eradicate the exploitation and transfer the political power in the hands of tribals and local inhabitants. But now the tribals leaders are ready to sale the natural resources of the state after capturing the political power. The first chief minister of Jharkhand Babula Marandi brought industrial police, advocated for greater Ranchi and for the amendment of SPT and CNT Acts which protect tribal lands. His successor Arjun Muda even went two steps ahead by inviting multi-nationals in the vicinity and signed 43 MoUs with the corporate houses. Finally, Madhu Koda took the driving seats and running the state on the same track.

In these circumstances, the poor tribals who live with empty stomach, bare back and lack of education in their own state therefore whom should they believe in? They are betrayed in the name of development in the country even after 60 years of independence. Their political leaders speak something in the Parliament and the Assemblies but do something else at the grassroots. Therefore the tribals have decided not to give even one inch of land for the development projects in Jharkhand, which induce displacement, ruin their livelihood resources and destroy their culture, identify and autonomy. They have declared emergency at grassroots by giving a slogan that “We shall neither give land nor life”. But the unheard question is that will the state consider this emergency at grassroots, which needs to be addressed for the existence of the indigenous community of the state or will the state violate their human rights as usual though its prime duty is to protect their fundamental rights?

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