Surrendering Life for land in Jharkhand

By Gladson Dungdung

Newswing 18 December, 2008

The poor Adivasis who live with empty stomach, bare back and lack of education in their own state have been betrayed in the name of development in the country even after 60 years of independence. That’s the reason why the Adivasis 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. 

Medha Pateker and villagers paying homage to Lakhiram Tuddu

Medha Pateker and villagers paying homage to Lakhiram Tuddu

“We shall give up our lives but not land.” The slogan is overwhelming across the state of Jharkhand against displacement induced by the development projects. It is not only a slogan for the Adivasis but it is also their determination, pledge and hope to ensure their ownership rights over the natural resources i.e. land, forest and water. They have already won the battle against the Field Firing Range in Netarhat and the Power Project in Koel-Karo near Ranchi, which has inspired another ten thousand Adivasis of Kathikund and Shikaripara blocks of Dumka district too. They have called off a “Janta Curfew” in the areas against the police firing, which took place on December 6, where activist Lakhiram Tuddu lost his life and 7 people were severely injured including 3 police men.

The incident took place, when 5 thousand people had gathered near Kathikund Police station under “Jail Bharo Abhiyan” against the arrest of activists – Munni Hansada, Charan Kumar, Hopna Baski and Rajcharan Murmu and demanding for their immediate release. The police had filed a case against Munni Hansada, Charan Kumar, Daniel Murmu, Bimal Kishku, Raj Charan Murmu and 22 unknown under the sections 147, 148, 149, 452, 353, 379 and 504 of IPC alleging them of taking a motor bike forcefully from the Kathikund Police Station. But the Adivasis see it differently as the villagers are opposing the land acquisition drive for the power plant in Kathikund and Shikaripara blocks therefore the police is inflicting false cases against the activists under the political pressure.

After the incident, police have filed case against another 24 activists under sections 147, 148, 149, 188, 341, 323, 353, 333, 307, 435, 397, 120 (b) of IPC, 25 (i-B), 27 and 17 of CLA Act, alleging of attacking on police with arms and 5 of them were arrested. But the act of the police was unable to break down the determination of Adivasis. They have taken pledge and declared that they will not allow any government official, police and company man to enter into the areas of Kathikund and Sikaripada blocks. Their message is loud and clear that they do not want to give their land for the power plants. Nalin Soren, the Shikaripara legislator and agriculture minister blames movement leader Munni Hansda for the incident.  Soren says, “Hansda is eyeing the Kathikund seat for the next Assembly polls therefore she is misleading the villagers.”

The problem had started in the region in 2005 when the RPG group power utility, CESC Ltd had signed MoU with Arjun Munda, the former chief minister of Jharkhand on 15 of September 2005 for setting up a coal based mega power plant with the capacity of 1000 mega watt with an estimated investment of Rs. 4,000 crore. The company requires 1000 acres of land for the plant, where 6 villages would be ruined and 10 thousand people would be displaced. The Deputy Chief Minister Stephan Marandi says that the land will not be taken forcefully from the Adivasis but there is a thrust need of electricity in the state for development that’s why the government is much concerned about the power plant. But the fact is the company would provide merely 250 mega watts to the Jharkhand State Electricity Board at regulated prices while rest 750 mega watts would be given to the national grid. In this case, how the state government envisages of addressing the power crisis?

The state government maintained secret and did not involve the traditional self governance in signing of MoU, created unrest in the areas. A huge people’s resistance begun in the region in November 2007 when the project site was identified, survey was started and the villagers were given notice for land acquisition. When the government was unable to acquire land due to the people’s resistance, Nalin Soren the agriculture minister, Sibu Soren’s kin Basant Soren and 5 middlemen were involved in the matter for convincing people by offering them a huge sum of amount. 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 Adivasis unrest against the land acquisition in the region, the S.P. of Dumka, Sidhu Hembrom had threatened the Adivasi activist Munni Hansada for her involvement in people’s mobilization against the power plant. He said that 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 909 villagers under the sections 147, 148, 353, 452, 188, 427, 504, 341 and 342 of IPC and 3 of GPDP Act, alleging them for disrupting the development project and 3 of them were arrested but released after the mass protest in front of the SP office in Dumka. 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 and told that they must take money as compensation for their land with in a month or be ready to leave the land by force.

Another big traditional meeting was held at Pokharia village of Kathikund in Dumka on May 8, 2008, where thousands of Adivasi men, women and children had gathered in the blazing sun. The agriculture minister Nalin soren was socially boycotted for 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 as 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 therefore he was also socially boycotted. It was also declared in the “Dishum Baishi” that the land would not be given for the company at any cost and every one would be punished who would be found guilty in land alienation activities.

The irony is that the Jharkhand CM “Guruji” Sibu Soren had started his political career with the struggle for the protection of Adivasis land and against their exploitation. But today he has changed his mind and advocating for the industrialization which means illegal transfer of Adivasis’ land and destruction of their livelihood resources. 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 the Adivasis and local inhabitants. But now the Adivasis 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 known as a safeguard of Adivasis. His successor Arjun Muda even went two steps ahead by inviting multi-nationals in the vicinity and signed 43 MoUs with the corporate houses.

In these circumstances, the poor Adivasis 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 Legislative Assemblies but do something else at the grassroots. That’s the reason why the Adivasis 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 give lives but not land”. 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?

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist. He can be contacted at gladsonhractivist@gmail.com



Categories: General

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