Sukhram Munda is the village headman of Kochang, located in Khunti district of Jharkhand (India). The village was widely known after the incident of gang-rape and it is still in the news for illegal and forceful land acquisition. Gladson Dungdung spoke to Sukhram Munda on the Issue. Excerpt from the interview.
Gladson: How did you join the Pathalgari Movement (Movement for installation of stone slab)?
Sukhram: We were not aware about the provisions of the Indian Constitution. When we heard about the Pathalgadi Movement, some members of the Gram Sabha (village council) participated in some meetings of the Pathalgari Movement, and found is as crucial for the village to protect our land, territory and resources because our area comes under the Fifth Scheduled of the Constitution, where land cannot be acquired without the consent of Gram Sabha. Soon, I conducted a Gram Sabha’s meeting to discuss on Pathalgadi, where all members participated and agreed to install a stone slab at the entrance of our village. Thereafter, we collected the money and bought a stone slab, where the constitutional provisions were curved and installed at the entrance of village on 25th February, 2018.
Gladson: The government authorities claim that Pathalgari Movement is unconstitutional. What is you respond to it?
Sukhram: I don’t think it is unconstitutional. In fact, we have curved the constitutional provision on the stone slab to educate and make aware our Adivasis. Pathalgari is our tradition. We install stone slabs in many social and cultural occasions.
Gladso: The Indian Media claimed that the Adivasis have put barricades at the entrance of the villages. The President of India, the Prime Minister, the Governor, the Chief Minister and other government authorities cannot enter in the village without permission of the Gram Sabha. They must pay tax to the Gram Sabha before entering to the village. Are these allegations true?
Sukhram: These are fake allegations. We have not stopped anyone from entering to our village. Everyone is freely moving here. There is no such barricade or tax system.
Gladson: Pathalgadi leaders Joseph Purty had given a call to boycott the government’s welfare schemes, health & education facilities and developmental activities. Do you agree with him?
Sukhram: Kochang Gram Sabha is very clear about the Pathalgadi, which is good for our village to protect our natural resources but we are against of boycotting welfare schemes, health & education facilities and developmental activities. I have given my land for school in free of cost, health sub-center is being run in my house for last couple of decades and Aanganbadi center was also in my house. Therefore, how can someone blame me of boycotting government’s schemes?
Gladson: You claim that Pathalgadi Movement is to protect land and other natural resources, can you tell me what kind of threat is on the village’s natural resources?
Sukhram: After Kochang gang-rape incident, a police camp was setup in school of my village. I have given land for school in free of cost but another 14 decimals of my land were grabbed for construction of toilet for Jawans(constables) without my consent and compensation.
Gladson: Do you want compensation for your land?
Sukhram: No. I want my land back. How can the government acquire anybody’s land without his/her consent? I know that Adivasis will not survive with compensation. We need land for our existence.
Gladso: Did government take your consent for using school as the security camp?
Sukhram: No. It was done in the night. The para-military forces landed in the night and school was vacated. The teachers were told that their school is merged with the Middle school of Ruguddih village, which is four kilometers far from here.
Gladson: How many children were studying in school? Where are they now? have they shifted to the Middle School, Ruguddih?
Sukhram: 35-36 children of Kochang were studying in the school. Now, they have stopped going to school. The school is far so they don’t want to go. How will I convince them to go to school? This is denial of right to education of our children.
Gladson: Is there any other case of land grabbing in Kochang?
Sukhram: Yes. There is a major case of land grab. The government authorities are violating the power of Gram Sabha for grabbing land of the village. The government intends to setup a permanent police camp in the village but we are against of it. We don’t need a security camp. We are safe without the police.
Gladson: Can you tell me how the government authorities are violating the laws to grab the land in Kochang.
Sukhram: The Circle Officer (CO) of Arki block issued a notice to conduct the Gram Sabha’s meeting for acquisition of 2.47 acre of land for the construction of a community hall. We objected it because how can the CO issues such notice? Only the Gram Sabha has the power to call such meeting. We already have a community hall in the village therefor we don’t need one more community hall. We wanted to know that what kind of community hall the government is going to build in such a huge patch of land? We were surprised to know that government wants to acquire our land for the security camp under the guise of a community hall to avoid the protest, and when we started objecting, the government authorizes are suppressing our voices.
Gladson: Can you explain me how your voices were suppressed and what kind of power is being used to acquire the land?
Sukhram: I was harassed by the police. I’m under their surveillance. On 29th October, 2018, I had gone to Ranchi to attend a seminar. While returning home, the police caught me in Khunti and I was taken to Khunti police station where the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Arki police station was also present. The OCs of Khunti and Arki forced me to sign on the land acquisition paper. They threatened me to imprison in the false charges of participating in Pathalgari Movement if I disobey them. They said that once I were imprisoned, I would never get out of the Jail. I’m already facing four false cases therefor I was afraid of them so signed on the land acquisition papers. They released me at 11 PM after signing the papers.
Gladson: What kind of cases you are facing?
Sukhram: All four cases are regarding the Pathalgari Movement. I was falsely accused of participating in some events of the Pathalgari Movement, where I was not part of but I was in Ranchi during those events. I have proof too. For instance, I was charged in a case of Kanki, where police personnel were hostage by the Gram Sabha but I was not present in Kanki that day. I was in Ranchi for treatment of my eyes.
Gladson: What happened after you were released from Khunti police station?
Sukhram: After going back to village. I called for the Gram Sabha’s meeting on 30th October 2018, obeying the CO’s order for land acquisition but the government officers did not turn up. Our time was wasted. On the next day, the OC of Arki police station arrived at Kochang’s village market with three Vehicles. Two vehicles are loaded with Sarees and Dhotis (cloths for Men and Women) and another vehicle was full of police personnel. They distributed the cloths among men and women who were present in the village market and got their signature and thumb impression on blank papers. When some villagers asked them the reason for clothe distribution, they said that they are distributing clothes for ‘Sohrai’ festival. Later, we came to know that the document was converted as the Gram Sabha’s resolution for land acquisition. Immediately, we had a meeting in the village and sent a protest letter to the District Land Acquisition Officer, Khunti. I also met the DLAO, who told me that the Gram Sabha has given its consent for the land acquisition. He showed me the papers which I had signed in the police station and the villagers had singed and impressed their thumbs for receiving clothes. This is how we were cheated and betrayed.
Gladson: Now what will you do to protect the land?
Sukhram: We will fight till our last breath. We have no choice. We will also approach to the Jharkhand High Court.
Gladson: Are you not afraid of the government? The police camp is near your house are you safe? Is there any incident of police atrocity in the village?
Sukhram: Do we have any choice rather than fight for our survival? We have not yet faced any such atrocity in the village but it will not remain the same forever.
Gladson: The Pathalgari Movement is blamed for opium cultivation. While coming to Kochang, I saw opium plants both side of the road. What you have to say?
Sukhram : The Pathalgari Movement has nothing do with the opium cultivation. You have seen how opium is being cultivated in the region openly. The police camp is in Kochang and Jawans go for patrolling everyday but they don’t destroy the opium plants. I’m surprised! I have told the police officers several times about it but they don’t bother for it. I don’t know why?
Gladson: Kochang village was defamed worldwide for gang rape. Can you tell me about it?
Sukhram: I don’t know much about it. The victims also did not meet me. I came to know about the unfortunate incident through newspaper only. But I can say that Fr. Alphonse is innocent but he was falsely accused because he creates awareness among the Adivasis.