For a long time now, the Jharkhand government has been avoiding confrontation with people’s issues. Any struggle or protest that takes place today in Jharkhand is automatically viewed as one which is anti-state. Whether the issue is one related to displacement or of resource grabbing or even MNREGA, no dialogue is considered important – instead activists are put behind bars. Several activists have been jailed due to this attitude of the government. The latest detentions in this context have been that of Xavier Dias and Dayamani Barla.
Xavier Dias has been active in Noamundi village of West Singhbhum district where for the past two decades, villagers have been fighting against Tata Steel for land grab and molestation of women by Tata Steel workers. Back in the year 1991, the TISCO plant was set up on adivasi land without their consent. These were people mainly of Moodhi village along with those from the surrounding villages like Noamundi who protested against the setting up of the plant on their land. But they didn’t succeed. The plant came up.
In one of the subsequent protests, villagers of Moodhi had locked the pant from outside to prevent workers of the next shift to enter the plant. In response, the TISCO management asked their security guards to open fire on the villagers. Instead of a case then being filed against the management, 15 activists were named in an FIR filed by the Railways (As the plant is adjacent to the railway line, TISCO used the opportunity to somehow have the Railways file a case against the activists). This case has been languishing on for two decades now. The activists have been out on bail since then. But recently, when their lawyer without prior-information abandoned the case to join another steel company, the court issued a warrant in the name of the 7 out of the 15 activists who are still alive. This warrant has now been converted into a Kudhki warrant that is one which will lead to seizure of their properties also.
Like in 1991, this time also Xavier Dias and his comrades have gone ahead and surrendered themselves in front of the magistrate. The details mentioned above about the protest have all been let out by Xavier Dias himself in a letter to fellow activists before he surrendered on November 22nd. He fears that they would be tortured in jail now.
Another activist who has had a similar fate is Dayamani Barla of the Adivaasi Moolvaasi Astitva Raksha Manch (Forum for the protection of tribal and indigenous people's identity). She had been leading several campaigns against displacement of tribals. She was first implicated in a case for raising noise about MNREGA scams in April 2006. On 16th October 2012 while she was participating in a protest, she got to know that a Kudhki warrant had been issued in her name regarding the 2006 case. She surrendered herself to the court the same day and was sent to fourteen days of judicial custody. She was granted bail in this matter on 18th October but as soon as she was about to meet her friends and relatives waiting outside, she was arrested in another case relating to land acquisition. She was opposing the construction of a National Law College and IIM on fertile land in Nagdri village near Ranchi district and also land acquisition by Arcelor Mittal for a steel plant in that area. In her letter dated November 6th written from jail, she clearly mentioned that she had no problems with educational institutions coming up in their area, but it was a better idea for such constructions to happen on infertile land and not on fertile land on which tribals depend. She is also concerned about the impact of such constructions on water resources and environment.
Both Xavier Dias and Dayamani Barla have given years of their life struggling for people’s issues in Jharkhand. Dayamani Barla has worked as a domestic worker and now runs a tea stall in Ranchi. Both of them have been crusaders in organizing people and raising their concerns. Both law-abidingly surrendered themselves before the court. But it is deplorable that the government here is not taking concerns raised by the people seriously.
PUDR strongly condemns this conduct of the Jharkhand government of increasingly incarcerating activists in order to suppress any form of struggle or protests about serious problems being faced by its citizens. We therefore demand:
- Xavier Dias and Dayamani Barla are released immediately.
- All cases imposed on them and fellow activists are removed.
- Demands raised by the people affected by the TISCO plant operations in Noamundi village and by the land acquisitions in Nagdi village be taken seriously and acted upon.
Paramjeet Singh and Preeti Chauhan
(By an oversight we missed the fact that Xavier Dias has been released from the jail on bail on 26th November. However the false charges under which he has been implicated still remain, which is of utmost concern to us.)