The funeral is over; The voice is silenced; Sr.
Valsa Johns body was interned in a public cemetery at Vijaypur in Dumka,
Jharkhand. Only her body has been interned; her spirit would live ever in
the hearts of the poor and the marginalized and in the hearts of the all the
people of good will. Let us remember she has shed her blood on the birthday of
Jharkhand, Tuesday 15.11.2011. It is tragic that she has to shed her blood on
this joyous day in order to proclaim that Jharkhand needs martyrs for the
fullness of life to come in Jharkhand. That speaks of volume of the situation
for the poor tribals in the newly created state.
Proclaiming and living out this hope and struggle has been
her public life in the last twenty five years. whether working
among Dalits in Patna or
tribals in Santal Parganas, Valsa lived this struggle for hope, justice and
life. Her determination to be part of the struggling masses, to a life of
dignity and justice never wavered even once; The greatest indignity
and injustice to the tribals in India
is uprooting them from their heritage, God given, ancestor protected land. Once
the land is snatched, the violence would follow and tribals would descend to
abyss of brutalization and dehumanization. Sr. Valsa foresaw and
mobilized the masses so that they would get justice and their voice would be
heard. She dedicated her last fifteen years of her life to the cause of
the displaced and the uprooted.
Her story was a story of self giving. She was born on February,19, 1958 in the village
of Edapalli, kerela. She was a
beloved girl child and that too the last of the six brothers and sisters. She
received loads of love. Perhaps, Valsas was full of love that she
wanted to share with those who needed most. Being the youngest in the
family, she became a didi to poor and the exploited. How could the family
of six brothers and sisters part with their youngest to a life of dedication
and total love? So they educated her and she became a
teacher; As a teacher she began reading newspapers and
magazines of heroes and heroines in real life so that she can teach to her
children. In the process, she was deeply affected and influenced by the lives
of two women m missionary sisters in North India:
One working in Jharkhand deep inside the jungle and another struggling among
Gondhs in Madhya Pradesh. She joined the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and
Mary in 1984 with the intention of working among the poor.
She was appointed in a school at Daltonganj, Jharkhand after
her initial training, where she began observing the life of the
poor much more closely. The burning desire to commit radically to the cause of
the poor had to be more strengthened. So she went for teachers training and
taught briefly in Himachal Pradesh. The search for radicalism gradually began
to see the light. She went to Kagaul, Patna
for a guided experience among the Dalits. Immersion and participation were
not mere words but acquired experiential meaning: Eating rat meat which
was offered to her with love was indeed a test but Sr. Valsa ate immersed
herself in the daily struggle of Dalits. Frugality became thus a lifelong
companion for her; experiential knowledge of hunger and poverty was very
important to her so that she is able to relate with the powerlessness of the
exploited and the marginalized people.
Valsa then moved to Kodma in Sahibganj district of
Jharkhand to work among Santals in 1993. Sona Santal Samaj Samiti
formed after the martyrdom of Fr. Anthony Murmu and fifteen others
welcomed her. She began walking to villages, meeting women going to hills with
them. She endeared herself to the women of this area by gradually learning the
language, customs and of course dances. She began organizing women systematically
enabling them to participate in the traditional village councils and other
meetings. It is at this time, tribals all over India
were demanding legal recognition of their traditional governance system. Sr.
Valsa mobilized women making them to understand the reasons for such a
demand. She worked in Sona Santal Samaj Samiti and among the women of
this area fr two years. Sr.Valsa moved out of Kodma in 1995.
She was appointed in a school at Jiapani near Amrapara of Pakur district of Jharkhand. It was indeed a tough decision for her to make, for her heart was in the villages with the exploited women and their struggles. She was appointed as a full time teacher that kept her in the school till 4.00 P.M. Sr. Valsa would not rest but began touring the nearby villages after the classes and during holidays. She would meet the traditional leaders and inter act with them; mobilizing their support for the recognition of local self governance system. The side effect of her touring the villages was an increase in the strength of the school; More students began attending the schools. She would go alone to the villages and often came back much after the sun set.
Movement in Pachuara:
It is during one of these walks-to-villages, she noticed, a
camp of Geological Survey in the village Baromasia. She enquired about
the purpose of such a camp. The officers thought that she would be the best
person to persuade the people to part with the land for mining. So, they
revealed the real intention of their stay. She began acquiring more information
and realized that the tribals would be displaced at a massive scale if the
project for mining comes through.
History teaches us that tribals have been the victims of
development, and rehabilitation as promised has never reached the tribals.
Valsa knew all these statistics. Here she is coming face to face with the
actual displacement and the power of the private companies assisted by the
administration within the context of liberalization of the economy.
Sr. Valsa requested her superiors to relieve her from the
school. The superiors gladly granted her request knowing her earnestness and
the need of the people. She moved to pachuwara village in
1998. She began informing the people about the intentions of the
government. The people realized that they were being duped by the
government. The Geological survey of India
had casually told the villagers that they were doing some government work. No
officials had told them about the impending mines and the procedures for the
land acquisition. No rehabilitation packages were being announced.
IT IS ONLY WHEN Sr. Valsa began unifying the villagers
the facts began emerging piece by peice. The Eastern Minines
and Trading Agency in joint venture with the Punjab Electricity Board had acquired
the coal block of the area and the extracted coal would be transported to Punjab
for the electricity production. The Joint venture is known as (PANEM).
The name Eastern Mines Trading Agency sounded ominously like East India
Company. The colonization indeed continues in different forms.
Formation of the Samiti (orgnisation): Sr. Valsa began
touring the villages, informing the villagers, mobilizing the people to resist
the mine. Villagers deliberated first in hushed voice and
then in public; As always, the people realized that organization of the poor
alone would stand by them; they had to organize themselves. Sr. Valsa
then inspired them, stood by them and animated them. The result was
their decision to form a Samiti called Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan
(Rajmahal Hills protection Movment)
It is apt to recall a song by Fr. Anthony Murmu, another
martyr for the cause of the tribals: He would often sing that Our God is
as rock-steady as Rajmahal hills. These hills had protected the tribals,
provided livelihood and now they are going to be destroyed. Oh! The hills
that symbolized the compassion and the quality of God would be in peril. The
tribals realized that resistance is the only way out for their life and future
livelihood of their children.
The movement followed the following methodology in their resistance:
1. Writing memorandum: the simple people began writing to District authorities and to their representatives. This was a learning process for the people; They began understanding the constitutional provisions especially Fifth Schedule, SPT Act, PESA Act and the implications of Samata judgment in Supreme court. These memorandums went unanswered.
2. Blockades: The area was blockaded at various junctures. They had put up barriers to prevent strangers entering the area. Women, men, children and youth manned these for twenty four hours. It is significant that this blockade continued for six years.
3. Networking: Many organizations came forward to help the Movement with their supports. The movement began acquiring national limelight.
4. Empowerment through
welfare measures: The agricultural land needs to be protected. The land had to
be utilized fruitfully and improvement in the techniques of production was one
of the main elements of the alternative to mining. Sr. Valsa began enabling the
people for such a process.
One must realize that Sr. Valsa remained throughout with
villagers. She ate with them sacrificed the comforts of the convent, walked to
the hills even staying under the trees, sleeping on river beds after nightlong
deliberations. Her intuitive power helped her in understanding the way tribals
moved, organized and resisted. She did lead the movement yet allowing the
traditional leadership to be in the forefront. It is the traditional leaders
negotiated and guided the movement.
RESPONSE OF THE COMPANY AND THE ADMINISTRATION:
The PANEM company set up a an office in nearby market
town called Amrapara. The Santals near and far depended on this market
town for their provisions and necessities. The civil administration was at
thebeck and call of the company. The middlemen of the company recruited Santal
youth first. James Murmu a local geology graduate already working
in the company was shifted to Amrapara. He began providing money and
drinks to youth. Alubera leaders were the first one to be trapped.
The youth recruited began to be in the payroll of the company. They went around
trying to convince the people to part with the land. They provided arguments
such as that land belonged to government and government would not offer
compensation all the time and this is the best time to receive
compensation. The unity of the movement began cracking with the onslaught
of the money and allurements. The tribals are poor and powerless. They too have
desire to become rich and the educated unemployed youth are the most
vulnerable. The movement began breaking. There was always tension the
villages. People opposing the mines and the supporters began fighting. The
social tension was tearing the social fabric of the harmonious tribal villages.
The tribals began fighting among themselves for the cause of the PANEM.
2001-2004 witnessed tremendous tension in the villages.
Filing cases : The administration began filing
cases on the leaders of the movement. The close associates like Joseph and the
head of civil area the Pargana were picked up from the market and jailed. While
Pargana was released after six months, Joseph remained for two years. Most
of the cases filed were non-bailable in nature. Sr. Valsa alone had seven
cases foisted on her. The police began catching people when they
were going to market. Many men and women began going surreptitiously to
the company office in order to receive compensation. As a result:
· The life became impossible: for ordinary people. They were unable to go to market for the fear of police; they were not able to visit their children staying in hostels.
· The children began to suspect their parents. Although Sr.valsa stood by them, consoled them but it was painful to notice the gradual decline in the unity and the conviction of the people.
village fights were increasing. The household members of the movement leaders
began to be divided. There have been cases of children running away to Delhi
Sr.Valsa painfully bore the decline of the movement. She
began contemplating on various ways to reach out to the people. She deliberated
constantly with her supporters. Her supporters included journalist like Shaji
who championed the cause fot he tribals. She spent hours at night discussing
with the people in various villages. After a prolonged consultation, the
Samiti decided to approach the court. The Samiti believed that constitutional
provisions would be protected by the courts. They were in a shock when the High
court ruled in favour of the company and the government. The Supreme
Court recommended for an out of court settlement. Hence an MOU was signed
between the company and the Samiti. The following would be relevant to
understand the innovative significance of the MOU.
The company was made to acknowledge that land belonged to people and the company would be taking only the coal. Hence the land would be returned once the coal extraction is over. The land would be returned after filling and made cultivable.
Until the return of the land, the company would pay crop compensation of Rs6000/- per acre per year to the owners of the land. The owners of the land also would be paid Rs.10000/- per acre as share of the profit earned from the coal.
The people would not be displaced and if need be resettled in vicinity itself. The concrete houses would be built for each household including separate houses for widows and divorced single women.
The company would offer free education to the children of the project affected people. It also promised to open a school and a hospital to the project affected people. The company gave an undertaking to comply with all the conditions and full it within a year.
Hence mining started in 2006: The monitoring committee consisted of 2 representatives from each village; 2 representatives of the samiti; 3 representatives of traditional leadership 3 and representatives from the company.
Sr. Valsas work, since then, has been to
see that MOU is implemented in letter and spirit:
(a) The sick were brought to the dispensary (b) A dispensary was built till hospital was built and made operational so she made sure that the ambulance went around to fetch the patients(c) The school was to be built so she oversaw the running of the school (d) she made sure that Women participated and organized themselves.
The MOU was revolutionary influencing the RR policy of the
Central government and the state government. Sr.Valsa was contributed the
largest part with the inputs from the people themselves. She played the central
part in making such a MOU and operationalising it. Thus she began earning many
more friends but also foes.
Huge amount of money began flowing to the people. Tribals
who had never seen such a free flow of money began harbouring aspirations to
become powerful. The samiti members already had power and now they needed
money in their hand so that they can hold sway over the community. Temptations
to become rich faster saw then sacrificing their ideals learned so far.
The movement had educated them to honour their tribal hatred for greed
but they began succumbing to greed, power and money. The Company men
began alluring them, nefarious methods were employed to allure these
youth. The company middle men, government servants, local aspiring
politicians, once again began providing allurement to youth of the samiti. The
criminalization of the youth began to affect them too; The violence of the mining
industry began influencing their character.
The presence of Sr.valsa, peoples trust in her, her moral
strength, leadership and her over all supervision of the MOU monitoring
activities became a hindrance to opponents evil aspirations. Sr. Valsas presence
was a block to their becoming powerful. So, they began propagating false
accusations against sister.
The opponents got a shot in the arm when she had to be in
Kerala to be at the side of her cancer ailing brother for three months. The
opponents began spreading rumors that sister had gone away permanently and they
a formed a samiti of their own. They said that they would not
allow the sisters return. One must remember that only a handful of criminalized
powerful youth having their vested interest stood agents the sister. The
ordinary people were powerless against the mechanization of the politically
supported powerful people.
The Immediate spark for the killing was the rape of the girl
working with her. Surajmuni was picked up in Alubera weekly market
by a group of youth and mass raped at night. Parents went to the police
station next day and wanted to file the case. The police refused to file the
case and chased them away; The parents reported to sister. The victims parents
along with Surajmuni went to Police station second time, The police
told them to settle the case out of court and receive monitory
compensation. The rape victim refused to compromise and wanted justice.
This time sister managed to get an appointment with District collector for the
rape victim for 16th of Novemebr 2011.
Probably this was the last straw and the group felt that if
they were to be hauled up, they would be inside the jail. Their
anger flared; they thought that Sr.Valsa was not only hindrance to other greedy
prosperity but also block to their life itself. The heinous act of her
murder, already contemplated and planned, was the result of dehumanization
assisted by the company and the violent atmosphere in the mining area.
Sr. Valsa stood for the poor and the victimized in all situations. As always
she stood for the cause of the poor and paid with her life.
She wanted to share the vulnerabilities of the poor people
and like Jesus became vulnerable lamb to be sacrificed.
In kathaldi village concrete houses were made by the company
and the people reserved one house for their beloved didi but Sr. Valsa
preferred a mud house. Her simplicity and frugal life would remain a constant
inspiration to the generation of activists. She was silenced by her murderers
but her inspiring silent presence would always remain in the heart of all those
who struggle for and with the poor.
Rajmahal Pahar Bachao andolan.