On 6th December, 2008, the Jharkhand Police opened fire on a procession of tribals, numbering between eight to ten thousands, 3 km from Kathikund in Dumka district. The tribals were protesting against the setting up of a 1000 MW coal based power plant in Aamgachhi-Pokhariya villages of the area as well the earlier arrest of their colleagues Munni Hansda, Charan Kumar, Hopna Baski and Rajcharan Murmu.
One tribal Lakhiram Tudu was killed, seven suffered bullet injuries, 15 people, including women, were severely beaten. Nine people, including a rickshaw puller and a driver, were arrested. People who suffered bullet injuries were also arrested and when in hospital they were shackled to the bed. Two people who have suffered bullet injuries are not coming out to get treatment from the government hospital for the fear of being arrested. The district administration and the government have branded the organizations leading the protests, Jharkhand Ulgulan Manch and Jharkhand Hulgulan Mahila Manch as Maoists.
The fact of the matter is that in October about four to five thousands strong gathering of tribals under the leadership of Munni Hansda had gheraoed the SP for three days continuously. This blockade was so peaceful and disciplined that the administration couldn't get a chance to take any action against it. But the administration, whose authority was seriously challenged, was waiting for an opportunity to get back at the people. First they filed a case against Munni and colleagues for having stolen a motorcycle belonging to her husband from the police station and arrested her on 26th November, 2008. The motorcycle was earlier confiscated by the police.
The Deputy Commissioner Prashant Kumar of Dumka claimed that the 6th December procession had nothing to do with the power plant issue but the people had come to secure the release of Munni and her colleagues, However, if Munni was arrested only because of the motorcycle theft issue, people would not have come out in such large numbers in her support.
An earlier DC Mastram Meena had come to the Gram Sabha meeting and endorsed a resolution opposing the land acquisition for the power plant project by putting his signature on the minutes of the Gram Sabha meeting, He respected the people's opinion but was transferred within a week of this incident.
According to the Santhal Paraganas Tenancy Act, The Provisions of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, Schedule V and Article 243 of the Constitution (73rd Amendment) the Gram Sabha has the right to determine how it would use its natural resources. The ideal of tribal self rule is enshrined in the abovementioned constitutional-legal provisions. The State government cannot take an action which violates this spirit.
When the district administration imposed section 144 in Dumka on 2nd December, the people declared a Janata Curfew in the area forbidding any police from entering their villages without the permission of the Gram Sabha. After the firing on 6th December, they decided to organize black day for 7 days in their villages by being in the open. In spite of the cold, children, women, old and youth-all stay put in their fields for a week to protest against the killing.
I went to Dumka along with activists of JUM on 27th December, 2008, and tried to meet Munni and Charan Kumar in the Jail. However, we were not allowed to meet them on the pretext that the meeting day is Tuesdays and that some people had met them on 23rd and 25th December and hence nobody could meet them now for the next 8 days.
We proceeded towards, Aamgachhi-Pokhariya to meet the villagers. However, we were stopped by a police vehicle coming from the front after having gone about 20 km from Dumka in the direction of Kathikun. Our identity cards were checked. We were neither asked about our destination nor the purpose of visit. The police asked Baijnath Prasad Beju, a JUM activist accompanying us to go into their jeep and told us to turn our vehicle and come to the Town Police Station. Two policemen accompanied us in our jeep.
After reaching the Town PS in Dumka the Deputy S.P. informed us that since Baijnath's name also figured in the FIR filed after the 6th December incident, he had to be arrested. He obviously didn't tell us why the remaining of us were asked to come to the PS.
The Jharkhand Police is obviously trying to create an atmosphere of terror in the region. The administration is restricting visitors to meet the jailed activists and the free movement of people. One doesn't find such restrictions in even troubled areas like J&K and the Northeast.
Jharkhand was created with the ideal of tribal self rule. However, the administration and the government, ironically till recently headed by a man who was the leader of the tribal autonomy movement, but is now finding hard to even win an election, has for the time being decided to convert in into a police state.
The government, like the governments at the Centre as well as other States, has decided to collude with the private corporations to exploit the natural resources for profit without giving any consideration to the interests of the people. In spite of the lofty ideals of tribal movement that preceded the creation of the state, now the government, ignoring all the constitutional-legal provisions safeguarding the interests of the tribals, has chosen to use the anachronistic Land Acquisition Act of 1894 and anti-people authoritarian ways to dispossess people of their land - the only source of their livelihood. When encountered with a strong people's resistance it has chosen to defame and discredit the movement.
The government doesn't want the political power to flow to the people in accordance with the self rule concept but considers it its prerogative to thrust decisions from top. It has left the tribals wondering about the purpose of the movement that they had been part of for so long for the creation of the state. Interestingly, some of the activists in the movement today against the government, who are being branded as Maoists, were fighting along with the Shibu Soren in the earlier movement.
Dr Sandeep Pandey
(The author is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) for emergent leadership, heads the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and did his PhD from University of California, Berkeley in control theory which is applicable in missile technology. He taught at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur before devoting his life to strengthening people's movements in early 1990s. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ashaparivar.org).