Tribal activist Dayamani Barla’s surrender and arrest jolts the land rights movement in Jharkhand, reports Soumik Mukherjee, Tehelka

dayamani1 300x220 Jharkhand: State ploy to silence a dissenting voice?

Journalist-activist Barla is the most popular mass leader in Jharkhand
Photo: Rajesh Kumar Sen

THE LAND rights movement by the tribals in Jharkhand suffered a setback on 16 October when eminent tribal activist Dayamani Barla surrendered before the Jharkhand police. She was arrested in connection with a case that was filed against her in 2006 for blocking a road and agitating in front of a BDO’s office in Ranchi demanding fair distribution of MGNREGS job cards. Barla was granted bail two days later and the next hearing in the case is slated for 30 November.

The arrest should be seen in the backdrop of the Greater Ranchi Development Plan that has invited the ire of people, as it would cause large-scale eviction of tribal population. Barla, the convener of the Adivasi-Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Manch, is believed to have been mobilising support against this project.

As an activist, and a selfmade journalist, who runs a tea stall to make ends meet, Barla is the most popular, non-political mass leader in Jharkhand. She was at the forefront of the agitation against ArcelorMittal’s proposed steel plant in the state. The $8.9 million project spread over 12,000 acres would have displaced almost 70,000 people from 45 villages. The steel plant was proposed in the same block that had seen three decades of agitation against the Koel Karo hydel project since 1973.

Barla claims that she is being intimidated by the State for her role in the land rights movement across Jharkhand. “They will not miss a single opportunity to arrest me,” she had said standing in front of the wall that was built around the land earmarked for an IIM and a national law university in Nagri, a tribal village on the outskirts of Ranchi, the state capital. When TEHELKA reported the Nagri movement in June (Nagri’s Last Harvest), Barla was camping with the villagers at the construction site.

“Had it not been for her, the land at Nagri would have been transferred and no one would have said a single word,” says Arun Pradhan, a local journalist.

TEHELKA had reported on the fiasco in Nagri where farms with standing crops were bulldozed to make way for the said institutions. Barla, who was leading the villagers of Nagri to save their farmlands, was critical of the State’s actions and had raised questions on its impropriety in the matter.

“The government is scared of her, more than any other social activist, because people listen to her. Her ability to mobilise the masses and lead a movement is unmatchable,” says one of Barla’s colleagues.

Locals believe that using an old case is a ploy to damage the Nagri movement. The villagers of Nagri continue to sit on a hunger strike after all their efforts to stop the construction on their farming land went in vain. “The police couldn’t arrest her in a case related to the land movement. It would have resulted in a bigger tribal movement. And they cannot afford to cause a flare up,” says Bandhu Tirkey, a tribal leader.

The arrest comes in the backdrop of the Greater Ranchi Development Plan, opposed by Barla

AFTER SHE was booked in the 2006 case, she was never notified or summoned,” claims Faisal Anurag, a human rights worker and friend of Barla. “She received a notice from the court only 10-15 days ago,” he adds.

Barla’s conscious efforts at maintaining a safe distance from the political class has often irked the politicians who would be only too willing to encash the sense of tribal victimhood.

“We wanted a separate state where the tribals will have their equal rights, but the new governments failed to give the tribal population their rights,” says Salkhan Murmu, leader of Jharkhand Disham Party. Activists believe that Barla’s arrest will adversely impact the land rights movements across Jharkhand. “As long as she does not work with a political outfit, her struggle wouldn’t be easy,” says a political leader from Jharkhand. But probably it’s her “lack of political sense” that has turned her into a crusader who the State fears.

Soumik Mukherjee is a Correspondent with Tehelka. soumik@tehelka.com

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