First Published 20 November 2012
The continued imprisonment of the activist has not broken her resolve to oppose displacement of tribals, says G Vishnu
ON 16 NOVEMBER, tribal rights activist Dayamani Barla would have spent a month inside Ranchi’s Birsa Munda Central Jail. Dayamani had surrendered on 16 October after a warrant was issued by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ranchi, in a 2006 case relating to a protest demanding MNREGS job cards for villagers in Angada block, Ranchi district. Though she got bail in this case on 19 October, she was not released as another case was slapped on her — for leading villagers of Nagri, 15 km from Ranchi, to plough land that had been acquired by the state government.
The charges against Dayamani include obstructing a public servant, rioting, criminal trespass and defamation. She also received a contempt notice from the Jharkhand High Court for allegedly participating in the burning of an effigy of the court by a group led by Salkhan Murmu of Jharkhand Dishom Party.
Dayamani has been at the forefront of several mass movements in the past 15 years, including the struggle against the Koel Karo dam project. She also led a successful protest against ArcelorMittal’s proposed steel plant in the Gumla-Khunti area. Her imprisonment came at a time when she was spearheading the agitation against setting up of campuses for the Indian Institute of Management, the Indian Institute of Information Technology and the National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL), by displacing hundreds of Adivasi families in Nagri. “Clearly, the government is trying to crush the protest by slapping false cases on the leaders. It hopes to demoralise the protesters by keeping Dayamani in prison,” says journalist Faisal Anurag, a friend of Dayamani.
Jharkhand DGP GS Rath told TEHELKA that Dayamani had been evading arrest for some time until surrendering. “The warrant was issued for non-appearance. It is a judicial matter. The court denied her bail. She is the main accused in the Nagri case of 15 August 2012,” he said.
However, Dayamani seems undaunted by all this. In a letter to Faisal from prison, she expressed greater resolve in the fight against displacement: “I have never deceived my homeland, never overlooked the questions raised by the Jharkhand people. The flowing water of the Koel, Karo and Chata rivers is a witness to this. I learnt to write with my fingers in the mud and sand of this land. On the banks of the river Karo, while grazing my sheep, I learnt to bathe and swim. The shade of trees covered with dew gave me love; how can I sell this? How can I not make into a part of myself the suffering of the society that taught me how to live?”
The jailed activist’s letter shows she doesn’t find her incarceration really shocking. She writes: “To protect the interests and rights of these people is our responsibility. And I think this is the only way for those who try to fulfill this responsibility. Only dangers and troubles are written in their fate, this is the reality of life… We will not give even an inch of our ancestral land. We hope this moment will not be the end of our lives because as long as the Koel, Karo and Chata continue to flow, we will fight this battle.”
A diabetic with blood pressure problems, Dayamani’s plea to the jail authorities to provide her with appropriate food went unheeded until CPM politburo member Brinda Karat intervened. “They weren’t even providing the right food. The Jharkhand government rewards those who break the Fifth Schedule and displace Adivasis, and imprisons Adivasis who fight for their rights,” Karat told TEHELKA.
Dayamani’s husband Nelson Barla, who runs a tea shop, has little hope of her getting released soon. “She is fighting a lonely battle. In this case, both the government and the judiciary seem to be interested parties. For now, it appears that she has been cornered,” he says. “But she is not someone whose spirit breaks so easily.”
G Vishnu is a Correspondent with Tehelka.