The Iron Lady of Jharkhand: Mahtab Alam on Dayamani Barla
Guest post by MAHTAB ALAM
The journalist turned anti-displacement, tribal, woman activist from Jharkhand Dayamani Barla, better known as the Iron lady of Jharkhand amongst people’s movements and activists, or simply as Dayamani Di was granted bail by a local court in Ranchi on Thursday afternoon. She was sent to Jail on Tuesday in fourteen days judicial custody, after she surrendered before the court in a matter of 25 April 2006. Six years ago, she was charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including Section 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapons), for participating in a protest demonstration, which blocked the road, demanding job cards for rural laborers under the celebrated National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). She had availed bail at that time from the concerned police station and the matter was almost closed one.
But recently, when the State government and its Police were not feeling comfortable with Dayamani’s anti-Displacement activities at Ranchi’s Nagadi village, they chose to re-open the case. They started sending notices at her rented house and harassing her friends, comrades and relatives. One day, the police reached her house to confiscate her belongings. She somehow managed to escape this situation and decided to surrender before a Court, instead of getting arrested by Police. Notably, she was not alone against whom the case was registered in 2006, the case was registered against 10 named persons other than Dayamani and one thousand unnamed persons, but the police chose to act only against her, for obvious reasons. Interestingly, the rural populaces are still facing difficulties in getting job cards, a legal right of every adult citizenry. “While the government is sending me Jail for no crime, but the demands made in the said protest are yet to be fulfilled,” Damayani made this point before leaving for jail while talking to reporters.
Dayamani Barla, one of the leading anti-Displacement activists of our time is fighting many battles against corporate giants and government alike in various parts of Jharkhand. However, her battle is not limited to the state of Jharkhand alone. As one of the national Conveners of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), along with Medha Patekar and others and as an Executive Committee Member (also former National President) of the India Social Action Forum (INSAF), she is not only part and leader of various people’s movements and campaigns across India but also represents India at International level. For hundreds of activists across India and abroad, she is one of the sources of inspiration, including for this writer. Her courage to fight against injustices at various levels is not only exemplary but simply unmatched. She is a tireless and selfless activist, with strong capabilities and guts take on anyone, including governments. She is totally uncompromising, when it comes to displacement. This is what makes government and corporate afraid of her.
Hence, this not the first time when she is intimidated or harassed but the government is leaving no chance to target her. Early this year, on 14th January, in the evening, a Police Mobile Van of Chutya Thana (Ranchi) landed at her hotel (Dayamani for livelihood and family support, along with her life-partner runs a small hotel, dhaba at Club Road Ranchi) and started to harass her staff asking about her links with anti-social elements, means Maoist. The Sub-Inspector making the ‘enquiries’ neither had any written permission or an order. The following day, when she met SSP Ranchi, Mr. Saket Kumar at latter’s residence to ask why she was being harassed in this manner, his response was that the allegations were being made on the basis of an complaint and the fact that she participated in the “Free Jiten Marandi Convention”, in which Binayak Sen, Gautam Navlakha Varavara Rao were also present. However, when asked what the crime in that is, the SSP refused to talk.
The recent intimidation and arrest is due to her leading a restless, successful and mostly peaceful (except once when police opened fire on villagers) struggle against the acquisition of fertile land at Nagari, a village situated at few kilometers from the state capital and where government wants to build IIM, IIT and National Law School. Contrary to the propaganda spread by government and its machinery, the protestors do want these institutions to be build but not at the cost of the main source of livelihood of villagers. And they have suggested an alternative as well in neighborhood for the said purpose but the government is adamant. As per modest estimates, at least 500 tribal families and their livelihood will be destroyed, if the land is acquired for said institutions. In January, the state bulldozed farms just around when the winter crops, mostly potatoes and pulses, were to be harvested. Following that, the police filed FIRs against 12 villagers! But even then the struggle is still on. And this is what worrying the government most. The government is desperately trying to crush the movement, by hook or crook.
Here, however, what we must remember that it is not a matter of Dayamani Barla or Jharkhand alone. Harassment of activists on flimsy pretexts and conviction in fabricated cases has become trend of our times. And this must resisted robustly by human rights activists and organizations everywhere. This I feel strongly also because as I was about to finish this, I am informed that farmer leader and activist friend of ours from Madhya Pradesh is pronounced convicted by a local trail court in a fabricated case and taken in to custody. The actual term of sentence will be announced tomorrow. The case in which he is convicted was essentially a case of Police firing, killing 24 farmers. The time has also come to speak out against the executive mildness of the Courts as well. Something needs to be done urgently.
Are we ready or waiting for our turn?
(Mahtab Alam is a Delhi based civil rights activist and freelance journalist.)