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No one but Sister Valsa spoke up against Panem
JAVED IQBAL  JHARKHAND | 22nd Jan 2012

The rehabilitated village of Kathaldih, which lost its land to Panem Coal Mining Company.

eople in Ranchi, in the social movements think we sold out (by signing the MoU with Panem Coal Mining Company)," said Father Tom Karvallo, who along with Sister Valsa John was close to the movement at the time of the signing of the MOU. "'But there was a lot of repression."

"Our people were being divided by the company. There were police cases on Valsa and others like Joseph who'd eventually be killed in an accident. And when we lost in the high court, we went to the Supreme Court to challenge the illegality of the land acquisition as this was a Fifth Schedule area. But the courts are a gamble; it can really depend on the judge, or the climate of the time. And we were afraid, that if we lost, we'd set a dangerous precedent as there were so many other adivasi movements fighting for their land. And they would've all suffered if the Supreme Court had ordered in favour of the company." "So we signed the MOU. And it was a good relief package, that we only got after such a strong struggle."

The agreement was reached in Delhi on 30 November 2006, after "persuasion" by a section of outsider activists and one, including Shajimon Joseph, the then resident editor of the Hindustan Times, who'd eventually be a signatory of the MOU as a witness, who confirms that there was police repression in the form of cases on Sister Valsa and other adivasi leaders, but also mentions there was no dissatisfaction during the signing of the MOU.

The Memorandum of Understanding itself was unprecedented. Apart from offering schools, healthcare, employment, rehabilitation sites, there would be a yearly stipend for each acre the company appropriates, and that the work for the construction of rehabilitated sites would be given as per the MOU, to local contractors and project-affected-persons.

The money that came from Panem for such work, would go to Sister Valsa, who directed young contractors like Pycil to work in the area.

Five years after the MoU, the promised hospital is still under construction.

The village of Kathaldih was uprooted, and the company has resettled them in a newer colony called Naya Kathaldih, where farming has all but stopped. Most of the young men work as miners in the coal mine, waiting for the company to finish mining their lands, and then return it to them, so they can commence farming again.

Rajan Marandi and Pradhan Murmu were two other contractors arrested for the murder of Sister Valsa John. They lived in the adjacent village of Aalubera, which was soon to lose its land to the company.

Valsa murder tells the story of PachwaraJAVED IQBAL

Rajan has five cars for himself, while Pradhan has around seven cars. All their cars remain parked in the village in front of their houses. The village is a village in fear, as the police has been searching for others who may have been present when Sister Valsa was attacked. Two boys who refused to give their names say the police has been searching for them, and they are innocent. They quickly disappear when asked about the relief package. There are no village elders, and there is no one who is willing to talk about the impending displacement and rehabilitation.

One young woman whose family lost her land years ago to the petrol pump that fills over 500 trucks, claims her family does not get the monthly stipend, but refuses to go on record, in fear of antagonising the powers-to-be.

"They're all filling their own pockets," she said.

"Isn't there anyone who takes up these issues?"

"There is no one."

"Who speaks up against the company?"

"No one."

"Over here,' said another young boy, Chappu Deheri, in Pachwara who was asked the same question, "only Sister Valsa and her samiti used to."

Aalubera is also the home of Advin Murmu, a 20-year-old boy who was arrested for the alleged rape of a young girl who lived in the house of Sonaram Hembrom along with Sister Valsa.

According to her father, Advin Murmu and three other boys had kidnapped the girl on the evening of 7 November, and while the three boys disappeared, Advin kept the girl all night in an empty home at Aalubera. The girl was only let out in the morning. She went to her aunt's house. The family along with Sister Valsa would take the case to the police on 9 November, six days before Valsa's murder.

The Superintendent of Police, Mayur Patel claims that there was no rape, and that the girl and the boy knew each other, and the girl's family is merely protesting the fact that the boy is a Christian and the girl's family is Sarna.

The family, however, claims that Pycil Hembrom and the contractors wanted them to drop the rape case, threatening that they'd lose all their lands and their home if they persist to fight them. The family especially indicted the local sub-inspector of police, as someone who wanted to give the family Rs 50,000 to forget the so-called imaginary case. The inspector has since been suspended for dereliction of duty after the murder of Sister Valsa.

Advin Murmu has since been arrested and according to the Superintendent of Police, for both incidents. Advin Murmu's brother, also a contractor, claims his brother is innocent while his bail application was rejected by the courts.

This is the second of a two-part article on Sister Valsa John's murder.

 
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