Mahtab Alam is a Delhi based civil rights activist and freelance journalist.
He can be contacted at activist.journalist (at) gmail.com
Last month, on the 15th of November, the state of Jharkhand, which was created after several decades of long struggle for a separate state for Tribals, completed 12 years of its formation. Jharkhand, the 28th state of the Indian Union, was brought into existence by the Bihar Reorganization Act on the 15th of November 2000. The day is considered to be the birth anniversary of the legendary leader Birsa Munda. The state, famous for its rich mineral resources, occupies an area of 28,833 square miles (74,677 square km) and has a population of nearly 330 lakh people according to 2011 estimates. Like every year, the formation day was celebrated with the great pomp and show by the government and the political elite in the state capital Ranchi and elsewhere. However, this year a greater effort was made to bolster the ever declining public image due to mass displacement, brutality by police and security forces and rampant corruption in the state over the years, by giving advertisements not only in local and Hindi newspapers but in major national dailies. On 15th of November, in the Times of India (Capital Edition, Delhi), a full page advertisement was published with smiling faces of Shibu Sonren, once referred as Dishom Guru or the Great Leader of Tribal, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Chief and also Head of the ruling Alliance, along with the state Chief Minister Arjun Munda and his team, in Hindi with the heading,’Vikas ke path par agrasar Jharkhand: Zameen par utri Haqeeqat’ (Jharkhand on the path of Development: Reality on the ground), enumerating ‘landmark works of development’ of the government. I was also told by friends that similar advertisements appeared in other newspapers as well.
So the obvious questions were: Is it so? Is Jharkhand really on the path of development? If yes, for whom? What is the ‘state of development’ in Jharkhand and how far has it improved the lives of ordinary Jharkhandis, the indigenous Aadivasis, Dalits, Women, Backward Castes and people of other marginalised groups? And what are the realities on the ground. The simple answer is no, a big no. In reality, nothing substantial has been done in all these years for at least for those the state was created. Sample this: according the Jharkhand Human Rights Report (2000-2011) prepared by the Jharkhand Human Rights Movements (JHRM), ever since the state was created more than 100 people have been reported to have died out of acute hunger, of which 40 belonged to the indigenous Adivasi communities. The state of malnutrition is more serious. According to the National Family and Health Survey, 57% children of the state are malnourished. The Jharkhand Social Welfare Department’s own data states that there are 5.5 lakhs children who are malnourished. In the state, 56.5% of children below five years age are under weight and 70. 3 % are anemic. 78.2 % girls are anemic, of which 64.2 are school going. Similarly, 70% women are anemic. The situation of indigenous tribes is the worst. 64.3 % children below five years age are under weight. 80 % children and 85% women of these tribes are anemic. This reminds us the argument often made by noted pediatrician and human rights activist, Dr. Binayak Sen, how these people are virtually living in the state of famine (according to the WHO norms), leading to genocide if we go by the international standards, as outlined in the UN Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide.
What about the ‘development’—setting up of industries, mining and other infrastructure building, what it has done to the Jharkhandis? In the state, the development helped only in displacing people, dispossessing indigenous tribes from Jal, Jangal and Zameen, the very source of their survival. According to Dayamani Barala, a journalist turned full time anti-displacement activist, languishing in behind bars since 16th October in Ranchi prison, ironically named after the Birsa Munda, in several forged cases, after the formation of the new state, Jharkhand, it has displaced 80% of Jharkhandi’s from their land only for the sake of ‘development’ and within that only 4.5% have been relocated. The rest of the people are wandering in big cities for their survival. Similarly, various reports by civil society orgnisations and human rights groups suggest, in last decade around 30 lakhs people had to migrate from the state, of which 5 lakhs are women, primarily working as housemaids in metro cities. According to a Delhi based research and advocacy centre, Indian Social Institute, in Delhi 54.78% girls and women migrated from Jharkhand are working as housemaid. Out of these young women, 70 % had to migrate before they reach to the age of 18 and 72.1 % could not marry because of the nature of work they are involved in. What is more disturbing is that a considerable percentage of these young women are forced in to flash trade and had to work as sex-workers.
However, the story of Jhanrkhand’s real development does not end here. During the last decade as many as 102 Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) have been signed with a number of corporate giants like Arceloer Mittal, Bhushan Steel, Jindal Steel, CESC Project, etc., some of which require thousands acres of land causing in yet another large scale displacement of thousands of tribals in each case. Most of these projects are for mining or for setting up other polluting industries in the state. Naturally, these projects met with enormous resistance from the tribal communities who have organized themselves and have so far successfully resisted the acquisitions of their resources, which has resulted in the total non-execution of these MoUs so far. This has irked the government most and it started an onslaught on all those who tried resisting displacement or raising their voices, individually as well as jointly, by charging and arresting them in forged cases, branding them Maoist, killing them in fake encounters or by opening fire unnecessarily on peaceful protests and continuously harassing on flimsy grounds. According to Jharkhand Human Rights Report (2000-2011), since formation of the state 550 people have been killed in ‘encounters’, mostly fake and 4372 people have been arrested allegedly being Maoists. In this period, 346 incidents of police firing have been reported, killing 56 and leaving 36 people severely injured. Similarly, 576 people are killed in custody, 35 under police remand and 541 in jails. And all of this has created a sense of fear, terror and injustice amongst ordinary Jharkhandis as well as a number of activists. Everybody is under scanner and feeling threatened.
The arrest of noted activist, Xavier Dias along with six others in a case more than twenty years old on Saturday is an addition in the long list of all those unnecessarily arrested, charged, harassed, even killed earlier. He himself wrote this in the note written a day before he was arrested. The concluding para of his note reads, “I am writing this note a day before we all surrender before the Magistrate. In accordance with fair judicial procedure, he (the Judge) should revive our bail. But we are apprehending that he will send us all into judicial custody or jail in order to harass us and threaten the on-going agitation against the TATA Steel’s expansion of their mines in Noamundi. This is the best way the Jharkhand state can appease TATAs at this stage.” Repeated denial of the bail to Dayamani Barla also exposes the systematic and calculated move taken by the government to supress the dissent and protest against the anti-people policies of the state. The case against cultural activist Jinten Marandi, who is languishing in jail for no crime since 2008, is also a case in point. Hence, in short, Jharkhand, contrary to the claims by the Chief Minister that its being on the path of ‘development’ is in reality on the path of becoming a full flagged police state.