Adivasi dispossession forces tribal activist Barla to contest Jharkhand polls

Dayamani Barla's family is a victim of land grab, which she says forced her to turn to activism. Photo: PTI File.

In 2006 when Arjun Munda-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was in power in Jharkhand, the police booked cases against tribals for participating in a protest where they were demanding job cards under the rural employment (MNREGA) scheme. Among them was a noted journalist turned activist Dayamani Barla.

The case remained in cold storage for six years. But she was not spared after Munda become the chief minister for the second time.

In 2012, Barla was arrested for leading the protest six years ago. The development came just days before the government planned to forcefully acquire agriculture land for setting up an educational hub. While she got released in two days’ time in the MNREGA case, the police arrested her again for participating in a violent protest against the land acquisition. This time, she was put in jail for 69 days.

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For the 50-year-old woman, this incident became a turning point. This made her enter the political arena.

Fighting for tribal rights is not new to her. She has been at the forefront of protests against forceful land acquisitions by the state, led by corporate interest notably by Arcelor Mittal and others in the name of development projects. The Mittal’s steel project would have displaced about 11,000 Adivasis from the region. In 1995 she led a protest against the construction Koel Karo Dam that would have displaced over 15,000 people.

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Barla was a journalist who reported for Prabhat Khabar newspaper and has won accolades for her work in Jharkhand. Her family is a victim of land grab, which she says forced her to turn to activism.

Barla poll promises.

She belongs to Munda tribe and hails from Khunti district which is currently in the forefront of fighting for tribal rights with nearly 10,000 people facing sedition charges in the civil disobedience movement called Patthargarhi.

Khunti is also the land of Adivasi leader Birsa Munda who led an armed rebellion against the British in 1890s.

Barla unsuccessfully contested as an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate in the 2014 Parliament elections against the then seven-time MP Karia Munda.  She’s in the fray this time contesting as Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik (JVM-P) candidate (led by former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi) from Khunti Assembly segment.

She’s up against BJP’s three-time MLA Nilkanth Singh Munda and JMM candidate Sushil Pahan. Kunthi has remained a stronghold of the BJP. The constituency goes to polls in the second phase of Jharkhand elections on December 7. Pahan is a new face in the Assembly segment.

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While the Pathalgadi movement created anti-government (BJP) sentiment in villages, and the BJP government’s unsuccessful attempt to amend the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT), 1908, and Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act (SPT), 1949 — of the state to use agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, led to an uprising in villages, she thought it was time to fight by being in the system.

In a conversation with The Federal, Barla speaks about her candidature.

Do you support the Pathalgadi movement?

While I agree with the cause of the movement, I do not agree with the movement proponents when they call for boycott of government schemes or for poll boycott.

I have campaigned in Pathalgadi villages, unlike others. People have seen me and my work for 25 years. So I am hopeful of winning, says Barla.

The government failed them over the years for which they should be held accountable. But boycott is not the solution. If there’s no 100% poll boycott, then it wouldn’t be a success. People need to participate in the process. I repeatedly tell them, if Jaipal Singh Munda had not been elected to the Assembly we would not even have had the Fifth Schedule (Constitution) that guarantees tribal rights.  I am not saying this because I am contesting elections, but there is a process if the laws need to be strengthened if not implemented effectively.

Also, the Centre and State kept saying activists from Gujarat were behind the whole movement. If they can charge the people of Khunti, then why not arrest those involved from Gujarat. There is political agenda which the ruling party do not want to accept.

What are your poll promises?

If I win, I will ensure to effectively implement the CNT Act and uphold the tribal rights, I will make effort to cancel all the sedition cases booked against the people of Khunti and I will also end the land bank created to benefit select industrialists. These are some of my main promises.

You are contesting in a region where the BJP is dominant. How are you managing to fund your campaign?

My savings, contribution from social activists and Tribal groups are my funding source. Though everyone said we are in the social media age and we need to capitalise on it, I tried raising funds through online campaigns. Unfortunately, people like those post but not contribute. I have barely raised 1/10 of what I planned. People in my circles are helping me with the campaign.

How confident are you of winning?

Many villages boycotted the Lok Sabha elections this year. But people are thinking twice whether they should or not during the assmbly polls. I am hopeful that they will and I have campaigned in Pathalgadi villages unlike others. People have seen me and my work for 25 years. So I am hopeful of winning.

Also read: Failed to keep promises, BJP dwells on ‘magic’ to win Jharkhand elections

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