Officials coerce in name of “community-led sanitation”

The rush to show that the Swachh Bharat deadlines have been met has left the most vulnerable low income Dalit households out. Officials have deployed various coercive measures in name of “community-led sanitation.

The panchayat officials in Rajasthan told farmers that if they did not have a red stamp saying “open-defecation free family” on ration cards, they would cut off the ration grains from the government. Those who still did not build by then were marked as households that lacked space to build latrines. This way, the target got reduced and local officials showed compliance.

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Many families that have built latrines don’t use them but government surveys do not reflect any of this. In places where open defecation has not ended, the ministry is relying on statistical tools to show it has.

Full report in HuffPost India here.

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Women miners toil over sandstone for export

India has one of the lowest rates of women’s work participation rate at 27%. The government has published a “pink-coloured” Economic Survey while doing on equal wages, equal work and health care.
Women miners in Rajasthan, many from the Dalit and Bhil communities work as a farm labourer for a part of the year, and in the sandstone mines seasonally that are a major source of sandstone exports to Europe and the US.
Interviews with women miners in Rajasthan show they are paid nearly 30 percent less than what men get paid for the same work. They spend long hours with their backs bent, lifting and throwing sandstone blocks and tiles with their bare hands, exposed to serious respiratory illnesses and of lower back and spinal injuries, accidents.

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In Bijolia, a mining town in India’s Rajasthan, sandstone slabs had been erected as a fence around a field to convert it into temporary work-site. In the center, Seema Regar, a tall young woman, her head covered with a black scarf, lifted and arranged grey-brown sandstone cobbles into large wooden crates.

Minestone Exports, a firm in the state capital Jaipur 250 kilometers away, had ordered the delivery of the sandstone cobbles for export to the United Kingdom, where it would be used in laying streets and sea-faces.

Employed through a labour contractor on piece-rate wages, Regar did not know of the firm that employed her. She had reached the worksite at 8 in the morning, after cooking and cleaning for her family. Now, in peak afternoon heat, she was still lifting the stones and filling the crates. Her thumb was bandaged from recurring cuts from the stone slabs and scraping injuries. She would be paid Rs 60 (97 cents) per for each crate she filled.

Regar is from a Scheduled caste, a landless Dalit at the bottom of India’s caste hierarchy, and has worked as a casual labourer in Bijolia’s sandstone mines since she was still in her late teens.

After 11 years of working, Regar possessed no records of employment, no health cover or social security. She is one of thousands of lower caste women labouring on the margins of India’s mining exports industry.

RESTRICTIVE LAWS
Despite enjoying one of the world’s highest growth rates in recent years, India has one of the lowest rates of female work participation in the world. Only 27 percent of its women are in the workforce. This is the lowest ever recorded in Independent India, and is half the levels of women workers in China (64 percent) and Bangladesh (58 percent).

Mining is often viewed as a “masculine” profession, associated with the dominant image of male miners going deep underground into mines and quarries.

But women constitute 8 percent of full-time workers in non-coal mines and quarries as per India’s 2011 census. The actual numbers may be higher, say experts.

Most women miners are concentrated on the margins, in informal and small-scale mining. Over 33 percent of mine workers in the category of “marginal workers”, defined as those who worked less than six months in a year, were women. These are usually landless women labourers, and marginal farmers who seek temporary work in quarries in non-farm months. A large number are concentrated in the stone industry. Both their gender and caste makes them vulnerable, pushing them into precarious work.

India’s mining laws too reinforce gendered notions around work.

The Mines Act of 1952 provides that women cannot be employed in underground mines. It restricts their hours of work above the ground between 6 am and 7 pm. The central government may vary the hours of employment of woman above ground in mines. But no employment of women workers is permitted in night shifts.

These restrictions result in a concentration of women only in lower level, manual, less safe and more insecure jobs.

“Better paid or technical jobs in mines do not usually go to women nor do women receive training in mineral sciences or engineering,” noted academic Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, an expert on women miners.
Recently, the National Democratic Alliance government proposed various amendments to India’s labour laws to simplify them and improve ease of business. But the proposals ignore the gendered nature of India’s employment crisis.

The new draft “Labour Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions” retains the same restrictions on women’s hours and work-sites. It is silent on extremely low wages, and denial of recognition as workers that women miners face.

Economists say this reveals the indifference to workers’ real conditions.“Despite a great deal of rhetoric regarding ’empowerment’ of women, the super-exploitative conditions of employment that the majority of women workers are located in, is not a matter of public concern or debate in government circles, or the media,” said Indrani Mazumdar, a senior researcher at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, who has analyzed gender and employment trends.

Mazumdar pointed out that though this year’s Economic Survey, a government report on the state of the economy presented as a budget document, was published pink in colour to show government’s commitment to gender equality https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/economic-survey-2018-pink-theme-emphasise-women-empowerment-gender-inequality/story/269078.html there was “utter indifference” to the enormous hardships women faced in working even where they could take up paid-work.

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Rajasthan’s stone mining sector offers troubling insights into of how women workers continue to be treated as peripheral workers, and denied equal wages and benefits.

UNEQUAL WORKERS
Rajasthan contributes 10 percent of the world’s production of sandstone. Sandstone from here meets the highest international standards and is exported to the UK, the United States of America, Canada, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Bijolia in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara is one of its top three centers of production. Despite the international links of production, the production takes place in rudimentary ways, with low use of technology, and the stone is processed manually using hammers and chisels.

The jobs are segregated by gender. Men are engaged to excavate the sandstone, and in blasting, drilling, processing. Women are assigned to work as casual labourers to transport the material, carrying head-loads, and to sweep and clean debris inside mines, in the lowest paying jobs.

Even where women and men do the same work, they are paid vastly different rates.

Kailashi Bai, had started working as a “hamaal” worker, loading stones for Rs 30 (44 cents) a day when she first came to Bijolia as a child bride. Now 30 years on, she earned Rs 200 ($2.9) a day loading stones, less than the minimum wage.

The amount is a third less than what male helpers and coolies got paid for the same work.

“The labour contractor argues that men pick heavier loads than women,” said Kailashi. “But this is not true.”
She added: “The mine supervisor keeps a watch, even he can see we work with equally heavy loads continuously. They pay us less because they simply do not want to treat us equally.”

Prem Devi Daroga who started working as after her husband, a miner, was diagnosed with silicosis, a fatal respiratory disease, two years back, said that if mixed gender group of men and women worked together, they were paid equally – Rs 300 ($4.4) per trolley they filled, which they split. “But if it is an all-women group doing the loading, then the mine owners slash the payments by one-third or half,” she said.

There are no trade unions active among Bijolia’s mine workers, who fall in India’s vast informal sector sector with extremely low levels of unionization.

Sugna Regar, one of the Dalit miners, explained that in the absence of a union, the women miners tried to negotiate better wage rates, but often found it difficult to get heard. “Usually, three-four of us will go to approach the employers and contractors collectively, asking them to increase wages to at least Rs 200 ($2.9), or close to the minimum wage,” she said. “But they are dismissive, they will tell us: “You are women, and you ought to stay at home then”.

Gendi Bai Bhil, in her mid-50s, who belongs to a Scheduled Tribe, an indigenous community, said the mine owners frequently offered wage advances of up to Rs 5000 ($73) to male miners and stone carvers, which they later deducted from the wages. But they denied loans or wage advances to women.

“Even in case of accidents in the mine, the owners will help only the men financially,” said Bhil. “If women workers get injured if the slab fall on them, or if our fingers bleed from loading stones, the employers do not offer even casual assistance, or any monetary help.”

Govindram Gehlot, an advisor with Gramin and Samajik Vikas Sanstha, a Non Governmental Organisation that works for miners’ rights, who earlier worked as a labour inspection officer in the government, said women workers got paid lower wages and faced greater difficulties. “The mine owners hire only men to process the stone tiles and work as masons, and assign the women to carry head loads, as “helpers”,” he said. “Carrying and loading sandstone in open-cast mines is equally arduous. Under the law, both should be paid same. But the employers believe, or like to portray that women’s work is easy, and get away with paying them less.”

LACK OF WELLNESS
The women workers who spent long hours with their backs bent and lift and throw the sandstone blocks and tiles with their bare hands, were exposed to the risks of lower back and spinal injuries, and accidents.

In interviews, many workers reported living with chronic musculoskeletal pain, and having contracted respiratory illnesses like tuberculosis.

A large number of workers in the stone industry are afflicted with serious respiratory diseases. Between 2013 and August 2017, 9,278 workers in Rajasthan’s mines, largely males, were diagnosed with silicosis – a fatal respiratory illness caused by inhaling fine silica dust through prolonged exposure in the quarries. The government has been organising medical camps to screen patients regularly.

In Bijolia too, medical camps for screening workers have been organised, though the staff said they found it difficult to cope with the large number of patients.

Dinesh Dhakad, a medical official supervising tuberculosis camps at Bijolia health sub center stated that usually over 100 to 200 people often landed up for health screening, when the ambulance had a capacity to do X-Ray exams for only 40 to 50 patients in one day.

In the first instances of work pressure on government staff, women workers were given the short shrift.

Dhakad claimed that women workers landed for the medical camps, even when “they were not at risk of respiratory disease.”

“Women work only as “helpers”, lifting and loading using spades or by hand. They do not work in blasting the stone or processing,” said Dhakad. “But they still land up at the our camps wanting to be tested,” he complained that women workers reaching medical camps added unfairly to the government hospital’s staff work-load.

WORKING IN PAIN
Besides the lack of adequate facilities for respiratory disease, there was also little acknowledgement and no measures to help the women workers cope with frequent injuries, and living in chronic pain.

Regar, who had been lifted and placing the stone cobbles on the Minestone export consignment said the stones frequently scraped her fingers making them bleed. This took almost 7 to 10 days to heal, she said. The recurring injuries made it difficult to work more than 10 or 15 days in a month, Regar added.

Most women workers reported suffering recurring joints pain, and also stomachache, both from enteric infections from the lack of access to clean water and food, and musculoskeletal pain they had developed while lifting and carrying heavy weights regularly. Their long hours at work were compounded as they spent more hours after work in the house, fetching drinking water for their families, and cooking and cleaning.

Kanika Sharma, a research scholar at the Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, said women workers and women agricultural labourers remained particularly vulnerable to lack of wellness and pain. “Research shows that women in India experience physical pain more severely and for longer duration than men,” she said. “Unequal distribution of labour in homes, undernutrition, and physical violence contribute to this.”

Their health was worsened by the poor access to food and nutrition. All women workers interviewed stated that they had not had egg, or milk even once the previous week. Several workers faced domestic violence.

Seeta Regar, who was in her late 30s, had started accompanying other women workers to the mines when her husband died seven months back. She did not receive a widow pension, that she is eligible for from the state. “My husband worked in the mines and got tuberculosis,” she recounted. “He was an alcoholic and he would hit me. My limbs still hurt from the beatings.”

In case of a disability or on reaching old age, these women are entitled to a measly Rs 500 ($7.4) monthly pension from the government.

Gendi Bai Bhil, a 55-year old worker from a Scheduled Tribe with a frail frame, had recurring pain in her back and her joints after working 32 years as a “helper” cleaning debris in the mines.

In exhaustion, she threw punches at her knees and elbows to express the pain she experienced regularly. Lacking any health cover, Bhil said she visited both the local government health center and an unregistered medical practitioner every two weeks to buy painkillers for relief. “The government health centers often remain shut, or they turn us away,” said Bhil. “Even unregistered medical practitioners charge Rs 170($2.5)on one visit, it is more than my daly wages, and I can barely afford it.”

Delhi-economist Mazumdar said that “without ensuring need-based minimum and equal wages, and without ensuring access to health benefits to women workers”, there was no way India’s female work participation rates could increase.

An edited version of this news story appeared in The Guardian here.

Lok Sabha Khunti: Dayamani’s long fight for the forests, for equality

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Dayamani Barla had made up her mind to fight elections soon after being released from jail. In the winter of 2012, the activist spent 69 days locked in a small cell in Birsa Munda jail in Ranchi. She was accused in a case relating to leading 400 Oraon tribal farmers in Nagri as they questioned why the campuses of elite institutes such as the IIM Ranchi, and a national law university be built on their fertile multi-crop farmland when there was ample barren land nearby.

Nagri’s tribal women farmers carried fruits for Dayamani at every appearance she made at Ranchi courts as the arguments for bail went on. She recounts being able to see only a patch of the sky from her tiny cell’s window. Her sister-in-law passed away while she was in jail. “When I came out I felt vulnerable. I needed a formal alliance to back me in this work. Market forces put a price on every human being and institution, and many are drawn to individualism. But there is still a collective spirit in villages here, even if there is a vacuum in leadership,” she says. It is this void the 48-year old believes she can fill if elected on an Aam Admi Party ticket from Khunti, from where BJP’s sitting MP Kariya Munda has been elected seven times.

Before Nagri, she had led a movement against Koel Karo dam in Torpa in Khunti where she was born in a Munda tribal household. From 1995 onwards, Dayamani, then 29 and working as an independent journalist with Jan Haq Patrika, organized tribal villagers in their struggle against the dam that would displace over 53,000. The resistance continued despite eight villagers dying in police firing in 2000. She received death threats when she travelled across four districts in Jharkhand between 2006-2010, organizing villagers opposed to giving up their farmland for Arcelor Mittal’s steel plant over 11,000 acres. She led them citing the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, enacted in 1908 after the Birsa movement, which prohibits sale of tribal land to non-tribals in this area. “Why should we settle for “compensation” when we should be co-owners?” she raised the question at the core of crushing disparities in mineral-rich Jharkhand, while addressing farmers in Bokaro who enforced an “economic blockade” against Electrosteel Casting Limited’s steel plant last September. The speech she gave at Bokaro resulted in a FIR against her.

When not traveling in villages, Dayamani can be found in the tea-shop she runs with her husband Nelson near Ranchi’s Sujata Chowk to support her public work. Photographs of Jharkhandi intellectuals such as academic Dr Ram Dayal Munda, and photos she has taken of paddy fields, festivals in villages adorn the walls. Sometimes she uses this space for her work appointments, discussions too. Her full-throated laughter rings in the middle of conversations.

“Dayamani does things at her own pace,” smiles her close friend film-maker Shri Prakash. “She is alert, sincere, and strong; she has achieved which few people could,” says Dr BP Keshri who retired as the Head of Ranchi University’s Tribal and Regional Languages Department. On an impulse Dayamani trails off to pick a jharoo – AAP’s election symbol – from the floor of a hut nearby before beginning her election speech in Ghorpenda village, or makes a piercing comment about how urban Ranchi perceives here, where the bureaucracy is dominated by the lighter-skinned. “When I go to government offices, sometimes peons ask rudely, what do you want, why are you here. There have been instances when I have waited outside offices for long and watched their reactions change when I say my name is Dayamani Barla and this is why I am here,” she says.

There is a lot Dayamani’s childhood taught her to steel up against. She watched her parents lose their land when she was nine to a businessman, after signing on documents they could not read. While they began working as domestic servants in Ranchi, she and her brother studied in their village in Arhara feeding themselves. At 13, she too moved to Ranchi, living in a shed with cattle, cleaning utensils and eating leftovers working at the Ranchi police barracks. She cleaned utensils in a household till her employer tried to sexually assault her one day. “I was 15. I do not know from where I found the strength from to throw that man off and escape. I left the work at the family’s house, and supported myself learning typing in Hindi, English till I enrolled in M.Com. at Ranchi University,” recounts Dayamani. She briefly worked at a NGO but left it when she found the organization made little attempt to account for funds got for public purpose. She soon started contributing articles to the newspaper Prabhat Khabhar. In 1995 she had set up the tea-shop. Her livelihood assured, she immersed herself in the Koel Karo movement. “She know what it is to be poor, and the poor’s problems. She believes if you have been given buddhi, social consciousness, it is meant to be passed on,” says her childhood friend and husband Nelson.
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At Jabra village, Dayamani takes time to slowly build the conversation about her election campaign with the tribal villagers who have brought their own mats to sit on to listen to her speak. “What is it that we are fighting for? How should do we take this campaign forward” she asks the villagers and listens as the group slowly comes to consensus. By the end, more than 60 villagers gathered here have decide to contribute 2 kg rice and Rs 50 each to her campaign. At Ludru, where villagers have erected a megalith to inscribe Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996 rules governing use of community resources in the village, she asks whether these norms are really effective, if the village has reached what its idea of poorna swaraj. “Sometimes I act radical with a reason, at other times I wonder if I am being firm or stubborn,” she muses on her way back to Ranchi, 40 km away.

On the evening before her nomination, Dayamani visits a Birsait village, where Birsa Munda followers, who avoid meat, alcohol and food from outside and wear only white, live. After listening to her, Jagai Aba, an old man in white dhoti and gamcha listens to her speak about her campaign. Then softly, he warns her: “The party (Maoists and Poeple’s Liberation Front of India, a Maoist splinter group) will try to decide whom the village votes for. There is danger and you should stay away from the forest.” In turn, Dayamani invokes an annual rite the Birsait perform in Singhbhum’s forests where they declare the forest to be sacred. “Mango, mahua, sal trees; bears, tigers, scorpions – everything is in its place, is it not,” she says. “Now is the time to save them.”

An edited version appeared in The Hindu.

Santhali women caught between birth and death

In Santhali villages in Godda, along Jharkhand’s border with Bihar, many slanting stone megaliths that mark the community graves are those of young women who died in childbirth in recent years. Tribal families in the hamlets scattered in Sundarpahari and Poreyhat – many of whom speak only Santahli – recount desperate struggles for medical help when young women in their families in advanced stages of pregnancy experienced complications.

Gopin Soren and Dhetmay Murmu whose only daughter 19 year old   Sadbeeti Soren died during her first pregnancy last year in Paharpur village Sundarpahari block in Godda district Phot Anumeha ayadav

At Paharpur village in Sundarpahari, Gopin Soren spoke haltingly as rain fell over the hut where his 19-year old daughter Sadbeeti, pregnant for the first time, died last year. “On Thursday we went to my son in law’s home in Borhwa, everything was fine. The next morning my wife and I got a message that my daughter had fainted. We reached and called a local medical practitioner. He tried to give her a saline drip but he just could not find her vein,” he recounted. At 5 pm he, Sadbeeti’s husband, and two relatives carried Sadbeeti six km on a cot to Paharpur.

Back in their village Gopin asked the village sahiya (health worker) Phool Marandi for help to reach the health sub-center at Sundarpahari 20 km away. The sahiya called the call-center to request a Mamta Vahan – a free of cost ambulance service for rural women through privately-owned vehicles started in Jharkhand in 2011. By now Sadbeeti was having convulsions, a condition called eclampsia. “I decided to call the vehicle owner Pintu directly. I called him thrice between 7 and 9 pm. He said he is out right now. I understood that he does not want to come. The villagers had attacked a person caught stealing the electricity transformer in the village a day earlier. Maybe he feared that there will be more violence,” she said. At 2 am, Sadbeeti died eight months and two weeks pregnant.

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Twenty km away in Ghanghrabandh village in Poreyhat, Denmey Murmu described she had watched her only daughter Talabiti Marandi, 22, die after giving birth. “Eight hours after she gave birth she started clenching her fists and she said she had a burning sensation. Sarojini the sahiya refused to call a vehicle so we hired a private vehicle for Rs 1,300 after mortgaging my jewellery for Rs 2,000,” she said. On January 19, Talabiti Marandi a graduate from Mahila College, Godda died on her way to Godda government hospital.

Most Santhali and Pahariya families here survive on a diet of rice and potatoes. Pregnant women are meant to get Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) supplements tablets – each costs 20 paise – after their second trimester but Jharkhand government stopped distributing these for two years after the central government discontinued providing the tablets between 2010-12.

“Many women have severe iron deficiencies and are at high risk because after the delivery their blood does not clot, the uterus does not contract and the woman may die of post-partum bleeding. Government has schemes to provide four ante-natal check-ups so complications can be prevented. For instance, eclampsia is common among women in later stages of pregnancy and manifests as high blood pressure. If doctors detect this early, they can put the woman on hypertension medicine till the foetus is removed through a caesarean section,” said Lindsay Barnes of Jan Chetna Manch who has worked among rural women in Bokaro villages since 1993.

Godda hospital that caters to the district’s population of 13 lakh has 40 beds and two ambulances. It started providing facilities for a caesarean section only last year. It was supposed to get a blood bank in 2000 but the space marked for this is being used as National Polio Surveillance Project office and doctors’ restrooms. In case of complications, patients are referred to the government medical college in Bhagalpur in Bihar, 70 km away. Godda should have a Mamta Vahan in each of its 201 panchayats but only 111 vehicles have been hired right now as officials say they could not find vehicle owners in all panchayats.

Earlier, a government enquiry was done in 2011 after 25-year old Mary Hasda in Tetaria village had reported that staff at the district hospital left a cloth inside her birth canal after she delivered a stillborn baby. She had reported that the hospital staff asked for Rs 500 bribe after she gave birth to the stillborn baby.

“The enquiry team interrogated the family – which spoke only Santhali – as if they had done a crime,” said Soumik Banerjee, a researcher who documented 23 maternal deaths of women 18-23 years of age in the two blocks between April 2011 and March 2012 – an average of nearly two deaths a month.

The full report was published in The Hindu on September 7.
A week later, taking suo moto cognizance, National Human Right Commission asked Jharkhand government to respond in four weeks. Jharkhand government is yet to respond.

‘Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast’

A poem by Savitribai Phule, circa 1860:

My weak and oppressed brothers,
stop living in slavery.
The day of Manu-worshipping Peshwas is done,
the English, who share knowledge are here.
Learn now. For a millennium you have been denied books.
We will teach our children and ourselves to
seek knowledge; our souls cry out for wholeness,
to leave behind the marks of caste and
unfurl our proud flags in Baliraja’s kingdom.
This shall be our war-cry, we shall rise up now,
Rise up now, to learn and to act.

(found at the end of ‘A Gardner in the Wasteland’. There’s another one called ‘Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast’ =)

Tribal farmers detained for protesting land acquistion for Jindal power plant

More than 50 tribal farmers, including women, were detained for over six hours on Tuesday at the Sundarpahari police station in Godda, a kilometre from the venue where President Pranab Mukherjee laid the foundation for a thermal power plant to be set up by Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL).

Farmers from 11 villages in Nimpaniya and Goiarijor blocks said they had gathered in Sundarpahari to oppose land acquisition by the JSPL. At 10 a.m. they were detained by the police and kept in the station premises till evening.

“My family lives in Seemaldhap village in Chota Amarpur. More than 200 of us had gathered at Tiril tola over the last two days because we planned to march to the venue but the police arrested us. I had rice with me for my little daughter but the police kept that away too,” Hopanmai Marandi told this reporter.

“We had already been displaced when the Sunder Dam was built. We will not allow ourselves to be moved from our land again,” said another villager Mary Nisha Hasda.

As part of the JSPL’s expansion plans in Jharkhand, it had announced the setting up of the 1,320-MW captive power plant in Godda at a cost of Rs. 8,500 crore. The plant will use coal from the Jitpur coal black and water from the Sunder Dam and the Gumani and Jalhara rivers.

The JSPL, in a statement, said all land for its projects had been acquired “through the government acquisition route, with consent of the people,” a point the company director and MP Naveen Jindal reiterated at the inauguration ceremony attended by Governor Syed Ahmed, Nishikant Dubey, MP (Godda), and political leaders, including Subodh Kant Sahai, Hemlal Murmu, Devidhan Besra, MP (Rajmahal), senior state officials and pradhans and mukhiyas from seven villages.

None detained: police

Superintendent of Police Ajay Linda denied anyone had been detained. “There was overcrowding at the venue because so many villagers wanted to attend the inauguration function. Then some of them stayed back at the police station which is only a km away,” he said over phone.

Away from the police station, hundreds of policemen and home guards carrying sticks walked around villages. “Only the families in Bangali Tola agreed to sell land to the company, the rest of us have refused. The police have been coming to the village regularly now. All land around this village is my land. Its yield lasts us the whole year; we will not give up this land,” said a woman in Kalhajhar’s Charai Tola.

“My father is in the Nimpaniya panchayat samiti. My family and 30-35 families from my village are ready to sell our land. How else will we move to cities?” said Sujit Kumar, who is home during a break from his training at an industrial training institute.

Tenancy Act

Godda lies in the Santhal Pargana region of Jharkhand. All land transactions are governed by the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPTA) and most of the land is non-transferable and non-saleable, whether owned by tribals or non-tribals. “Because of the Santhal rebellion against the British in 1855 in which 30,000 Santhals died fighting to protect their land, only land classified as Gair Majurwa Khaas (GMK) or land listed as non-agricultural land owned by the government can be transferred. The rest of transfers — except those done as gifts to relatives etc. — are illegal. It is not possible that a power plant will be built only on the GMK land. Despite these norms, officials continue to alienate tribals from land,” said Ramesh Sharan, economist at Ranchi University.

This report appeared in The Hindu here.

Adivasis’ dangerous journey into the urban jungle

Last month two 14-year-old adivasi girls, who had migrated from Khunti district to work in Delhi as domestic help, were found dead in mysterious circumstances, both within two days of each other.

On April 19, Jyoti Mariyam Hora died soon after she was brought to the Madan Mohan Malviya Hospital in Delhi’s Malviya Nagar. Two days later, Dayamani Guriya, who had studied with Jyoti till class VI and had migrated to Delhi with her, died in mysterious circumstances at the Ranchi railway station when she was being sent back to her village in Torpa in Khunti with police’s intervention.

The Delhi Police have arrested one Chandumani, who had brought the two girls to Delhi. “We are waiting for a second autopsy report to verify if Dayamani was poisoned. Jyoti’s family members have left Khunti accompanied by a police team to bring Jyoti’s body back,” said Superintendent of Police, Khunti, M. Tamilvanan.

The two incidents are the tip of the crisis unfolding in several adivasi homes across Jharkhand, where hardly a week goes by without reports of children and youth, especially girls and women, missing or rescued from metropolitan cities.

There are 14 children from villages of Murhu block alone in Khunti. In March, Miti Purti (name changed) of Kotha Toli, Khunti, returned from Delhi with a debilitating skin infection, earning Rs. 27,000 after working seven years in Delhi. Mani Dondray, 15, worked in Delhi for seven months but had to return after she contracted TB and became severely underweight.

Sumi who fled from the house she worked at in Delhi and returned to Jharkhand in November 2012.  Photo by Anumeha Yadav

Sumi who fled from the house she worked at in Delhi and returned to Jharkhand in November 2012. Photo by Anumeha Yadav

Missing children

On a clear evening in March, as dusk fell, Dayakishore Tirkey, a tall farmer in his late 40s, waited patiently for his turn to speak to police officials at the Mahuatarnd police station. Two days back, he had got word for the for the first time since, three years ago, his 15-year-old daughter Supriya had left their home in Guera village in Jharkhand’s Latehar district to find work in Delhi.

“We got information from Delhi about a girl who is from Guera village. Her name is different from her given name but we made her talk to Dayakishore on the phone and they both recognised each other. Now we will arrange for him to go to Delhi to identify and get her back,” said Mahuatarnd Station House Officer (SHO) Anil Kumar Singh.

This is the third instance since January where the SHO has had to act on information from Delhi about adivasi girls reported missing and found or rescued through police raids at placement agencies’ offices in Delhi. “The adivasi girls educated in missionary schools are well-educated, but the poorer families’ children in government schools frequently drop out by class VI or VII and leave to work in cities. These adivasi families do not have the tradition of keeping in touch with or keeping watch over their daughters. The police have to routinely bring them back and try to get them their unpaid wages from placement agencies in Delhi,” he said.

Tirkey, who owns a small plot of land in Guera, says he worked a few years as a tailor in the army. “When Supriya asked me if she could go to Delhi with Dominica Minj, a woman from the nearby village, I had said no. I have worked in Delhi, Rajasthan and U.P. and know what cities are like. But she told her mother and left,” he spoke outside the police station.

The next morning, he left for Latehar, the district headquarters 140 km away, from where he would board a train to Delhi with a change of clothes and Rs. 210 — all the money he could manage.

More mysterious deaths

The same week that Tirkey boarded a train to Delhi, in Chekma, the adjoining village Manju Lakda, in her early 20s, came home to receive her younger sister Shanti’s body sent in an ambulance from Delhi.

“My brother, who is studying in Uttarakhand, youngest sister, who also worked as a domestic help in Delhi, and Sunita the younger sister of Dominica Minj who had first taken my sister to Delhi four years — brought Shanti’s body back. Dominica and Shanti called and tried to mislead me on the phone. At first they told us the wrong hospital’s name and to the police who had come to the hospital after my sister died they said they did not know whose body it is,” she recalled. “It took my brother and sister two days to find Shanti’s body in the mortuary. They saw marks of vomit-like substance on her face,” said Manju who is training to be Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) in Visakhapatnam. The family is still awaiting the final autopsy report from Maulana Azad Medical College, Delhi, to make sense of Shanti’s mysterious death.

A mobile phone — which the family has put in a plastic bag and hung on a tall stick at their door to be able to receive better phone signal — rings and Manju gets up to answer it. “The phone does not always work but Shanti would call once in three months or so. She said she got Rs. 3,000 as wages but I am not sure if she got the salary or the placement agency. She had left after she finished IX with Dominica from our village. Two years back she called and said she was unwell and we should come to Daltonganj station to receive her. She had contracted TB in Delhi. She stayed home a year. My husband works for the mission here and we got her fully treated. Then she left for Delhi again with her younger sister and worked in a house in Kashmiri Gate,” says Manju’s mother Sabhani Khaka. The family says Dominca Minj has threatened them for pursuing the case legally. “She is close to the parties [splinter Maoist groups active in Latehar] and says she will get our family members abducted,” said Shanti’s kin.

Minj, who was in Chekma to visit her father, denied the allegations. “I had taken seven girls including Shanti once to a placement agency run by Mahendra Singh in Naraina Vihar in Delhi. I got Rs. 6,000 per girl. But the girls get money too and wanted to go on their own,” she said. No complaint or FIR has been registered yet in Latehar.

Read the full report in The Hindu here. In October the same year, a Santhali girl in her late teens was rescued from the house of Vandana Dheer, a MNC employee, in Vasant Kunj in Delhi with evidence of torture and beatings. Two reports from her home in Sahebganj in Jharkhand here and here.