Ranchi: Recent starvation deaths, communal lynching and violence, attempts by government to forcefully acquire land and repression of voices of dissent in Jharkhand, made at least 52 people, comprising academics, activists, representatives of people’s organisations and other concerned citizens express their concern on the situation.
In a joint statement that they released, they included all the major incidents that have shook Jharkhand in the recent past. The statement said, “Since 2014, people of Jharkhand have been facing severe attacks on their right to life by the Raghuvar Das led BJP government, which has been trying to acquire land belonging to the Adivasis and Moolvasis forcibly. This will directly affect their livelihoods. Also, there is a direct attack on the people’s freedom to practice their religion, which has led to lynching of Muslims and killing of Adivasis in the name of ‘cow protection’. At the same time, there is negligible focus on welfare programmes such as the Public Distribution System and social security pensions that has led to a spate of starvation deaths in the state in the recent past.”
Since September 2017, at least 12 persons have succumbed to starvation in Jharkhand. The immediate causes of these deaths according to the activists are – denial of subsidised rice due to absence of a ration card, cancellation of ration card not linked with Aadhaar and failure of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication at the ration shop.
The statement further reads, “It is true that some starvation victims were also ill, but they would probably have not succumbed to the illness if they had received adequate nutrition and medical care. Denial of social security pensions and absence of work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) further contributed to the destitution of the starving victims and their families. For every person who has died, hundreds other languish with hunger, malnutrition and illness.”
After starvation deaths, the concerned citizen and activists highlighted the issue of forcibly acquiring lands and creating land banks in the state.
“While the starvation deaths expose the lack of political commitment of the state government towards people’s welfare, the various tactics used to acquire one of the biggest assets of people, land, they are also telling of its anti-people motives. Despite widespread protests against amendments in the land acquisition act, the government has kept pressing for the amendments which have finally been approved by the President. The most crucial amendment is the waiving off of social impact assessment (SIA) for government acquisition for specific ‘public’ purposes such as setting up schools, colleges; railway line and electrification and so on. For such purposes, the government empowers itself to forcibly acquire even fertile multi-crop land,” it mentioned,” the statement said.
Social and environmental impact assessments need to be done by independent agencies and their reports need to be placed before the concerned Gram Sabhas for consent. Most activists maintain that waiving off the assessments will make it easier for the government to acquire land forcibly. They even fear that the government would soon use this amendment to acquire land for private institutions like education, health among others.
“The state government has also marked common lands of Adivasis and Moolvasis (such as rivers/rivulets, village roads, ponds, places of worship, burial grounds and so on) as part of “land bank” without the consent of the respective Gram Sabhas. The bank consists of 20.56 lakh acres of land across the state. Of this, 10.56 lakh acres are already earmarked for corporates with whom the government signed MoUs during Momentum Jharkhand. And 81 per cent of this area falls in the Fifth Scheduled Area,” the statement points out.
The activists mentioned that the forceful acquisition of land will have a direct impact on the livelihoods of the Adivasis and will literally violate their right to life. Not to mention, this is also a direct attack on the Adivasis’s constitutional right to self-governance.
The government is also repressing voices of dissent. Damodar Turi, convenor of Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, was arrested on February 15, 2018 on charges of being member of the illegally banned Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) and for celebrating the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
The statement further stressed upon another major issue of the state — mob lynching of the minorities. “There communal violence in the state is on the rise. At least nine persons were lynched in the name of religion or cow protection in the last four years. Recently, two Muslim youths, accused of stealing buffaloes, were killed by a mob in Godda. In June, Nagri and Bero blocks of Ranchi also witnessed communal violence,” it stated.
The undersigned have demanded from opposition political parties to stand with the common men against the continuing attacks on their right to life.
The concerned citizens have demanded from Jharkhand government to: Universalise coverage of the Public Distribution System and social security pensions and ensure adequate work under NREGA in all the villages, remove mandatory linkage of welfare programmes with Aadhaar, withdraw amendments made in the land acquisition act, stop creating land bank, notify rules of Panchayata Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) and implement the act in its true spirit and release Damodar Turi and others who have been falsely implicated in the same case.
They have also demanded the government to ensure communal harmony in the state and ensure equality and justice for minorities and to take criminal action against those involved in cases of lynching and mob violence in the state.
The under signatories of the statement include, social activists like Stan Swamy, Kavita Srivastava, Xavier Das, Amitava Ghosh, Jean Dreze, Ankita Aggarwal, Aloka Kujur and Afzal Anis.