Even as Jharkhand as has witnessed frequent changes in governments and political leadership in the 13 years since it was formed, there has been a steady and continuous evolution of people’s movements in different parts that have raised vital questions about government decisions – what is the effect on resources, whom will the government decisions benefit and who bears the costs, does the state government respect the rights of the poorest.

On Thursday, Cultural Survival, an international NGO, recognized the work of the leader of several of such people’s movements in Jharkhand - tribal activist and journalist Dayamani Barla - awarding her the 2013 Ellen L. Lutz Indigenous Rights Award for protecting the rights of tribals. For this award, Ms. Barla was chosen from among 60 international nominees.

Dayamani Barla, 48, a Munda adivasi has led people’s movements against displacement for over decade gained prominence when she travelled across villages in four districts in Jharkhand organizing villagers who were opposed to giving up their agricultural land for setting up of Arcelor Mittal’s steel plant over 11,000 acres of land. She led the Adivasi Moolwasi Astitva Raksha Manch in Gumla and Khunti citing Chotanagpur Tenancy Act which prohibits sale of tribal land to non-tribals.

Since 2010, Ms Barla led movement in Nagri village, 15 km from Ranchi, where farmers were protesting against the government’s acquisition of their farmland for building campuses of the Indian Institute of Management, the Indian Institute of Information Technology and the National University of Study & Research in Law. Between October and December 2012, Ms Barla was in jail in Ranchi for more than two months after the Jharkhand government accused her in a 2006-case and issued a property warrant against her for leading a demonstration demanding MGNREGS job cards and unemployment allowance for villagers in the Angada block in Ranchi district, and for leading a farmers’ protest in Nagri village in August that year.

Born in a farmer’s family in Arhara village in Khunti, Dayamani Barla worked as a domestic help in her childhood cleaning utensils in Ranchi to support her school education after her family were cheated of their land by a businessman from a nearby village. She worked as a typist to support her college education, founded the Jan Hak Patrika, and for some years reported on rural issues for Prabhat Khabar, a Hindi daily. She and her husband Nelson now run a tea-shop in Ranchi to support their public work. “Perhaps this international award will make the government realize how wrong it was to put Dayamani in jail,” said Nelson, her husband.

In an email to The Hindu Dayamani Barla shared that while speaking at New York City on Thursday she planned to share an account of the 2000 Koel-Karo anti-big dam movement in which eight people were killed, adivasi farmers’ resistance to giving up farmland for RPG Group coal mines in Kathikud block of Dumka in which one person was killed in police firing, the movement against Panem coal mines in Dumka whose leader Sister Valsa was killed in 2010, and other ongoing struggles over land in Jharkhand.

“Adivasis’ struggle will transform the current structure of natural resource ownership and economic inequality into a real democratic society with diversity, multiplicity and cultural existence of every community. Adivasi communities have a future also because their basic social and cultural philosophy, nature and consciousness is linked with the quest for scientific and new ideas,” she said.

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