Jailed tribal activist Dayamani Barla was produced in the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court here on Monday on criminal charges for allegedly participating in a demonstration organised by Jharkhand Dishom Party (JDM) leader Salkhan Murmu on October 4 in which JDM workers are accused of burning an effigy of the High Court. This is the third time Ms. Barla, a celebrated activist and journalist, has been made an accused in a criminal case by the police in the past six weeks.
She has been in jail since October 16 when she surrendered after the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court issued a warrant against her for leading a demonstration demanding Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme job cards and unemployment allowance for villagers in Angada block of Ranchi district in 2006. Two days later, while she got bail in the 2006 case, she was arrested in a second case for allegedly ploughing government land this August in Nagri village, 15 km from Ranchi, where farmers are protesting government acquisition of their farmland for building the campuses of an Indian Institute of Management, an Indian Institute of Information Technology and a National University of Study & Research in Law (NUSRL).
“If I demand an MNREGS card, they issue a property warrant against me. If we demand our land, water, forests, Jharkhand Government says we are a danger to the State. Is this the freedom leaders like Birsa Munda fought for?” asked 48-year-old Ms. Barla. “I requested the jail authorities for some books on Jharkhand’s independence movement. I requested that I may be given food suitable to diabetes patients but they do not listen.”
“Dayamani knows what it is to be poor and the struggles of the poor. That is why the Government thinks she is the biggest obstacle to this State’s development,” said her husband Nelson Barla who was present in the court. Ms. Barla’s request to attend the funeral of her sister-in-law who died on Sunday was denied.
Since 2010, Ms. Barla has led the agitation of Nagri farmers demanding that the universities be allotted alternative land for their campuses instead of fertile paddy land.
Between March and June, the villagers sat on a peaceful protest in their fields. In July, when the Government started building a boundary wall on the proposed campuses the farmers demolished the wall. In September, the court directed the State Government to secure the university’s construction against obstruction by the local villagers. The JDM demonstration in October in which Ms. Barla is alleged to have participated was against this order.
Six students of NUSRL, who are the intervener petitioners in the case, had submitted documents claiming that the land acquired in Nagri is Tarn II variety soil which is “least fertile” and questioned the farmers’ claim saying that the land does not yield enough food grains to support a family through a year.
The Jharkhand High Court in its order of September 11 had accepted the NUSRL students’ research papers.
Academics, however, dispute the students’ claim. “They have underestimated the fertility of the land in Nagri which lies by the Jumar river and on which farmers have improved productivity by building bunds. Also, Tarn II soil is medium fertility land and not least fertility. It yields 950 to 1800 kg rice per acre, much higher than the data cited by NUSRL,” said economist and Reader at Ranchi University Ramesh Sharan.
According to scientists at the Birsa Agricultural University, only 15 per cent of land in Jharkhand supports more than one crop and Nagri village is one such area that supports hybrid paddy, wheat, gram, vegetables.
“The Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court is the Chancellor of NUSRL. This is a clear (case of) conflict of interest,” alleged Jharkhand Human Rights Movement general secretary Gladson Dungdung.