The East and West Singhbhum districts of Jharkhand have a sizeable tribal population with Santhal, Ho, Bhumij Munda and Sadan being the main tribes. With the influx of outsiders i.e. non Jharkhandis, various social tensions and economic disparities have arisen. Jharkhand is rich in mineral resources and accounts for nearly 35% of total mineral deposits of the country. Coal India Limited (CIL), one of the largest coal companies of the world carries out much of its mining in Jharkhand. The state also has rich deposits of gold, copper, iron, manganese, bauxite, mica, uranium, etc. Considering the mining prospects in the state, the state government signed more than 50 MoUs in 2005 with business tycoons like Jindal, Mittal, Tata, Essar, Bhushan, etc. There is an investment proposal of Rs.2.5 lakh crores in the state leading to the displacement of families from 50 thousand acres of land. This rapid industrialisation is threatening the very survival of thousands of tribal and other marginalised communities. Over the past three decades the Suvernarekha and other dams in the region have led to the displacement of hundreds of villages without adequate compensation.
Visthapit Mukti Vahini
Visthapit Mukti Vahini (VMV) works in East Singhbhum and 2 Blocks (Chandil and Kharsawan) of Saraikela Kharsawan district of Jharkhand on issues of displacement, resettlement, livelihood and forest conservation (VMV's forest conservation efforts), and has led the struggle against the land mafia and against rampant industrialization in the region. When they were part of the Chatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini, Arvind and some of his comrades would often visit the Chandil dam site where the construction had begun in 1982-83. Realizing that the existing groups and forums were not seriously taking up the concerns of the displaced people, they started the Visthapit Mukti Vahini at a meeting in July 1987 with about 25 people.
They held a camp every Saturday at the submergence area which was far from the town where people could voice their grievances. Slowly, the Saturday camp site became their mobilisation centre. Their initial work was with families of 250 villages displaced due to the construction of the Chandil dam on the Suvarnarekha River by the erstwhile Bihar government. The displaced families belonged primarily to the Santhal community, but VMV also works with other marginalised and Dalit communities of the area.
VMV went on to revive the issues of those displaced by earlier projects such as the Palna dam and Dimna dam, and mobilized people to demand a just rehabilitation package. There are now plans to integrate all the rehabilitation policies in Jharkhand, even if the people displaced are due to other reasons, like industrial development. VMV is demanding that there should be provisions within this integrated policy for people who have been displaced in the past and who receive inadequate or no compensation.
In 2006, when many MoUs were signed there was this sense of fear that no land would be left vacant or arable. The sangathan began to agitate against this in Chandil, as there was news that Jindal would set up its steel plant there. The people were very angry. VMV mobilized them and had a huge rally against industrialization in which 5,000 people participated. Within a month, Jindal changed the site of its proposed plant. So a message went out to the entire state of Jharkhand that companies not considering alternative livelihoods for those displaced could be chased away, and this led to more struggles.
In recent years, several small scale units of sponge iron have cropped up in the sangathan’s work area. These units are adding to air and soil pollution affecting the lac (shellac) crop of the villagers. The sangathan collected information about these units and the status of their environmental clearance. Two sponge iron plants have been shut down due to protest from villages in their vicinity, and two more are facing the heat.
Structure of the Sangathan
The sangathan has a core group of 7-8 young men and women who are volunteers from different villages. The strength of the sangathan is derived from the tremendous support it has from the people, in terms of both efforts and monetary contributions. Almost 50 percent of the sangathan’s expenditure is being met by local contributions. A senior member of the core group donated 3-4 acres of land to the sangathan for its office as well as the construction of a school that imparts alternative education to Santhal children. (Sobren Smriti Shikshapeeth - Education Centre)
The sangathan believes that people should have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than be told what to do. Their effort is always to have in depth discussions before any decision is taken so that people begin to think deeper on a subject and thus empower themselves. The mark of empowerment is when one can take decisions on one’s own and is able to implement them.
The sustained efforts of VMV over the past two decades have led people to become more aware about the issue of displacement. They have made a landmark contribution in the struggle for displaced people. However, their larger aim is to create an equal society based on a strong value system. With this in mind, they try to connect with other such movements within and outside the state. In 2004, as a step towards creating a forum, they prepared a paper 'Challenges before polarisation of democratic forces' and widely circulated the draft. Many sangathans came forward to be part of this forum and it came to be known as the National Coordination Democratic Front (NCDF). Today 30 sangathans are part of it. They conducted a cycle yatra from Kolkata to Delhi on the issue of Right to Work; they also organised a convention in Sambalpur on Right to Natural Resources. Then they had a seminar in Delhi on 'Right to Reject, Right to Recall'.
In the future, the sangathan aims for their work to be holistic and touch on every aspect of people’s lives rather than be limited to one or two issues. They are working towards such a goal and developing a mindset, strategy and approach towards it.