Jharkhand – Statements condemning the murder of Sr. Valsa John by the mining mafia

November 27, 2011

Press Release by People’s Union for Democratic Rights

PUDR joins other rights organizations and civil liberties bodies as well as common grieved citizens of this country in condemning the gruesome murder of Sr. Valsa John in Puchwara village of Amrapara block/PS in Pakur district of Jharkhand. Sr Valsa was hacked to death by a gang of assailants on the night of the 15th Nov 2011, inside her rented accommodation in the village.

Sr. Valsa, a native of Kerala in India, had been an ordained nun of the congregation named Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary. She had been staying in Puchwara, Jharkhand for over a decade and had started with a small programme of forest conservation initially. That had enraged the local timber mafia and stone-quarry owners in the neighborhood. Afterward she spearheaded the Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan,(RPBA) an assertion of rights of the adivasis of some 30 odd villages against ‘displacement’ and pollution caused by the mining adventures of the PANEM coal company (a Punjab based mining corporation). Following an agreement with the PANEM in 2006, on compensation and other related issues, the assertion softened. But before that a few select-activists of the RPBA died in a series of ‘accidents’ and Sr.Valsa John also had received death-threats. In 2007, despite court orders she was arrested by the local police in RPBA related cases, (which made the court to censure the police and warn them against such acts of contempt of court). This was indicative of the inclination of the local police. And it is relevant to point this out here that right-wing hindutva forces, with the generous backing of the mining companies have always been active here.

Sr. Valsa was running a free school for the children of the village and also a dispensary. Last but not the least, on 8th Nov 2011, a rape victim, aged 20, was not allowed to file her FIR. Sr. Valsa was meant to accompany her to the local PS the day she was murdered. Prior to the killing of Sister Valsa, 3-4 of her colleagues have died under mysterious circumstances in truck overrunning them etc. and locals suspect hand of the Company PANEM.

We are shocked to learn that the local police refused to help Sr. Valsa despite her complaint the night before on flimsy grounds. Their failure to provide security to Sr. Valsa and other adivasis there is not only appalling but a scary road-mark for future of civil society in general and rights/social activists’ in particular. The visit of the PANEM official to the crime-scene is another glaring example of police negligence.

PUDR strongly condemns the failure of Police and administration in protecting Sr Valsa and demands immediate Judicial Inquiry and stringent action against the culprits.

We also condemn this tendency to shift the blame to Maoists in any case of loot and killing without proper verification and investigation. In this case, the blame was shifted from the company against whom Sister Valsa had so openly campaigned to Maoists by way of an irresponsible statement made by one IPS officer there.

Harish Dhawan, Paramjeet Singh (Secretaries, PUDR)

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Press Release by Jharkhand Human Rights Movement

November 20, 2011

A rights activist Sr. Valsa John, who had been leading an anti-displacement movement against the PANEM Coal Mines Ltd, was brutally murdered in the night on November 15, 2011 at Pachubera village under Amarapara block of Pakur district of Jharkhand. 52 year-old Sr. Valsa John had been living in Jharkhand for last 12 years and fighting against the PANEM Coal Mines Ltd therefore she was under threat from the mining mafias.

The Jharkhand Human Rights Movement (JHRM) condemns the brutal killing of Sr. Valsa John. We believe that the killing of Sr. Valsa is a result of nexus among the corporate sharks, mining mafias and the police. It is also a conspiracy to suppress and terrorize the human rights activists, anti-displacement activists and social activists, who have been mobilizing the people to fight against the alienation from their livelihood resources.

Since the creation of the state of Jharkhand, several Human Right Activists, RTI Activists and Social Activists like Lalit Mehta, Niyamat Ansari, A.T. Thomas, Kameshwar Yadav, Somay Gagrai and many others were killed and false cases were also filed against 3500 such activists in the state. Instead of protecting the rights of such activists, the government has been victimizing them in the regular basis.

Needless to say that Sr. Valsa John came to limelight after she opposed the Punjab based mining giant, PANEM Coal Mines Ltd, who had started grabbing the lands of Adivasis by terrorizing the villagers. She mobilized the villagers of Pachubera, Alubera and other adjoining villages and started protest. As a result, she was dragged in number of controversies and was living under constant life threat. Since then, the villagers, mostly women, had been provided security with their traditional arms like axe, bow and arrow. Sr. Valsa was hiding in the forest for some times as the police was running behind her.

However, on the basis of the Jharkhand High Court’s order, Mr. Stephan Marandi then the Dy. Chief Minister and journalist Mr. Saji Joseph convinced her to sign the agreement. This was the major mistake she did. As a result, the movement divided into two parts. Some people got rehabilitation package and others didn’t. Therefore, one group went against her.

However, her protest continued. Her organization was demanding proper compensations like alternative agricultural lands, employment to local youths and proper drinking water facility, etc. As a result, the company was upset and annoyed with her. According to the eye witnesses, the killers were associated with the PANEM Coal Mines Ltd. This is not only killing in Panchuwada, but several villagers like Vijay Hembrom, Joseph Soren, Raghuvir Ray were also killed by the dumper of PANEM Company but their death was coined as result of merely accidents.

Sr. Valsa John was member of the Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan (RPBA). She was also running a school for Adivasi children in Amrapara. She was also an herbal medicine practitioner and living in Panchubera (Pachuwara) village under Amarapara block of Pakur district. Since, Sr. Valsa John was leading the movement against PENAM Coal Limited therefore we demand for following actions:

1. The CBI probe should be done on the brutal killing of Sr. Walsa John.
2. The legal action should be taken immediately against the culprits.
3. The top cops should also be booked under the criminal offence for their negligence in providing protection to Sr. Valsa John despite her repeated demand.

In Solidarity

Sunil Minj (Chairperson)
Gladson Dungdung (General Secretary)

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Press Release by  National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF) & National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW)

Sr. Valsa, an activist of the Rajmahal Pahad Bachao Andolan (RPBA) and an ordained nun with the Sisters of Charity of Jesus & Mary, who had been working among Santhal Adivasis in the coal rich region of Dhumka, Jharkhand was brutally murdered by a group of about 40 armed men on the night of 15th November 2011. On behalf of Indian peoples’ movements and resistance struggles, NAPM, NFF and NFFPFW condemn this heinous and cowardly act, evidently conceived by the powerful mining mafia, aimed at essentially hunting down individuals and movements to silence the voices of resistance by people.

Sr. Valsa John had been working among the Adivasi communities in Jharkhand’s coal rich region of Santal Parganhas, Pachwara, for the last 20 years. Since early 2000’s, Panem Coal Mine Ltd, a project of Punjab State Electricity Board and EMTA (Eastern Minerals and Trading Agency) from West Bengal, has been operating mines in the coal reserves of Pachwara and 32 surrounding villages. To defend their right over their land and its resources, the Santhal Adivasi community formed the Rajmahal Pahad Bachao Andolan. Sr. Valsa along with others such as Majhi Haddam – the traditional administrative headman of the Santhal tribe, worked to organise the community and were in the forefront of the resistance that was building against the exploitation by Panem Coal. Despite the MoU signed between the local community and Panem Coal in 2006, tension has been mounting in the area in recent times, especially with regard to the betrayal by the Company. On 16 November 2011, Sr. Valsa was brutally murdered by a group of about 40 men, believed to be hired goons of the coal mining mafia.

Sr. Valsa had been under constant threat from Panem Coal Ltd. and had voiced the same to friends and family. The Superintendent of Police has confirmed that she had filed an FIR three years ago where she reported that she was facing death threats. Hours before her death, Sr.Valsa had mentioned to her family about threats to life from the mining mafia. It is rather unconvincing that no action was taken by the police to investigate the matter or to provide for her safety, merely because no persons were named in her complaint. The state and some sections of national media have attempted to pass the blame, to discredit Sr.Valsa and to fudge the facts by bringing the ‘Maoists’ into the frame. It is condemnable that the local administration is currently attempting to suppress the truth by intimidating the villagers and andolan activists. It is a matter of national shame that the pervasive nexus between powerful mining companies and the state machinery has cost the precious life of a woman who was working to secure basic rights for the marginalised people.

We demand ordering of judicial enquiry into the murder of Sr.Valsa and the probable linkages between the murder and the death threats she had received from the mining mafia. It is also imperative to investigate the fact that Sr.Valsa was working in an area dominated by right-wing Hindutva forces that enjoyed considerable benefits from the mining corporations. The state should own-up to not only their apathetic nature in which they dealt with a serious death threat from a citizen but also to tolerating a situation in Pachwara where a mining company have overthrown constitutional and democratic structures while gravely violating the basic rights of Adivasis.

We salute the life, struggle and martyrdom of Valsa John, who spent her life working with the Adivasi community to fight for their land, their livelihood, their very existence!

Signed by:

1. Ashok Choudhury (NFFPFW)
2. Matanhy Saldanah (NFF)
3. Medha Patkar (NAPM)