23 nov 2011Sr. 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 15 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 on behalf of the organisations by:
1. Ashok Choudhury (NFFPFW)
2. Matanhy Saldanah (NFF)
3. Medha Patkar (NAPM)
This press release was put out on 18 November 2011 by the NATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR PEOPLE’S MOVEMENTS (NAPM), the NATIONAL FISHWORKERS’ FORUM (NFF) and the NATIONAL FORUM OF FOREST PEOPLE AND FOREST WORKERS (NFFPFW)
NOVEMBER 19, 2011