Tata Steel’s captive iron ore mines lie in Noamundi, in south Jharkhand, bordering Orissa. It is one of the company’s first mines that has been operational since 1907, supplying ore to the furnaces of its plant in Jamshedpur. It is also the home of many adivasis, from whom resources were expropriated that changed the Tata family’s occupation with opium trading into a full-fledged monopoly capitalist.
In 1991, on the occasion of Holi, a rowdy group of TISCO (as Tata Steel was previously know) employees molested some Adivasi women labourers on the construction site of the company’s sports stadium. The women had told the men, who were apparently under the influence of alcohol, that since the Baa Parob (festival of spring) had not been celebrated yet, they could join in the Holi celebrations. The workers forced themselves on the women, and applied colour on their breasts and genitals, and molested them.
When Gagan Suren, the then chief of Noamundi Basti where the women lived, learned about the incident, he approached the TISCO management, demanding that a case be registered against the attackers. But the company rejected his request and the police would not make an FIR. The men hail from JoJo Hatting, a sub-colony in Noamundi that was also under the jurisdiction of the village chief, and Suren order them and their families to get out of the colony.
TISCO was saddled with about a hundred refugee families at its doorsteps. The company relented and asked the police to file a case. Almost immediately, the Congress-affiliated INTUC threatened a strike if the case was filed. It must be noted that this was the first time in the history of the union at TISCO that it gave such an ultimatum.
Anger built up among the adivasi people, who soon received support from the All Jharkhand Students Union that had a base in the area. They also got support from villagers in Moodhi, where TISCO has a pelletizing plant. The plant was set up on lands of the adivasis and the graves of their departed lie within the plant area even today and the villagers have not been granted compensation yet. Moodhi villagers locked the plant with the workers inside and refused to allow workers to enter on the next shift. The gates were locked for days.
This was hard to digest for TISCO, and its private security men opened fire on the adivasis at the plant. The police of course made it out to be a police firing and subsequently lodged criminal cases against some of the villagers and the student activists. A railway line runs alongside the plant and the railway authorities also filed a case.
Today, the group of 15 against whom cases were registered has reduced to seven. The rest have passed away, unsung heroes of the struggle by adivasis in Jharkhand. They have been on bail since 1991 (when they surrendered and went to jail), and attended all court hearings in the past two decades.
In 2010, the lawyer handling the case gave up his law practice to join Abhijeet Steel Company. The matter was not handed over to another lawyer. As a result, the court has issued an arrest warrant against the surviving activists. As we were not informed about the warrant, the court converted it into a ‘kudkhi’ warrant for seizure of properties of the accused.
I am writing this note a day before we surrender before the magistrate. In accordance with fair judicial procedure, the judge should revive our bail. But we apprehend that he will send us to judicial custody, or jail, to harass us, as a warning to those who are agitating against the expansion of the Noamundi mines. The experience is that such repression has only strengthened our resolve.
Xavier Dias is a 61-year-old retired journalist and trade unionist, who was sent to Chaibasa jail in Jharkhand on November 24, 2012, for a case that dates back to 1991. He sent this article the day before he, together with adivasi activists Jhon Barjo, Indu Laguri, Basudev Deogham, Rajaram Tanty and Moso Munda, surrendered before the magistrate.