Nagri is a village near Ranchi, the capital city of Jharkhand. Urbanisation lurks at the edge of its lush, green fields and it is that threat of concrete that led to a movement that spread across Jharkhand and became powerful enough to threaten Ranchi on July 25.
Four months ago, two out of a group of women led by the activist and journalist Dayamani Barla died of protest while at a dharna. They were protesting against the construction of a campus in Nagri that would house an IIM, an IIT and the National University for Study and Research. The reason Barla was protesting was that this campus was being built on agricultural land.
The Jharkhand government claims to have acquired the land in 1957 and the Supreme Court has dismissed a petition by Nagri’s landowners protesting against this. The area’s adivasi majority says they have been farming on this land uninterrupted for decades. Not only that, they claim to have paid taxes for being the land as recently as 2006.
Barla’s contention is that since the government did not claim the land for over a decade, it should go back to its original owners.
Also, as per the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, agricultural land should not be used for non-agricultural purposes. A case had been lodged against this construction by Nagri’s landowners but the High Court sided with the government. The villagers then moved to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the protests grew more forceful as villages across the state feared Nagri would become a precedent. Demanding legal intervention to stop the construction, 15,000 people marched to the governor’s home but again, there was little media coverage. Finally, when the Supreme Court dismissed the villagers’ petition CAN WE GET THE DATE FOR THIS? DID IT HAPPEN ON JULY 4TH?, the boundary wall of the new campus was partially broken down by the villagers on July 4th. The police retaliated brutally and this time, the media noticed. There were front page articles and photographs showing women protestors being beaten by policemen. A number of villagers were arrested and many of them continue to work for the anti-displacement movement despite the police cases lodged against them.
Nagri’s sentiments were shared by organisations fighting the displacement of tribals across Jharkhand. There were large clusters of villagers who blocked the highway to the state capital and demanded that those arrested in Nagri be released. Then, on July 25th, the protests against land acquisition reached their peak and the city of Ranchi was shut down.
A large number of factors were responsible for Nagri’s resistance coming out of isolation and into the forefront of Jharkhand politics. These include Shibu Soren’s anti-displacement stand, the involvement of middle class adivasi activists, the initiatives of student unions, the creation of a core committee with villagers from Nagri and 35 other villages, and the activities of numerous human rights groups like the All India Progressive Women’s Association and the Adivasi Jan Parishad. It’s worth keeping in mind that many who losing rights to their land are party workers from across the political spectrum in Jharkhand. This has helped the movement gather strength with limited opposition at the grass root level.
In Nagri, however, the belief is that it’s the unusual fact of the village coming together, across age and social barriers, that has changed things. Everyone took notice once the youth decided to go against the wishes of those who placed their faith in the courts and tore down the wall. “The only good thing the non-violent protest and losing cases in the court taught us, is that it convinced us that it doesn’t work,” said an activist who wishes to by anonymous.