Empowered & United on a ‘road’

Mohan was returning from work, when his wife, Ramai went to receive him, she told him elatedly that the village road which links them to the main road is going to be repaired; she explains that few people were walking with some instruments here and they told them that the road is going to be repaired before the rainy season. He was relieved to hear that. The road was in bad shape and in rainy season it was increasingly difficult to ride his bicycle through the potholes. Mohan is a daily wage labourer and lives with his family in Kamda, a tribal village in Torpa Block, Jharkhand. He nodded and stood up to leave for his bath. Ramai called her kids to play inside the house as it was getting darker.

Ramai woke up in the morning and was doing her daily chores, when she saw few people standing on the opposite side of the road working on their instruments. She called her husband and asked him to talk to the men. Mohan came to the courtyard and observed them. He saw them measuring the length-breadth and marking on the ground at every one meter’s distance. When he realized that he was getting late for work he rushed inside to get ready. But, came out when he heard some men talking at the gate, he saw the men measuring and marking their courtyard like others. Unable to understand what it meant, the villagers enquired with the officials and the villagers were taken aback to know that the road was going to be widened till the marked areas. As a result of which piece of their land beside the road was demarked which would be taken away from them for the road. There was a commotion among the villagers that in the name of development or  progress they had to always sacrifice their land, livelihood and other resources; it took the villagers into great shock and surprise on how the officials could proceed to such extent without their consent. The men and women in the village did not go for work that day; instead they held an emergency meeting with community members, local leaders and community enablers of DBSS Chotanagpur. The villagers discussed that neither there was any prior notice nor had they formed any committee, they decided to stand up against this injustice. More than the amount of land being used, they were worried about their vulnerability to be subject to exploitation by the hands of higher authorities. If today they are taking a small portion their land without any information or permission, tomorrow they might take away their home and all that they have.

Next morning, the villagers, the Community Enablers of DBSS and local leaders came together with Mr. Mangal Guria, the Panchayat Committee Member for a meeting. The neighbourhood villagers who were ignorant of the whole matter were made aware. Mr. Guria had acquired information about the work and informed the villagers that the Public Welfare Department sanctioned the project to widen the road and it was inaugurated by the local MLA, Mr. Paulus Surin on 23rd November 2013. He suggested that it is important to have proper roads in our villages and this road that connects Mumu Block and Torpa Block in Khunti District (approx. 25 kms) needs to be repaired and widened, but only in its proper manner; by giving proper compensation to all those individuals in 13 villages whose land is acquired to widen the road. Mohan, Ramai and other villagers were relieved at this decision. DBSS Chotanagpur had been working with these communities on the issue of land rights and Dalits/ Tribal identities. They have conducted workshops and campaigns on rights and entitlements to aware and empower the community. They planned to organize a protest and stop the work until the individuals are duly compensated.

The next morning, before the official arrived the villagers spread themselves on the road just as they had planned to stop the officials from working. The officials saw the protest and briefly talked to the local leaders to persuade them. Mohan who stood beside the local leaders heard them asserting that until the villagers are duly compensated for the land acquired, the work cannot be continued. The officials warned the leaders on the consequences, to which the villagers reacted in one accord and asked the officials to leave. The protest went on for a couple of days and nobody left the village or the road side. After few days the Governmerallynt officials met with Mr. Mangal Guria, DBSS Community Enablers and local leaders to discuss the matter. They had a brief discussion with the PWD officers and other officials; and demanded compensation for the land that is acquired for the road. The Government officials responded and promised to pay the compensation within six months, they proposed that a survey will be done and eligible individuals will be compensated for the land acquired. The villagers congratulated each other and cheered on their achievement. The villagers came together and shared their happiness, the local leaders and DBSS Community Enablers appreciated the people for collectivising themselves and other villagers to act against the injustice.

The villagers cooperated with the survey that lasted from six to eight months. After the survey the officials produced a list of individuals eligible for compensation and they restarted the work before distributing the compensation. After getting information, Mohan and Ramai went to the PWD office to collect the compensation. When they saw the details of land, plot number and area acquired, they were not convinced. They came out and discussed it with others who had accompanied them. They checked the documents and saw that there are irregularities in the survey done. The villagers informed the local leaders and DBSS’s Community Enablers; they checked the documents thoroughly and saw that there are discrepancies in the details showed in the survey. The villageRoads_Meet[1]rs tried to reason with the officials, but they replied that there is nothing more that they could do. Understanding that they have been deceived, the villagers decided not to tolerate this prejudice. A Gram Sabha was held in March 2015 as a result of which the local leaders prepared and submitted a demand letter to the District Collector, Circle Officer and Assistant Engineer Office of Khunti District. The same was submitted to Land Reform & Land Settlement officials and Block Development officer of Torpa Block. The villagers demanded that the work should be discontinued till the issue is sorted out.

The demand letter was accepted and the work was discontinued. At present the issue is being examined and project is seized. Though the rural development got paused, the hearts and minds came together in action to generate a solution to their common problem, which is Community Development. CNI SBSS marked this event as an achievement of the DBSS’s work when the people collectivised themselves and other villagers to act against injustice. The initiative of village local leaders and participation of community members was applauded by the DBSS team who facilitated the protest and dialogue with the Government officials. Rural development is commonly a result of Community Development, but in some rare cases such as this Rural development became a cause of Community Development.

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