For the Day:

Justice Evaded?

The sensational Sr. Valsa murder case in Jharkhand in 2011 has come to a close as far the Sessions Court is concerned. On 6 October, the District and Sessions judge, Om Prakash Srivastav, declared 16 of the 50 accused persons guilty of murder under IPC section 302. Hence, they are to undergo life imprisonment. Of the sixteen, except three belonging to the scheduled caste, are Santal tribals.

15 November, 2015, marked the fourth anniversary of the brutal murder of Sr. Valsa John of the congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary (SCJM) in Jharkhand. She belonged to its Ranchi Province. With a penchant for social apostolate she had worked with different NGOs in tribal dominated Jharkhand until 2001, when she moved to Pachwara village in Amarapara district of Jharkhand. For about ten years the village and the surrounding area became her scene of operation.

She hailed from Vazhkala in Ernakulum district, Kerala. However, she knew the language of the people and even dressed occasionally like the tribal women. The sensational murder of Sr. Valsa, who was felled by her own co-workers in cold blood, had sent shock waves all around.

Solidarity with the Poor
The reason she pitched her tent at Pachwara was that a coal mining company was getting active in the area, threatening to displace many tribals. Panem Coal Mines Limited had tied up with EMTA and made a deal with the Jharkhand government for mining coal to supply to Punjab Electricity Board.

Sr. Valsa constituted the Rajmahal Bachao Andolan (RBA), and the resistance started under its banner. The initial opposition to the company’s entry revolved around public meetings, support of some politicians, and demonstrations with the slogan: Jaan denge, Jamin nahin (we will give our life, not our land).

The organisation moved on to file a Public Interest Litigation in Ranchi High Court. But when the verdict came, it was in favour of the mining magnate. Next, an appeal was preferred in the Supreme Court. However, in the course of hearings, both the parties involved settled for a compromise. The company presented to the Apex Court along with the compromise deal, a mesmerizing promise of a rehabilitation programme. Thus ended the litigation and cleared all hurdles for the company. The cases slapped against Sr. Valsa and her colleagues slowly petered out.

Trust Betrayed
Sr. Valsa was even made an executive member of the Company for overseeing rehabilitation and allied works. She also supervised the company-sponsored primary school and a dispensary. Her organisation saw to it that the housing scheme for the displaced was being implemented by the company.

But rumours went viral that RBA, under Sr. Valsa, was operating for the company. However, the company had ulterior motives and kept an eye on her movements. Somewhere along the way, a few of her own staff members, who were handpicked from the local tribal community, began to get disgruntled as well. They even parted ways with her to join forces of disruption waiting across the fence. Some of her very trusted colleagues, who continued working with her, also were won over by the alien forces.

The company’s plan to extend its project to more areas without specifying a fresh rehabilitation package was not a healthy sign in the eyes of Sr. Valsa. Meantime, there were rumours that Naxalite elements were planning an entry in the area. It was also alleged that the feelers sent by them to Sr. Valsa for combined resistance did not find favour with her.

Finally, the mounting tension erupted like a volcano and the axe fell on her. The man in whose house she had lived for some time, before she moved out to another house, was the leader of the murder gang on that fateful night of 15 November, 2011, when she was done to death in cold blood. With her gory massacre the curtain came down on all activities of RBA.

Winners and Losers
Although an FIR was registered at the police station against unknown persons, the police picked up a number of persons on circumstantial evidence. But after a four year Court procedure, the judgement comes, awarding life term for just sixteen SC/Tribal men. However, none of them have admitted their involvement.

In the eyes of the Law and in the light of the facts and evidences presented before the Court, these sixteen persons have been found guilty of the brutal act of murdering Sr. Valsa!

Now what remains unanswered, post factum, a string of questions begging for answers. Who are the winners and who lost? Decidedly it is the tribal villagers who lost the plot while the backroom dons who scripted it have won. The company may have given the displaced a pittance of a compensation. But rehabilitation measures did not take off except for some two room houses built by the company under agreement for displaced. The village school and the dispensary sponsored by the company are in tatters. With the closure of the coal mines, due to discrepancies in coal block allocation in many part of India, Pachwara coal mines remain closed. Panem may not get a second agreement. So is the company’s administration cooling its heels on hearing the verdict on the accused killers?

Why did the close collaborators and confidantes of Valsa turn against her and what did they gain except life imprisonment? What caused the fissure in her group? Who absorbed the disgruntled elements? What and who provoked these persons to such a hair raising, heinous act? In a way, are not those now condemned made sacrificial victims of an underground group of dons who pulled the strings?

Though the accused always pleaded innocent, there were clear and irrefutable evidences to prove their part in the murder. And, mysteriously, they kept mum about any allurements or provocations. In the final analysis, they are paying the price for it! In the process they are the ones who ultimately lose, while they let their conspirators and backroom dons win.

Chacko Antony S.J
Human Rights Activist