November 21st, 2011
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Black gold mafia’s death grip

sister-valsa-jhonJharkhand: What is the story of Sister Valsa Jhon who was killed by the mining mafia? How did she reach Jharkhand and what was the motive behind this cold blooded murder? Sister Valsa John (53) who hails from Eranakulam belongs to the Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity congregation. She belonged to the Eranakulam Vazhakkala Malamel family. She left Eranakulam 20 years back and from then till her untimely death she had been living in the ‘black gold’ rich district of the state.

Sister Valsa did not confine herself to the four walls of her convent and empathised with the local Santhal tribals of Pachwara. According to fellow activist from Jharkhand, Xaviur Dius, she was more an activist than a nun.

The Sister who was on a mission was at the forefront of the Rajmahal Pahad Bachao Andolan that the Santhals had formed to defend their right over their land and resources. The tribal’s filed a petition before the Supreme Court against Panem Coal Mine Limited that had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in 2006 for mining rights in the area. However they had to withdraw the petition from the Supreme Court. The organization had to enter into an agreement with the company under pressure from political leaders and false promises made by some activists, adds Dius.

They later realized that the company with the coal reserves of Pachwara and 32 other villages had betrayed them. Its promises were not being kept. Sister Valsa had been raising this issue and the death is its consequence, says Dius. Dius is a former member of the Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee, a state-wide platform of activists resisting all mining MoUs.

He says of all the 68 MoUs signed between mining companies and the government since the formation of the state a decade ago, work was allowed to continue only in one case. This was after the company promised jobs, medical centres, schools and houses to people whose land were taken away for mining. However, the company only gave 14 contract jobs, three houses which were flooded and did not bother to build the medical centre’s promised, says Dius.


The company spokesperson has denied these charges and has suggested that the nun had differences with a section of villagers. Medha Patkar-led National Alliance of People’s Movement says Sister Valsa had made complaints to the police against the company. She had also complained to her relatives a day before the murder, citing danger from the company.

With coal prices soaring from Rs 300 a tonne in 2006 to Rs 3,000 three years later, the cost of human lives were plumbing, the nun’s fellow activists say. Pachwara saw four more murders and several hit-and-run cases. One of the victims was the son of the tribal leader of the RPBA led by the nun. This was followed by the murder of another activist of the movement. His wife and son were later found dead, too, hit by a 60 ton dumper truck, says Dius.

Whether the company was to blame or not, the death of the nun points to a land deal gone wrong just as it has happened in many other places. Stan Swami, another activist who played a key role in fighting the company through the courts, says there was disagreement whether a deal should be signed with the company.

He says, “Sister Valsa walked out of a comfortable convent life and lived in a shack with no vested interests. There was no doubt about her commitment to the people.” The story of Sister Valsa is just another land accord gone wrong similar to the ones in Kalinga Nagar, Gopalpur and Sarai Kela where activists have still managed to keep the companies out of action.Only if the nun’s sacrifice makes rulers and miners see sense in the claims of tribals to their land, then the death won’t go wasted.


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