30, Mar 2018 | Sushmita
Anti-displacement activist Damodar Turi, who was arrested on February 15 from Ranchi, has been on a hunger strike since March 27, 2018 protesting his and other prisoners’ transfer to solitary confinement. The solitary confinement facility is made of dark, airless and filthy cells. Turi and the other prisoners were dumped into the solitary confinement on March 23.
In a statement appealing for support, activists of Loktantra Bachao Manch note that, “Solitary confinement, even for prisoners convicted to death sentence, has been prohibited by the Supreme Court in several judgments, most notably the Constitutional Bench judgement in the Sunil Batra cases” A more serious fact is that the ‘crime’ of these prisoners is yet to be proved as they are under-trials.
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Why was Damodar Turi arrested
Damodar Turi is the convenor of Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA), an umbrella of 30 organizations across the State, protesting against displacement of villagers. On February 15, 2018, as he was returning after participating in a program organised by Loktantra Bachao Manch, a platform of several people’s movements, he was arrested by Ranchi Police. The program by Loktantra Bachao Manch touched upon several issues, especially the ban on Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti (MSS), false encounter of a doli labourer, Motilal Baske in June 2017, deaths due to Aadhaar related discrepancies in PDS system in Jharkhand. Loktantra Bachao Manch was formed to “fight against the Jharkhand government’s escalating violence and violation of democratic rights”.
Damodar Turi has been at the forefront of various anti-displacement struggles which include widespread protests against amendment of Chhotanagpur Tenancy and Santhal Pargana Acts. The government intended to amend these acts to purportedly “facilitate corporate takeover of Adivasi land.” It is believed that Turi’s arrest is an attempt to crush people’s movements against displacements.
The impact of VVJVA
The Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA) was launched in 2007 as a platform of people’s movements and organisations struggling on the issues of land, forest and water. VVJVA played an active role in Nandigram, Singur, POSCO resistance, resistance against Vedanta, resistance against Polavar dam, against illegal Bauxite mining in Andhra Pradesh etc. Within Jharkhand, it played a role in the movement against forceful land acquisition in the case of Electro steel plant and Jindal mining plan in Santhal Paragana, Tenughat power plant, Bokaro steel plant, Tiger project, Betla and organised people under one forum. Democratic rights workers allege that the Home Ministry, in its annual report of 2016-17, without any basis, said that Niyamgiri Surkasha Samiti and VVJVA, both are linked to CPI (Maoist), a banned organisation. This report was widely criticised by different democratic rights organisation.
Why is Turi being Targeted
Turi has been implicated in a series of cases that have been foisted on MSS, a registered trade union, which was “banned” through a two line order of the Jharkhand state government dated December 22, 2017. Several of these cases are, in the opinion of activists, based on absurd and outrageous charges. Activists also believe that the said ban has been imposed on MSS because it played a prominent role in “organizing resistance against BJP government’s plans to divest Adivasi peasantry of their land and forest rights by amending Chotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908 and Santhal Pargana Act 1949.”
Further, Turi’s wife Debi and other activists say that he was not a member of MSS, but has been pulled in a flurry of cases, along with other activists and members of MSS. The subject matter of the cases include, the celebration of the Russian Revolution, running MSS office in Bokaro and continuing to collect MSS membership dues even two days after it was “banned.” Highlighting the circumstances in which MSS was banned, activists allege that no intimation or notices were issued, no hearings or any other proceedings were conducted for de-registration or banning. Also, that the members who were arrested and did collect dues two days after it was banned said that they were not even aware that it was banned by then “since they had not read newspapers”. The MSS has been banned under the colonial and draconian Criminal Amendment Act 1918. Also, sections of Unlawful Assembly Prevention Act 1967 (UAPA) were added to the cases, though the MSS wasn’t banned under UAPA. Turi did not have any cases against him in any of the courts before MSS was banned. The policy of banning organisations has been used by many organisations to then
Jharkhand is a mineral rich state but the indigenous people of Jharkhand, Adivasis have only become poorer even after the creation of a separate state in 2000 on the grounds of promoting the interests of Adivasis. In fact, their situation has worsened over the years. Father Stan Swamy, convenor of Bagaicha, a tribal assembly, quoting a survey made by Walter Fernandez and Alex Ekka said that 2.4 million acres of land in Jharkhand was now alienated from the tribals and 1.9 million tribal people are displaced from their land. About 209 MoUs worth Rs. 3 lakh crore were signed last year itself, in an Investors Summit held in Ranchi in 2017. With the increasing number of such memorandums being signed, the threat of displacement and violence on Adivasis has increased tremendously.
In these circumstances Damodar Turi seems to have been arrested in order to break his spirit and weaken the struggle against the “corporate take-over of Jharkhand and its rich natural resources.” Damodar Turi has also been arrested earlier in false cases and subsequently acquitted, but activists are especially worried this time. They have asked, “What remains of our constitutional guarantees and democratic rights if governments are allowed such impunity from constitutional processes?”