Dear Friends, My name is Jairam Hansda. I am the IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent from the East Singhbum District in the state of Jharkhand. Before you start with my story, I request you to keep this question in mind while you are reading. Is following the law, a way of breaking it? Or is breaking the law, a way of following it? It seems a simple question but I have been struggling with it. Maybe you can help me out. I am a tribal and the secretary of the gram sabha in my village of Sarjomdah(Nidir Tola). As a community leader, I have been fighting for the rights of my community for many years now. One of the gravest issues I have worked on has been the issue of land. There is a site in my village where around 16 houses have been illegally constructed on government land. Being the gram sabha secretary, I had raised the matter of this illegal acquisition many-a-times. In the past, I had duly complained to the Block administration and the police administration but there has been no inquiry or action till date. I then filed an RTI asking for details in August. The constitutionally stipulated 30 days are far gone. I have yet to receive a response. On the 5th December, 2012, I personally visited the site in order to make a video on the situation. I was confronted by 10 to 15 people who started asking me questions and our conversation was taking a distinct turn to the unsavory. But the situation was diffused and I returned home. The next day, the 6th of December, my friends Krishna Besra and Akash Soren (age 17) and I were crossing the site on our way to our morning ablutions. Akash, the kid among us, was walking a little ahead. A little way down the path we saw him being roughed up by a group of around 40 men. We intervened and some of the men in group recognized me. Earlier with my video activism, I had shut down their illegal kerosene trade and now, I was trying to get to evict the land they had illegally camped in. Needless to say, I was brutally attacked with stones and sticks. Some of the men were carrying firearms but thankfully they didn’t use them on us. I escaped with a broken forearm. Both Akash and Krishna suffered head injuries. I was rushed to the hospital. In such cases of beating and brawling, it is a mandatory practice that the police write a report while the patient is being admitted to the hospital. The police arrived but never took my testimony. I was admitted for close to 24hrs and from the hospital, I had to go all the way to the police station to lodge my FIR. It has been around two weeks now and the police has yet to furnish me my copy of the FIR I lodged. My suspicion is that they do not want to lodge the case. But they have lodged an FIR from the opposing party which names me as an accused. Since, they belong to the same community as the goons, they would rather get us to compromise and settle the matter. After a long struggle, I got my case number. But while I received the copy of the FIR in which I was accused, I still haven’t received a copy of the FIR I filed or even my medical report from the hospital. Supposedly, I will get those when they are sent to court. Not just this, a report arrived a few days later in the newspaper Prabhat Khabar about the incident. I was called an extortionist and the conflict was given the shades of a caste war instead of a land struggle. The Deputy Superintendent of Police was quoted in the argument. I met him and he denied making such a statement. The fact remains that the issue of land is always reported in a mainstream as a community-feud or as a civil strife. These are some of the everyday complexities of a land struggle for a tribal. The Panchayat Extension Act (PESA) of our constitution clearly terms the land as a ‘community resource’. It is the local inhabitants and panchayat who have the power to veto what development is to be done on it. There is also the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act and 2 Supreme Court judgement which define the power and administration of adivasi over the fate and resources of their land. These laws and acts have been passed to preserve the culture and tradition of tribals which are part of the unique diversity of the nation and which are rooted to their homes and lands. I can argue with you about this night and day. I will have the constitution and law on my side. I will be absolutely right. But I will still lose my land. That is the paradox that I cannot understand. Why the pretense of democracy and law? My wounds are healing, the first appeal of my RTI is up in court on the 22nd of December and I am determined to fight this case to the end. I will get my community our land back. I am not alone. I have the support of my community, Video Volunteers and all of you. But after all these events, I find myself thinking - Is following the law a way of breaking it? Or is breaking the law a way of following it? What do you think? Regards, Jairam Hansda Community Correspondent, East Singhbum, Jharkhand.
Ankush Sharma / December 22, 2021
Video Volunteers was awarded at a gala function held at BAFTA, London.