Nagri Movement: The Land is Like Our Mother

“The land is like our mother. We cannot sell it, and we cannot live without it.”

The demands of the residents of Nagri, a small, primarily tribal village 10 km to the north of Ranchi, seem straightforward enough: to be allowed to continue cultivating the land that has always sustained them. This aspiration is unfortunately under threat.

For over a year now, the government of Jharkhand has been involved in a campaign to take away 227 acres of agricultural land from its adivasi owners in order to set up the Ranchi campuses of IIM, IIT and the National University of Study and Research in Law (NURSL).

In today’s video, IndiaUnheard Jharkhand State Co-ordinator Anand Hembrom documents the people’s movement against this ruinous operation. The government claims to have acquired the 227 acres in 1957–58 for an expansion of the Bisra Agricultural University under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. Out of 153 raiyats  (tenants), however, only 25 had accepted payment at the time, with a large majority of 128 refusing to sell. In his article in the Jharkhand Mirror (http://jharkhandmirror.org/tag/nagri-peoples-movement/), human rights activist Gladson Dungdung also discusses how the Land Acquisition Act should not technically apply to Nagri which is located in a 5th schedule area where the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act is in force.

At any rate, the university was never expanded and the issue lay buried for the next 55 years. The villagers continued to farm their land and even pay revenue on it. It was only in 2008 that they discovered they no longer had a legal claim to it when 13 acres were casually allotted to the construction of a ring road. Then in 2011, the disputed ground was distributed among IIM, IIT and NURSL.

Peaceful at first, the raiyats sought redress at the Jharkhand High Court and the Supreme Court, and even addressed an appeal to the Governor. Meeting with rejection everywhere, they grew desperate and took to the streets.

On the 4th of July 2012, angry protestors broke down the boundary wall at the IIM construction site and were lathi charged by the police for their act of rebellion. They responded by going on strike and putting up road blocks. The movement then gained momentum, with support gradually coming in from different political parties and organisations. Anand Hembrom, who was present on the scene, discussed the ground situation with us:

“The movement started out as a peaceful protest. The villagers sat at the construction site for at least two months. They practically lived there. Someone would cook food, and everyone would eat and sleep in the fields. FIRs were lodged against protestors and the people started to grow agitated. After the breaking of the IIM boundary wall, the state grew violent. The police conducted a lathi charge and many persons were seriously injured.”

What did the High Court say when the people pleaded their case?

“It dismissed the plea and ordered construction work to be started at the site. The Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court is actually also the Chancellor of the Law University. This is a conflict of interest. Later, when the people continued to resist, a High Power Committee was formed to investigate the issue, but nothing concrete has come of it.”

And the Supreme Court..?

“The Supreme Court threw away the case file without even looking at it. The judges said that the land had been acquired in 1958 and that they saw no reason to interfere in the matter now. But that’s not true. The land was never properly purchased.”

What exactly do the people want?

“They want their land back. Their livelihood depends on it and their identity is defined by it. They would not sell it at any price, even if the purchase proposed were a legal one. At the moment, they are being cheated and exploited by the State. It is not that they are against development, but they need their agricultural land. They even offered the government some ground 5 km away in exchange. The terrain there is infertile and cannot be put to use by farmers, but that should not affect a university campus. It is also closer to Ranchi. But the government insists on taking away the cultivable fields around Nagri, without even giving a proper reason why.”

So what is the situation like at present?

“The movement has grown quieter. Paramilitary forces which were deployed after the protests of last year are still stationed at the construction site. The broken boundary wall has not been rebuilt yet and all work is at a standstill. The people have recently submitted another petition to the Supreme Court, and we hope very much that this time the verdict will be different.”