On 3rd of July, 2012 IndiaUnheard published Community Correspondent Birendra Tirkey’s video Army Vs People in Jharkhand which chronicled the history and legacy of Netarhat Land Struggle. For over two decades the popular movement has maintained a continuous face-off with the armed forces of the nation over 3606 square kilometers of land which over 2 lakh people call home and which the forces want turn into a firing range. Where the army has resorted to bullying and other less than dignified tactics, the movement has maintained composure, unity and non-violence. Their slogan is “We will give up our lives but not our land.”The struggle is across two districts – Palamu & Latehar. Birendra reported from Palamu and today Justin Lakra reports for IndiaUnheard from ground zero in Latehar….
Justin is potential victim who stands to lose his life and livelihood if the armed forces manage to grab Netarhat. Before him, his parents were involved in the struggle. He had been walking hand-in-hand shouting fervent slogans much before the awakening of his conscience. “By the time, I could gauge the stakes involved, I already knew the rhythm of the movement. I had grown up with it instilled in the beat of my heart.”
Since realization dawned, he began to take on a bigger role in the grassroots of the struggle. He used to travel on foot from village to village, speaking to people, keeping them updated on the latest in the struggle, giving speeches, organizing meetings and conferences and taking the front in the protest marches and sit-ins. By tradition, he is a farmer belonging to the Asur tribal community. He still relies on small farming for his livelihood but his passion for the Netarhat movement is the center of his life. After many years of being involved in struggle, the leaders of the movement recognized this passion and made him the general secretary for the youth wing.
“There is a whole generation that has born and grown up in the 20 years of the movement. This newer generation is very different from the one that preceded it. They are smarter, they have had better opportunities, they are upwardly mobile. This has created a generation gap in the struggle,” says Justin. “It is my responsibility to speak to the youth and bridge this gap. I want them to realize that the fight is for their land and culture and that they have a stake in it.”
One of the major hurdles for Justin is the increasing number of youth who are leaving the villages and migrating to the cities in search of better educational and employment opportunities. Justin says that though this migration takes away the young blood from the struggle, he empathizes with them. But he also says that there has also been a trend in recent years of the youth returning back to the villages after their education and working among their people. He credits this reversal to the local NGOs and movements.
Justin’s work takes him to over 100 villages, to schools and community centers, where he speaks of the history, legacy and continuing urgency of the Netarhat struggle. He tries to instill in them pride for their community and for their land. He invites influential activists and personalities to speak to the youth. He organizes and gets them to participate in rallies. Occasionally, there are street plays and the singing of protest songs. The response, he says, is heartening. “It’s good to see young people take to the movement and the struggle with great passion. It’s a sign of brighter future.”
So what does he tell them?
“I start with things they like to hear. First I tell them that they are much smarter than me and than their parents. They love it. They laugh. They’re hooked.”
“Then I tell them that in this very manner, their parents were smarter than their grandparents. When the army was bulldozing through the grandparent’s lands, fields and homes, they used to leave everything and run away, scared for their lives. Their parents on the other hand were aware of their rights. Because of that awareness, they had stood their ground and fought for it. They defeated the mighty army and kept it at bay.”
“Then I tell them that now, today, is the time of the youth. I ask them to choose. Do they want to be unaware like their grandparents and run away scared? Or do they choose carry forward the struggle of their parents and bring victory to our great struggle.”
“The ‘now’ is in your hands? Do you want be the darkness of the past? Or do you choose to be the light of the future?”