Koel-Karo Agitation: Appeal for urgent action

It is shocking to know that ten adivasis were killed in police firing in Tapkara village in the Koel-Karo region of Jharkhand on 2 February. The police opened fire on an unarmed assembly of around 5000 Munda adivasis, including children, women and men. According to eyewitness accounts, the police fired more than 150 rounds, killing five on the spot. Six of those who had also been shot, succumbed to their injuries in the following hours. As many as twelve of those who have also sustained bullet injuries are being treated in the Ranchi Medical College hospital besides many other wounded who are being treated locally. Some persons have been reported missing.

The people had assembled to demand an explanation from the police authorities for breaking the barricade near Derang village on 1 February. The barricade, erected in 1995 by their jan sangathan (Koel-Karo Jan Sangathan) was part of the janata curfew imposed in protest of the proposed dam on the Koel and Karo rivers, and thus a powerful symbol of their struggle. Importantly, neither the road nor the land on which the barricade had been constructed was government land. Besides breaking the barricade, the police had beaten a villager mercilessly when he had tried to question them about their actions. People in thousands had assembled on the 2nd demanding that the two police officers who were present in the jeep who broke opened the barricade should be suspended. And that the person who was beaten be given monetary compensation (Rs. 50,000) and that the police respectfully reinstall the barricade as it was before. The assembled people waited patiently from 8.30 in the morning until 3.30 in the afternoon for the resolution of their demands. Instead around 3.30, the lathi charge began and was followed almost immediately by firing. Some people responded to the bullets with stones even as they ran to protect themselves. According to the testimonies of two injured persons, the policemen tried to kill them when they found them alive in spite of the injury. The police burnt a police vehicle as well as some civilian vehicles besides destroying the police camp as part of their strategy to plant evidence in order to be able to claim that the assembly had turned violent and hence justified the use of fire arms. Importantly, until date, no government official has visited the site to enquire how the people are doing nor has any action been taken to suspend the police officials involved in the firing.

This undemocratic action of the police should be strongly condemned. This action is seen as an attempt to demoralise the Koel-Karo Jan Sangathan, a movement which is now more than three decades old. This action of the Jharkhand State NDA government indicates that the colonial power equations have not changed. The government, clearly under pressure from Multi-National Companies and International Financial Institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to open mineral-rich Jharkhand for their investments, is now resorting to violence on the indigenous people in order to weaken their popular struggles fighting against issues such as displacement.

Urgent action needs to be taken on this conspired incident. I request you to write to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister condemning the killing of unarmed adivasis demanding for suspension of the magistrate. It should be demanded that a judicial enquiry be set up to probe this incident. People of the Koel Karo Jan Sangathan do not accept the assurance of the Chief Minister's assurance of setting up a "high level investigation".

Bineet Mundu at Delhi Forum

Contact Info for the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of India

Atal Behari Vajpayee
Prime Minister of India
7, Race Course Road,
New Delhi 110001.
Fax: +91 (11) 301 6857 / 301 9545
Email: vajpayee@sansad.nic.in

Home Minister of India
Ministry of Home Affairs,Govt of India
Gruh Mantralaya,
New Delhi 110001
Phones: 91-11-3782397, 3782640
Fax 91-11-3015729, 91-11-3782367

Recent news clippings on the project

Against the project; Bela Bhatia;Frontline - Issue dated March 3, 2001
Resistance and repression; Bela Bhatia;Frontline - Issue dated March 3, 2001
Adivasis massacred in Koel-Karo: a preliminary report; Tehelka.com; February 21, 2001
Politics of Power: Indian Express; Dec 22, 2000
Koel Karo Project; Central Chronicle; Dec 22, 2000