INDIA: Activists remember nun murdered for tribal rights

Friday 21 February 2014

Date: 20 February 2014

Type: News


Keywords: Tribal rights, extrajudicial killing

New Delhi: Human right activists in the national capital paid rich tributes to a Catholic nun, who was hacked to death two years ago after she campaigned against coal miners to secure the tribal rights in Jharkhand.

At a meeting over the weekend Church workers joined activists to remember Sister Valsa John of Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, who was killed in the coal mine areas of Pachuwara in Jharkhand on November 15, 2011.

They discussed tribal rights and issues of lopsided development projects displacing villagers, stressing that injustice against tribal people continues in the villages of India. Two books were also released to cherish the values for which the nun sacrificed her life.

The nun was killed after about 50 people broke into her room, part of a villager’s hut deep inside the village. Police said Maoist pamphlets were found at the scene of the crime.

Police could not establish the cause of attack on her despite the arrest of several local persons, but her friends and colleagues believe she was killed for mobilizing people against the exploitation by mining corporations.

Sr. Valsa, who worked among the Santhal Tribals for many years, had made Panchwara her home and organized the Tribals when they were faced with displacement after large portions of land were allocated to a West Bengal based mining company.

Speakers at the panel discussion on "Tribals, land rights and Development" pointed out that Sr. Valsa’s effort was to protect the land, which is most sacred to the tribals. Her non-compromising attitude and demands to respect the rights of the people irked the mine management, who saw her as a hindrance.

Speakers said company officials went around instigating and enticing the simple village youth with money and liquor. They managed to polarize the people, which ultimately led to her murder.

A fact-finding team that visited the village soon after her death demanded a federal CBI enquiry in to the murder as well a white paper on the terms and conditions of the mining contract. But nothing much had happened.

A book titled People’s Valsa: In the Footsteps of Her Master was released. It is edited by Sisters Helen Saldanha Mary Scaria. Sister Saldanha is secretary of Indian bishops’ Office for Women while Sister Scaria is rights activist lawyer practicing in New Delhi.

Another book, Sr. Valsa John: A Martyr for Our Times -by George Menachery was also released.

A CD titled "The beacon, on the life and work of Valsa" by photo journalist John Mathew was also released by Retired Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao of Delhi on the occasion.###

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