Dayamani Barla: A Study in Grit and Determination

Article excerpt

Not many would dare to take on the might of Arcelor Mittal, the $124.9 billion global steel giant. But then 38-year old Dayamani Barla is made of sterner stuff. As convener of Adivasi Moolvaasi Asthitva Raksha Manch (AMARM), Dayamani Barla is leading the battle against Arcelor Mittal group to stop the Rs 40,000 crore project in the state of Jharkhand.

Arcelor Mittal is planning to set up a 12 million tons per annum capacity steel plant with an investment of around Rs 40,000 crore. It would be set up on an area of 12,000 acres. The project, which will affect 40 villages in the state of Jharkhand, is likely to destroy large areas of local forests and water sources, which are an important part of tribal ethos, culture and history.

"The project will displace around 60,000 to 70,000 people. Our culture, social values are linked to our jungles and environment and just cannot be displaced. Our history is linked to the place and we will not give an inch of our land. Only fighting can save us," she says.

Barla is a key person in mobilizing the villagers under the banner of AMARM. Barla, along with her husband Nelson, runs a small tea shop ('Jharkhand Hotel' on Club Road in Ranchi in the state of Jharkhand in India) for livelihood. She also writes regularly for Prabhat Khabar, a prominent Hindi newspaper and her writing is focused on tribal and Dalit issues in the Jharkhand state.

"We do want development but not at our cost. I have been working against displacement for a long time now and my research shows displaced people don't have proper lives. They loose their sense of belonging," she elaborates.

Barla was earlier involved in the movement against the Koel Karo dam and HEC project in Jharkhand. Koel Karo dam would have submerged 66,000 acres and displaced 135,000 tribal families from their lands. Thanks to the efforts of Barla and other activists, the plan to build the dam was finally shelved.

She has also studied the impact of displacement in Heavy Engineering Corporation Ltd (HEC) project in Jharkhand. "In 1968 around 30,000 people were displaced as a result of this project. Out of the 22,000 people employed at the plant, only 2,000 belonged to the displaced people. If that time, tribals didn't get jobs, what chance does tribal community has now with no technological know-how," she questions.

Dayamani is well aware of the consequences of displacement. Belonging to Arahara village (which is one of the affected villages as a result of the Mittal project) in Gumla district in Jharkhand, she was forced to leave her village after moneylenders usurped her father's land. For a while she worked as a domestic maid in Ranchi to fund her education. "I used to work in the morning before going to school and also after coming back," she recalls. In spite of tough circumstances, she managed to continue to study and went on to do Masters in Commerce from Ranchi University. …