Dayamani Barla - the firebrand

Image by Joe Athialy via Flickr

On 14th January, in the evening, a Police Mobile Van of Chutya Thana (Ranchi) landed at her hotel on Club Road, Ranchi, and started to harass her staff asking about her links with anti-social elements. The Sub-Inspector making the ‘enquiries’ had neither no written permission or order. The following day, when Ms. Barla, met SSP Ranchi, Mr. Saket Kumar at his residence to ask why she was being harassed in this manner, his response was that the allegations were being made on the basis of an complaint and the fact that she participated in the “Free Jiten Marandi Convention”, in which Varavara Rao was also present.

Harassment of activists on flimsy pretexts and on grounds that they exercised their Constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights is a dangerous trend and will be resisted robustly by human rights activists everywhere.

Who is Dayamani Barla ?

Dayamani knows the cost of fighting against the powerful. Born in a village in Gumla district of Jharkhand to a landless family, Dayamani’s father was forced to give up his house to usurious moneylenders when she was still young. Her mother had to find work as a domestic in Ranchi and Dayamani had to work to supplement the family income from the age of nine. But she also continued to study, and worked to support her family by giving tuitions and typing, at the rate of Rs.1 per hour. Many children under such circumstances would have given up education. But Dayamani persisted and cleared not just high school but even university. She did her Masters in Commerce from Ranchi University and went on to be an award-winning journalist and author. She was clear from the start that she wanted to use her pen to give a voice to those who are otherwise not heard.

She  has lead the fight against Arcelor-Mittal‘s plans to set up a giant steel plant in Jharkhand. Why should she oppose industry that will create jobs in her State? Because she believes that the price that the tribals pay when they are displaced from their lands cannot be compensated through a few jobs or money. “Natural resources to us are not merely means of livelihood but our identity, dignity, autonomy and culture have been built on them for generations,” she is reported as saying. She believes that the location of such a huge plant will adversely affect the forests and water sources in the region.

She believes that the price that the tribals pay when they are displaced from their lands cannot be compensated through a few jobs or money.

Dayamani honed her skills for such a struggle when she joined the tribal groups opposing the Koel Karo dam in the 1990s. The dam would have submerged 66,000 acres and displaced 135,000 tribal families from their lands. Because of their determined struggle, the plans to build the dam were finally shelved.

As a journalist, she has used her pen to write about not just the injustices meted out to tribals resisting efforts to displace them, but also to expose the corruption in several government-run schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Here fake muster rolls allow contractors to claim money on behalf of the poor. Only vigilance by local groups or by the media can ensure that the scheme actually serves the purpose for which it was designed. Through her writing, primarily in the newspaper Prabhat Khabar, Dayamani has set a standard for the kind of relevant journalism that is rare at a time when celebrity and sensation dominate all media.

We, strongly condemn the harassment of social activist and human rights’ defender, Dayamani Barla by the Jharkhand Police. Dayamani, a well known and noted journalist-turned-activist and human rights’ defender based in Jharkhand, is one of the leaders of anti-displacement movements. She is also part of many organisations, movements and federations, INSAF and NAPM.

In solidarity


In solidarity,

1. Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary,PUCL

2. Manisha Sethi, President, Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA)

3. Harsh Dobhal, Human Rights Law Network

4. Mahtab Alam, Coalition for Protection of Human Rights’ Defenders (CPHRD)

5. Viya Bhushan Ravat, Human Rights’ Activist and Writer, Delhi

6.Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Human Rights lawyer and Activist, Mumbai