KOLKATA, (C.M. Paul) – An inter-faith protest rally will be held in Kolkata to condemn the murder of Sr Valsa John on Monday, 21st November. It will be held at Allen Park on Mother Teresa Sarani (Park Street), Kolkata from 5.00 PM to 6.30 PM.
The news of the killing of Sr. Valsa John, of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary (SCJM), Tuesday (15 Nov) night at Pachaura village, Pakur, appeared in most local and national dailies. The deceased had been involved for over a decade in seeking justice to the villagers against a coal mining company.
Sister Valsa John, who was murdered near Dumka in the State of Jharkhand was laid to rest at St. Paul’s Church, Dudhani on Thursday (17 Nov) after a Requiem Mass. The deceased’s family members, including her eldest brother Baby Malamel and two of her nephews, from Kochiwere among those who attended the funeral.
Hailing from Ernakulam district (Kerala), Sr. Valsa, 52, was reportedly dragged out of her rented house in Pachaura, 60 km from the district headquarters around 10.30 pm and was attacked with weapons — as disclosed by the villagers — by a gang of 50. Official statement says she died on the spot. The killers fled the scene leaving behind Maoist posters, but the police dismissed involvement of the Ultras.
Since early 1995, Sr. Valsa had been leading a people’s movement against the land acquisition for Pachuara coal project. An agreement was reached at in December 2006 with Panem Coal Mines Ltd. The terms seemed to be significantly in favour of the would-be displaced and Panem set up its operation on November 30, 2006.
A section of the media hinted at the possibility that Sr. Valsa had compromised on the land deal, which led to her being killed. Former deputy chief minister, Stephen Marandi, who was present at the time of signing of the agreement, rubbished such an indictment. Instead, he held that the gruesome incident was perpetrated by the antisocial elements, who, thanks to Sr. Valsa’s role, had failed to cash in from the deal.
Denouncing the killing of Sr. Valsa, Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo said to the media, “Her murder is a shame for all of us in Jharkhand.” Even as the Adivasi-Moolwasi nexus had called for a Jharkhand Bund today, they — to the knowledge of this reporter — made no explicit mention of the killing of Sr. Valsa as championing the Tribal cause. The Bund itself was not entirely successful in Ranchi.
One newspaper, in particular, drew the readers’ attention to the fact that in October 2009 two senior Panem officials had also been gunned down at Paharpur, near Pachuara. Observers recall that on more than one occasion the police had sought to arrest Sr. Valsa on the grounds of complaints received from her adversaries. However, she was left untouched thanks to the shielding women, who were said to have been armed with traditional weapons. In 2008, she had surrendered to the chief judicial magistrate in Pakur, but was out on bail.
Kottappuram Bishop Joseph Karikkassery expressed deep sorrow over the murder of Sr Valsa John who hailed from Vazhakkala inKochi. Bishop Karikkassery said that such incidents should not occur in a civilised democratic society. He urged the Jharkhand Government to take immediate steps to bring the culprits to book. The public consciousness should be awakened against the concerted move to eliminate the missionaries who worked for the progress of society. The Bishop said that the entire faithful of Kottappuram Diocese share the sorrow and grief of the family members and the Congregation of Sr Valsa. A special prayer session was held in Sr Valsa’sparishChurch, St George Forane Church, Edappalli, at 9 am on Thursday, 17 Nov.
Founder of an NGO, Pahar Bachao Andolan, Sr. Valsa is said to have been living at a rented house in Pachubera village. She had begun with forest conservation movement at the Rajmahal Hills. The initiative had not only brought her to public glare, but also had caused discomfort to the stone mine and timber mafia.
Pachaura saw four more murders and several hit-and-run cases. One of the victims was the son of the tribal leader of the RPBA led by the nun. This was followed by the murder of another activist of the movement. His wife and son were later found dead, too, hit by a 60 tonne dumper truck, says another activist.