A year after Sr Valsa John’s murder

A year after the murder of their champion Sr Valsa John, some 3,000 indigenous people gathered for a 21-day protest to block the transport of coal from Panem coal mine in Jharkhand.

Sr Valsa John

Sr Valsa spent almost a decade mobilizing the indigenous people against their displacement by the coal company, and brokered a settlement in 2006. However implementation of the package — including provision by the company of jobs, schools, health services and compensation for villagers — became difficult after her murder.

A gang of thugs killed Sr Valsa, a champion of the people’s rights in the face of corporate mining interests, on 15 November 2011, in Pakur District of Jharkhand. The 52-year-old Indian sister had reportedly received death threats from the coal mining mafia. Seven men were arrested for her murder.

Fr Tom Kavalakatt SJ, coordinator of an organization for Adivasi rights, Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan (Rajmahal Hills Protection Movement), spearheaded this year’s protest. The people spent day and night in the cold blocking coal transportation by road and by rail. The sit-in included children, women and young people from the villages and two political leaders.

After 21 days of protest, the managing director of Panem signed an agreement with the Rajamahal Pahar Bachao Andolan members, promising to implement the entire rehabilitation package.

At their church in Dumka, the Jesuits marked the first anniversary of Sister Valsa’s death with a Mass, which was attended by 25 priests, 80 religious sisters and more than 500 lay people, Christians and non-Christians. Fr Louis Prakash SJ, Director of the Indian Social Institute in Delhi, celebrated Mass and remembered Sr Valsa with the Gospel passage: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”