Jan Chetna Manch, Bokaro’s activities are located in the Chas and Chandankiari blocks of Bokaro district, in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. Surrounding the villages where we work, are huge industrial areas: to the north lies the Jharia coalfield – where coal has been mined for over a hundred years; to the west lies the Bokaro Steel Plant – set up in the 1960’s with Russian help; a new private steel plant built with Chinese labour in Sialjori; a thermal power plant in nearby Santaldih, in the adjacent district of Purulia in West Bengal…
Although surrounded by industries, and ‘development’, the villages remain poor and backward. Most villages have electricity, but for only a very few hours in the day. Few villages are connected by all weather roads. The land is not agriculturally fertile, and being part of the Chota Nagpur Plateau it is more suited to forests than cultivation.
Historically the area has seen much more out- than in-migration. Known as ‘Pandav varjith desh’ (which literally means ‘the land that the gods deserted’), few outsiders have ventured to live and work in the area – neglected by the government, missionaries, naxalites, NGOs…. During the early 20th century villagers used to migrate to the coalmines during the agricultural lean season, and return to work in their villages during the time of transplantation and harvesting. By the latter part of the century, after the 1970’s, this option was curtailed when nationalisation of the mines took place, and the industry needed a permanent, steady workforce. Many locals lost their place in the mining workforce, which was taken over by ‘outsiders’ – men from the plains of northern India. Few local villagers were employed in the steel plant in Bokaro too. Since the industry demanded a ‘skilled, educated’ workforce, most of the jobs went to ‘outsiders’ again.
Nowadays there are few employment opportunities in these industries. Although the youth now have a better education than the previous generation, there are few jobs to be had. Migration is now to the cities and states much further afield: Delhi, Kerala, Gujarat….
With the rich villagers deserting the area for greener pastures, and the resourceful youth seeking opportunities elsewhere, the place continues to live up to its name as a god-forsaken place. In the absence of well-off villagers or middle class professionals, the health care and education system reflects the needs of the remaining villagers. Poor quality health care and education is the lot of most villagers, whether in the government or private sector.
The total population of Chas and Chandankiari blocks is just over one million. The Chas block, however, being adjacent to the Bokaro steel city, and includes the Chas township, is nearly 70% urbanised. By contrast Chandankiari block is overwhelmingly (95%) rural. JCM’s activities are based only in the villages of these 2 blocks, which are mainly populated by poor, lower caste families (known as ‘scheduled’ and ‘backward’ castes), tribals (known as ‘adivasis’ or ‘scheduled tribes’), and Muslims.