In 1981 Medical Mission Sisters were invited by the Jesuits of Hazaribagh Region to be part of the Health Component of Deen Sewa Dal (DSD). The DSD was a non-structured Parish Organization catering primarily to the Santhals. The first two pioneers Sisters Germaine Alphonsa and Gemma Mendes set up their Santal style mud residence in Charhie. They chose to live with a team of Santhals which included a family in order to facilitate the process of their integration into the Santhal community. Living in the midst of people they began the process of building bonds with them, while using their medical skills to build Healthy communities. Soon enough the team (sisters and lay persons) discovered through interactive meetings with the people that health care while needed was not the Peoples’ priority.
Land was a burning issue for the people it was taken up and one of the early achievements was to get all the land in their possession measured, registered and getting legal documents. Through health work the team came in contact with over 72 villages and the forces that were eroding and pauperizing the Santal community. By 1986, it became necessary for the team to opt out of DSD and move to Kasiadih a hamlet of Sarwaha village, Churchu block, Hazaribagh District in Jharkhand State. The Santhals from different villages contributed tiles and their labor to construct two mud structures one as residence for the team to live and another as Health center a big enough structure to accommodate inpatients. Health continued as an important aspect of involvement under the name of Santal Swasthya Seva Samaj. With the help of Manjhi Harams (village head men) several meetings were held and Chotanagpur Advasi Sewa Samiti (CASS) a community based Organization was formed and registered in 1993. The goals of CASS are to build Healthy communities; protect the Natural Resources(Jal Jameen Jangal and Jantu); Empower Women, children and youth and Safeguard the Rights of Indigenous farmers and facilitate Sustainable development .The team achieves these goals through Cooperative work, like digging wells, planting trees, releasing land from moneylenders, building small schools in five villages and doing other village welfare activities like clearing land for football ground and promoting capacity building trainings for Indigenous Youth through socio-political analysis and achievement motivation techniques.
In 1993 CASS was requested by the people to respond to their problems of displacement as a result of coalmining in Parej village that was funded by World Bank. The team from CASS responded by surveying the assets that would be lost and disseminating information on World Bank and Coal company’s policies. A citizen’ forum was formed who consisted of lawyers; Professors and knowledgeable and learned individuals from Jharkhand. Besides this forum a network of National and International organization was formed to strengthen the peoples’ struggle. In 1996 Sister Bina Stanis joined Kasiadih mission and immediately became part of the Parej struggle.
On the ground World Bank policies on Rehabilitation and Resettlement were not implemented and instead the Coal Company used several means to grossly violate the Rights of Indigenous communities and the environment. In 2001 the WB withdrew its funding. The lessons learnt from Parej Project were shared successfully with farmers in the Karanpura Valley where twenty two mining projects were to displace eight lakh farmers from the Rice Bowl of Jharkhand. This has forced Government to come up with a rehabilitation package.
A health center developed first in Kasiadih and later in Horomocho and Lopongtandi. The last two were at the request of and in close collaboration with the people. These two are run by the community through Village Health Committees who are given the required training. CASS only provides the two nurses. Self Help Groups (SHGs) and non-formal Education centers for children evolved side by side with the health centers. The local animators take care of the local SHGs and education centers. These animators are being trained to handle local issues and challenges posed by local middle men and land and coalmine mafia in neighboring villages.
Sister Anima Pushpa Toppo joined Kasiadih community and helped with facilitating the process of returning ownership of forest lands to the communities, which has borne fruit with a recent legislation. She is an active member of Jarkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan (save forests). She conducts training programs for Government officials. She is also called upon to train and share her experiences at Unit, State, National and International (Rome, Thailand and Finland) levels. She has also done forest mapping with its resources. Anima Pushpa presently lives in Shantinagar, Ranchi District in Jharkhand and carries out her mission activities from here.
Sr. Lucy Kavakatt joined Kasiadih community and is an active member of Bharat Jan Andolan, who with other organizations put pressure on Government to implement the Forest Right Act i.e., Community Forest rights and Individual Rights on Minor Forest produce. She lives in Bisa village, of Angara block, Ranchi district in Jharkhand.
Collaboration has been a vital part of this enterprise. Successful outcome of some of the peoples’ struggles has been the effective networking at regional, national and international levels. In spite of this, the daily mission in Jharkhand continues to be demanding because of Rapid Industrialization in the State and the growing impoverishment of local Indigenous communities. Much remains to be done with regard to the empowerment of local people to claim and assume responsibility for their own development, to gradually achieve sustainability, to find balance in their life style in the context of the present globalization, which only eats up the resources of the people and degrades the earth, to work towards ‘Health in Peoples Hands’. Some steps towards this are formal and non formal education for children and youth; Life skill training for men and women; strengthening Children’s organizations like children’s Parliament; improving livelihood through land use; building watershed structures; conducting training programs on health; strengthening Indigenous governance structures; home visits; individual mentoring and Capacity building for youth. All this requires sustained effort by the people with adequate support from MMS.