Sister Valsa John, 50, a prominent tribal rights activist who had spearheaded an anti-displacement movement against the PANEM coal mines in Pakur district, was murdered in her sleep by unidentified men on Tuesday.
"The miscreants had damaged her face and inflicted several injuries on her body," said Pakur superintendent of police (SP) Amarnath Khanna.
Police reportedly recovered posters left behind by the CPI(Maoist). Khanna, however, declined any Naxal involvement in the murder.
Valsa, a member of the Sisters of Charity Jesus and Mary congregation, had been living in the village for the last 12 years. She used to live in the house of the parganet, or the head of cluster of tribal villages, under tight security arrangements provided by local tribals.
Most of her bodyguards were the tribal women of Pachubera village. However, four months back she left the accommodation and moved into the house of villager Sona Ram Hembrom.
Khanna, who was quoting eyewitnesses, said around 50 people carrying traditional arms laid siege of the house around 11.30 on Tuesday night.
Valsa’s brother, who is in Kochi, said she had spoken to her elder sister over phone that evening and mentioned that she faced death threats from the mining mafia.
According to the SP, the police managed to reach the spot around 5am on Wednesday as the village where Valsa lived was far from the city.
“Tension prevails after the incident in the PANEM Coalmines area, but we have managed to keep things under control so far,” he added.
Valsa had led agitations against the PANEM coalmines located in Aalubera and Pachubera localities under Amrapara block of Pakur district in 2005 and 2006. She supported the local tribals and successfully managed to keep coal miners away till they accepted all their demands.
The coalmines eventually came into existence on November 30, 2006 after a memorandum of understanding was signed. Jharkhand former deputy chief minister Stephen Marandi was also one of the signatories of the MoU. Marandi, who had been a staunch supporter of Valsa in her campaigns, condemned the incident.
Valsa’s last rites will be performed in Dumka on Wednesday after her relatives from Kerala arrive.