The Grassroot Visionary
A tribal activist from Dantewada, Chhattisgarh,Kopa Kunjam spent 22 months in jail for the murder of a sarpanch he tried to save. At the time of his arrest, Kopa had been implementing Supreme Court orders on the ground, helping rehabilitate villagers displaced by the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. First an ordinary farmer, then a schoolteacher in a local village school, Kopa began social work after discovering the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA), an NGO in Dantewada.
As a VCA worker, Kopa travelled to remote villages wrecked by the conflict. He brought food and clothes, helped villagers rebuild their homes and taught them how to fight with local ration shops for their due ration. When Maoists tried to enter Lingagiri, a village razed by the Salwa Judum, he stopped them. When the Salwa Judum tried to re-enter the same village, he taught villagers how to unite in a human shield. Soon, Kopa became someone who could take on both the State and Maoists. He earned the trust of his own tribal community and took on a leadership role.
He helped show State complicity in the massacres of Matwada and Singaram where innocent villagers were killed by the Salwa Judum. He exposed scams in the implementation of the MGNREGA and the PDS. In December 2009, Maoists abducted two village leaders and killed one. Kopa happened to be travelling on the same road and was the first to inform the police. Months later, he was arrested as a Maoist accomplice for the same murder. Kopa was released on bail in October this year and continues to fight the case in court.