Dalu Birhor escaped with a fine of just two bottles of haria, a fermented rice brew popular among Jharkhand’s Birhor tribe. The 18-year-old was punished for entering into a brawl with another youth of the village, nestled amidst lush green forest in the state’s coal-rich Dhanbad district.
However, another youth ended up paying five bottles of haria and two hens after he was found guilty of theft by the tribe’s traditional court, presided over by the village headman.
For the Birhors, one of Jharkhand’s eight tribes categorised as particularly vulnerable tribal groups, the spirit of justice lies in their love for the traditional brew. And it has survived the hardships weathered by the community with just 10,000-odd members left in the world.
Most of the Birhor population is now settled in forested areas in Dhanbad and Bokaro districts, forced to abandon their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle for a modern way of life by the state government.
And the tradition of the bottle as punishment is followed in every Birhor settlement with no police involvement at all.
Chalkari village, with 55 families, is around 200 km from capital Ranchi.
“What is the need of police in our village? In the last 65 years I have not seen police in our village. We are capable of solving our dispute so we do not go to them,” said Sukar Birhor, the community headman.
Birhor said the liquor collected is used during the community feast or on the occasion of marriage/death.
The headman said the quantum of fine depends on the gravity of the crime.
DD Ram, officer in charge of Topchachi police station, said there are no records of complaints being lodged by Birhors against their community.
Social activist Ghasiram Panda said the penalty was a system of ensuring social discipline.
(With inputs from Priya Ranjan Sahu in Bhubaneswar)