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A tribal uprising in Jharkhand that’s cast in stone

For the aadivasi people of Jharkhand, feelings of unrest are spreading like wildfire

columns Updated: Jun 25, 2018 10:14 IST
tribal uprising,Jharkhand,COnstitution of India
A plaque at a village in Jharkhand’s Khunti district warns outsiders from entering, wandering, living or settling down in tribal villages(HT File Photo)

At a time when there is a lot of hue and cry over separatism in Kashmir valley, an inscription on a large stone slab in Jharkhand’s Kurunga village reads: “The lease agreement to run a non-tribal government by a foreign Central government ended in 1969.”

“Voter identity cards and Aadhaar cards (the common man’s ID) are anti-tribal documents.”

“The tribal people are not common people or citizens but owners of the Indian state.”

“According to the Constitution of India, the gram sabha is supreme, not the mandate (elections).”

From the times of the British, the aadivasi people have been writing on stone slabs and calling the practice Pathalgadi. It is a tradition that has been used on occasions such as weddings, births and deaths, social boycotts or for demarcating territory. But these days under its guise, a new controversy is being stirred up.

Earlier this month, on June 3, in Jharkhand’s Khunti district, in the presence of hundreds of aadivasis, the foundation was laid for the headquarters of the ‘all-aadivasi government’. On this occasion, announcements were also made about the setting up of the departments of defence, education and health. The adivasis were informed that the gram sabha would soon launch schools, colleges and universities. Not just this, a Bank of Gram Sabha was also inaugurated.

Clearly, a set of people doesn’t want that the aadivasis to benefit from the services of institutions founded and nurtured by the government. They don’t want that modern medicine makes a foray in these areas, since it would endanger their exorcising practices. Not just this, through the setting up of the bank, they are making an attempt to stop the money of the aadivasi people from reaching the banking process. How about the department of defence? What would that do? It is a direct challenge to India’s sovereignty.

What are these people trying to achieve?

If you want an answer to this, first get to know their leader. Katasvan, a village in Gujarat’s Tapi district, is the seat of Kunwar Kesri Singh. The gentleman goes by the name of AC Kunwar Singh. The supporters of Pathalgadi address him as Dada saheb and Pathalgadis till now have been governed by his diktats. Singh only believes in non-judicial law and natural law. By now you would have understood in which direction the office-bearers of this movement are guiding the aadivasis towards. If you dismiss this movement as just a local disturbance, you are mistaken. Under the fifth schedule of the Constitution that Dada saheb and his followers keep referring to, a number of special provisions were made for large swathes of tribal areas. These provisions are implemented in 10 states. This includes 13 districts of Jharkhand in their entirety and partially in three districts .

The question is why the Pathalgadi was organised at Khunti’s Udburu Village on June 3? The organisers claim it is the actual birth date of Lord Birsa and November 15 is just government propaganda. Incidentally, let me mention that Operation Blue Star in 1984 also began on June 3. The Indian Army hadn’t been compelled to launch such a big operation against its own people before that. The provocation for such an action was that in the name of religion, a group led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had taken over the Harminder Saheb.

It was the height of the bloody militancy in Punjab but it had taken years of conspiracies to turn this into something so detrimental to the nation. How potent and effective extremism riding on religion had become was something the world got an idea about with the murder of Nirankari Baba Gurbachan Singh on April 24, 1980. At that point, it was clear that Bhindranwale was bent upon positioning himself as someone bigger than the government and the Constitution. If he had been stopped in his tracks, Operation Blue Star could have been averted. But history doesn’t have any place for words like whether or if.

Needless to say, certain aadivasi areas of the country witness periodic bursts of bloodletting. Maoism has ruled here for a long time. Because of this, the light of the 21st century couldn’t reach the aadivasi people. Intelligence agencies suspect that the tribals are once again being misled in the name of tradition. This could be the handiwork of a joint conspiracy scripted by foreign agencies and the Maoists. The manner in which this so-called revolution is being fanned, gives rise to the apprehension that has been designed to spread like forest fire.

The states concerned should understand that this isn’t the time for popular sloganeering but to try and find social and political solutions to the crisis.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan

letters@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Jun 25, 2018 10:13 IST