Winds of change as Jharkhand’s Pathalgadi rebellion loses steam
The Pathalgadi, having its origin in resistance movement by tribals during British rule, is a practice of raising huge stone plaques at village outskirts with warnings to outsiders not to enter and declaring gram sabha, the only sovereign authority.Updated: Jul 22, 2018 08:07 IST
A final match of an annual hockey tournament in Khunti’s Kochang village on July 11 was not an ordinary one as it came in the backdrop of the village declaring that it is rejecting government authority and declaring self-rule, called Pathalgadi in local parlance, and rape-cum-abduction of five anti-human trafficking activists by so-called leaders of the movement.
Tension was palpable among hundreds of villagers, mostly young male members, who were there to watch the match amid deployment of security forces that had been in the village since the incident happened in June. The event was used by the district administration as a confidence building measure to wean away the youth, the most vocal supporters of Pathalgadi.
“We are not aware why a large number of police force arrived in our village. Everyone is scared. We have no connection with the rape case (in which Pathalgadi leaders are accused),” said Birsa Soey, a villager . Others in hushed voices feared that they can be rounded up for being part of Pathalgadi, which first started in a small village in Arki region in early 2017.
The region is a stronghold of People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a splinter group of CPI (Maoist) and at least 75 tribal villages out of 128 have declared themselves non-judicial territory where laws made by Parliament and state assembly are not applicable. The Pathalgadi, having its origin in resistance movement by tribals during British rule, is a practice of raising huge stone plaques at village outskirts with warnings to outsiders not to enter and declaring gram sabha, the only sovereign authority. Groups of young men equipped with traditional weapons watch over these ‘unofficial frontiers’.
While the number of villages still resisting the administration has dramatically come down, Kali Munda, husband of Kochang village head (Mukhiya) Dulari Hembrom, explained the reason behind spread of the Pathalgadi movement. “It all started with the Jharkhand government attempting to amend the tenancy laws in 2016,” he said.
The two tenancy laws -- Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act -- prohibit sale or acquisition of agriculture land of tribals to outsiders. The new provisions allowed tribal land owners to form partnership with government or private players for non-agriculture use of the land, which the tribals believed was an attempt to subvert their cultural identity.
“For tribal people, land is the only source of livelihood. Any idea of taking away their land would bring resentment,” Munda said.
The brewing resentment among locals gave birth to new generation of leaders who propagated Pathalgadi to save their land by imposing ‘self-rule’ and banning entry of outsiders. “That was the only option visible to us,” said Amar Sao, a 20-year-old graduate from industrial training at Rourkela. For many others, joining the movement was also a way to resent the failures of the state government.
“My father and other villagers like him had worked as labourers to set up electric transmission lines in our village under the rural electrification scheme two years back but many of them were not paid even half of their wages. After two years we are still awaiting power supply,” said another village,
The village having population of 1,000 has four government owned schools with one teacher whereas the lone missionary school, RC Mission School, from where the rape survivors were allegedly abducted, has nearly 1,000 students, many from adjoining villages . “If the government can’t bring development then why to blame gram sabha, which is fighting for its right,” said another village.
Blessing in disguise
The resistance movement led by women in many villagers lead to the boycott of poorly managed schools, destroying of government identity cards and opening of their own bank. The Kunti rape case proved a watershed as it brought the region to national limelight. Chief minister Raghubar Das held meetings with top officials and asked them to pump in money for development in the area.
All vacant posts at block levels were filled overnight, work was resumed on abandoned drinking water and power supply projects, distribution of gas cylinders, seeds and fertiliser was taken up.
Officials from various departments are camping there to ensure proper infrastructure facilities for the villagers.
Khunti SP Ashwini Kumar Sinha has been camping in Kochang with about 1,000 police personnel to nab the accused in the rape case. “People are cooperating,” he said, while claiming the poppy cultivation has flourished in the villages under Pathalgadi. “Under the garb of pathalgadi, this business flourished in the area. We have destroyed poppy cultivation on 2,600 acres of land in last and current year”.
A day after the match, villagers of nearby Kurunga village adopted a resolution to extend cooperation to the administration to undertake development.
“Villagers also decided to handover the absconding leaders Balram Samad and John Jonas Tidu to the police. A ban on entry of outsiders has been lifted,” Gram sabha president Kalyan Singh Munda said.
Other villages too are taking similar decisions. “Pathalgadi movement is losing its ground as people are extending open support to the administration. Some of them have decided to demolish the stone plaques also. Pathalgadi leaders have now been exposed,” Khunti DC Suraj Kumar said.