Why Jharkhand’s Pathalgadi movement is worrying the state government

Shukoh Albadar, TwoCircles.net

Merely 40 km away from the Jharkhand’s state capital Ranchi, Khunti, a newly-carved out district is in the limelight across the national media.

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Dominated by CPI Maoist and its splinter rebel group PLFI and surrounded by rich flora and fauna, this district is now at the centre stage for its new kind of political movement popularly known as the Pathalgadi. While moving across the area one can see green, stone plaques standing at the entry point of the villages written Bharat ka Samvidhan on its top in Hindi language and listing constitutional provisions and tribal’s rights in white lettering.

Backdrop of the Pathalgadi Movement

In February, a ceremony with an assembly took place in the district’s Kochang village under the banner of Adivasi Mahasabha. More than thousands of tribal people with traditional arms and machete participated with full enthusiasm and vigour. During the meeting the local tribal leaders challenged the authority of Central and State power, whooping that a single inch of land would not be the property of the government.

They completely showed their allegiance to the Constitution and rejected any other authority or power. To establish the manifesto more strongly they started Pathalgadi, putting giant plaques at the entry point of the village declaring their gram sabha or village assembly as the only sovereign authority. ‘Outsiders’ were banned from entering the villages. Now what they assert vehemently is Mera Goan, Mera Zameen (My village, my land) and affirms that laws passed by the gram sabha have to be accepted and followed by the village dwellers. They blamed the BJP-led state-government that till now tribal were kept in dark and their rights were concealed gauging certain political interest. Since they are now aware of their rights, the government is in fret and fume mode now.

Demand for Autonomy

Recently, the government marked the movement unlawful and flawed. In response to this, a major hunt is ongoing to arrest the local leaders of the movement. Ruling it anti-constitutional government came up with outsized hoardings in the area with a note that tribals are being misled in the name of the movement.

Civil rights activist and head of Manthan Yuva Sansthan Sudhir Paul asserts that Pathalgadi is not unconstitutional. “This has been an ancient tradition of Munda tribes to document their traditions. It shows their association with nature. The new perspective in this movement is that tribal’s political consciousness has become stronger. They are trying to ascertain their rights provided by the Indian constitution.”

Paul opines that the whole movement should be seen in the backdrop of government’s policies which tries to crush their rights. Since the BJP government came in power in 2014, an enormous effort was made to amend the CNT and SPT Act that largely protects tribal tenancy rights. Enacted during the British Raj in 1908 Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) prohibits the transfer of tribal land to non-tribals hence protecting their community ownership. Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act (SPT) has much similar to the CNT Act.

“There is a need to see the whole movement in this perspective that on the one hand lands are forcibly taken from them by the government in the name of development causing the forced removal of their homeland. Tribals of the state are against the corporate-driven development agenda. It is a natural but remarkable burst of anger resulting into rebellion with doubts and conflicts arising among them,” he added.

 The Pathalgadi movement has become a tool to denounce the government policies and assertion of their rights. Nearly 200 villages of the state, particularly in Khuti, Gumla, Simdega and West Singhbhum districts are under its great influence.

Noted journalist of a local Hindi daily Sanjay Yadav believes that Pathalgadi movement gained momentum in the year 1996 when Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act or PESA provision came into effect.

Drumbeaters B.D Sharma, an IAS officer and tribal leader Bandi Oraon initiated the practice of placing the stone slabs to make the tribal people aware of their rights mentioned in the Act. Pathalgadi is part of the tribal customary law of Jharkhand and other tribal population dominated states like Chattisgarh and some part of Odisha.

“Pathalgadi is an age-old tradition inscribed in Adivasi philosophy in which their belief and rituals are carved on the stone plaques. But things are changing now” he adds.

Development Far Away

The villages that come under this area are far away from the development. Kochang is one of the villages where one can see primary school building only but without any teachers. The village’s primary health centre lacks basic facilities and has deserted look. Though the government is now in great haste to revamp development projects, locals have their unsatisfactory versions.

On the condition of anonymity, one of the locals says that the government’s so-called development is far away from the reality in tribal populated villages. Schools buildings and Primary Health Centers are present but neither a single teacher nor doctors are available here. Village dwellers go near about two kilometres to fetch water. “There is a huge scarcity of drinking water and the only source of water from crater or pothole of the nearby mountainous riverbed. Swacch Bharat Abhiyan is a complete failure here. Villagers argue that if they have to fetch water from two kilometres, what is the use of making toilets. Firstly the government should provide water facility to these villages,” he said.

If people sitting the political corridor feel that implementation of development projects as arduous one, they must hand over the autonomy to the people of tribal villages so that they might govern themselves on their own. The government must think over transferring of the development fund to the village assembly, the villagers demand in unison.