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Certain Adivasi areas witness periodic bursts of bloodletting. Maoism has ruled here for a long time. Photo: AFP
Certain Adivasi areas witness periodic bursts of bloodletting. Maoism has ruled here for a long time. Photo: AFP

Misleading Adivasis in the name of tradition

The 'Pathalgadi' movement in Jharkhand is being fanned in such a way that it could spread like forest fire

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 Adivasi 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 3 June, in Jharkhand’s Khunti district, in the presence of hundreds of Adivasis, the foundation was laid for the headquarters of the “all-Adivasi 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 the Adivasis to benefit from the services of institutions founded and nurtured by the government. They don’t want that modern medicine makes a foray into 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 Adivasi 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 A.C. 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 Adivasis 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 organized at Khunti’s Udburu village on 3 June? The organizers claim it is the actual birth date of Lord Birsa and 15 November is just government propaganda. Incidentally, let me mention that Operation Blue Star in 1984 also began on 3 June. 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 Harmandir Sahib.

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 24 April 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 Adivasi 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 Adivasi 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.

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