Ranchi: At a time when Jharkhand is all geared up for the Dhanbad visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 25 to lay the foundation stone for developmental works worth Rs 27000 crores, Pathalgadi, an ancient practice of the Indian tribals to declare self-rule is spreading fast in several districts of the mineral rich state.
Angry tribals resort to pathalgadi
During Pathalgadi movement tribals belonging to scheduled area, through Gram Sabhas demarcate their village area and implement the constitutional power given to them under PESA (Panchayats Extension to Schedule Areas). Once it’s implemented, outsiders are barred from entering the village including police and administrative officials. Also no one, including government can’t acquire land or sell without seeking permission from the Gram Sabha, while the locals can draft their own rules to save the tribal culture.
The practice got highlighted in Jharkhand about a year back. At least a dozen villages of Khunti districh have done pathalgadi and announced self-rule in their villages. Now the movement has spread out to the industrial belt of Seraikela-Kharsawan. On Tuesday, under the leadership of Joseph Purty pathalgadi was done in six more villages of Seraikela-Kharsawan, following which, Jharkhand police arrested one Durga Munda on the charges of organizing pathalgadi events. Not happy with the police, the villagers retaliated, by holding police land mines, vehicles and eight policemen hostage for four hours. A similar protest was executed in February, earlier this year, when 25 policemen were held hostage for arresting the gram pradhan on the charges of pathalgadi. Later police arrested movement leaders that include some retired government employees.
Pathalgadi, a constitutional practice?
“There is a tradition and history of pathalgadi among tribals belonging to the Munda tribe. However, when these villages started practicing the ancient tradition, police began to inquire them as its an anti-national activity, forcing the villagers to start taking the police as hostages,” said Dayamani Barla, a social activist of tribal rights.
She further claimed that what tribals were doing was not unconstitutional, “It has been a practice among the tribals to inscribe the constitutional power given to them under PESA Act 1996 on stones and installed the stones at the village borders.”
Why the need for it, now?
Explaining the resurgence of the ancient practice, Barla reasoned, “Actually, the laws made for the betterment of the tribals have not been implemented in the right way, hence not much changes have been seen in their lives. On the other hand their properties and resources are being exploited. Be it CNT (attempts to amend it has been made) or PESA or the Forest Rights Act, none have been implemented well. In fact not even eight pattas have been issued in the last twelve years of the implementation of Forest Rights nor have any gram sabhas been formed or entrusted with any powers. Hence, these consistent failures forced the tribals to go for pathalgadi.”
The activist also justified the tribals for not sending their kids to government schools. “At first one may think that the villagers practicing pathalgadi, not sending their children to schools are wrong. But a closer examination will reveal that these schools are often ill equipped and have a single teacher teaching over a hundred students. So, where is the quality? So when they say that they will start their own school, you will realize that they are right in doing so for the sake of their children, provided they don’t teach anything against state or country,” she said.
Questioning the government, she said, “I have been told by villagers of a certain village in Palamu that some officials has informed them that their land would be acquired by the government as it has gold deposits, which the government wants to unearth. Villagers said that now government or any company will displace them if they do not pathalgadi their land.”
CPI-ML leader Vinod Singh also maintains that the tribals doing pathalgadi, are not wrong. “The government should not arrest the leaders, as it won’t resolve the issue. Talking, negotiations and tactful dealing is needed to be done by the government.”
BJP’s double stand
Significantly, BJP government seems to have double standard when it comes to pathalgadi movement. While the Raghubar Das, chief minister of Jharkhand, a BJP-ruled state is dead against this movement, Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chattisgarh, is backing the pathalgadi movement in his state. He has even stated that pathalgadi is being done in accordance with the constitution.
“When pathalgdi was done in Jashpur district of Chattisgarh, Raman Singh had called it unconstitutional. However, he now has expressed no objection to this movement,” said Akhilesh Edgar, a member of Chattisgarh Nagrik Sanyukt Sangarh Morcha to eNewsroom.
But he maintained that there is an agenda when it comes to the way this ancient movement is being treated in Chattisgarh.
“Here, the government is supporting pathalgadi, as they see it as a useful movement to contain the Christian missionaries. Initially, the government had blames the missionaries for instigating pathagadi, however, they later in some areas used it as a mean to stop Christians from entering tribal areas,” added Edgar.
However, in Jharkhand, a lot is being done by the government to crush the movement.