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Tribals beheaded for opposing Satipati cult, not for Pathalgadi practice: Fact-finding team

Ranchi: A fact-finding team which returned from Burugulikera village, West Singhbhum district where 7 villagers had been beheaded on January 22 has refuted the claims being made by local media and administration that the killings were the outcome of opposing Pathalgadi practice.

Initial media reports had hinted at the possibility of a pro-pathalgadi faction of the village having murdered the members of the anti-pathalgadi faction for opposing their movement.

However, the fact-finding team under the banner of Adivasi Adhikar Manch (AAM) discovered that over half of the total families present in the village were followers of the AC (ante-Christ) kutumb pariwar (also known as satipati) cult. The cult was headed by Ranasi Budh and a few others, accused of killing James Budh and six other villagers.

The cult practitioners, active in the village, since the past year had asked people to surrender their ration card, Aadhaar card, voter card and also to stop availing government schemes such as Public Distribution System, social security pension, PM Awas Yojana and so on. The team discovered that over half of the families present in the villages had surrendered their documents, while James and many others did not. The documents were not forcefully taken but people were sometimes told that they would not be considered Adivasis or would be expelled from the village if they did not surrender. They had even been asked to submit their khatiyan (land documents) too, which many like James did not.

James Budh, upmukhiya of the Gram Panchayat, used to get government schemes implemented and had objected to the call for giving up schemes. Ranasi Budh’s wife Mukta Horo was the ex-Mukhiya. They also used to get schemes implemented earlier. However, the satipati cult supporters not just asked people to surrender their documents and to not avail of government schemes but also forbid them from visiting Churches and celebrating Sarna (Adivasi) festivals. The clash of ideology often caused friction between the two factions.

On 16 January, a day after local Maghe Parv (an Adivasi festival), James Budh and his friends attacked the houses of Ranasi Budh and four others. The attackers broke their cycles, motorbikes, television and ransacked their houses. They also allegedly took away two persons – Lodro Budh and Roshan Barjo with them. According to the families whose houses were attacked, the attackers were also accompanied by armed members of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) (a Maoist splinter group, known to have initially received state support). Some villagers shared that James Budh was close to a local PLFI leader, Mangra Lugun.

On 19 January, Ranasi Budh and other satipati cult supporters brought the attackers from their homes for a meeting to discuss about the alleged attack on their houses. This meeting was mainly attended by satipati supporters. From the testimonies of satipati supporters and family members of the victims, it has emerged that the seven people were beaten to death during the meeting and then beheaded.

Siraj Dutta, a member of the fact-finding team mentioned, “We believe that it’s not just a simple case of mass murder, where the victims had been killed for not supporting satipati cult. We believe that the Special Investigation Team during the investigation will dig up more.”

According to the fact-finding team, there is a need to differentiate between the Pathalgadi ritual and satipati. The former is a traditional practice of Munda Adivasis, during which stone slabs (pathals) are erected in honour of their ancestors or to announce important decisions of their families and villages or to simply mark the village boundary. Since 2017, pathals painted with Constitutional provisions for Adivasis, judicial orders and their interpretations have been erected in several villages of Jharkhand.

“Pathalgadi ritual was first done by former IAS officer BD Sharma and Balli Uraon between the years 1996-2003 in Jharkhand. But when the Adivasis began practising it again post 2014, it got termed as a seditious act, in the eyes of former Raghubar Das government,” informed Aloka Kujur, an activist and member of the fact-finding team to eNewsroom.

She further said, “Almost all the villagers we met at Burugulikera, said that satipati organization functions in the village. They also mentioned that after the killings, none of the reporters visited the village but reported on the information provided by officials.”

“Significantly, where the incident took place, villagers do not speak Hindi. So, how did the journalists without visiting the spot and talking to the villager conclude that the Pathalgadi supporters killed the non-supporters?” questioned the activist.

Kujur added, “I believe that it was an administration sponsored killings. Now it is Hemant Soren government, which has to reach to the truth and identify the officials in the administration, wanting to malign Pathalgadi practice.”

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