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‘One year on, no withdrawal of Pathalgadi cases’

  • Category
    Governance
  • Published
    29th Dec, 2020

In December 2019, the state government of Jharkhand had decided to drop “all cases” related to the Pathalgadi movement of 2017-2018.

Context

In December 2019, the state government of Jharkhand had decided to drop “all cases” related to the Pathalgadi movement of 2017-2018.

Almost a year later, the government is still to send a requisition to the court to withdraw the cases, many of which involved charges of sedition.

Background

  • The Jharkhand government in May 2016 had attempted to tweak Chhotanagpur Land Tenancy Act, 1908 and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949.
    • These Acts were regarded as arakshya kavach (protective shield) for the land of tribals.
  • However, the bill never got the go ahead due to massive protest by tribal communities.
  • This led to violence in the state capital and protests were held in various parts of the state.
  • As an extension to this protest, the tribals of Khunti, Gumla, Simdega, Saraikela, West Singhbhum area started erecting stones in their villages with PESA provisions highlighting their rights which came to be known as Pathalgadi movement.
  • During the Pathalgadi movement, many villages saw people gathering from surrounding areas with bows and arrows to ‘assert their rights’.
  • This resulted in a crackdown leading to the death of a tribal, Birsa Munda– named after the freedom fighter.
  • Following this, cases were registered against several villagers.
  • In December 2019, the state government promised to drop the cases filed against the supporters of the Pathalgadi movement in 2017 and 2018. 

Analysis

What is Pathalgadi?

  • The Pathalgadi movementoriginated in the Khunti area of the state.
  • ‘Pathalgadi’ literally means ‘carving a stone’ — it is an ancient tradition in the tribal communities of Jharkhand.

Stone plaques

  • Stone plaques and signboards dismiss the authority of the central or the state governments on their villages.
  • These are meant to serve as warnings to the outsiders.
  • The stone plaques and signboards also contain "orders" prohibiting outsiders from entering the tribal village.
  • They proclaim allegiance to the Constitution but reject any authority except their gram sabhas (village assemblies).
  • They claim to be the real "Bharat Sarkar" (the government of India).
  • Their fight is aimed to reclaim their rights over "jal, jangal and zameen (water, forest and land)".
  • Adivasis usually erected engraved stones to mark the birth or death of a person.
  • It is also done in honour of their ancestors, to announce important decisions regarding their families and villages or to simply mark the boundary of their villages. 
  • The practice is still being followed even today in the Munda areas of Khunti.
  • Pathalgadis have their presence in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and parts of West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.
  • This was first used to create political awareness when the Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Area) Act (PESA) came into force in 1996.
    • That Act empowered the gram sabhas or panchayats to safeguard and preserve their traditions, community spaces and culture, and gave them the right to mandatory consultation in land acquisition.
  • The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution deals with the administration and control of Scheduled Areas as well as of Scheduled Tribes.

How this practice became strong?

  • The Pathalgadi practice took on a new meaning after tribal activists, former IAS officer B.D. Sharma (now deceased) and IPS officer Bandi Oraon, initiated the practice of erecting stones outside villages after the Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Area) Act came into existence in 1996.
  • These stone plaques are still reportedly found in four districts in Jharkhand – Khunti, Gumla, Simdega and West Singhbhum.
  • They are found at the entry of villages and often prohibit outsiders from entering the village.

 Revival of the movement

  • The Pathalgadi movement was to save tribal land rights, when the Jharkhand government introduced amendments to the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) 1908 and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act 1949
  • It started in 2017, when stone monoliths engraved with provisions of the Indian Constitution began to be installed in the villages of Khunti.
  • The engravings highlighted the special autonomy granted to Adivasi areas under the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Acts

  • The CNT Act was enacted in 1908, eight years after the death of Birsa Munda. This Act extends to the north and south Chotanagpur and Palamau divisions.
  • The SNT Act was passed in 1949, extending to Dumka, Sahibganj, Godda, Deoghar and Pakur in the Santhal Pargana region in eastern Jharkhand.

Since both Chota Nagpur and the Santhal Pargana are tribal-populated regions in Jharkhand, these Acts contained elaborate rules to protect their land rights. Together, these Acts granted special protection and land rights to the tribals and prohibited the transfer of tribal land to non-tribals or the commercial use of the land without the permission of the concerned gram sabha.

What was the response to the ordinance?

  • In response to the Bill, stone plaques were installed in villages of Khunti district with the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution engraved on them.
  • This was a reminder of the autonomy provided to the gram sabha and the tribal communities as per the Constitution of India.
  • Soon, the Pathalgadi movement spread to other tribal districts in Jharkhand and even to the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh.
  • The Jharkhand Assembly passed the ordinances in June 2017, causing protests by tribal communities and opposition from political parties like the Congress and the JMM.
  • In August 2017, the two amended Bills were withdrawn.
  • Land is at the core of tribal societies’ survival.
  • As per the customs of Munda and Santhal tribals, the ownership of land belongs to all the families of the same killi (clan), who cleared the forest and made land cultivable.
  • This age old custom provides an identity of being a Munda or Santhal and their country.

The cases

  • In November 2019, the Jharkhand Police had filed sedition cases against more than 10,000 people between June 2017 and July 2018 in Khunti district.
  • Under the sedition law, the people were booked for “exciting, or attempting to excite feelings of disaffection against the government.”
  • But the new Hemant Soren-led JMM government dropped all sedition cases against those involved in the Pathalgadi movement in December 2019 and those booked in protests against CNT and SPT amendments.
  • Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code pertains to sedition
  • Section 120A deals with criminal conspiracy
  • Section 120B doles out punishment for the criminal conspiracy cases.

What were the ‘specific’ demands of the Pathalgadis?

  • Self-rule: Pathalgadis started asking for self-rule and said that the government should enter their area with Gram Sabha permission.
  • No outsider allowed without permission: Quoting Article 19 (5) of the Indian Constitution, they said outsiders are not allowed to live and work in adivasi villages without permission. The administration’s pamphlet calls this unconstitutional and violative of fundamental rights.
  • No common formalities: They did not believe in Voter-ID cards or Aadhar cards, saying that it is for ‘common people’, and they did not follow it since they “khas admi”.

Is Pathalgadi movement ‘inspired’ from Satipati movement?

  • It is widely believed that Pathalgadi movement is "inspired" from Gujarat's Satipati movement that denounces the government of India and doesn't believe in its laws.
    • Satipati followers believe that they have the sovereign right over the forest and other natural resources.
    • They are known for boycotting votes and government benefits, among others.
    • However, the Satipati movement has remained non-violent in the state, which originated from Vyara in Tapi district by Kunwar Keshri Singh.
  • The Pathalgadi movement, which also seeks Adivasi rights over the resources by self-rule and prohibits outsiders, has gone violent on many occasions.
  • Pathalgadhi is said to have originated from Khunti district, the birthplace of tribal icon Birsa Munda.

Analysis of tribal rights in India

Tribal people constitute 8.6% of the nation's total population, over 104 million people according to the 2011 census. About 15 percent of land area in India is occupied by tribal communities

Domestic level

  • Schedules: The Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution carve out a separate legal and administrative framework for certain designated tribal majority areas within the territory of India.
    • Fifth Schedule: It designates tribal majority areas in ten tribal minority states within peninsular India including, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Rajasthan.
    • Sixth Schedule: It designates such tribal majority areas in north eastern states, including Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura. Of these, Meghalaya and Mizoram are tribal majority states.
  • Forest Rights Act, 2006 which protects the individual and community rights of tribal people in forest areas and their right to free and prior informed consent in event of their displacement and resettlement.
  • Article 15 pertaining to prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth
  • Article 16 pertaining to equality of opportunity in matters of public employment
  • Article 46 pertaining to promotion of educational and economic interests of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other weaker sections
  • Article 335 pertaining to claims of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes to services and posts. 
  • As per Article 338-A of the Constitution of India, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has been set-up.
    • The Commission investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Tribes

International Conventions

  • UNDRIP: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), adopted in 2007, for which India voted, recognises among other things indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination, autonomy or self-governance, and their right against forcible displacement and relocation from their lands or territories without free, prior and informed consent.
  • Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, 1989: There is the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, 1989 which is based on the “respect for the cultures and ways of life of indigenous peoples” and recognises their “right to land and natural resources and to define their own priorities for development.”
    • India is not a party to this, but it is a party to the ILO Convention concerning the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and Other Tribal and Semi-Tribal Populations in Independent Countries, 1957 which is outdated and closed for ratification.

Conclusion

Jharkhand’s eagerness to attract huge industries in the state or to perhaps improve its position or rating is coming at a huge price. Tribals consider land as God. For centuries, these people have been closely linked with forests, it has always been their way of life. They should not be alienated from their lands, otherwise, it would be a crime.

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