The Pathalgadi movement of Jharkhand is gradually manifesting itself as the largest tribal movement of India in the 21st century. The movement that started with the demand of recognising the special status granted to the residents of the Fifth Scheduled Areas by the Indian Constitution is now turning into a serious battle between the Hindutva fascist regime of Narendra Modi, the Raghubar Das-led Jharkhand Government and the tribals of Jharkhand and other states.
Pathalgadi means placing a stone with a message inscribed on it. The movement derives its name from a tribal ritual called “Sasandari” in which the tribals would place a stone atop a tomb. In the mid-1990s, two former bureaucrats and tribal rights activists, BD Sharma and Bandi Oraon started the Pathalgadi movement by placing stones in the entrance of villages with the provisions and rules of the Panchayat Extended to the Scheduled Areas Act (PESA), 1996, inscribed on them. At that time these tribal villages were part of the undivided Bihar.
20 years later, in 2016, the tribals of Khunti district of Jharkhand restarted the movement with a different agenda. They started asserting their rights as an independent people, using the rules that apply to the residents of Fifth Scheduled Areas. Activists started educating the villagers of Khunti, Gumla and Singhbhum districts about the provisions in the Constitution for them. The people started understanding how they have been fooled by the Indian state and its non-tribal ruling classes, who are hardcore Brahminical in outlook and endorse Hindutva fascism, for years.
The Indian Constitution grants special status to the tribal people and guarantees them some distinct rights, including the right to self-governance through Gram Sabha. All employees of the state machinery, who are on the payroll of the people on the virtue of India being a republic, must seek permission from the Gram Sabha of any village in the Fifth Scheduled Areas, in case they want to enter the village on any purpose. The tribal people are also supposed to have their distinct culture, language and rituals in which the state can’t impose its whims.
However, the Brahminical Indian state has always violated these provisions and has treated the tribals as the slave of upper-caste elites. At the whimsical fancy of the state, millions of tribals are evicted from their villages and their rights over their forests were taken away; the tribals have been subjected to state terror if they protested against their eviction by the state. They were made the sacrificial lamb at the high altar of the temple of “development”, whose deity is worshipped by politicians of all hues.
The BJP governments in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the BJD government in Odisha and the governments of other states like West Bengal, have signed multiple MoUs with big mining and industrial corporations mostly owned by big foreign monopoly and finance capital and their Indian comprador lackeys. These MoUs will allow these corporations to plunder the mineral resources beneath the soil of these states and grab the land of the tribals.
In February 2017, the BJP government of Jharkhand signed MoUs worth ₹3,000 billion with different industries other than mining. In November 2017, the Raghubar Das-led government signed MoU with the notorious British mining giant, Vedanta corporation, which is responsible for the killing of 13 people in Thoothukudi protesting against its polluting Sterlite copper smelting plant. The Vedanta group is setting up a steel plant in the state, as per a statement from the CM’s office.
One of Narendra Modi’s principal fundraisers, Gautam Adani’s Adani Group is also investing nearly ₹200 billion in the state for its different mining projects. It must be remembered that Adani Group is also notorious for its anti-environmental mining practices that cause severe environmental pollution and affect the lives and livelihood of people. Their proposed coal mining project in Australia has triggered a large-scale mass protest against the crony capitalist and his group in that country.
No wonder, therefore, the BJP would want to clear a large tract of land for its corporate masters like Adani, Vedanta and their foreign investors. To hasten this land acquisition drive on behalf of the big corporate houses, the Jharkhand Government started the process of amending the land acquisition law.
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act, 2013 (RFCTLARR Act, 2013) came into force as a central law on 1 January 2014. According to this law, social impact assessment and food security provisions are important steps that must be taken into consideration before land acquisition.
In its haste to appease the corporate lords and foreign capital, the Raghubar Das-led Jharkhand Government started amending the RFCTLARR Act, 2013, which would do away with social impact assessment and food security assurance for land acquisition, resulting into forcible eviction of the tribals from their land that will be given to big corporates by the BJP regime.
The BJP and Raghubar Das’ government didn’t stop at this only, they also started amending the other laws like Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act to acquire tribal land easily by changing the land ownership pattern in these areas.
All these amendments started in 2017, the very year the sclerotic Raghubar Das regime signed those MoUs with the utmost corrupt corporate houses and mining giants. It was not hard for the tribals of Jharkhand, who are 26 per cent of the state’s population, to comprehend the intention of the government. They rose up in protest against the BJP’s intention to seize the ownership of the land, forests and rivers from the tribal people by crook.
Whenever the tribals have protested against their forceful eviction from their land and forests, the government has stamped them as Maoists and unleashed police terror on them. Hundreds of tribal youth are killed in staged encounters by the police and the central paramilitary forces who are engaged in Indian Government’s largest war on civilians – the Operation Green Hunt, which aims at evicting and massacring tribals to pave way for big mining corporations.
This arbitrary state terror, the random arrests of tribal men, women and even children on charges of abetting Maoist movement, has fuelled anger among the tribal people of Jharkhand’s Gumla, Khunti, West Singhbhum, Latehar and other districts. They started coming out of the fear psychosis and began questioning the police and the authorities, which made the latter enter into a frustration mode.
The tribal people, citing the Constitution, demanded that the police personnel behave as public servants rather than public masters. This irked the police and they started arresting more tribals who denied the police entrance to their village without the permission of the Gram Sabha, as per the rules of the Fifth Scheduled Areas. The denial of the police and the bureaucracy to act as the servants of the people and treat the tribals as their paymasters have proven to the tribals that the state machinery is against them and will never honour their independent existence.
The Pathalgadi movement that started in 2016 with few villagers in Khunti district, reached a massive proportion in 2018, when more than 80 villages of the district partnered with the movement and declared their villages and their forests as their own asset and banned the government and outsiders (Dikus) from entering their area (Dishum) without permission from the Gram Sabha. The government’s plan to evict the tribals en masse from their land and forests for the sake of the mining corporation has actually fuelled this massive growth of the movement. It’s reported that 40 villages out of these 80 have already placed the stone placate of Pathalgadi movement.
Though the movement is lead by the tribal activists, who are utmost reformist in nature and have no ideological orientation towards the left or any agenda of starting any revolutionary movement to bring transformation, unlike the Maoist insurgents, the BJP and the government run by it are blaming the Maoists for instigating the “rebellion” against the government.
Citing the militant nature of the movement, after the tribals abducted security personnel from a corrupt MP’s house, the BJP is calling the tribals foot soldiers of the Maoists and Raghubar Das government is trying to build up a massive military campaign against the tribals.
Ever since Raghubar Das and the RSS leadership blamed the Maoists and opium cultivation as the cause of the Pathalgadi movement, the toady media of the Hindutva fascist camp started relaying the same propaganda to malign the tribals and to justify stern military action on the activists and participants of the movement.
Soon after Raghubar Das threatened the movement and its participants with dire consequences, five women members of an NGO creating awareness about women trafficking were abducted by a gang of armed hooligans from a Roman Catholic church in Khunti and gangraped at gunpoint. The BJP and its toady media immediately blamed the Pathalgadi movement for the gangrape and sent police to arrest the activists and the priest of the church to give a communal angle to the heinous crime.
Throughout India, the corporate media hyped the gangrape and called it a handiwork of the tribal activists, Maoists and the church. By spreading utter lies and slanders, the Hindutva-inclined mainstream media maligned the tribal activists and their movement. This vilification propaganda by the lapdog media of Modi regime was intended to create a mass opinion in favour of the BJP and bring a division within the tribals.
The tribals condemned the gangrape and demanded prosecution of the real accused, who, according to the local people are part of the RSS’ militia that works with the police against the tribals and the Maoist movement. The police and the state shielded the real accused and forced the women to accuse the priest and the tribal activists. The police persecution angered the Pathalgadi movement organisers and participants, and they started building up resistance against the state’s aggression.
Despite all nefarious propaganda and malice, the Pathalgadi movement gained prominence in different villages of Khunti district. Learning about their rights and rediscovering their rich legacy of struggle against injustice and aggression, the tribals are preparing themselves for a stronger self-rule movement and to thwart the government’s efforts to usurp the land, forests and rivers that the tribals have nurtured since time immemorial.
Pathalgadi movement, despite its metaphysical ideology and over-reliance on the Constitution, has turned into a vital force for the ruling class to reckon with. Reports are coming that more villages are joining the fray and BJP men, along with the RSS’ tribal wing, are forced to retreat from different parts of Khunti district.
The self-rule movement is going to open the first tribal bank in India and it’s also starting tribal schools that will teach tribal children lessons in their own language and follow a syllabus that will serve the tribal cause. The tribals are now mass boycotting the Indian state’s identity documents like voter card or Aadhar, calling them anti-tribal and thereby, they are creating a situation where the BJP and the RSS are gradually facing their doom. As Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology faces an existential challenge in Khunti district, the saffron camp is turning disarrayed and frustrated.
Though the Indian state may call the Pathalgadi movement a secessionist movement and try to use its muscle power to subjugate the tribal people who are now aroused after decades of slavery, however, the popularity that the Pathalgadi movement is gaining among numerous villages out of 32,620 total villages of Jharkhand, shows that the tribal struggle for reclaiming what’s rightfully their own and not of Adani or Aggarwal, will not allow an inch of tribal territory to the BJP or allow its drive to Hindufy and Hindify the tribal masses.
In the hinterland of Jharkhand, among the successors of heroic martyrs like Sidhu, Kanhu, Chand, Bhairav, Phulo, Jhano and Birsa Munda, the new battle lines of modern India are getting drawn. Due to their indomitable character and their legacy of never surrendering, the tribal people remained unconquered during the peak of the British colonial rule.
Now, even if the BJP tries to destroy the Pathalgadi movement by intensifying mob lynchings in Jharkhand or by unleashing barbaric state terror, the doom of Raghubar Das regime is inevitable. Nothing can stop the tribals from reversing the wheels of the injustice juggernaut and their glorious Pathalgadi movement will certainly strike panic among the ruling classes and force them to retreat from the tribal heartland of Jharkhand.