Governments of Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhatishgrah are facing trouble due to continuous proliferation of ‘Pathalgadhi’ movement among the local tribals. This problem is extreme in Jharkhand, which is causing pain in the neck for the state government due to anger of tribals in various districts of the state. This ‘Pathalgadhi’ movement could also be seen in Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh and Sundargadh district of Odisha. Even the Central government is keeping a close eye on this sensitive issue. What is ‘Pathalgadhi’? In fact, this is an old tradition of tribals, mainly ‘Munda’ community. This tradition is conducted in last rites of a dead person in the Munda community by laying respectfully a stone on the grave and this is called ‘Sasan Diri’. ‘Pathalgadhi’ is important for the Munda community from their birth to death. There is a famous story on this. When British proposed the endowment of land, the Munda community opposed it tooth and nail. The Calcutta court asked them to present evidence justifying their ownership over the lands. At that time, they put ‘Sasan Diri’ before the court as a proof and said that their villages are guarded by these stones, which are older than their ancestors. These stones, according to archaeologists, are known as ‘Megalith’.
But the new avatar of ‘Pathalgadhi’ is creating political dispute. In recent days, constitutional rights are mentioned over huge stones in many tribal-dominated areas and outsiders have been barred from entering in those areas. Tribals in these villages say that ‘Gramsabha’ is the supreme administrative institution and no other administration, even the government could enter without its order. Allegations are being levelled against Raghubar Das, Chief Minister of Jharkhand, where this movement is spreading widely, that the Jharkhand government is deliberately trying to acquire tribals’ lands.
This problem started two years ago, when Raghubar Das government proposed an amendment in ‘Chhota Nagpur and Santhal Paragana Kastakari Act’. Tribals opposed this amendment and due to this, the government had to roll back on this issue. This has created a huge rift between tribals and the government.
Gradually, this ‘Pathalgadhi’ movement has reached in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The government is saying this movement is unconstitutional and arresting those involved in it. Tribal community has to say that they are doing this under the Fifth Schedule, Section 13(3), Section 19(5)(6), Section 244(1) and PESA Act given in Indian Constitution. They have not violated Constitution anywhere. Rather they have mentioned Indian Constitution under national emblem Ashok Stambh on these stones. Tribals have been celebrating ‘Pathalgadi for long’. After the promulgation of PESA act in 1996, ‘Pathalgadi’ was started by Bharat Jan Andolan under the leadership of B.D Sharma.
If there was no controversy then, why today? The question is related to tribals’ pride, existence and autonomy. It has profound historical background and strong constitutional base.
It is essentially related to the interpretation of schedules, paragraphs and tribal rights in the Constitution. There are arrangements for the fifth and sixth Schedules in Indian Constitution for tribal interests. In scheduled areas, traditional administration system is legalised for tribals, and the tribal community is demanding the same administration system, mentioned in the Constitution. Before Independence, Munda, Manaki, Manjhi and Pahada community were part of this administrative system. The tribal community fought several wars against British and they were never defeated, nor did they surrender. Consequently, keeping their autonomy in mind, British provided for SPT, CNT and other Acts for them. These Acts were incorporated in creation of Constitution also. In PESA Act, extending tribal rights, special powers have been invested in the Gramsabha. According to the Fifth Schedule, security of tribals will be the responsibility of Governor. According to Section 19(5)(6), if tribals are being effected by outside
interference, the government will
provide them security by enacting special laws. But these kinds of constitutional provisions were never imposed for the welfare of tribal community and as a result, tribals migrated and were oppressed.
It is being alleged that tribals’ interests are being compromised to appease corporate and business community. On the other hand, its being said that some criminals and anti-India elements are involved in ‘Pathalgadi’ movement. They want to prevent police and administration from entering these areas so that they don’t get any hindrance in their opium business. Due to this, they don’t want any development in these areas also.
This movement can also be witnessed in Sundargadh district of Odisha adjoining Jharkhand border. Two-three groups are active in this area. They are also doing the same as is happening in Jharkhand. MLA from Jhamumo, George Tirki is the strong supporter of PESA Act. Showing respect towards Indian Constitution, he says that ‘Gramsabha’ has been recognised supreme in scheduled areas as per PESA Act. On the other hand, the chief of Raji Pahada, Raji Bel Bagi Lakada is very strict and favours full autonomy in scheduled areas. He says that in schedule areas, traditional administration system should be mandatory and no outsider should be allowed. Even interference of police and administration will not be tolerated.
MLA George Tirki says that the Odisha government is not implementing the PESA Act, and is implemented arbitrarily. The tragedy is that the governor is silence on this issue. All the powers have been given to the Governor in the scheduled areas, but no Governor has taken any steps to protect the interests of the tribals in Odisha so far. All the Governors have dedicated their rights to the government interest. By blaming the state government, Tirki says that the government has passed legislations like land bank for looting the tribals’ land.
He further says that the president of the Tribal Advisory Council is a non-tribal in the state. According to the Council, it should organise meeting in every six months but the big irony is that it has organised only seven meetings in the last 18 years. It shows the biased attitude of the government against tribals. According to PESA Act, not a single municipality can be created in Sundargarh district. But the government is trying to make the one in Rourkela against which we went to the high court and the court stayed it. George Tirki says that Pathalgadi is being done to spread awareness among tribals about PESA Act and the ‘Gramsabha’. He points out that Pathhalgadi has been constructed in over 250 villages till now. He adds that those involved in this activity do not live in hiding but do it with enthuthiasm, where the villagers also participate with full vigour. He further adds that his goal is to get fully implemented the PESA Act. The state government should formulate a policy to implement it as soon as possible. We are neither against the Constitution nor against development. Our only demand is that the rights of the tribals, provided in the Constitution, should be fully implemented. Triblas land should not be grabbed.
The first tribal IAS of Sundargarh district and now retired Livinus Kindo is not convinced with Tirki’s views. Kindo says that the Pathalgadi supporters are not properly interpreting the PESA Act. Development activities in tribal areas will be hampered by their activities, which is a matter of concern. The PESA Act needs to be implemented with its original spirit. Tribals, their traditions and their land should be completely protected. There is no consensus on the interpretation in different groups of tribal community. If this confusion continues, tribals will be more backward in the race of development. These people argue that the Governor is supreme, but they should understand that the Governor acts according to the advice of the Council of Ministers, not according to his own wishes. The Fifth Schedule has been implemented in Andhra Pradesh, and one can learn from it.
In some villages of Sundargadh, incidents of prevention of and misbehaviour with police-administration in the name of PESA and ‘Gramsabha’ have been reported. They were advised not to enter in villages without the permission of ‘Gramsabha’. Such incidents have alerted the administration. Amid these incidents, first time, some groups of tribals have dared to raise their voice against Pathalgadi. Members of ‘Khutkuti Vikas Manch’ have to say that they don’t want the development work in their areas should be stopped in the name of Pathalgadi. These tribals want education, health, electricity and road. An office-bearer of ‘Khutkuti Vikas Manch’ said that they are being threatened by ‘Pathalgadi’ groups. They are being told not go against ‘Pathalgadi’ movement.
The tribal community is trying to interpret their constitutional rights through ‘Pathalgadi’. This issue needs to be dealt in a democratic manner, and should not be relegated to back burner by dubbing it treason.
(all photo courtesy- The Wire)
By Satish Sharma from Rourkela