Hul Diwas to Pathalgadi movement: The blaze of Adivasi Rebellion Continues
The tradition of celebrating Hul Diwas on 30 June began in 1855. It was on this date 161 years ago that the Hul revolution led by Sido, Kanho and Chand Bhairvav began in Bhognadih village of Dumka. Bhognadih has now become a place of pilgrimage and hundreds of people come here every year to pay respect to the legendary Santhal revolt leaders who fought against the zamindars and moneylenders on the one hand and against the British rule and its army on the other. More than 20,000 Adivasis became martyrs in this armed struggle, including the two brothers. Restoration of Adivasis lands and eradication of moneylending still remain central issues for the Adivasis in Jharkhand.
The mineral rich state that Jharkhand is, successive state governments after the formation of the separate state have been pushing hard to make the transfer of tribal land in the hand of mining companies at dirt cheap prices. The BJP government had the audacity to actually go ahead with this while the previous state governments didn’t dare to move in this direction. Chhotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act are century-old acts and they provide protection to the tribal land, especially agricultural land which cannot be used for other purposes. These Acts are central acts and these cannot be amended/changed without the approval of the president of India.
Transfer of land of the tribals is forbidden under the law. Hence the BJP government, by-passing the state assembly, had promulgated CNT/SPT Act Amendment Ordinance with proposals of changing the category of agricultural land to non-agricultural land and was sent to the president of India for approval. The militant protests by the adivasis, the left forces and other opposition parties forced the BJP government to backtrack and withdraw the amendments last year. However, the continuous attacks on democratic rights of the tribals, along with the venomous communal polarization carried out by Hindutva organizations should leave no illusion that BJP is only looking for an opportune moment to again push these changes in favour of the big business.
The recent phenomena of the age old ritual of ‘Pathalgadi’ taking the shape of movement is only a pointer of the deep schism between the adivasis and the state; with the former experiencing the threat of loss of livelihood and democratic rights in their daily lives. ‘Pathalgadi’ (originally known as ‘Sasandari’) refers to the ritual of placing a stone at the tomb of a dead person and is widely practiced by various tribes belonging to the Austro-Asiatic group, including the Mundas. The present form of ritual has its roots in the campaign initiated by former IAS officer B.D. Sharma and former IPS officer Bandi Oraon to raise awareness about the rules and provisions under the Provisions of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Area) Act (PESA Act), which came about in 1996. The PESA Act is in force in Fifth Scheduled Areas, which cover most districts of Jharkhand. According to the Act, gram sabhas have a decisive say in many matters, and the local administration then has to go by the decision of the gram Sabha.
For the last two years, Munda villagers from several villages in Khunti district started performing Pathalgadi in the way Sharma and Oraon popularised, detailing on stones the powers of the gram sabha and other provisions in the fifth schedule of the constitution. At the bottom of the stone, they have also started adding, ‘Outsiders are not allowed into the village without the permission of the gram sabha’.
While the movement reflects the failure of the successive state governments in protecting the land, livelihoods and forest rights; the animosity and rupture in dialogue brought about by the current BJP government, has led to a section of the leadership of this movement arguing for a separate territory. Every protest in the last two years has been curbed by use of iron hand of state machinery and with every cycle the situation has only worsened from bad to worse. This has only emboldened the particular section mentioned above which is trying to cut off from the collective memory the political message of leaders like Jaipal Singh Munda.
“Sir, most of the members of this House are inclined to think that flag hoisting is the privilege of the Aryan civilised. Sir, the Adibasis had been the first to hoist flags and to fight for their flags. Each village has its own flag and that flag cannot be, copied by any other tribe. If any one dared challenge that flag, Sir, I can assure you that that particular tribe would shed its last drop of blood in defending the honour of that flag. Hereafter, there will be two Flags, one Flag which has been here for the past six thousand years, and the other will be this National Flag which is the symbol of our freedom as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has put it.”
(Jaipal Singh Munda’s speech in the constituent assembly)
The communal polarization brought by RSS has serious implications for the Pathalgadi movement. It is imperative that the left forces intervene with zeal in this entire churning so that the core issues of autonomy, livelihood and rights over the land and the forests remains the central thrust of the movement. This would be the true to tribute the undying legacy of the Hul Diwas.