The Big Story: Stonewalling the adivasi
On Thursday, the Jharkhand police filed cases of sedition against 20 activists for social media posts opposing the state government and taking part in the Pathalgadi movement that had swept across a large numbers of Adivasi villages in the state.
The first information report accused the Adivasi leaders of trying to create communal tension, causing law and order problems and misleading people with respect to the Indian constitution.
With its epicentre in the state’s Khunti district, the Pathalgadi movement is a unique form of protest. It uses an Adivasi practice of installing stone tablets – traditionally used to mark graves – in order to list out provisions from the Indian Constitution which award vast powers to gram sabhas, village councils in Adivasi-dominated Fifth Schedule areas.
The movement stems from the constant infringement of Adivasi rights by the modern Indian state that has grabbed land for mining and industry, pushing indigenous communities to the margins in their own land. Since 2016, the state government has been trying to amend the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act as well as the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act of 1876 in an effort to allow industry to tap into Adivasi-held land. As a result, many Adivasi villages started to erect stone slabs emphasising local control over resources.
Yet, even this somewhat simple listing of constitutional rights has seen a backlash from the Jharkhand state government. The movement has been tarred by linking it with Naxals or branding it secessionist and anti-national.
Khunti district is today flooded with police personnel. In June, the gang rape of five NGO workers in June was sought to be pinned on the Pathagadi movement by the state police. However, multiple red flags have now emerged around this narrative with activists now concluding that the link was created in order to harass the leaders of the movement.
Since the establishment of the British Raj and then the modern Indian state in 1947, Adivasis in Jharkhand have seen their powers and rights shrink. From around 60% in 1911, they made up 28% of Jharkhand in 1991. Their lands have been exploited by outsiders, scattering Adivasis to other parts of the subcontinent, where they live on the margins.
In this constant violence, the pathalgadi movement is unique in that the protesting Adivasis are using the shield given to them by Indian Constitution and accusing the state government of violating it by taking away control of their own natural resources. If even this assertion of constitutional rights is opposed by using force, it would end up further alienating Jharkhand’s Adivasi population.
The Big Scroll
The Constitution set in stone: Adivasis in Jharkhand are using an old tradition as a novel protest, reports Priya Ranjan Sahu.
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