Jharkhand gangrape grim warning of how tribal tradition of Pathalgadi is being hijacked to incite anti-State sentiments
Five women of an NGO, who were campaigning against human trafficking, were abducted and raped in Jharkhand last week.
The abduction and rape of five women from an NGO allegedly by Maoists in Jharkhand sent shock waves through the country and introduced India to the little-known term, "Pathalgadi".
Pathalgadi is a tradition followed in the tribal villages of united Bihar — now Jharkhand, too — of inscribing on stone important messages for the community on cultural traditions, deaths, village boundaries, etc. It was a perfectly peaceful and legal practice around since before the advent of the British in India.
However, politicians, Maoists, a few political parties, urban Naxalites and the Church have manipulated and turned the innocent Pathalgadi into a divisive, extremist, violent, illegal and unlawful movement called political Pathalgadi.
Maoist sympathiser BD Sharma — a retired IAS officer who died in 2015 — began the political Pathalgadi movement in 1992, along with Bandi Oraon and PNS Surin in what is now Jharkhand (see Editor's Note below). Today, the carvings on stones under political Pathalgadi seek to stir up trouble by provoking tribals against the state. Outsiders, including government officials and security agencies, are warned to not enter villages. Unwelcome visitors are dealt with brutally, made clear by the rape of the five women from Asha Kiran.
The situation is serious in Jharkhand, where a number of districts have felt the effects of political Pathalgadi. Those propagating it are deliberately misinterpreting the Constitution and rulings of the Supreme Court to suit their agenda. Here are a few examples:
1. In 2017, Pathalgadi was used to stop a Korean automobile project in Jharkhand.
2. In February, tribal villagers took hostage 25 security personnel returning from anti-Naxalite operations.
3. Tribals held police and government officials hostage in August 2017 in Kanki Siladon.
3. Last week, tribals abducted three guards of BJP MP Karia Munda in retaliation to the massive search operations the police had launched to nab the rapists of the five NGO women.
Political Pathalgadi spread to Chhattisgarh in April, when former ONGC employee Joseph Tigga and retired IAS officer HP Kindo started the Pathalgadi movement in Bachhraon village of East Jashpur district. After the arrest of the two activists, the Sarv Adivasi Samaj and two of its patrons — Sohan Potai and Arvind Netam — spearheaded the movement in Chhattisgarh.
Interestingly, Netam, on the insistence of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, joined the party on 17 May at a rally in Surguja district. This is yet another example in the long list of the Congress supporting divisive, extremist and anti-India forces. The launch of a private bank and private currency by the Sarv Adivasi Samaj with Netam's help leaves no doubt about the agenda of political Pathalgadi.
Here are some examples of Pathalgadi in Chhattisgarh:
1. Voter and Aadhaar cards are anti-tribal.
2. Tribals are the real owners of India, not ordinary citizens, and are above other Indians and also the law.
3. The self-appointed Gram Sabha is supreme, not the results of elections (Janadesh).
These incite the innocent tribal community to take law into its hands and disregard the rules in place. This makes the perfect recipe for chaos and disorder, which some elements aim to achieve before the 2019 elections.
The modus operandi of these forces exploiting tribals is simple and akin to the standard operating procedure of Maoists — take government officials and security personnel hostage and shut down schools, hospitals and other symbols of governance. It is this kind of incitement that led to the abduction and rape of the five women from Asha Kiran, allegedly by Maoists, when they were performing a street play on trafficking.
RC Mission School, run by the Church, had invited these women to campaign against human trafficking. Armed men had abducted the five along with two nuns of the school. While the nuns were released unharmed after Father Alfanso Alien of the institute had appealed to the abductors, the police said he had neither tried to negotiate the release of the other women, nor reported their abduction from his school. The incident came to light the next day only after the NGO informed the police.
These circumstances have raised doubts that the incident was possibly planned and carried out in collusion with Father Alien. The police have registered two FIRs, and Father Alien is named in one of them. He has since been questioned by the police while the National Women's Commission has openly alluded to his connivance in the crime. This raises suspicions about the dangerous trend of the involvement of the church in Pathalgadi.
The chain of events did away with all doubt that political Pathalgadi is divisive and extremist and seeks to create separatist pockets within India with the active participation of Maoists. In this sinister plan, propagandists of political Pathalgadi have the support of the Congress, tribal activist Dayamani Barla, Left parties and urban Naxalites hidden from public eye. Their efforts are aimed at keeping these regions backward and poor by not allowing government welfare schemes to be implemented, thereby fomenting chaos and disorder that enables Maoists to thrive and flourish.
The state and central governments must wake up to this new menace and frame a policy, bringing in strict action to protect tribal communities from exploitation and alienation. Tribal welfare schemes must be implemented to achieve the vision of Hindutva icon Deendayal Upadhyay that the state serves even the last man in the queue. Leaks have to be plugged and tribal rights secured constitutionally before extremist elements hijack the perfectly-legitimate tradition of Pathalgadi to hurt India.
The author is a Supreme Court lawyer, political analyst and member of the Akhil Bhartiya Adhivakta Parishad. For an alternative view of the work of BD Sharma and others named in this article, read this piece by Nirmala Buch, former chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh and contemporary of Sharma.
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