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Pathalgadi movement in Jharkhand – Withdrawal of Cases

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December 23, 2020

What is the issue?  

  • Soon after taking charge in December 2019, the Hemant Soren-led government in Jharkhand had decided to drop “all cases” related to the Pathalgadi movement of 2017-2018.
  • Almost a year later, the Soren government is still to send a requisition to the court to withdraw the cases. Here is a look at the Pathalgadi movement.

What are the key 5th Schedule provisions?

  • Tribals form more than 1/4th of Jharkhand’s population.
  • Areas of Dumka, Godda, Devgarh, Sahabgunj, Pakur, Ranchi, Singhbhum (East &West), Gumla, Simdega, Lohardaga, Palamu, Garwa (some districts have partly tribal blocks) are part of the 5th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • It vests the Governor of a state with special powers to safeguard and protect the interests of the tribal population.
  • These include examining the laws enacted by the parliament or legislature and accordingly restrain or allow the laws.
    • This is done keeping the interests of the tribals in tune with customary law, social and religious practices among others.

What are the concerns in this regard?

  • In the absence of exercise of the above power by the governor in Jharkhand, the tribal population tried to assert their rights on their own.
  • Siraj, a rights activist in Jharkhand, highlights the following concerns:
    • The governor never exercised the power to implement 5th schedule provisions and PESA in letter and spirit.
    • The executive too has largely avoided these issues till date.
    • For instance, there is less clarity on the role of Gram Sabhas in case of minor minerals, ownership of minor forest produce or power to manage the agri-produce market.
  • In all, participation of the tribal population in the decision-making apparatus remains very low.

What is Pathalgadi and how did the movement begin?

  • Stone plaques - The word pathalgadi is drawn from a tribal custom of erecting stone plaques on the tomb of tribal people in Jharkhand.
  • It is also done in honour of their ancestors, and to announce important decisions regarding their families and villages.
  • It is also used to simply mark the boundary of their villages.
  • Inscriptions - The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) was enacted in 1996.
  • When this came into force, former IAS officer BD Sharma, now deceased, started the practice of erecting stone plaques in villages with provisions of the Act inscribed on it.
  • This was done to empower people belonging to the 5th Schedule area on their legal and constitutional safeguards.
  • The pathals also quoted several orders of High Courts and Supreme Court. E.g.
    • the Samatha judgement which is about preserving the tribal autonomy, their culture and economic empowerment
    • P Rami Reddy vs Andhra Pradesh 1988 orders
  • The latter says that ‘special legislations cannot be held to be unconstitutional on the ground of violation of other fundamental rights, such as Article 14 and 19(1)(g)’ and others.
  • The villagers said that they read these provisions and orders to reiterate -
    1. the supremacy of powers of traditional Gram Sabha and traditional Adivasi governance systems
    2. rights of Adivasis over land
    3. the restricted rights of non-adivasis and outsiders in the scheduled areas to settle down and work
    4. that Adivasis are the original inhabitants and owners of India
  • The Raghubar Das government then had attempted to tweak Chhotanagpur Land Tenancy Act, 1908 and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949.
    • As per the 1949 Act, a tribal can buy or sell their land only to another tribal.
  • Raghubar Das government did this by passing an ordinance amending Land Acquisition Act (Jharkhand Amendment) in 2017 and awaited Governor’s approval.
  • However, the bill did not get the approval due to massive protest by tribal communities.
  • This led to violence in the state capital and protests were held in various parts of the state.
  • As an extension to this protest, the tribals of Khunti, Gumla, Simdega, Saraikela, West Singhbhum area started erecting stones in their villages with PESA provisions highlighting their rights.
  • This ultimately came to be known as the Pathalgadi movement.

What were the demands of the Pathalgadis?

  • Pathalgadis started asking for self-rule and said that the government should enter their area with Gram Sabha permission.
  • Quoting Article 19 (5) of the Constitution, they said that outsiders were not allowed to live and work in adivasi villages without permission.
  • They did not believe in Voter-ID cards or Aadhar cards, saying that it is for ‘common people’.
  • A section of Pathalgadis also follow ‘Kunwar Keshri Sinh of the Sati-Pati cult from Gujarat’s Tapi district.’
    • They did not believe in constitution and also rejected government services.
  • A fact finding body which had gone to the Pathalgadi areas, in its report, said the following:
    • Most of the interpretations of Constitutional clauses written on the pathals may be wrong or far-fetched
    • However they are based on the valid issues and demands of the people.
    • Also, the basic idea about the supremacy of Gram Sabha is not wrong.

What happened during the movement and what were the cases?

  • People gathered from surrounding areas with bows and arrows to ‘assert their rights’.
  • The Raghubar Das government had come down heavily on the Pathalgadi movement.
  • Cases were registered against several villagers.
  • The police had filed cases against about 200 named accused and more than 10,000 unnamed people.
  • A total of 172 people were made accused, out of which police had sought prosecution sanction against 96 accused.
  • Many of the cases involved charges of sedition. Apart from sedition, accusations against them included -
    • ‘attacking the police officers with weapons’
    • ‘Kidnapping officers or body guards of the MP with well-planned conspiracy’,
    • ‘instigating locals to create hurdles equipped with local equipment without any information or permission’
    • ‘capturing the police station and snatching the weapons from the hands of police officers’
    • ‘creating an insecure situation, misbehaving with government officers’
    • ‘Provoking the people with their inflammatory speech against government and administration’
    • ‘creating obstacles in governmental progressive works and disturbing law and order’
  • Most of the cases were registered in the year 2018 and a few in 2017.
  • Later within the BJP, a section of people were against charging the supporters with sedition.

What was the Hemant Soren -led government’s promise?

  • Withdrawal of ‘all cases’ related to the Pathalgadi movement was the first cabinet decision of the Hemant Soren-led JMM (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha) government in Jharkhand.
  • A committee was formed in this regard.
  • In 30 FIRs, among the 19 cases in which sedition charge was invoked, the committee has recommended withdrawal of IPC section 124A (sedition) from 17 cases.
  • On the delay in implementing the decision, Soren said that there were some questions related to the cases as some cases were false.
  • Solution is said to have been reached in half of the cases, which have been recommended for withdrawal.
  • In some other cases, investigation is still pending.

 

Source: The Indian Express

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