By Gladson Dungdung
On 3rd December 2018, there was a complete silence at Chuklu village. The Munda Adivasis claim of being the owners of the village because their ancestors had settled down here couple of centuries ago. The village is situated in ‘Birbanki’ region, which is in the eastern part of Khunti district in Jharkhand. In the government’s document, it’s one of the most Naxal affected regions of Jharkhand. The region is full of beautiful pictorial sites with forests, hills and water bodies in it, connected with each other. The yellow colour of ripen paddies adds more beauty in the scene. In the region, the air is pure; the water is pure and the Mundas are pure too. No one cheat anyone or grab anyone’s land or betray anyone here like the so-called civilized people do in the cities. Instead they live in community, respect each other’s autonomy and share and care of one another. The communism, equality and autonomy are the foundation of their society.
Indeed, the World would have been a beautiful place if this philosophy could have also been in the practice of the so-called civilized people’s lives. Today, the Mundas have been struggling for their survival because the co-called civilized people have grabbed their land and other livelihood resources, and are trying hard to grab the remain lands, invading into their territories and making money by selling the natural resources. They do not only sell the land, minerals, hills, waterbodies and forests but they also sell the water and the air after polluting the nature through massive industrialization in the name of public interest, economic growth and development. They are exploiting the nature and Mundas.
The impact of climate change caused by the heavy industrialization globally, can be easily seen in the region. The lack of timely rain, has adverse effect on agriculture, which totally depend on monsoon. The paddies of uphill fields have turned into straws, which could be used as food for cattle only. The Government’s agriculture loan and insurance policy don’t work in the region. The Mundas know that they will not compensated for the loss of harvest, therefore, they don’t even expect for it. Since, they don’t pollute the nature, therefore, they cannot even imagine about the impact of industrialization in their lives, instead, they think that perhaps, it’s a curse of the Singbonga (God).
It’s the harvesting time. The Mundas are busy in harvesting of ripped paddies, which will ensure food for them till the next harvesting season. They are happy to see the sufficient ripen paddies in their prime agriculture lands. They will survive despite the impact of climate change. Today, the Gram Sabha (Village council) had called for a mass meeting of 15 adjoining villages to discuss on the issues of land grab, violation of the constitutional, legal and traditional rights and the government’s divide and rule policy.
When I arrived to the village, I hardly see anyone, therefore, a question arose in my mind that who will attend the meeting in such a pick hour of harvesting? The village head, who was preparing traditional breakfast for the guests was hopeful and suggested me to wait for the people. He knew that the Mundas would surely turn up for the meeting. They know about the importance of such meeting. They know the importance of land for their lives. If they lose their land, there will be no harvesting season for them anymore. They are aware about the fact that the elected government has been batting for the corporate houses, therefore, their remaining land can be grabbed anytime.
In the afternoon, the Mundas started rushing to Chuklu. They sat down under the tamarind tries standing in the middle of the village. This is a socio-cultural place, known as ‘Akhra’. They conduct meeting, share the traditional wisdom with their children and perform dance during the festivals. The Mundas are always determined to protect their land, territory and resources. Indeed, they are worriers. They fought against the Britishers and they have been fighting against the Indian rulers too. This fight is for identity, autonomy and ownership rights over the land, territory and resources, which has been going on for last couple of centuries.
In the eastern part of Akhra, couple of stone slaps seems to be standing for years. These stone slabs had been installed by the Gram Sabha (village council). One can see the detail about village including the landholders, curved on the slabs. This is also known as the proof of land entitlement. The State is afraid of the such stone slabs; therefore, the installation of stone slabs is counted as anti-national activity these days. One can be thrown behind the bars for indulging such activity. However, these stone slabs standing like the walls, are enough to inspire the Mundas to continue their fight for protecting their land, territory and resources. They remind them that the land contains the sweat and blood of their ancestors, therefore, they must protect it and handover to the coming generations. That’s why the Mundas challenge the State without any fear and terror.
At the beginning of the meeting, Birsa Hansa of Chuklu village sings a folk song in Mundari, “Abu Adivasis Munda Ko Singbonga kabu bagiya, gathi-kuthi radi-bari jati ko oote hasa ko reo jad bua.” The literal meaning of the song is that ‘we the Munda Adivasis shall never leave our God because non-Adivasis are grabbing our land.’ The Mundas used to sing this song during the Birsa Revolt. However, this song is very much relevant event today therefore, they sing it in the meetings with the same spirit. There is no need to teach them about Birsa Revolt, they know that they must fight to protect their land, territory and resources till the last breath. They challenge the State whenever and wherever is required therefore, they are under scanner. They need a permission for holding any kind of social, cultural or political activity in the villages.
These days, no one can organize a meeting without prior permission of the Government authorities, which is against the PESA Act 1996. As per the Act, the Gram Sabha is the supreme authority of a village but the State has hijacked it. Therefore, the Gram Sabhas also needs to get permission from the government authority. What’s an irony? Chuklu Gram Sabha had acquired the prior permission for today’s meeting, still, a CRPF officer along with three constables rushed to the venue. They heard our discussions patiently so that they could fix some of us as anti-national activists under the sedition law. But, this time, they had to rush back empty hands as we discussed on the issues of land grab, land bank, power of Gram Sabha, religious conflict, violation of constitutional, legal and traditional rights and our ownership rights over the land, territory and resources. Perhaps, the security men had come to find out the Pathalgari connection. Most interestingly, we didn’t even know that the RSS men were also part of this meeting. They went to the police station and attempted to file an FIR against the organisers and me but that didn’t work. They were upset because I exposed about their political game behind creating the religious conflict among Adivasis.
After hearing my speech for couple of hours, a 25-year-old Adivasi youth Sagen raises his right hand and stands up. His face looks furious; his eyes are red and mind seems to be unrest. He questions, “Why did the Jharkhand government enlisted our land in land bank? How can the government take such an illegal step without consent of the Gram Sabhas? How can we protect our land?” The Jharkhand government has constituted a land bank in 2014, where 2.1 million acres of so-called government land is enlisted. These are commons, sacred grooves and forest land, which are owned by the Gram Sabhas. The land bank is violation of the PESA Act 1996, FRA 2006 and SC’s Niyamgiri judgment. The most important question is that when the State violates the law, who will act against it? The land grab has created unrest in the Mudas minds and hearts.
The Mundas’ territory known as their country seems to be calm and quiet, but in reality, there is unrest. The unrest is in the minds and hearts of Mundas, which has been burning like coal fire under the Earth for last couple of years. This unrest reflects while they speak either in a meeting or normal conversation. Most of the village heads have already been imprisoned in the sedition charges for their involvement in autonomous movement known as ‘Pathalgari’ similar like the Britishers did with the Adivasi legend Birsa Munda in 19th century.
I have been travelling across the Mundas’ territory for a decade now but this time, I was shocked to see that the entire territory has already been militarized after the Pathalgari Movement and Kochang gang rape incident, and the efforts are also being made for establishment of the permanent security camps in the villages. The questions arise in mind, for whom these security camps have been established? Do Mundas need the security? What is the purpose of these camps? Ironically, the government has setup the security camps at the distance of every five kilometers but the government hospitals are located at 40 to 50 kilometers from the villages, where there is no guarantee for treatment. The government doctors are busy in their private clinic but they draw salary from the taxpayers’ money. But who bother about it? Where is the accountability of the State?
The CRPF runs its security camps in some of the schools, where children learn more about the guerilla warfare than their textbooks, eat midday meal and get back to home. The secondary schools are located at 30 to 40 kilometers from these villages. The children can’t cycle everyday on pathetic road therefore, most of them drop out after class 8th. Indian democracy can’t even build a good road for them. What else they can expect from such State despite casting their votes in every five years. India is known as the largest democracy on the Earth but in reality, the corporate houses have hijacked the democracy. Today, the State is run by the corporate sharks, who are striving to grab the land, territory and resources of the Adivasis including the Mundas.