By Gladson Dungdung
He was alone from Kochang village in the crowd of more than 2000 Adivasis, gathered in Sarvada, which was one of the centers during the Birsa Revolt popularly known as “Birsa Ulgulan”. Kochang was defamed worldwide for gang rape and its so-called connection with Pathalgari Movement last year. Since then, every Adivasi of the village is under surveillance, therefore, they don’t go anywhere in a group. As per the Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, the right to freedom of expression, movement and assembly is fundamental rights of everyone in the country and the State is duty bound to protect, promote and secure these rights. However, the same rights come under the purview of anti-State activities here and anyone can be booked under the sedition charges for their involvement in such activities.
On December 9, 2018, the man had come to tell us about the story of land grab in Kochang but he didn’t dare to unfold the story in the mass meeting due to fear of being victimised by the State. He apprehends of paying the price for exposing the land grab because many police informers were also present in the meeting. He assumes that he might be falsely accused of being the part of Pathalgari Movement and thrown behind the bars. But he was unable to control his emotions. Perhaps, he thought that it may be unfair to return his village without unfolding the matter of land grab. After hearing my speech patiently, he came to me and said that he wants to tell me something about Kochang but of course, not in public. I was eager to know as I already had a document of Kochang land grab, therefore, we went to a corner. He narrated the whole story and I heard him patiently.
The story is that after so much of hue and cry on the ‘Pathalgari Movement’, which is one of the autonomous movements of Adivasis in Jharkhand, the land grab has begun in the Mundas’ territory. The State has been busy in establishing the permanent security camps in the region so that the grabbing of land and mineral resources for the corporate sharks could be started. Needless to say that the security forces will be used to suppress the dissent voices during the corporate resources grab. The State has been facilitating the natural resource grab using all the possible ways and means. For instance, the consent of the Gram Sabha is must for land acquisition in the Fifth scheduled areas but the government has hijacked the power of Gram Sabha. The case of Kurun and Kochang villages unfolds it.
On 23 October 2018, the Circle Officer (CO) of Arki Circle Office issued a notice for conducting Gram Sabha’s meetings in Kurun and Kochang village on 29th and 30th October 2018, subsequently. The letter reads, “A notification letter issued by the Superintendent of Police, Khunti regarding the land acquisition for the construction of community halls in Kurung and Kochang is received, and the dates for the meetings of Gram Sabhas have been fixed on 29th and 30th subsequently, therefore, the presence of every of Gram Sabha member is must.”
The Adivasis of Kochang and Kurung question that how can the CO fix the dates and issue the notices for conducting the Gram Sabhas’ meetings? Who has authorized him to do so? How did he get such power and authority to order us for conducting the Gram Sabha’s meetings? The Deputy Commission of Khunti was out of the scene and the prime role was assigned to the Superintendent of Police, Khunti. Therefore, villagers also question the role of SP. Has the government changed the role of SP from the law and order to rural development? If the SP will look after the law and order and deal with the affairs of rural development, then what will the Deputy Commissioner do?
It would be very interesting to know that there are community halls in both the villages therefore, the villagers doubt whether the SP is going to build community halls or police camps in thier villages? According to the letter, 2.47 acres of land will be acquired in each village for the community hall, which raises a serious question. What kind of community hall the SP is going to build? As per the present practices, 15 to 20 decimal land is acquired for the construction of a community hall, which is more than enough, and of course, there is no such community hall in any village in Jharkhand, which is built on such massive land of 2.47 acres.
The fact is that the government has planned to build permanent security camps in both the villages to serve the vested interest. However, the policy makers know that Gram Sabhas will never give NOC for the land acquisition for setting up the permanent police camps in the villages. Therefore, a trick was played in the name of community hall. Fortunately, the Adivasis understood the trick instantly. They also know that as per the PESA Act 1996, only the village head can call for a meeting of Gram Sabha, still they followed the government order to understand it in depth.
After issuing notice, the police started threatening the villagers. On 29 October 2018, Khunti police picked up Sukhram Soy, village head of Kochang from the market, when he was having breakfast in a roadside hotel. He was taken to Khunti police station. The police officers threatened him to book under sedition charges if he doesn’t agree for the land acquisition. They said that they will send him behind the bars in a false case regarding his involvement in Pathalgari Movement. He was released from the police station at 11pm. The State has been using the ‘Pathalgari’ to punish the dissents. For instance, 20 activists, writes and students were booked under sedition charges. Among these, some of them had merely shared some of my articles regarding the Pathalgari Movement on their Facebook walls. Interestingly, the State violates the laws but the Adivasis are booked and imprisoned under the sedition charges. The Adivasis have been struggling for survival in their own country.
It was the peak hour of harvesting season, still the villages of Kurung and Kochang gathered for the Gram Sabhas’ meetings on 29th and 30th following the CO’s order. They thought that the denial of the CO’s order may have adverse affect on them as more than 60 village headmen and common Adivasis are already in prison on the allegation of being the members of Pathalgari Movement. But neither the CO nor the SP or other officers arrived for the meetings. One full day was wasted but who will pay wage to the Adivasis for it?
Interestingly, on November 1st, 2018, the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Arki Police Station arrived by his vehicle with some police constables having guns in their hands and ‘Saris and Dhotis (cloths for men and women) in the vehicle. They started distributing ‘Saris and Dhotis’ among the people, who were present in the small market near Kochang village. They also gave Saris and Dhotis to those, who were grazing their cattle near the village. They asked the beneficiaries to put their signature or thumb impression on some blank papers. The OC was extremely pleased for accomplishing the work. Perhaps, he thought that the grabbing of the Adivasis’ land is one of the easiest task on the Earth. Adivasis can be fooled with a piece of cloth or ‘Haria’ (traditional drink) with chicken. But is it so? Of course, Not. However, he was overwhelmed.
On the next day, he converted the blank papers as the consent papers of Gram Sabhas for land acquisition and sent it to the SP. The man told me that none of those who have singed or impressed their thumbs on blank papers after receiving ‘Saris and Dhotis’ belong to Kochang village. I just laughed thinking that what will happen to the OC when the SP would come to know about the truth? Is OC made himself fool while fooling the Adivasis? But who will reveal the truth? Will the mainstream media take any interest on it, who tirelessly misinterpreted the autonomous movement of Adivasis while reporting about the Pathalgari?
The case of Kochang exposes that how the biggest democracy on the Earth, has been suffering from the democratic deficit. Is democracy alive in our country anymore? I would say that the capitalism has already assassinated the democracy long ago. How can the democracy be alive when the PESA Act 1996 passed by the Indian Parliament is kept aside to serve the vested interest? The PESA Act recognizes and legitimates the Gram Sabha as supreme authority of a village located in the fifth Schedule area.
Indeed, one can also say that the corporate houses have hijacked the Indian democracy because they fund the political parties and spend countless money during the elections, which is actually the investment for them similar like they invest in a share market. And after formation of the government, they harvest it. That’s why the government(s) amend the safeguarding laws made for Adivasis to serve the corporate interests. Kochang land grab is enough to prove that the State has been facilitating the land and resource grab. The man who told me about the Kochang land grab, went back to his village but no one knows how long he would be safe. He has invited me to visit Kochang but I’m not sure whether I’ll meet him in his village, somewhere else or in the prison.