Tribals Embed Stone Tablets Engraved With Constitutional Guarantees, BJP Ministers Break Them, Jail Tribals
Ministers and members of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have entered these villages and broken the Pathalgadi stones.
- Tribals are embedding stone tablets engraved with constitutional guarantees of rights, across tribal areas of Chhattisgarh.
- Ministers and members of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have entered these villages and broken the Pathalgadi stones.
- When the people of the panchayat objected to government officials, the villagers were arrested and sent to jail.
Jashpur: Jyoti of Bachhraon village in Jashpur district says the state government of Chhattisgarh is acting in violation of the Constitution of India. She’s part of the Pathalgadi campaign, which asserts the rights of tribal communities over local forest, land and water resources, by embedding stone tablets engraved with constitutional guarantees of those rights, across tribal areas of Chhattisgarh.
The campaign has raised the political temperature across the state’s tribal-dominated districts, from Surguja to Bastar, which happen to be some of the most resource-rich regions in the country. Ministers and members of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have entered these villages and broken the Pathalgadi stones. Such incidents have been reported from Surguja, Balrampur, Rajnandgaon, Jashpur and Koriya districts. Protestors and tribal leaders who placed the stones have been jailed.
The Pathalgadi tradition is popular not just in Chhattisgarh but in many tribal areas of the country. Implanting a flat stone is a religious tradition and sometimes used for remembrance of ancestors. But, it’s also social tradition for demarcating village boundaries and used to display information. Now tribals communities are using them to convey a strong message to the government.
BJP Govt Fights Panchayat Act With Ghar Wapsi
The recent dispute started when villagers of three panchayats — Bachhraon, Batunga and Siharidaand — sought to restrict the entry of outsiders saying government officials and others cannot do business or mining in the area without the permission of the gram sabha (village council). They fixed stones at the entrance to their villages displaying extracts from the Constitution and the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (PESA).
PESA provides for the control and development of natural resources by gram sabhas in tribal areas notified under Schedule V of the Indian Constitution. Thirteen districts of Chhattisgarh are listed in schedule V. They are Jashpur, Korba, Surguja, Balrampur, Surajpur, Koriya, Bastar, Dantewada, Kanker, Sukma, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Kondagaon. The districts of Raigarh, Bilaspur, Gariaband, Dhamtari, Durg, Rajnandgaon are partially covered by its provisions.
This special status has also been given to scheduled areas in 10 states, including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Telangana.
Priyanka Shukla, an advocate in the Chhattisgarh High Court, says that under PESA, a village has been defined as a habitation or a group of habitations, or a hamlet or a group of hamlets, comprising a community and managing its affairs in accordance with its traditions and customs. The gram panchayat is deemed to be the executive committee of the gram sabha. If under any Act and on any subject such as forests, irrigation management etc., a body or committee is constituted by any government department, the same will be treated as a standing committee of the gram sabha and will be accountable to it.
PESA also mandates that the gram sabha shall be mandatorily involved in all decisions concerning land-acquisition, peace, security and dispute resolution, natural-resources management, agriculture and land use, mines and minerals, intoxication control, minor forest produce, management of markets, money lending, identification of beneficiaries, approval of plans, supervision and review of social-sector schemes as well as schools and hospitals.
Jashpur has largest Christian population in Chhattisgarh. Dilip Singh Judev, the former BJP member of parliament (MP) from Jashpur, ran a ghar wapsi (homecoming) campaign trying to re-convert Christians to Hinduism. Judev’s family has been in the forefront in his party’s campaign to discredit the Pathalgadi movement. BJP leaders, including union minister Vishnu Dev Sai, Rajya Sabha MP Ran Vijay Singh Judev and Prabal Pratap Singh had also led a Sadbhavna rally here to draw minority communities towards the BJP.
Leaders Behind Bars, Adivasis Plan Jail Bharo
Says BPS Netam, state president of the Sarv Adivasi Samaj, “BJP ruined Sadbhavna (good intentions) by breaking the stones of the tribals. When the people of the panchayat objected to government officials, the villagers were arrested and sent to jail. The villagers were just demanding the enactment of provisions of the fifth schedule. If the tribals did anything wrong, they could have been counselled.”
Netam says that chief minister Raman Singh has wrongly blamed conversions to Christianity as being responsible for the Pathalgadi movement. He points out that the Uraon tribals Singh accuses, adopted Christianity 3-4 generations ago. The Samaj has called a jail bharo campaign in favour of Pathalgadi by 15 May, indicating that their struggle is nowhere near a closure.
Tribal leader and a former union minister Arvind Netam says, historically, “tribal interests have been overlooked and self-governance through the gram sabha is what tribals want. That’s why Pathalgadi is marching ahead.” Netam says that without the consent of tribals, no new law can be made nor can old ones be amended.
Retired IAS officer Harman Kindo and ONGC official Joseph Tigga, tribal leaders who were involved in the launch of the Pathalgadi movement, have been jailed. Despite the arrests, on 7 May, demonstrations in support of the Pathalgadi campaign were held in many district headquarters.
Chhattisgarh home minister Ramsevak Paikra says the tribals have been misled about PESA. He says the Pathalgadi movement is in fact unconstitutional. Alok Shukla, coordinator of Chhattisgarh Bachao Movement, counters that the movement is solely to safeguard the power of the gram sabha, which is critical to the inclusive development of the region. But the government, he says, is trying to politicize the issue by setting Hindus against the Christian tribals.
Electoral Conspiracy, Says CM
Chhattisgarh chief minister Dr. Raman Singh says, “This is an electoral conspiracy, this is a force that intends to increase religious conversion.” But, as Congress member of the legislative assembly (MLA) and state party president, Bhupesh Baghel points out, “If the tribals are saying the gram sabha is supreme, then what’s wrong in it? This is enshrined in the Constitution.”
(Vandana Agrawal is a Raipur-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)