Birsa Munda's Jharkhand slipping out of Adivasi hands

Written by Sabrangindia Staff | Published on: November 15, 2017

An Indian tribal freedom fighter, Birsa Munda was a charismatic folk hero who challenged the anti-Adivasi policies of the British and belonged to the Munda tribe.  Had he been alive today, he may well have asked, whether Jharkand State, created on November 15, 2000 –on his 125th birth anniversary -- actually stands for the dignity of Adivasis?

Birsa Munda

Birsa Munda died a martyr in the Ranchi jail on June 9, 1900 at the young age of 25. He had been arrested on March 3 that year by the British police while he slept with the tribal guerrilla army he had formed, in Jamkopai forest in Chakradharpur. Like Bhagat Singh the revolutionary who died so young, Birsa Munda’s fiery band of activism has inspired generations. He is the stuff of what folk legends are made omnipresent in popular and folk literature, academia, and mass media.
But today on his 142nd birth anniversary let’s ask is the state that as formed on his 125th birth anniversary actually protecting the dignity and rights of tribals?

Prabhat Khabar reported that 4,000 Adivasis of Jharkand falsely charged as ‘Naxals’ languish in the jails of Jharkand. 1307 Jharkhandis have been arrested and 88 of them are supposed to have surrendered. (Source: Prabhat Khabar, Ranchi ed., 1 Sept. 2017).   Some independent studies indicate that 27 persons [22 in 2016 and 5 in 2017) were killed in so-called ‘encounters’ by the police. (Bagaicha, Ranchi, documentation)

A quick look at a timeline of the state’s repression of agitations over the past years tells a grim story.


In early November 2017, a rickshaw-puller reportedly died of hunger at his house in Jharia last Friday evening. His wife claimed that he had not eaten anything for the past two days. However the district administration rubbished the allegation arguing that 45-year-old Baijnath Ravidas, a resident of Bhalgora Tarabank in the coal mines rich district, was suffering from a disease.

Poor Disenfranchised

A month earlier, news of Jharkand’s poor been struck of the ration card and pensioners list made the news. 11,64,000 ration cards cancelled as ‘fake’: 2,71,000 old-age pensioners have been declared ‘fake’; pruning of MGNREGA applicants as ‘fake’. The Jharkhand government published  a full page advertisement on September 22, enumerating its achievements during the 1000 days it has been in power.  Among the ‘achievements’ there is one item in the list that details of how it has cancelled 11,64,000 ‘fake ration cards’ leading to saving Rs.225 crores. Similarly, the state government has also ‘cancelled; 2,71,000 old-age pension documents and saved Rs.86 crores. Again, the state government claimed that it has saved Rs.203 crores by pruning MGNREGA ‘fake applicants’.  This is peddled like and appears to be a huge achievement of the govt. What this has meant is that large numbers of poor have been disenfranchised and left out the meagre social welfare schemes.

State Leadership Contemptuous of Adivasis and Dalits

In September 2017, the state government put out a controversial advertisement describing Tribals and Dalits are described as “simple and mute as cows”. The Chief Minister, allowed an advertisement with his photo and that of “Bappu” reducing the Tribals and Dalits to the level of cows.

Social Welfare Schemes on Paper

Social welfare schemes for STs and SCs in Jharkand remain on paper: Perusing the long list of developmental and welfare schemes meant for SCs and STs in Jharkand is like stepping into a dream-world. There are 49 schemes jointly undertaken by the central & state governments. This is apart from about 40 other schemes meant for the general population under the banner of rural development. The state bureaucracy iself violates the PESA Act which says “Gram Sabha shall be responsible for the identification and selection of persons as beneficiaries under the poverty alleviation and other programmes” [PESA 4.e.(ii)]. So the whole selection process of those chosen as beneficiaries is both illegal and ultra vires.

The much The much spoken about SC Sub Plan [SCSP]and Tribal Sub Plan [TSP] are implemented half heartedly, the irony being big sums from these schemes are diverted for general schemes such as road construction, panchayat building, stadiums etc with the justification that SCs and STs also use these facilities!

Worst Offender the Jharkand State Created in Name of Adivasis

Jharkand government has been accused of the ‘loot of adivasi land’, and it has taken place in the following manner: (i)  land alienation and consequent displacement. From the time of independenceup to now a staggering 24 lakh acres of land has been forcibly acquired all in the name of development. Consequently, 17 lakh adivasis have been displaced. The sad fact is not a single adivasi person or community has ever been rehabilitated because it involves not only resettlement in another place of their choice but also social and cultural bonds preserved intact. Only a minimal cash compensation was thrust upon them and after that they were neatly forgotten.

Repressive Laws in Jharkand
(ii) CNT/SPT Acts amendments being forcibly enforced in Jharkhand is yet another blow to the Adivasi people insofar as it aims to transfer agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. This implicitly means non-adivasis from within or without the country can acquire adivasi land for setting up commercial and business enterprises and govt can take agricultural land for infrastructural purposes. This is as good as finishing off this protective legislation. Happily there is wholesale resistance to this deceptive action of the govt and even the Governor has returned the bill asking the govt to re-consider this proposed legislation.

(iii) Land Bank is the most recent innovation to rob adivasi land from the back door. The govt proudly announced during the investors meeting in February this year that it has put together 21 lakh acres of land in Land Bank and therefore the investors will not have to face the problem of how to acquire land in Scheduled Areas.  It has now come to light the govt stealthily ear-marked the ‘Commons’, namely the common facilities of the village community such as ponds, cattle-grazing grounds, roads, places of religious worship, burial grounds, rivulets and even rivers as part of land bank! There is also private family land that is not cultivated but used for other needs that has also been included in land bank. And all this has been done without even informing and getting the consent of concerned families and communities. This action of the govt goes against constitutional and legal provisions.

Fake Land Deals

(iv) Fake land-deeds alienating thousands of acres of adivasi land are being reported in the print media recently. More than 1000 such fake deeds during the past 16 years have been unearthed.[Prabhat Khabar, 19 June 2017]. Those who are guilty of doing this are mostly non-adivasi-outsiders who are very adept in bribing govt functionaries and make out the needed fake documents. So there is a collusion of govt officials, politicians, contractors, land brokers, middle men most of whom are non-adivasi-outsiders have been working overtime to cheat the simple adivasi and deprive him of his cherished natural resources. Can there be a greater injustice than this cruel game?

Put briefly, the government's developmental & welfare schemes have not made any difference in terms of betterment to most of SC / ST people. What is the use of decorating the tree’s branches with schemes that are either not responding to their real needs or they are not accessible to them?

Protests Against Amendments in Laws Repressively Put Down

Between July-October 2016,Jharkand erupted in conflict last year (July-November) as amendements in laws were pushed through to dilute the say of peoples and communities over what could or should be done with their lands.

Firing on NTPCs
In October 2016, in a gruesome incident, early morning on Saturday, the Jharkhand police is said to have left five persons dead and many injured as it opened fire on the villagers protesting “forcible land acquisition” for a thermal power plant being built by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in district Hazaribagh, Chirdudih area. 


The firing, according to independent sources, has left five people dead, 12 critically injured and nearly 50 injured. There is a curfew in the area, and outsiders can’t go, and many missing are yet to be traced, these sources added.

While protests against the NTPC plant have been going on since 2010, when the project was announced, critics says, till date far acquired 8,056 acres of land acquired, most it “forcibly and fraudulently.”

This has happened despite the fact that, it is suggested, many issues even on the acquired land remains to be resolved, including higher compensation, employment and so on. 
Post Script
Jharkand has also seen the brute attack on minorities apart from Adivasis. The A Muslim Dairy Owner Thrashed. Believed Dead, House Set on Fire on 'Suspicion' of Cow Slaughter in June 2017.
Jharkand has seen a spate of brutal killings, lynchings since March 2016 when Mazlum Ansari and his nephew Imtiyaz were lynched and hung to die. Thereafter too there have been a series of attacks, assaults and killings. The last one was last friday after the Alvida Namaz on the Friday before Eid, on June 23 when 24 year old Mohammad Salman was allegedly shot dead by a posse of policeman. One arms guard is even under arrest after confessing to the crime. The National Commission of Minorities (NCM) even brought out a report on the deep rooted communal polarisation in Jharkand, even within the police force after the Latehar hangings.

In early April 2017, a Maulvi was brutally assaulted at Kodarma and thereafter in May 2017 rumours of child lifting had left many Muslims and some Hindus dead.