Shattered Dreams

Revisting Jharkhand Movement

Vir Bharat Talwar

Those who supported the demand for Jharkhand to become a separate state had hoped that this would result in its problems being solved and peoples' lives would become happy. Sixteen years have now passed since it became a separate state, but this hope does not appear to have been fulfilled. On the contrary, the lives of common people are becoming worse. Only a handful of people—government officials, those who became MPs, MLAs and ministers, and those who got government contracts—took full advantage of the formation of the new state and earned a lot of money; the condition of the common people, on the other hand, has become worse than before.

None of the problems which the Jharkhand Movement had tried to solve was successfully tackled. The loot of Jharkhand's mineral wealth by national and foreign capital is continuing as before; it has even increased. The displacement of adivasis by projects and industries in the name of development is continuing as before. Price rise and unemployment continue to haunt the people. Migration of adivasi men and women to Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and elsewhere, in search of a livelihood, leaving village and home behind, continues. Young boys and girls continue to be lured out of the state with the promise of jobs. The loot of adivasi land continues unabated; recently, the definition of local resident was tweaked and tenancy rules revised, making it easier to acquire adivasi land. Deforestation continues, the education system is in a shambles, adivasi culture is being further destroyed, and appointments in adivasi language and literature departments have reduced. Sixteen years after the state has come into being, none of the fundamental problems of the original inhabitants has been solved.

What is the cause of this state of affairs?

In essence, the cause lies in the anti-people policies of the government, with the political leadership having become brokers. Instead of taking care of the interests of the people, the government elected by the people is serving the interests of Indian and foreign capitalists and the rich. Whenever people raise their voices against this, agitate for their interests or fight against displacement, police and security forces are used to crush them. The aims for which Jharkhand state was created have been completely forgotten. Today's young generation does not know anything about those historical documents from which one can learn the aims of the Jharkhand Movement.

The elders of the movement who demanded Jharkhand dreamt of the development of Jharkhand; they had an ideology. They wanted Jharkhand to be a self-sufficient state. They wanted to develop Jharkhand in such a way that the people here need not go out of the state to earn a livelihood; rather, those who have left should also return. To achieve this, they wanted to use the resources of Jharkhand not just for the profits of the capitalists but mainly for the interests of the original inhabitants. Rather than signing dozens of MoUs with multinational companies, they wanted to strengthen the traditional economic system, move it forward, and give it a modern form in order that the benefits of development reach ordinary people here. From this point of view, the Memorandum that the Jharkhand Party under the leadership of Jaipal Singh gave to the State Reorganising Committee in 1954 is very important. The proposed programme for the development of Jharkhand outlined therein is very relevant today. Even more important is the point of view that the economy should not be established only on big mineral-based industries, but that, alongside, small cottage industries based on natural resources should be started so that Jharkhand's traditional economy could develop, leading to its modernisation.

According to this vision of development, in Appendix B of his Memorandum he gave a list of 17 medium, small and cottage industries, which were within the abilities of the original inhabitants to manage, and for which the necessary resources are adequately available in Jharkhand. In this list are included: (i) wood and furniture industry, (ii) match box industry, (iii) paper industry, (iv) bamboo-based industry, (v) rope industry, (vi) bidi industry, (vii) tasar and silk industry, (viii) mahua industry, (ix) khair industry, (x) lac industry, (xi) medicinal roots and herbs industry, (xii) handloom industry, (xiii) honey industry and (xiv) fruit juice-based industry, etc.

In 1978 a conference was held to chalk out a plan for a new Jharkhand. In that conference, the President of the Jharkhand Party, N E Horo, taking this very philosophy further forward, also proposed a list of industries based on local resources. N E Horo was a true and committed adivasi leader. His tribal origin is seen in his economic proposals. For example, he suggested the establishment of industries to make various products from the fruits available in the forests. Jam, which can be eaten as a spread on bread, can be made from kendu fruits. There are many kinds of green leafy vegetables which could be dried, powdered and made into nutritional dals/curries. They can also be used for soups. Juice from jamun fruits can be used to make medicines and cure stomach ailments. Mr Horo had dreamt of opening industries of genuine Jharkhandi character in Jharkhand, industries which the adivasis are fully capable of starting and running. This would also ensure that the resources here are fully utilised. In the above-mentioned conference, the intellectuals who took part in the industry-related session also stressed on exactly this economic philosophy.

This economic philosophy of balanced development proposed by the activists in the Jharkhand movement has been forgotten by all the governments and political parties of Jharkhand. There is a hard need to think about them and implement them again. In truth it is the forests and agriculture system that have kept the adivasis and other local communities alive for thousands of years. Therefore if one wants to develop adivasis and other local communities, then it is necessary to develop their traditional economic system; reorganise it, give it more facilities, remove obstacles from its path, and make it more modern. Furthermore, for the agriculture sector, there is a need to conduct more experiments and adopt new techniques, exactly the way Shibu Soren had once done it among the Santhal peasants of Tundi, in which experiments to grow soya bean and groundnut were included.

None of the governments formed so far in Jharkhand has put the interests of adivasis and original inhabitants at the centre of their policies and programmes. Although it was mainly the adivasis who struggled for the formation of Jharkhand, adivasi issues have vanished from Jharkhand politics. The adivasi question does not appear at the centre of government schemes. To give them rice at Rs. 2 per kilo for some time or provide them reservations in fourth-grade government jobs (like peons) is considered enough. All governments give the interests of national and international capitalist companies priority, and formulate their policies and programmes in their service. There was a deep lack of Jhark-handi character among these governments and political leadership. Rather, it should be said they did not have this character at all.

If one sees old documents of organisations and parties engaged in politics in the name of Jharkhand and adivasis, and the principles which these parties accepted during the Jharkhand movement, then one would be astounded. After seeing the party programmes and manifestos of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the AJSU of those times, one wonders whether these are the same Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the same AJSU. Both these parties were the strongest and most important organisations of Jharkhand leading the movement from the front in those days. People had a lot of hopes from them and people also gave full support to them. What did these parties say during the Jharkhand movement and what have they done after Jharkhand was created and they came into power? Is there any relationship between their words and deeds?

How much socialism has been ushered in by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which at one time used to consider itself as a left-wing, socialist party, and called itself a worker-peasant party? How much has it worked for workers and peasants? The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha was born as Sanat Samaj to fight against social evils. In its first party programme it had promised to 'completely abolish' the alcohol industry. But how much have they curbed consumption of alcohol after coming to power? How many social evils have been removed? In their programme they had written that contract and unorganised labour will be given the status of organised labour. Did they do this after coming to power? They had written that while establishing commerce and industry, local economic needs will be kept in mind, and they will create a network of small and cottage industries. This policy definitely has Jharkhandi character. But after coming to power have they worked on the policy of opening such industries? Have they made education free and compulsory? Both the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and AJSU had promised to give Jharkhandi languages their rights, to establish them in government work, and promote the study of these languages. What happened to this programme after coming to power?

Today all the political parties want to serve corporate houses and implement the policies of globalisation and liberalisation. They do not even want to fight against Hindutva openly. As such, in today's politics there is no opposition—neither in the country nor in Jharkhand.

Just as there is no alternative politics visible in Jharkhand today, there is no alternative leadership to be seen. Whenever a big political problem appears, there is no leadership to take forward the struggles of the people. In 2016-17 the BJP government passed a bill to amend the decades-old Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act (CNTA) and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPTA), with the intention of weakening these laws, as a result of which the land security of adivasis would be finished. This was probably the biggest crisis that confronted the adivasis in their post-Independence political history. A lot of dissatisfaction grew among common adivasis and they spontaneously opposed the bill, but no credible leadership came forward to organise this dissatisfaction and take it forward.

Today a majority of adivasi leaders of Jharkhand have become open or hidden brokers of corporate houses. This is especially true of those adivasi leaders who are in national parties like the BJP, Congress or Janata Dal. A glaring example of their servitude was seen during the presentation of Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act amendment bill. According to the provisions of the 5th Schedule, any legislation pertaining to adivasis of Jharkhand cannot be presented to the Legislative Assembly without the consent of the Tribal Advisory Committee (TAC). According to the Constitution, only adivasis can be members of this committee; that is, without the consent of the adivasis, no bill concerning them can even reach the Legislative Assembly. But in the case of the bill for the amendment of the CNT Act, which exploded into such dissatisfaction among adivasis, in that TAC all the adivasi members of the BJP and its coalition partners had given consent. This is the present face of the adivasi leaders whose ancestors were Birsa Munda and Sidu-Kanu.

Today the pre-condition for the emergence of a powerful leadership in Jharkhand is the birth of an alternative politics. Definitely at the centre of this alternative politics will be adivasi issues, particularly the imperative to implement the 5th Schedule with honesty, strictness and effectively. The 5th Schedule, which is an important constitutional provision to protect the rights of the adivasis, has, due to connivance of the interests of the ruling classes and political parties, become meaningless and of decorative value alone. Many of the problems of the adivasis of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and other states are on account of not strictly implementing the 5th schedule and the PESA law (which gives adivasis rights to control their forest, water and land). It is necessary to bring these issues to the centre of politics in adivasi regions.

Meanwhile a unique people's movement has emerged in Jharkhand which is a living and brilliant example of alternative politics—the Patthalgadi Movement. It is worth noticing that no political party has given birth to this movement, nor has it got direct or indirect support of political parties. This is a people's movement that emerged from the very bottom and which is led by adivasi villagers themselves. Patthalgadi is actually a traditional ritual of Munda adivasis, in which in the name of a dead person, a stone is buried in the burial grounds which proves that the dead person was a land owning member of the village community. Today the Patthalgadi movement is a political form of this very traditional ritual. In this in some village on a fixed day hundreds of adivasis come together and bury a huge stone ceremoniously in which many Articles and Provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution are written which declare the gramsabha of that village as the supreme authority and without the permission of the gramsabha the entry of the outsiders to the village is banned. The government lost its sleep due to this movement only when last year some police officers who had gone to investigate, were held captive by the villagers as per the above order. Since then the Raghuvar government of Jharkhand, calling this movement illegal and anti Constitutional, is doing daily propaganda against it. The government has said that it is connected with rapists, missionaries and Maoists and that they are opium cultivators. They are arrested and their houses are confiscated. But general adivasis do not believe in these accusations of the government. Therefore in spite of police repression this movement is spreading—apart from Khunti district, it has spread to West Singhbhum and in some villages in Chhattisgarh adjacent to Jharkhand. Why has this unique movement been born and why is it spreading? Actually for the last two-three years the state government, without caring a bit about the rights obtained by the adivasis and their gramsabha under the fifth schedule, has been making efforts to swallow their lands legally and illegally—against this, this movement by adivasis is a forceful attempt for the reassertion of their political and constitutional rights.

The irony is that all the political parties of Jharkhand are silent on this people's movement and are standing uninvolved.

Autumn Number 2018
Vol. 51, No.14 - 17, Oct 7 - Nov 3, 2018