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  • 23 January, 2020

  • 4 Min Read

Pathalgadi Movement

Syllabus subtopic: Linkages between Development and Spread of Extremism.

Prelims and Mains focus: About the Pathalgadi movement and its impact on the internal security of India; About Birsa Munda and his contribution

News: Seven persons were taken hostage and later killed, allegedly by armed supporters of the Pathalgadi self-rule movement, in a village in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, on Wednesday.

  • The killings were said to be a fallout of an old rivalry between supporters of the Pathalgadi movement and those against it.


  • In its first cabinet decision on December 29, the Hemant Soren government dropped all cases registered against people during the Pathalgadi movement of 2017-2018.

  • The previous BJP government in the state headed by Raghubar Das had reportedly booked more than 10,000 people for sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code for participating in the movement.

What is Pathalgadi?

  • ‘Pathalgadi’ literally means carving a stone — it is an ancient tradition in the tribal communities of Jharkhand. Adivasis usually erected engraved stones to mark the birth or death of a person.

  • The practice took on a new meaning after tribal activists, former IAS officer B.D. Sharma (now deceased) and IPS officer Bandi Oraon, initiated the practice of erecting stones outside villages after the Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Area) Act came into existence in 1996. That Act empowered the gram sabhas or panchayats to safeguard and preserve their traditions, community spaces and culture, and gave them the right to mandatory consultation in land acquisition.

  • The two civil servants got stones engraved with the provisions of the PESA Act to spread awareness among the tribals about their rights.

  • These green-painted stones are usually 15-feet long and 4-feet wide, and are found in four districts of Jharkhand, including Khunti, the birthplace of Adivasi icon Birsa Munda. The stones include excerpts from the PESA Act and the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of India, which deals with the administration and control of ‘scheduled areas’ as well as of Scheduled Tribes residing in that area.

  • The stones signify self-rule by the local gram panchayat, declaring the village as sovereign territory and prohibiting the entry of outsiders into the village. The supporters of the movement also declare the gram sabha as the highest authority, and refuse to obey the state and central governments.

CNT and SPT acts

  • The (Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act) CNT Act was enacted in 1908, eight years after the death of Birsa Munda. This Act extends to the north and south Chotanagpur and Palamau divisions.

  • The (Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act) SNT Act was passed in 1949, extending to Dumka, Sahibganj, Godda, Deoghar and Pakur in the Santhal Pargana region in eastern Jharkhand.

  • Together, these Acts granted special protection and land rights to the tribals and prohibited the transfer of tribal land to non-tribals or the commercial use of the land without the permission of the concerned gram sabha.

BJP govt’s ordinances

  • In May 2016, the BJP government introduced two ordinances — the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908 (Amendment) Ordinance and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act 1949 (Amendment) Ordinance, which enabled commercial use of tribal land and made it easily transferable. The Act empowered the government to procure agricultural land from tribals for non-agricultural purposes.

  • The Pathalgadi practice regained prominence after the ordinances were brought in, with tribal people erecting new stones as a mark of protest. They named it a battle for “jal-jangal-zameen” (water, jungles and land).

  • The ordinances were passed by the Jharkhand assembly in June 2017, but after objections from political parties like the JMM, Congress, the Left as well as residents of the state, Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu asked the government to reconsider its decision. The government later withdrew the ordinances.

Violence over Pathalgadi

  • However, clashes between the establishment and the local population continued and turned violent, leading to allegations of the movement becoming more radicalised and fuelled by separatism.

  • In June 2018, five women of an NGO, who were in Khunti district to raise awareness against human trafficking, were allegedly abducted and raped. The police blamed leaders of the Pathalgadi movement for the crime.
  • According to a report, more than 10,000 people were booked for sedition between June 2017 and July 2018, when the movement was at its peak, which is “possibly the highest number of people booked at one time in one district anywhere in India”. These people were booked for “exciting, or attempting to excite feelings of disaffection against the government”.

  • Thereafter, the local residents decided to boycott the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

About Birsa Munda

  • Bisra Munda was a folk hero and a tribal freedom fighter hailing from the Munda tribe. He was a spearhead behind the Millenarian movement that arose in the Bihar and Jharkhand belt in the 19th century under the British colonisation. He is also known as ‘Dharti Abba’ or the Earth Father.

  • Bisra wanted to reform the tribal society and so, he urged them to let go of beliefs in witchcraft and instead, stressed on the importance of prayer, staying away from alcohol, having faith in God and observing a code of conduct. Based on these, he started the faith of ‘Birsait’.

  • Bisra started a movement called ‘Ulgulan’, or ‘The Great Tumult’. His struggle against the exploitation and discrimination against tribals led to a big hit against the British government in the form of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act being passed in 1908. The act restricted the passing on of land from the tribal people to non-tribals.

Source: Indian Express

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