MAC: Mines and Communities

The Mid-Week Essay: Jal, Jangal aur Jameen - India's Pathalgadi Movement

Published by MAC on 2019-11-27
Source: Economic and Political Weekly

Despite only one overt reference to mining, the following article presents  a vitally resurgent Adivasi (Indigenous peoples) movement  in India.

Termed Pathalgadi, it's inevitably rising in areas of critical natural resources, whose "development" is currently being enforced - sometimes violently - by state and corporate powers.


 ‘Jal, Jangal aur Jameen:’ the Pathalgadi Movement and Adivasi Rights

The Pathalgadi movement questions who benefits from inclusion in the
normative modern nation-state, and instead calls for autonomy to protect
tribal interests.

Economic and Political Weekly (India)

14 October 2019

Heterogenous Adivasi groups in India have led movements to maintain
connections to their land, the environment, and cultural practices and to
secure stable livelihoods during both colonial and postcolonial times. One
such movement, the Pathalgadi, gained popularity in several villages of
Jharkhand’s Khunti district in late 2016. The district is widely known for
being the birthplace of tribal freedom fighter and folk hero Birsa Munda.
Since 2016, the movement has gained popularity in Chhattisgarh, Odisha,
other districts of Jharkhand and parts of West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.

Historically, the word ‘Pathalgadi’ comes from a tribal custom of
positioning a stone on a dead person’s tomb. According to Virginius Xaxa,
the custom is more frequently practised among tribes from the
“Austro–Asiatic linguistic family such as the Mundas, Khasis, etc.”
Contemporarily, drawing from this custom, Adivasi communities display
messages on large stones⁠— known locally as Pathalgadi⁠— that are painted
green and measure about 15 ft by 4ft. The movement seeks to replace the
power of the central and state government with that of the local gram
sabha. Thus, the messages they display include excerpts from the
Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) as well as
warnings to outsiders that inform them not to enter the villages.

This reading list explores the history of the Pathalgadi movement and
examines the laws that influence the movement’s demands and desires.

1) Historical Precedents for Adivasis’s Land Alienation

Virginius Xaxa argues that while the state government and mainstream media
have labelled the Pathalgadi movement "anti-national" and "Maoist-driven,"
it brings to the fore long-standing issues Adivasis face particularly that
of land alienation. Xaxa details how this process was institutionalised
during colonial rule.

What is happening today in the tribal areas in the heart of India,
reminds one of the early phase of the British rule in these areas. The
British brought tribes under the same rule and administration as
others, once the territories they inhabited were incorporated into
British India. There was an imposition of laws, rules, regulation and
administration that were alien to the tribes. The new land and revenue
settlements resulting in the introduction of private property in land
along with written documents in support of it, was one such instance
that played havoc in tribal areas. This was the beginning of the
alienation of tribal land to non-tribes.

Even after specific legal provisions were made in the Constitution to
safeguard tribal rights, the people and institutions that were given the
responsibility to administer them often had little knowledge and
understanding of the provisions and laws themselves.

2) All in the Name of Development

Drawing on fieldwork from four villages in Jharkhand's Khunti district and
analysis of media reports, Anjana Singh details the most recent trigger
for the Pathalgadi movement.

Grounds for the Pathalgadi movement were laid when the Jharkhand
government organised a global investors’ summit titled “Momentum
Jharkhand” in Ranchi on 16–17 February 2017. Replenishing the colonial
tradition, it aimed at making the state a hub for investments in
mining and industries and a number of memoranda of understanding
(MoUs) were signed (Mukherjee 2017)… The government started a “land
bank” policy in which it included thousands of acres of noncultivable
land, to be given away to the companies for “development purposes”
(Parashar and Toppo 2018).

Given that Adivasi people had experienced land alienation and displacement
at the hands of the colonial and Indian government, they saw these
announcements as renewed attempts to take away their land.

3) Restoration of Tribal Land in Jharkhand

Ramesh Sharan offers a thorough account of how Adivasis in Jharkhand were
and continue to be alienated from their land, despite legal provisions
designed to address the multiple problems they face. Sharan provides a
comprehensive 12-point strategy to restore the relationship both Adivasis
and non-Adivasis have with their land. One component of this strategy
seeks to address the issue of acquiring land for public purposes.

The largest amount of land has been acquired for public purpose and
practically half of this has been taken from Adivasis. In comparison,
only 25 per cent per cent of Adivasis were rehabilitated. In a large
number of instances no compensation was paid for decades. The use of
the principle of eminent domain to acquire land thus seems to many to
be grossly unjust… There should be no displacement without prior
acquisition; the resettlement and rehabilitation should be for the
entire population living within the ecosystem acquired and not just
the losers of private land; the area requisitioned should be subjected
to social audit; rehabilitation should cover social, religious,
economic and psychological aspects; and the land losers should be
given a stake in the command areas and the industries created.

4) Forms of Landholding and Safeguards for Adivasis

Two acts—the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) enacted by the British in 1908
in response to the Birsa Movement and the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act
(SPTA) passed in 1949—regulate and largely prohibit the transfer of tribal
land to non-tribals and protect community ownership. As a result, Nitya
Rao writes that most Santhals have some landholding, albeit often small
due to division and sub-division over generations. A range of tenancy and
sharecropping arrangements have emerged.

The most common form is land mortgage, locally termed “bhorna” or
“miyad”. In this form, grain or money is borrowed during times of
need, and a proportionate amount of land given for the crop season.
Linked to poverty and indebtedness, bhorna is widespread in most

Under Chief Minister Raghubar Das's leadership, the Jharkhand assembly
passed amendments to both acts in late 2016 to be able to acquire tribal
land for “development projects.” While wide-spread protests compelled the
government to withdraw the bills, Nitya Rao’s research found that
loopholes and infringements of the acts allowed for the transfer of land.

In the last four years [2001-5], however, there has been considerable
transfer of land through privately negotiated, temporary lease
arrangements for stone quarrying and crushing, from adivasis to
outside contractors. This has no doubt helped generate local
employment, yet has raised issues in relation to the terms of
employment, health hazards, the destruction of common property and the
long-term implications in terms of the sustainability of local
livelihoods. Rather than regulating such mining, in line with its new
industrial policy and Vision 2010, the government is supporting such
initiatives [Rao 2003].

5) Conceiving and Implementing the PESA Act

The Pathalgadis display excerpts from the PESA Act, an act that Nandini
Sundar argues was designed to encourage a form of governance that built on
local traditions of participatory democracy. The act was passed in 1996
largely based on the recommendations of the Bhuria committee. The
recommendations sought to build upon local customary laws and indigenous
structures, and to empower Adivasis against displacement and exploitation
by equipping the gram sabha with various powers.

The committee envisaged a four-tier structure (rather than the usual
three) consisting of gram sabhas with traditional village councils or
nominated heads, village panchayats, intermediate panchayats and
district councils: “the Committee felt that while shaping the new
Panchayat Raj structure in tribal areas, it is desirable to blend the
traditional with the modern by treating the traditional institutions
as the foundation on which the modern supra-structure should be
built.” (Summary, para 2)... [The act’s] watered down requirement of
consultation before land is acquired (as against the consent that the
Bhuria committee had recommended), the absence of any structure that
could include traditional supra-village levels like the pargana or
“parha”, or the absence of any effective mechanism to override the
forest and police departments. On the positive front, PESA gives the
gram sabhas (or panchayat at the appropriate level) a number of
specific powers. Three that are significant are the ownership of minor
forest produce, the power to prevent land alienation and restore land
to scheduled tribes, and the power to control money lending.

Read More:

How Many People Will We Continue to Displace In the Name of
Development? | EPW Engage, 2019

How Did 'Development' Come to Stand for Everything Ideal? | EPW
Engage, 2018

Nationhood and Displacement in Indian Subcontinent | Sajal Nag, 2001

What Vadodara's Slum Displacement Reveals: Case of Kalyannagar and
Kamatipura | Lancy Lobo, 2015

Counting Conflict-induced Internally Displaced Persons in India |
Madhulika Sahoo, Jalandhar Pradhan, 2016

The Multiple Displacements of Mangalore Special Economic Zone | Ian
Cook, Ramachandra Bhatta and Vidya Dinker, 2013


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