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Paharias seek more autonomy

Dumka, Feb. 11: Thousands of Paharias — primitive tribals of Santhal Pargana — today gathered to pay homage to Tilka Manjhi, who laid down his life fighting British imperialism this day in 1785.

The Paharia Mukti Sena has been commemorating Manjhi’s martyrdom for the last five years, ever since a row erupted between Santhals and Paharias over Manjhi’s tribal identity. While officially Manjhi is recognised as a Santhal, the Paharia community claimed him as one of its own.

“The British were forced to recognise our age-old tradition of self governance and introduce subsequent legislations for the purpose. They declared a 1,383 square miles area as a separate Paharia territory and named it Damin-e-koh which means skirt of hills way back in 1823. However, the socio-economic condition of Paharias deteriorated in independent India,” rued Gayalal Dehri, secretary of Paharia Mukti Sena, during an address at Gandhi Maidan today.

Speakers were unanimous on their stand that Paharias were marginalised following the migration of Santhals from Assam and Bengal to Santhal Pargana, who occupied Paharia land by driving the primitive tribals away.

They claimed Paharias were subsequently outnumbered due to administrative and governmental neglect.

“As we have failed to send our representatives to Parliament and the Assembly, the community is being neglected. The need of the hour is that the erstwhile Damin-e-koh should be brought under the direct rule of the President of India to save the community from extinction,” Dehri argued.

Prominent among those who spoke on the occasion were Virendra Paharia, Brentus Malto, Surja Malto, Gangi Paharin, Kartik Dehri and Sukurmuni. The speakers unanimously expressed their reservations against the government practice of distributing free food grains to the Paharias, which according to them was making the community members dependent, hampering progress of the community.

A seven-point charter of demands was also submitted to the commissioner of Santhal Pargana on the occasion. The demands included revival of the erstwhile divisional level Paharia development committee, constitution of separate Paharia battalion, renovation of the historical stone pillars known as Damin pillars demarking the boundary of Damin-e-koh and settlement of all government land in favour of Paharias.

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