Tana Bhagats show their land documents in Ranchi on Thursday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Ranchi, Jan. 30: Chief minister Hemant Soren today handed over deeds (pattas) of ancestral land to 82 people belonging to the Tana Bhagat sect to partially fulfil a long-standing demand of this Oraon tribal community of austere Gandhians on Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary.
Perhaps to rescue today’s gesture from mere symbolism, Hemant hinted at resolving the larger demand of Tana Bhagats — restoration of thousands of acres confiscated by the British during colonial rule — an intent, whose execution is likely to stir up a hornet’s nest, given the volatile nature of land transfer.
“These persons were in possession of this land for a long time but had no documents to make a proper claim. Our officials identified them and made fresh mutations,” Hemant told The Telegraph on the sidelines of the event.
He added: “Restoring their rights over the land once confiscated by the British government is our agenda and we are serious about it.”
The pattas handed over today to the 82 Tana Bhagats were for 618 acres in Ranchi across four blocks, Chanho, Burmu, Lapung and Mandar.
But this is ancestral land, separate from what the community defines as acres seized by the British. The grumbling of a 70-year-old Tana Bhagat man, Mangra Oraon, is enough to prove this.
On getting his patta, Oraon asked a Ranchi district administration official: “Yeh to pustaini jameen hai hujur. Aapne to bas thodi likha padhi kar ise mere naam kar diya. Hamari jameen jo angrezon ne jabt kar liya, woh kab denge (This is our ancestral land, sir. With very little official work you have entered my name as a genuine holder. When are you returning our land confiscated by the British)?”
The original Tana Bhagats were Oraon tribals who followed tribal saint and freedom fighter Jatra Tana Bhagat, and after he died, became loyal to Mahatma Gandhi because they felt his non-violent philosophy matched that of their departed leader.
Their land started getting confiscated by the British when they joined the non-cooperation movement and refused to pay tax.
Interestingly, Tana Bhagats still don’t pay land tax as they believe land belongs to god and not the government.
According to pre-colonial land records kept in the district collectorate, 4332.66 acres of the Tana Bhagats were confiscated and auctioned by the British. Right now, there are around 865 Tana Bhagat families living in Ranchi, Gumla and Lohardaga.
Former Ranchi DC K.K. Soan had restored 1,000 acres of seized land to 114 Tana Bhagat families of Bero area in Ranchi.
What earned universal praise today was that surnames of all 82 persons were officially recorded as Tana Bhagat, a matter of prestige for this community of freedom fighters and descendants who even today worship the Mahatma’s photograph, stay away from liquor and non-vegetarian food and wear khadi and Gandhi topi.
“Some got their land, not all. But we are happy that many of us have officially been recognised as Tana Bhagat, which means you are the true followers of Gandhiji,” said Nandiya Tana Bhagat.
A prayer meeting was also held at Morabadi grounds to observe the death anniversary of the Father of the Nation this morning.
Hemant, his father and JMM chief Shibu Soren, minister Annapurna Devi, Ranchi MLA C.P. Singh, state Congress and JMM leaders, Tana Bhagats, schoolchildren and residents attended it.
Tana Bhagats have another demand that may be easier for the government to pursue. They want a new religion to enter the Census form — Satt Ahimsa Gandhi Baba — that they follow. “It is part of their unique identity, which needs to be preserved and promoted. We have received their request and discussions are underway,” said J.B. Tubid, cabinet secretary.