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Palamau to probe primitive tribe deaths

Ranchi, April 29: Palamau deputy commissioner Kripa Nath Jha today ordered an inquiry into the unexplained deaths of at least six persons belonging to primitive tribes in Chainpur block since April 11, raising serious concerns over how little benefits of state schemes trickle in the lives of Jharkhand’s poorest.

From April 11 onwards, four persons from Korba tribe and two from Parahia (not to be confused with Paharia) died at their homes in villages of Chainpur. None of the victims was known to have gone to any state-run healthcare centre.

At Gore Balaia village, a five-year-old girl Punam Kumari and her 55-year-old grandfather Gudlal Korba died on April 11. On April 22, Ramu Parahia died in Chorhat village while collecting mahua, while his wife died soon after. On Sunday, Gore Balaia saw two more Korba deaths as 18-year-old Sunil Korba and an elderly man, Deo Munda — a Korba tribal who had taken on the Munda surname — lost their lives.

“We have taken serious note of recent reported primitive tribe deaths. In fact, right after Punam and Gudlal died, I sent a team of doctors, Chainpur BDO and other officials to Gore Balaia village on April 11. They told me Gudlal Korba and his granddaughter died after a prolonged illness. But, it is too early to comment. Let me first get an inquiry report,” DC Jha said.

Sharply falling numbers of primitive tribes in Jharkhand — their population is now barely around 2 lakh — point to the failure of ambitious state schemes, including Birsa Awas, mobile hospitals, direct recruitment to government jobs and others.

The deaths are also an eye-opener for sitting Palamau MP Kameshwar Baitha, earlier of the JMM who contested this Lok Sabha election on a TMC ticket, and Daltonganj MLA K.N. Tripathi of the Congress.

Senior Congressman and former Chhatarpur MLA Radha Krishna Kishore agreed most primitive tribals were malnourished and suffered from tuberculosis. Absence of medical facilities, poor diet and the compulsion to do manual labour to survive complicate problems, he rued.

“If the state government is mum, the apex court should come forward to save primitive tribes, as it has done in the Andaman and Nicobar. Deaths of primitive tribals have often been reported from across the state. It is time for the Supreme Court to act,” Kishore added.

“These deaths reveal the official machinery has failed miserably to create awareness among primitive tribes about state or central benefits,” said Ranchi University anthropology department head Kanchan Roy. He added that while preserving their traditional lifestyle was important, it didn’t mean they would not get education and health facilities.

But first, the communication gap between primitive tribes and mainstream society needs to be bridged.

When The Telegraph asked a primitive tribal youth from the Musahar community, 20-year-old Ramesh Musahar of Barwatoli in Chainpur block, what he wanted from life, he pointed out a contradiction.

“Yes, I need a BPL card and my children are willing to go to school. But, we Musahars are treated as social outcasts. But, we consider ourselves kings by birth. So, we can’t bow before anyone or work under anyone. We’d prefer begging, hunting rodents or selling honey and liquor instead,” he said.