Monday, 30th October 2017

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Mutiny sown in opium farms

Social activist Md Nayeemuddin may not be far-fetched when he says the tribal pathalgadi movement - erecting stone slabs to apparently establish self-rule by gram sabha and overthrow the government and its agencies - has the potential to turn Khunti into a mini-Afghanistan.

By Vijay Deo Jha
  • Published 26.02.18
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FLASHPOINT: Villagers at Kochang village in Khunti's Arki block on Sunday to observe pathalgadi. (Manob Chowdhary)
 

Kochang (Khunti): Social activist Md Nayeemuddin may not be far-fetched when he says the tribal pathalgadi movement - erecting stone slabs to apparently establish self-rule by gram sabha and overthrow the government and its agencies - has the potential to turn Khunti into a mini-Afghanistan.

Nayeemuddin was reacting to Sunday's pathalgadi ritual in six Khunti villages on Sunday, the biggest of them all in rebel-hit Kochang, where opium farms flourish.

Asked what could be done to stem the tide, when thousands of tribal youths were sold on the gram sabha dream, Nayeemuddin told this reporter, "The situation needs mature political handling or else Khunti would be a mini Afghanistan and flashpoint of a violent secessionism."

Explaining the origins of pathalgadi, Nayeemuddin said it was an ancient tribal ritual. "After every three or four generations, tribal society puts stone plaques at graveyards in memory of forefathers. But now some people are selling a false dream to tribals to protect illegal opium farms."

Agreed Khunti SP Ashwini Kumar Sinha, the movement had more to do with opium than ideology.

" Pathalgadi is a bad amalgam of political aspirations, PLFI and opium cultivation. Areas in Khunti where pathalgadi is performed are known for opium farms patronised by rebel leaders and opium dealers. This is a ploy to prevent the police from anti-opium operations. Opium cultivation is profitable, people get Rs 1 lakh per acre. We know who leaders are," Sinha said.

But though he did not say it in as many words, he did not deploy police at Kochang on Sunday, fearing violent social backlash. The only two policemen that The Telegraph spotted were bodyguards of a tribal leader, Shankar Mahli.

"Under the lease agreement with the British Empire, non-tribals were entitled to rule us only till 1969," claimed Shankar.

Educated tribal leaders claimed that under Gandhi- Irwin Pact of 1931 no election could be held in tribal areas and only gram sabha had the power of self-rule. They asked why the 1997 Samata judgment of Supreme Court, which declared null and void the transfer of land in Scheduled Areas for private mining, was not implemented.

Ordinary tribals did not care. They only knew that with gram sabha even the Prime Minister would have to seek its permission to visit them. "We will ride planes and trains because they will be ours," shouted a youth from the crowd.