Jharkhand assembly resolution requesting the central government to create a separate column for religion mentioned for Adivasi identity is a welcome step. For long, it has been a demand that Adivasis are the indigenous people of the country and have been placed in different religious categories of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The fact is Jharkhand’s Adivasis fought for their cultural identity for long and not merely that, they have been consistent in their fight against colonialism of outsiders whether they were British, East India Company or the domestic land grabbers reaching there in the name of ‘development’.
This is the fitting tribute to Birsa Munda, a legendary revolutionary from Jharkhand who inspired the entire generation of Adivasi leadership as well as youths for his ultimate sacrifice to protect the autonomy of his land. If CNT Act and SPT Act came into being during the British Raj, it was the realisation that Adivasis have the traditional rights over the land and forest as they alone can protect and preserve its culture and diversity. For millions of Adivasis world over, forest, land and water are not commercial greed for exploitation but part of their culture and identity. Most of them were nature worshippers.
Christian missionaries did excellent work in many of these areas through health care and education resulting in a number of young leaders emerging from the community and Adivasis getting a quality education.
Once Hindutva acquired the political counter space in India, the Adivasis and Dalits were on its agenda as it felt that Christian missionaries were there just to ‘convert’ Adivasis as if they don’t know anything. Hence more and more eklavya Vidyalaya and in central India, many Hindu Gods were painted as Adivasi gods. In Jharkhand, things are different as Adivasis are politically assertive with heroic resistance against the company raj by Suddho-Kanho brothers, Tilaka Majhi, Birsa Munda and Capt. Jai Pal Singh Munda. In Jharkhand, such things could not happen and Adivasis continued with their struggle for autonomy over their zones.
During the last few years, we found that revolutionary Birsa Munda was being addressed as Bhagwan Birsa while ignoring his struggles for the people’s rights. This is the irony that when we make people Bhagwan, we ignore their messages and struggle. Most of the Hindutva people wanting to appropriate Birsa were calling him Bhagwan while doing exactly the opposite. Birsa’s message today has become more than relevant particularly when we see that governments have opened Adivasi areas for ‘investment’ and any opposition to it is being met with fierce state violence. All those who opposed it are considered as anti-national.
In this context, Jharkhand’s state government deserves kudos as it is working for the betterment of Adivasi people. Unlike other chief ministers, Jharkhand’s chief minister Mr Hemant Soren openly criticised the central government for arresting Father Stan Swamy who dedicated his life for the Adivasis of Jharkhand and at the age of 85, he was arrested by NIA for alleged Maoists links.
Adivasis have distinct cultural-religious identities and they need to be counted as Adivasis.
It would be good if the government takes this initiative in the next census so that we have clear data on the number of Adivasis and their cultural practices in different parts of India.
This will be the best tribute to legendary revolutionary Birsa Munda on his 145th birth anniversary as well as 20th year of creation of Jharkhand state, a state which was built and nurtured by Adivasis but those who want to use Adivasis did not find Adivasi leader to govern the state resulting heavy land grabbing in the name of ‘development’ and ‘investment’ in the region creating unrest and discomfort among the Adivasis.
We sincerely hope that the current government of Jharkhand would do everything to protect the Forest, Land and water rights of the Adivasis and will not allow any corporations which violate these rights. Let the Adivasis decide what is good and what is bad for them and let developmental models happen on the basis of Free Prior Informed Consent where each person knows what kind of project is being planned and its environmental and social impact.
Only democratic decision making will ensure sustainable development which alone can protect the life and culture of the Adivasis and for that, we need to remember the struggles of all the legendary icons of the Adivasi movements led by the inspiring life of revolutionary Birsa Munda.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat
November 16th, 2020