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Explained: What is the Pathalgadi movement

24th December, 2020 Polity

What is Pathalgadi and how did the movement begin?

  • The word pathalgadi is drawn from a tribal custom of erecting stone plaques on the tomb of tribal people in Jharkhand, which has 32 tribal communities.
  • It is also done in honour of their ancestors, to announce important decisions regarding their families and villages or to simply mark the boundary of their villages.
  • When the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) came into force, with it started the practice of erecting stone plaques in villages with provisions of the Act inscribed on it.
  • This was done to empower people belonging to the 5th Schedule area on their legal and constitutional safeguards.
  • The pathals also quoted several orders of High Courts and Supreme Court such as Samatha judgement which says to preserve the tribal autonomy, their culture and economic empowerment, to ensure social, economic and political justice, and preservation of peace and good governance;
  • P Rami Reddy vs Andhra Pradesh 1988 orders which says that ‘special legislations cannot be held to be unconstitutional on the ground of violation of other fundamental rights, such as Article 14 and 19(1)(g)’ and others.
  • The villagers read these provisions and orders to reiterate supremacy of powers of traditional Gram Sabha and traditional Adivasi governance systems; rights of Adivasis over land; the restricted rights of non-adivasis and outsiders in the scheduled areas to settle down and work and; that Adivasis are the original inhabitants and owners of India.
  • The government had attempted to tweak Chhotanagpur Land Tenancy Act, 1908 and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949 – in which a tribal can buy or sell their land only to another tribal – by passing an ordinance amending Land Acquisition Act (Jharkhand Amendment) in 2017 and awaited Governor’s approval.
  • However, the bill never got the go ahead due to massive protest by tribal communities. This led to violence in the state capital and protests were held in various parts of the state.
  • As an extension to this protest, the tribals of Khunti, Gumla, Simdega, Saraikela, West Singhbhum area started erecting stones in their villages with PESA provisions highlighting their rights which came to be known as Pathalgadi movement.

What are the powers to safeguard and protect the interest of tribal population?

  • Tribals form more than 1/4th of Jharkhand’s population and areas of Dumka, Godda, Devgarh, Sahabgunj, Pakur, Ranchi, Singhbhum (East &West), Gumla, Simdega, Lohardaga, Palamu, Garwa (some districts have partly tribal blocks) are part of the 5th Schedule.
  • It vests the Governor of a state with special powers to safeguard and protect the interests of the tribal population, which includes examining the laws enacted by the parliament or legislature and accordingly restrain or allow it keeping the interests of the tribals in tune with customary law, social and religious practices among others.
  • However, in the absence of this in Jharkhand, the tribal population tried to assert their rights on their own.

What was seen during the Pathalgadi movement?

  • During the Pathalgadi movement, many villages saw people gathering from surrounding areas with bows and arrows to ‘assert their rights’.
  • In August 2017, it was claimed that a police officer was not allowed to leave a village by the villagers.
  • In 2018, a crackdown lead to the death of a tribal, Birsa Munda – named after the freedom fighter.

What were the demands of the Pathalgadis?

  • Pathalgadis started asking for self-rule and said that the government should enter their area with Gram Sabha permission.