Last year a militant Adivasi movement was launched by Birsa Seva Dal in Chotanagpur, Bihar. It influenced the villagers so much that they demonstrated even in the Ranchi town flashing their traditional arms.
Naxalites, who saw Chotanagpur hills as a strategic place for guerrilla war, were also active in the Dal. But they failed in their movement because the Adivasis have little faith in strangers.
Although the immediate cause of their agitation was land problem and an incident in which an Adivasi student was beaten up by a gang of non-Adivasi students, the movement was, in fact, an expression of a new militant mood of the tribal people.
However, in the course of the movement there was three-day programme of demonstrations, which took a violent turn when the police lathi charged on the Adivasi girls in Ranchi and opened fire on the Adivasis in Chiri. Six tribals were killed followed by a series of processions and agitations.
The ‘Co-ordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries’ distributed leaflets characterising the current Adivasi movement as a struggle against the big capitalists and landlords for imposing their own rule.
The revolutionary communists called upon the tribals of Chotanagpur to organise themselves in committees in all villages and to carry on a wide struggle against all forms of exploitation, for overthrowing the present reactionary regime and setting up their own raj.
Adivasi Means Empty Belly
According to Prof. N.K. Bose, Commissioner of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, poverty and exploitation are at the root of the tribal problem: “The name Adivasi, in fact, is synonymous with poverty, disease and drunkenness. Adivasi means empty belly, hollow cheeks, bones, filth and dirt. One can, indeed, hardly imagine an Adivasi without tattered clothes wrapped round the bony figure, emaciated, dried up.”
The Mundas and Oraons came first to Chotanagpur, when it was a vast tract of jungle. Then came the Dikkus (non-Adivasis) who became Rajas and zamindars of the area and took to trade.
As Bose commented, there is no denying the fact that the tribals have lost more land under the Government of India than during the British regime. The welfare departments, ‘Adim Jati Seva Mandal’, for example, have turned out into self-help departments.
There are several laws enforced by the Government against exploitation. But before this movement the land was being sold out to non-tribals.
The purchase of Adivasi land by non-Adivasis is illegal under the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act. But thousands of acres have been acquired by speculators, many of them Congress leaders and Government officers.
Adivasis are now either peasants having some land or landless unskilled labourers.
This movement, therefore, was a revolt of the innocent, illiterate, exploited people. It was a movement of purely economic nature. It was not a fight between tribals and non-tribals but a fight between the “well-fed belly” and the “starved belly”, as a political observer remarked.
There was a political vacuum in Chotanagpur area before Independence. After Independence, the Jharkhand Party was born to fill the vacuum. But it did not take long for the Jharkhand Party to be exposed as a group of opportunist power politicians. “Separate Jharkhand” slogan was handy and opportune tool for them to maintain their hold over the tribal masses.
The Enlite, 29 March, 1969