Counterview.net | Feb 10, 2020
A civil rights organization, Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) suspects that “growing influence” of Satipati cult, started in Gujarat, exhorting people to boycott government schemes and elections, on one hand, and religious practices of Adivasis, on the other, may be behind the recent killing of seven persons in Burugulikera village, West Singhbhum district, Jharkahnd.
Members of the cult believe that Kunwar Keshri Singh (and now his son) is the owner of India and the actual “Bharat Sarkaar”, as agreed upon with the colonial rulers. It asks Adivasis to join the cult to save their jal, jangal, zameen (water, woods, land) and their community from exploitation, says JJM in a note prepared on the basis of a fact-finding investigation, carried by representatives of several Adivasi organizations following the gruesome killing.
Organized by the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), the team, says a JJM note, released at a press conference, also seeks to deny those claiming that the Pathalgadi movement is behind the killings.
It says, Pathalgadi is a “traditional practice of Munda Adivasis of erecting stone slabs (pathals) in honour of their ancestors, to announce important decisions of their families and villages or to simply mark the village boundary”, even as asserting their Constitutional rights over natural resources in the sixth schedule areas.
Asserting that the movement and the cult “are primarily driven by the continuing alienation of Adivasis, attack on their natural resources, weakening of the traditional Adivasi governance system and lack of development based the Adivasis’ needs and worldview”, the note, however , says that the Pathalgarhi movement, unlike the Satipati cult, is “a non-violent response to specific policies of the government.”
On January 22-23, 2020, local media reported the beheading of seven people in Burugulikera village (Gudri block, West Singhbhum district, Jharkhand). Most of the reports held the Pathalgadi movement responsible for the killings. To understand the role of Pathalgadi in the killings, a fact-finding team comprising of activists, writers and journalists visited Burugulikera.
The team had representatives of Adivasi Buddhijivi Manch, Adivasi Adhikar Manch (Adivasi Women’s Network, National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM), Johar, Marxist Coordination Committee, Ulgulan Sena and other organisations, Many organisations are associated with Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha . The visit was facilitated by NAPM and Mahasabha.
Initial media reports indicated that the pro-Pathalgadi faction of the village had murdered members of the anti-Pathalgadi faction for opposing their movement. The fact-finding team found that more than half of the total number of families of the village was followers of the AC (Ante-Christ) Kutumb Pariwar (also known as Satipati) cult.
The cult was led by Ranasi Budh and a few others, accused of killing James Budh and six others of the village. The cult, active since the past year in the village, asked people to submit their ration card, aadhaar card, voter card and stop use of all government schemes such Public Distribution System, social security pension, the Prime Minister’s Awas Yojana and so on.
More than half of the families submitted the documents, while James and many others did not. The documents were not forcefully taken but people were sometimes told that they would not be considered Adivasis or be expelled from the village if they did not submit. People were asked to submit their Khatiyan (land documents) too which many did not.
James Budh, Up-Mikhiya (vice-president) of the Gram Panchayat, used to get government schemes implemented and objected to the call for giving up schemes. Ranasi Budh’s wife Mukta Horo was the ex-Mukhiya and they also used to get schemes implemented earlier. The Satipati cult supporters also asked others not to go to Church or celebrate Sarna (Adivasi) festivals. These were also the causes of constant friction between the two factions.
On January 16, a day after local Maghe Parv (an Adivasi festival), James Budh and his friends attacked the houses of Ranasi Budh and four others. They broke their cycles, motorbikes, television and ransacked their houses. They also allegedly took away two persons, Lodro Budh and Roshan Barjo with them.
According to the families whose houses were attacked, the attackers were also accompanied by armed members of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a Maoist splinter group, known to have initially received state support). Some villagers shared that James Budh was close to a local PLFI leader, Mangra Lugun.
On 19 January, Ranasi Budh and other Satipati cult supporters brought the attackers from their homes to a meeting to allegedly discuss the attack on their houses. The meeting was mainly attended by Satipati supporters. From the testimonies of Satipati supporters and family members of the victims, it emerged that the seven people were beaten to death in the meeting and then beheaded.
While several questions regarding the killings remain unanswered, people’s testimonies indicate that there were two factions in the village – the Satipati cult supporters and non-supporters – and there was friction between the two because of the cult’s call to give up cultural practices and government schemes.
While the exact reason for the attack on houses of Satipati supporters and killing of non-supporters is difficult to ascertain, the testimonies, possible involvement of PLFI, randomness of the violence and history of scheme implementation by Ranasi and James also indicate that this friction may not be the only reason for the killing.
We hope that the Special Investigating Team (SIT) constituted for inquiring into the killings will be able to provide answers to these questions. The incident also brings to light the growing influence of the Satipati cult in the Munda-Kolhan area of Jharkhand.
There is a need to differentiate between the Pathalgadi movement and Satipati. Pathalgadi is a traditional practice of Munda Adivasis of erecting stone slabs (pathals) in honour of their ancestors, to announce important decisions of their families and villages or to simply mark the village boundary. Since 2017, Pathals painted with Constitutional provisions for Adivasis, judicial orders and their interpretations were erected in several villages of Jharkhand.
Several fact-finding inquires have found the Pathalgadi movement to be a non-violent response to specific policies of the government; primarily its attempts to dilute land laws, failure to respect the Adivasi worldview, implementation of schemes without the consent of the Gram Sabha, non-implementation of PESA and provisions for the fifth scheduled areas and rampant violations of human rights.
While the leadership of the Pathalgadi movement may have been influenced by Satipati from the beginning, Adivasis did Pathalgadi based on their grievances, as discussed above, and traditional practices.
Since a year, the influence of AC Lutumb Pariwar cult in the Pathalgadi movement has been growing. In October 2019, a large meeting called ‘Vishwa Adivasi Shanti Sammelan’ was convened in Gutigeda village of Khunti’s Murhu block, mainly by followers of the cult. Satipati supporters from Burugulikera also participated in this meeting.
The Hemant Soren government should investigate the influence of Gujarat’s Satipati cult’s influence on Jharkhand, even as redressing long-standing grievances of Adivasis
The cult, which started in Gujarat, believes that Kunwar Keshri Singh (and now his son) is the owner of India and the actual “Bharat Sarkaar”, as agreed upon with the colonial rulers. The cult followers are expected to boycott government schemes and also elections. For becoming part of the “family”, Adivasis are to follow a specific puritan life, as propagated by the cult.
The cult rejects religious practices of Adivasis (such as going to Church or celebrating Sarna festivals) and traditional practices (such as Pathalgadi). They ask Adivasis to join the cult to save their jal, jangal, zameen (water, woods, land) and their community from exploitation. In Burugulikera village also, some people (not directly associated with the accused) shared that they gave up ration card and other government services to save their land.
As exposed in the Pathalgadi movement and the recent indication of people’s support for the Satipati cult, the movement and cult are primarily driven by the continuing alienation of Adivasis, attack on their natural resources, weakening of the traditional Adivasi governance system and lack of development based the Adivasis’ needs and worldview.
For example, there is a massive dam (and lake formed by submerging a large area) in Pansua, a few kilometres away from Burugulikera. But the village does not get water from the lake.
The Burugulikera incident has again exposed the local media’s bias against Adivasis’ worldview, issues and demands. Without doing a ground report, several reports, initially, held Pathalgadi responsible for the killings and there was hardly any mention of the Satipati cult.
The earlier Raghubar Das government’s repression of people of Pathalgadi villages and silence on the growing influence of satipati in the state also raises questions.
While the Hemant Soren government needs to investigate the influence of Gujarat’s Satipati cult to expand to Jharkhand, it also needs to redress the long-standing grievances of the Adivasis. To address their alienation, the government should implement the provisions of the fifth schedule, PESA, Samata judgement and other pro-Adivasi laws in letter and spirit.
It should also ensure that its development vision is based on Adivasi worldview and needs. To begin with, it should initiate dialogue with representatives of Pathalgadi villages, satipati villages, Adivasi organisations and constitutional experts to better understand people’s grievances and their demands.