Adivasi’s Cultural Identity Under Assault

 

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

 

As I boarded the Rajdhani express from New Delhi for Parasnath for my intended visit to Jharkhand the co-passenger in the side seat was a young boy from IIT Delhi who happened to belong to Jain community and was visiting to Parasnath for religious rituals that his parents were performing. During the conversation he said that he is a vegetarian but definitely respect people’s right to eat non-veg food. He opined that the world was changing and that a business community cannot be confined to narrow partisan and outdated thoughts that look down upon others who have different take on the issue. World is too diverse and as a global citizen you will have to respect people’s personal choices to food and drink he said during the conversation. The boy laughed when I said don’t he think that Jains are hypocrite as the biggest meat-beef exporters in India are Jains and Marwadis. His position was that we are in business and need to whatever is good but at the same point of time narrow attitude may be damaging for future of their business. It was a happier togetherness in the train for nearly 12 hours where I found how the Jain youngsters are changing and feel that their community needs to move beyond if it has to remain in business.

 

Parasnath railway station looked much cleaner and better than any of its counterparts in other parts of the state. It clearly indicates that the authorities have done this to ‘honor’ the ‘feelings’ of Jains who come in large number to worship at the Parasnath hills. Outside the station hundreds of taxis, autos, offer you to take you to Parasnath for a ‘darshan’.

 

For long, I had desired to visit this place as I have visited historical places of Jains like Sravan Belgola in Karnataka and in many other places which is definitely a beautiful monument but coming to this place made really shocking revelations. The lush green region of the Santhal aadivasis is under the assault of money bags with huge concrete structures are being built around the area of Madhuban, the town where Parasnath hills are located. It is not just huge ashrams, temples, religious universities but townships are also being built around the area ignoring completely the environmental norms as well as the feelings of the local aadivasi communities. Their lands are being grabbed illegally violating all the rules and laws of the state. It need to be seen that Madhuban or what is being termed today as Parasnath is actually an aadivasi area and sale and purchase of aadivasi land is illegal then how come the vast tract of land are being provided to Jains. One can understand their religious feelings but why townships are being allowed to be building here. Now the government of Jharkhand is coming up with a plan to develop the city as a ‘religious’ place under the Parasnath Action Plan to attract ‘religious’ tourism in the state.

 

As I toured around the place there are big hoarding of ‘welcoming’ us to famous ‘Jain’ religious place. The state government has put its hoarding with warning of not to eat meat or drink or smoke in the region. The notice says, ‘ The state government of Jharkhand has declared this place as sacred religious place hence eating meat, drinking alcohol and smoking here is strictly prohibited and those violating the order will be penalized.

 

This is a dangerous order as Jharkhand is an adivasi state and Jains don’t live here. They just come for worshipping while aadivasis have lived in this region for centuries and their food habits are in complete contrast with that of Jains so why should Jains be imposing their beliefs on others particularly in the lands of Aadivasis. Are Jains trying to colonize this area through their money and muscle power? Huge religious trusts have come up with sprawling ashrams, gaushalas are being formed and township inside the ashrams so that to avoid the Land Ceiling Act. It violate the sanctity of the place and need to be seriously looked into from legal and autonomy point of view of the tribal region. Whether the Jains are not using it a religious pretext to colonise the tribal regions of Jharkhand ?

 

The Santhals and other aadivasis of district Giridih are now feeling deeply disturbed with the continuous assault on their culture from the Jain outsiders with active support from the state government which is facilitating this colonization process. It is not just the issue of dictating their food habits and imposing it on the aadivasis the Santhal claims that the entire area of so-called Parasnath hills is actually Marang Buru, the traditional deity of the aadivasis of the region. The hills are actually called as Marang Buru hills and have clearly been mentioned in the Gazetteer of Bihar’s Hazaribagh district in 1932 much before it became part of separate Giridih district. The Marang Buru Samvata Susar Baisi has been actively fighting for their right to worship their traditional deity in the hills. Their leader Arjun Hemram says,’ Like Jains famous pilgrimage at Parasnath, Santhals too have their ancient deity at the Marang Buru hills and government need to promote their culture too which is the original culture of the region.

 

In the Gazattear of Bihar’s district Hazaribagh it is mentioned, ‘ Parasnath is the ‘Marang Buru’ or hill deity of the Santals of Hazaribagh, Manbhum, Bankura and Santal Pargana and each year they assemble at the period of full moon in Baishakh from those districts and celebrate a religious hunt for three days, after which a great tribal session is held for the trial of charges against Manjhis and paraganails and of the other grave matters which affects the outcasting of the individuals. The entry of this custom in the record of rights which was prepared in 1911 and of the similar right of the Ghatwars was followed by the institution of a suit by the Swetamber Jains to have it declared that no such customs exists. That suit was dismissed by the judicial commissioner and an appeal, preferred against his order, has been rejected by the High Court. The case went up by the Privy Council and it was held that the Santals have the customary rights of hunting on the Parasnath Hills.’ (Ref : Page : 294-295, Bihar district Gazetteers : Hazaribagh by P.C.Roy Choudhury, Special Officer, Gazetteer Revision Section, Revenue Department, Bihar)

 

The aadivasis are not denying that the area is of great importance for Jains but the fact is it is not the Jains but the aadivasis who are living in the region and now facing Jain’s dictates about culture and changing their practices. Historical facts have already proved that aadivasis have customary rights over the hills but now most of them are just ferrying the ‘Jain devotees’ on their shoulders to the Parasnath hills. Obviously, money makes sense for them but this also reveals that none of these ‘devotees’ would be able to climb up if aadivasis don’t cooperate with them.

 

Will Jharkhand government listen to the voices of Aadivasis and stop imposing Jain values on them. The government must allow huge mansions in the name of ashrams and temples which the Jains have been religious building here completely changing the demography and ecology of the region. One aadviasi of the area Shanishar Manjhi has written a letter to the authorities on August 26th, 2015 in which he accuse one Kalyan Niketan run by some Jain to return his 5.32 acres of land wrongfully grabbed and housed CRPF there. Son of Shanishar Manjhi says that they are still paying the ‘lagan’ on the same land. Jharkhand government need to answer as how has the aadivasi land gone to the non aadivasis and how are these huge religious structures and townships are being allowed at the Aadivasi zones?

 

Travelling to some of the most beautiful regions in Jharkhand, I found aadivasi life so simple and yet so beautiful in the lap of nature. For years, aadivasis revolted against any encroachment against their cultural autonomy and freedom. They lived life absolutely free and enjoyed their food culture. From Pakud to Dumka and Ranchi to Khoonti, one can see the beauty as well as struggle of aadivasis for centuries. The rice-beer, which they produce, can beat any market product and the forest produce, which they eat, is far better. Those beautiful houses, locations are under the threat both from the greedy corporate and the religious thugs. Will the aadivasis will revolt again this time when the state which they fought for is imposing dietary restrictions on them in the name of ‘cultural sensibilities’ of Jains but what about the cultural sensibilities of the ‘aadivasis’? Will the Jains along with Jharkhand’s government and officials also respect Aadivasi’s right over ‘Marang Buru’ and their customary right of worshipping their deity over their own land? Jharkhand might boil again if the moneybags and distortions of legalities are played to deny the aadivasis their due rights to protect their land and their ancient community deity Marang Buru.

 

The Santhals and other aadivasis in Jharkhand want that answer from their ‘own’ government, which has imposed an alien culture on them in the name of religion, which never existed in the aadivasi zones. For years, the aadivasis have been betrayed just because they have lived their lives on their own without knowing much about the legalities of our system and therefore losing everything yet they fought physically against the British and threw them away from their region therefore if the state of Jharkhand does not act in good faith and give the aadivasis their due the situation might turn out of control.

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