By F M Britto
Raipur: The Catholic Church in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh has denied any role in creating tension between local tribals and civil authorities through a “stone implantation” movement.
“We have nothing to do with this movement,” Bishop Emmanuel Kerketta of Jashpur told Matters India May 2. The prelate blamed political parties for creating problems in the region at the time of election.
Social activist Jesuit Father Sathya Prakash Tigga, based in Jashpur, too said, “The Church is not at all involved in this movement.”
Chief minister Raman Singh alleged the movement is carried out strategically by vested interests ahead of the state election. Development of the region will be carried on in its time, he added.
State Home Minister Ramsevak Paikra, a local non-Christian tribal, has declared that in no way his government would allow the movement to continue.
The movement called patthalgadi (implanting stone) was initiated a few days before in Jashpur region of Chhattisgarh, a central Indian state.
Patthalgadi is an age old tribal tradition where a large stone carrying certain inscriptions is erected for tribal people to claim land holdings. A stone was laid in 1996 at Bacchraom village in Jashpur district to assert self-rule.
The patthalgadi ritual was repeated on April 22 this year in the same village during a tribal assembly.
The movement helps the tribals assert that they want to safeguard their jal, jungle and jameen, (water, jungle, and land) as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. They allege the government ignores this law and allots the tribal land to multinational firms to open factories despite the tribals’ opposition. They also assert the Constitutional right of the supremacy of their village sabhas (councils).
In th tribal assembly, it had been suggested that on the front side of the stone it is to be written: “tribal zone: caution” and on the other side, the problems of the village.
The tribals allege government officials dismiss their demand for basic amenities such as bridges, electricity, the promised gas cylinders, payment for the government relief works. The government’s April 18 declaration of the region as free of Maoist insurgency has also displeased the tribal people.
“All the local tribals were united so far. But now (due to this problem), they have separated,” said Bishop Kerketta, an Oran tribal, bemoaned.
Non-Christian tribals in the area allegedly told media on May 1 that the missioners were creating problems through Catholics. They have also demanded the tribal concession be stopped to tribals who have converted to Christianity, reported Dainik Bhaskar, a Hindi daily on May 2.
Education at missionary institutions along with the statutory tribal concessions has helped many local tribal Oraons to improve their social status, unlike other non-Christian tribals of the area.
Bishop Kerketta said, “Constitution says the tribals have right to safeguard their boundary.”
Father Tigga, an Oraon tribal, said, “People wanted to assert themselves as a scheduled area. They have not gone against the Constitution.”
Bishop Kerketta says political parties have started making use all occasions since the state goes to polls in 2019. “They want to polarize people in the region,” he added.
Opposition Congress leader, Arvind Netam, a non-Christian tribal, have given lead to the stone movement. He accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of apathy toward tribal problems that have made their region backward.
On April 28, the ruling BJP led their cadres under the leadership of the central government state minister Vishnu Dev Sai, a local tribal, tried to suppress this movement. They allegedly pulled down the erected stone tablet in Butunga village and broke it. That created more uproar among the local tribals.
Many leaders who spearheaded this movement have been arrested after filing cases against them. They are now kept under police custody.
Retired Indian Administrative Service officer H P Kindo and Joseph Tigga, a retired officer of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, reportedly lead the movement.
Congress state spokesperson Shailesh Nitin Trivedi said, “The government has failed to discharge its constitutional duties in scheduled areas. Tribals are nowhere wrong, if they are demanding implementation of the Constitutional provisions. Unfortunately, nobody has gone through their problems and what they are demanding.”
The tribal movement has spread to other tribal villages in the neighbouring Ambikapur, Raigarh dioceses and the neighbouring Jharkhand state.