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India - Jharkhand: Burugulikera Killings Factfinding Report | Feb. 2020

10 February

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Burugulikera Killings Factfinding Report

On 21-22 February, 2020, the local newspapers reported that seven men were beaten up and beheaded. According to the news, the dead were all against Pathalgadi, and the murderers were all supporters of the movement. In order to understand the role of Pathalgadi in the killings, a factfinding team of various organizations, platforms, social activists, writers and journalists visited Burugulikera on 27th and 30th of January, 2020. The team mainly intended to understand the viewpoints of the villagers. The names of the dead are – James Budh, Nirmal Budh, Etwa Budh, Konche Topno, Boas Lunga, Lomb Budh, and Sanjiv Budh. As per the police report, the people were beaten and beheaded. Police has arrested 17 people by now, which includes Ransi Budh, Jiten Budh, Sukhram Budh and others. By newspapers’ accounts, Ransi Budh, Jiten Budh and other accused were Pathalgadi supporters, while James Budh and other victims were anti–Pathalgadi, and, because of this they got killed. In the initial days after the incident, police statements were also on these lines. However, after starting the investigation, the police suggested that there might be more factors behind the killings.

The team constituted of representatives from Adivasi Buddhijeevi Manch; Adivasi Mahasabha; National Alliance of People’s Movements; Johar, Chaibasa; Marxist Coordination Committee; alongside organisations associated with Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (Ulgulan Sena, Adivasi Women’s Network, NAPM, Jharkhand, etc.) and some social activists. Factfinding was organised by National Alliance for People’s Movements, Jharkhand and Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha. Team members were – Aloka Kujur, Elina Horo, Harin Tamsoy, Jacinta Kerketta, Manoj Thakur, Munna Baraik, Prafull Linda, Ramesh Jerai, Sanjay Verma, Siddharth Padeya, Siraj Dutta, Seeta Swashi, Sushanto Mukherjee, Vinod Kumar & Walter Kandulna.

The team talked to the families of several accused and victims, and other residents of the village. Consequently, the team also analysed its past findings on the Pathalgadi movement over the last two years. As asked by them, names of some of the villagers haven’t been disclosed.

The report is divided in four sections. The first outlines the background of the Pathalgadi Movement. Second describes the facts uncovered in the village, in the third, are the main points emerging out of the analysis of the facts. In the last section, the conclusion and the demands from the government put forth by the factfinding team have been enlisted.

1. Background of the Pathalgadi Movement

Pathalgadi is an age old tradition of the Munda Adivasis, as part of which in reverence of their ancestors, the public announcements of important matters of the family – village or demarcation of boundaries were done through establishing stone slabs. After the Panchayats (Extention to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 was implemented, stone slabs with provisions of the PESA Act written on it were installed in several Adivasi villages of Jharkhand.

Pathalgadi is a traditional practice of Munda Adivasis of erecting stone slabs (pathals) in honour of their ancestors, to announce important decisions regarding their families and villages or to simply mark the boundary of their villages. After the passage of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Area) Act (PESA) in 1996, many Adivasi villages in Jharkhand erected slabs which quoted provisions of this Act.

Since 2017, stones slabs painted with legal guarantees for Adivasis have been erected in several villages of Jharkhand. The stone slabs quote sections of the Indian Constitution, PESA and Supreme Court orders that give special protections to Adivasis and recognize the Gram Sabha as the basis of self-rule in tribal-dominated areas.

Pathalgadi eventually took the shape of a movement and it spread to at least 70 villages of Khunti district. It is strongest in Khunti, but also extended to some other districts and neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. Several citizen groups have conducted factfindings in Pathalgadi villages. Massive human rights violations in these villages have been found by the groups. They also found that Pathalgadi was a non-violent response to the state’s attempts of forceful acquisition of Adivasi land, implementation of schemes without people’s consent, exploitation of Adivasis by non-Adivasis and failure of the government to respect and protect the culture and worldview of Adivasis.

Ration cards, Aadhaar and voter Cards were boycotted on a large scale during the Pathalgadi movement. They had clear reasons for doing so. They boycotted Aadhaar because according to them, Aadhaar was for the ‘aam aadmi’ (common man), while they were ‘khas aadmi’. In their views, the card does not differentiate between Adivasis and non-Adivasis. Any outsider can be considered equal to the Adivasis. This may lead to exploitation of Adivasis and their resources. They stopped using ration cards for they feared that in return for subsidised grains, the government may take away their lands. With regards to returning their voter cards, they were of the opinion that they did not need the voter cards as the Gram Pradhan and Gram Sabha are their primary governing institutions. They do not need voter cards to elect their Pradhans.

The movement faced violence and brutal oppression at the hands of local administration and police. Raghubar Das government had charged at least 172 named and 10,000 unknown with sedition in the Pathalgadi villages. Alongside, the mainstream media portrayed Pathalgadi, primarily, similar to the state government, as being unconstitutional and seditious; instances of state brutalities were rarely mentioned. Most of the journalists have made negligible attempts to understand the Adivasi issues and worldview.

After the Vidhan Sabha elections in November–December 2019, the first decision that the newly elected Hemant Soren government took was to withdraw the Pathalgadi-related charges and cases, as demanded by the people. This decision was welcomed by the villagers of Khunti and civil society organizations. Post the Burugulikera incident, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stated that the withdrawal of the cases boosted the morale of Pathalgadi supporters and that encouraged them to commit such killings.

1.1 Pathalgadi Movement and AC Kutumb Parivar (Satipati) Cult.

Pathalgadi movement was a struggle for the constitutional and legal rights and against the exploitation of the villagers (particularly Adivasis). The primary reasons behind the movement were the attacks on Jal, Jungle, Jameen, amendments in the land acquisition laws and weakening of Gram Sabhas and traditional self-governance systems.
In the last one year, the influence of AC (Ante Christ) Kutumb Parivar on the movement has increased. It can be gathered, from the information received from the followers of this cult and that available on internet, that this cult was started by Gujarat’s Kunwar Keshri Singh decades back. The cult believes that Keshri Singh, as the ‘Privy Council’, is the Government of India for Adivasis. Before independence, they had had an agreement with the British. The cult does not avail government benefits and other public services. All the Adivasis of this country are considered to be a part of Kutumb Parivar. In order to be a part of this cult, it also asks for behavioural changes in the way of living of Adivasis. This cult is also called Satipati Cult.

In October 2019, a huge ‘Vishwa Adivasi Shanti Sammelan’ (World Adivasi Peace Conference) was organised by AC Kutumb Parivar cult in Gutibera village of Murhu block in Khunti district. The main objective of the cult was to impose changes in Adivasi way of living (viz. not consuming non-vegetarian diet, wearing white clothes, using words associated with Satipati cult as Matushri & Pitushri), and to have people believe that Kunwar Keshri Singh/ his son Rajendra Singh were themselves the Government of India, and in this process, to stop availing all public services. AC Kutumb Parivar cult discards several Adivasi traditions (eg. Pathalgadi, Parv, etc.). In past six months, the influence of AC Kutumb cult has increased in several villages. They primarily emphasise on the fact that the attacks on land and Adivasi community have increased, and in order to safeguard themselves, they should join the cult. In the villages that show signs of influence from the cult, it emerges that villagers are moving towards the cult to protect their lands and Adivasiyat.

Many living in the Pathalgadi villages of Khunti do not accept this cult, and continue to lay their belief in the struggles of Pathalgadi movement for their constitutional rights. It is worth noting that there have been no instances of violence in past two years when Pathalgadi movement was taking place, or in the AC Kutumb Parivar cult that has been spreading since some months.

2. Facts uncovered in Burugulikera Village

Burugulikera village is situated around 30 kilometres away from Sonua block and is surrounded by forests. In order to reach the main village and its tolas, one has to go through about 5 kms of unpaved path. There are around 180 families in Burugulikera, of which majority are from Munda tribe and some belong to the Ho tribe. Majority of them follow Christianity. The village has people supporting, not supporting and clearly opposing AC Kutumb Parivar cult. A greater number of families support the cult.

2.1 Description of the incident

On 15 January, James Budh (Panchayat Upmukhiya) and his companions were celebrating Maghe Parab (a festival celebrated by Adivasis in Ho region during January – February). On the evening of 16 January, they visited the tola where Ransi Budh (Ex – Mukhiya Mukta Horo’s husband) lived and asked Mukta Horo why they were not celebrating the Parab. After that, James and his companions broke the belongings (like motorcycle, cycle, etc.) of the five families that believed in and led the AC Kutumb Parivar cult, and also ransacked their houses (like aluminium box, mirror, clothes box, etc.). According to the residents of that tola, along with James and his companions, armed members of PLFI, including Mangra Lugun, were present. Owing to the presence of armed men from PLFI, Ranasi and other couldn’t fight this back. Looking at the damage inside the houses, it appears that James and other were looking for something. However, this could not be verified. According to the other AC Kutumb Parivar cult supporters, James and others had beaten up Lodro Budh and Roshan Barjo and tied them up and then took them along.

The fact finding team could not verify the triggers behind this damage done by James and his companions (with the support from PLFI).

Next day Ransi and other AC Kutumb Parivar cult followers could not find their associates Lodro and Roshan, they also could not find James and others. On 19 January, AC Kutumb Parivar supporters (Ransi Budh and others) called the attackers (James and the group) from their homes and took them along. Nirmal and Etwa’s family members informed that about 30-40 people clad in white clothes (Ransi and others) came to get them on the afternoon of 19 January. Ransi and others informed that there would be a discussion on the instance of ransacking of houses. According to AC Kutumb Parivar cult supporters, a Gram Sabha was convened on 19 January to discuss the issue of ransacking of houses and abduction of two individuals. It was decided in this sabha that the attackers would be beaten up for their mistakes. AC Kutumb Parivar supporters indicated that the decision to kill was taken in that meeting. They also said that the family members of the accused were present in the meeting and had supported that decision. According to them, when James and others were inquired about Lodro and Roshan, they could not tell clearly where they were. It appeared that they had been killed.

According to Etwa and Nirmal’s family members, they were not a part of the group that ransacked the houses. They also said that they were not invited in the meeting (in which the decision to kill was taken). Konche’s wife told that he was also not a part of that group. Konche’s wife was also not in that meeting. On 20 January, AC Kutumb Parivar cult supporters called for another meeting, in which they were invited. When they went there, they got to know that Nirmal, etc. were not present in the meeting, and had been murdered. In the meeting, AC Kutumb Parivar cult supporters said, “Life for a life”. When Etwa and Nirmal’s families were asked by the fact finding team if the reason behind the killing was not using public services (ration, etc.), they answered in negative. According to them, the reason could possibly be that AC Kutumb Parivar cult supporters suspected that these people had ransacked their houses.

Several families that were not associated with AC Kutumb Parivar told the team that the cult members held separate meetings and the ones who didn’t support the cult did not attend these meetings. People also informed that the meeting on 19 January was not a Gram Sabha for the entire village; the meeting was that of the AC Kutumb Parivar supporters.

As per police and media reports, Ghusru Budh and Sukhra Budh were also involved in ransacking the houses. They were also brought to the meeting in 19 January, but they ran away. According to media reports on 29-30 January they have returned to the village on 28 January. Information could not be gathered regarding these two subjects during the fact finding. Police has arrested 16 men (including Ransi Budh) till now; this could not be verified if all those who have been arrested were involved in murders.
On 21 January, police reached the village and found the dead bodies in nearby forests on 22 January. According to AC Parivar cult supporters, Lodro and Barjo hadn’t returned to the villages yet and they didn’t know their whereabouts. Other villagers didn’t say anything in this regard. According to media reports of 3-4 February, Lodro and Barjo have come back.

2.2 Influence of Satipati (AC Kutumb Parivar) cult in the village

About a year back, members of the Satipati cult (AC Kutumb Parivar) started visiting and organising meetings in the village. According to villagers, Yusuf Purty and Bira Oreyan had stayed in this village when they had run away from Khunti a year back (after police action) and they used to visit the village since then. Ransi Budh and others led the cult in Burugulikera. Many amongst them (including Ransi Budh) had participated in Vishwa Adivasi Sammelan organized by AC Kutumb Parivar cult in Gutibeda village, Murhu block in Khunti district. Mukta Horo and other supporters have also been to Gujarat several times for AC Kutumb Parivar related trainings.

In accordance with the thoughts of the cult, Ransi and his associates refused to use public services and documents such as ration, pension, Aadhaar cards, etc. They used to collect the documents of Aadhaar, ration card and voter card. According to Mukta Horo, these documents were then sent to the governor. Some villagers also said that they were asked to submit their Khatiyan (land documents) as well. Majority of the residents of the village have submitted these documents. It couldn’t be clarified if people have also submitted their Khatiyan or not. One person told the team that he had submitted all the documents except Khatiyan. The ones who submitted their ration card said that they did that in order to protect their lands. They also said that they submitted their documents of their own will.

According to some villagers, about 80 families still take ration and are not associated with AC Kutumb Parivar cult. Some of them said that while they were not pressurised by physical violence, they were told that if they did not submit their documents, they would not be considered Adivasi, and therefore, would be thrown out of the village. James Budh and others who were murdered came from these families and were not willing to join the AC Kutumb Parivar cult. Nirmal, Etwa and Konche’s family members said that they were poor and needed ration, and required Aadhaar for government services. Therefore, they did not want to give these documents away. AC Kutumb Parivar also forbade its supporters to go to Churche or celebrate Sarna festivals (like Maghe Parab). Ransi Budh’s family had stopped celebrating Maghe Parab. Konche Topno’s wife said that they were told not to go to the church. A neighbour informed that he was told not to celebrate Sarna Puja. He also added, “Who are these people to forbid us?” People were enraged about this.

The family members of the accused of the killings said that there have never been discussion about Pathalgadi in the village and there has never been any event to do pathalgadi. In the meetings, the discussions mainly revolved around how one’s land could be protected and how to live the Adivasi life. Other villagers also told that there discussions to do Pathalgadi had not taken place. The fact finding team had representatives from Khunti’s Pathalgadi villages, who clarified that the processes being carried on in Burugulikera since past one year were not similar to the Pathalgadi movement; rather they reflected the thoughts of AC Kutumb Parivar cult.
The families that the fact finding team could meet, who were part of the AC Kutumb Parivar, informed that they did not vote in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in 2019. One woman informed that she had voted in 2014-15, but this time she did not vote in both the elections.

Since about a year, there was friction between the supporters and the ones opposing AC Kutumb Parivar regarding these matters. James Budh was Up-Mukhiya and helped in the implementation of government policies. The team found material to construct toilers in front of his house. According to villagers, James Budh did not want to stop the implementation of government schemes, and had friction with Ransi Budh regarding this issue. They said that Ransi Budh used to previously get government schemes implemented. According to the families of the accused, James and others had attacked their families multiple times and had burnt their books. They also said that James and others used to consume Hadia (local alcohol) and cause ruckus. Fact finding team could not verify this claim.

2.3 Role of armed groups in the event

According to the family members of the persons arrested for these killings James and others had come with armed men from PLFI to ransack their houses. They also said that James had good connections with PLFI. Some other villagers also said so. Since many months, James used to conduct meetings against AC Kutumb Parivar with others who were killed and some supporters of the cult. Sometimes, PLFI members also used to be presnt in these meetings. James Budh had the support of PLFI in opposing the decision to boycott government services by AC Kutumb Parivar. Some people also said that PLFI member Mangra Lugun was seen in the village since past few days. When the team inquired if there was involvement of Maoists in these killings, some responded that they were not involved, while some responded that they did not know. Nobody said anything about the involvement of any other group (like the Maoists) in the meeting on the day of the killings (or in the killings).

3. Main Issues

The primary reasons behind Pathalgadi movement and inclination of Adivasis towards Satipati cult are:

  • Threat to Jal, Jungle and Jameen – Be it Pathalgadi movement or attraction towards the Satipati cult, the main reason behind it is the continuous attack on Jal, Jungle and Jameen in the past five years and a fear of losing one’s land. Attempts to change the land acquisition laws have further amplified this fear. Acquisition of land without the consent of Adivasis and Gram Sabha for roads and mining is another big concern. Not conducting transparent discussions with Gram Sabhas before taking any such decision is another reason for the anger and fear.
  • Exploitation of Adivasi rights and Adivasiyat – Failure in the implementation of Fifth Schedule provisions, PESA, Samata Judgement and other laws benefiting Adivasis, and failure in understanding and protecting Adivasi worldview is another driver that attracted Adivasis to Satipati cult and Pathalgadi movement. It is worth pondering upon that it is the Pathalgadi movement and leaders of the Satipati cult, not the government officers and political parties, that talk about Adivasiyat and Adivasi rights.
  • Lack of development that benefits the masses –Adivasis’ trust on government processes has decreased because of the lack of development focused on Adivasis’ needs and worldview. For example, 15 kilometres away from Burugulikera, Pansua dam was built several years ago. Because of this dam, a big region submerged and turned into a reservoir. Despite all of this, drinkable water never reached the village. Similarly, when people were asked where they got their health services from, they responded that they didn’t get health services as the nearest public health centre was 30 kms away in Sonua. People sought help from nearby available local jholchaap doctors. On 27 January, administration installed a health services counter in the village. The counter was named “Community Health Centre”. Several staffs were standing at the counter. But, when the members of the team visited the village again on 30 January, the counter was nowhere to be seen. It is worth noting that on 27 January, the local member of parliament (MP) and her party workers had had visited the village. Women in the village told that most of them had their deliveries in the village itself. When it was asked that when people had last received NREGA employment, they could not recall.

4. Conclusion

The factfinding team found that since about a year ago, meetings and engagements of AC Kutumb Parivar were going on Burugulikera village and several families in the village supported this cult. In this cult, it was forbidden to avail government services. Adivasis were told to makes changes in their way of life (like not going to church, not celebrating Adivasi festivals, etc.), and were asked to consider Kunwar Keshri Singh/ his son Rajendra Singh as the Government of India for Adivasis. There were several families in the village that did not support the cult and took ration etc. timely. James Budh and others who got murdered opposed this cult and Ransi Budh, Jiten Budh and others supported and led the cult. There was friction between these two groups on these issue since the past few months.

James Budh was the upmukhiya and Ransi Budh was the husband of ex-mukhiya Mukta Horo. Ransi used to get government schemes implemented earlier, but since past one year, he used to tell others not to implement schemes.James currently used to implement schemes (Eg., toilets, houses, etc.) and did not want to stop the work.
James Budh also had support from PLFI. On 16 January, James and his associates, along with PLFI, had ransacked Ransi and four other AC Kutumb Parivar cult supporter’s houses. According to AC Parivar Kutumb supporters, James and others had tied Lodro Budh and Roshan Barjo and taken them away. According to media reports of 3-4 February, they have come back. Other than earlier friction between the two groups, another reason behind the ransacking of houses could be the refusal to celebrate Maghe Parab (the festival was on a day before). However, the exact trigger that led to the ransacking could not be ascertained.

As a response to this, on 19 January, supporters of AC Kutumb Parivar cult called a meeting in which they brought the ones who had attacked their houses and in this meeting they beat them to death. It is clear that there were two factions in the village – the ones supporting the cult and the ones not supporting/ opposing the cult. There were other differences too. As has been discussed, AC Kutumb Parivar cult is different from the Pathalgadi movement that happened in the past. 16 to 20 January saw many actions and reactions. It appears that there were other existing differences between Ransi and James’ groups, in addition to these actions – reactions. However, all the differences could not be clearly understood.

Several questions regarding the killings unanswered. 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.

This issue has once again brought to light the prejudices of the mainstream media against Pathalgadi movement and Adivasi worldview. Without investigating the matter adequately, media reports held Pathalgadi responsible for these killings since day one. It also showed lack of unbiased ground reporting by the media. The team hopes that in coming days, journalists will do unbiased ground reporting and will make an attempt to understand the Adivasis’ issues and worldview.

In this matter, based on the influence of Satipati cult and the Pathalgadi movement in the past, the factfinding team and the associated organizations have the following demands from the Jharkhand government:

  • Government must initiate a dialogue with the representatives of Pathalgadi villages and AC Kutumb Parivar cult villages, representatives of Adivasi organizations and experts on constitution on issues and demands of people
  • Government must investigate incentives of Gujarat’s AC Kutumb Parivar cult to spread their wings in Jharkhand and their propaganda and expose their false claims.
  • Government must implement the provisions of Fifth Schedule and PESA in latter and spirit and assure Adivasis that without their consent, their lands will not be acquired. Alongside, a large campaign must be initiated to inform people about Fifth Schedule provisions, PESA, Samta judgement and other Adivasis-centric laws.
  • Government should prepare a development vision based on Adivasi needs and worldview and ensure the proper implementation of welfare programmes.

To download all the documents and pictures related to the fact finding, click on - https://drive.google.com/open?id=1aJoSw51WEZHhS3hbBMRdJoVfKYR4MwV3 . For more information, please contact Aloka Kujur (8986683426), Elina Horo (9939559039), Praful Linda (7763074746) or Siraj Dutta (9939819763) or write at jharkhand.janadhikar.mahasabha[AT]gmail.com