Resistance of Birbhum’s Santhals

Mahasweta Devi

Birbhum is known as the land of red soil. There are many stone quarries in this area. For a long time the inhabitants are facing the brunt as a result of explosion that are done to mine stones. It is common occurrence for a piece of stone to land in someone’s house with lightening speed, sometimes even damaging the entire house. Even the paddy cultivation has been ruined. The people have been struggling against it. A large population of this area is of Santhal tribe. The stone quarry owners have been conspiring to thwart the Santhal’s resistance. This year till now there have been several attacks on the tribal of Bharkata Panchayat Samiti of Muhammad Bazar Police Station area of Birbhum. In four villages – Natun Gram, Chanda, Sagarbandhi and Panchami, 75 houses were put on fire simultaneously. Three tribal including Matilal Tudu were killed, four others were brutally assaulted and are undergoing treatment in hospital.

Who are the attackers? Who was behind the arson? Who were responsible for looting? Gauntar Organisation of Birbhum’s tribal’s informed me that the number of attackers was 150 and they were all armed. Let us look at some of the facts before knowing who the assailants were. In the stone quarry of Bharkata region, 25 thousand workers are engaged in mining activity. Most of the workers hail from Dumka or Murshidabad districts. Due to use of explosions for mining the stone Santhals this year in February had closed such mines. A meeting between the local residents and mine owners was held under the chairmanship of the District Magistrate where it was decided that only those having licence, valid documents and no objection certificate of the environmental division would do the mining, as in these mines the loss of life and property is minimal. Even then the valid mines have to give compensation for loss of any life and damage to property. It was also decided that, the mine owners who would produce the documents till 16th April 2010, will be allowed to mine. The owners neither produced the documents nor stopped the work. On the contrary they instigated their own employees that the local tribals do not want the mines to function. 150 of such employees who came in trap of the owners attacked the tribals.

Understanding the conspiracy, the Santhals did not counter attack the employees. They continued their resistance in democratic way. Thousands of tribals took out a rally and they closed hundred mines in Bharkata and Hinglo. On intervention of district administration the movement of tribal ended but the illegal mining continues. The ruling political party (CPI-M – ed. RD) is also leaving no stone unturned to keep the illegal mines operational.

The rulers and administration who should have delivered justice, in order to placate the mine owners have implicated the agitators in false cases. Entire Birbhum knows that on the instruction of a mine owner who murdered Bashir-ul-Sheik, but the entire blame was put on those tribals who were not even present in the area on the day of killing. To implicate the agitators in fabricated cases is an old ploy of the rulers.

The Santhals understand this conspiracy. On one hand they are struggling for their right and honour, at the same time they are fighting for the workers of the mines as well. The organisation named Birbhum Adivasi Gauntar has been constantly trying to organise the tribal and the mining workers of the region. The organisation has made its demand of stopping all mining activity at night and has forbidden the stay of mine owners and officials after evening in the Santhal villages, as these outsiders used to sexually exploit the tribal women luring them with money. The tribals are aware that if they do not continue their resistance then they will not survive. They have survived for centuries because they have always resisted exploitation.

Published in Hindustan on Sunday 18th July 2010

Translated from Hindi by Damodar

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