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Modern Day Colonisation.

India, Sept. 14 -- During a journey to Jharkhand by the Rajdhani express from New Delhi for Parasnath, I acquainted a young Jain boy from IIT Delhi, who was visiting Parasnath to join his parents for religious rituals. As our conversation progressed, 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 He opined that the world was changing and that a business community cannot be confined to narrow partisan and outdated thoughts that look down upon others who have different takes on the issue.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. The boy laughed when I asked didn't he think that Jains are hypocrites as the biggest meat-beef exporters in India are Jains and Marwaris.

His position was that being in business, they needed to do whatever is good, and narrow attitude might be damaging for the future of their businesses. It was a happy interaction for nearly 12 hours in the train, where I found how the Jain youngsters are changing and feel that their community needs to move beyond outdated practices if it has to remain relevant.

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 'honour' the 'feelings' of Jains who come in large numbers to worship at the Parasnath hills. Outside the station hundreds of taxis and autos offer to take you to Parasnath for a 'darshan'.

For long, I had desired to visit this place as I have visited many historical places of Jains like Sravan Belgola in Karnataka, which is a beautiful monument. But coming to this place made really shocking revelations.

The lush green region of the Santhal adivasis is under the assault of money bags with huge concrete structures 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 adivasi communities.

Their lands are being grabbed illegally violating all the rules and laws of the state. It is a significant issue as Madhuban or what is being termed today as Parasnath is actually an adivasi area and sale and purchase of adivasi land is illegal.

This being the law, how come vast tracts of land are being provided to Jains? One can understand their religious feelings, but why townships are being allowed to be built 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, I came across big hoardings welcoming us to the famous Jain religious place. The state government hoarding warns you 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 adivasis 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 Adivasis. 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 in order to avoid the Land Ceiling Act. It violates 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 adivasis of district Giridih are now 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 adivasis; the Santhal claims that the entire area of so-called Parasnath hills is actually Marang Buru, the traditional deity of the adivasis 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 adivasis are not denying that the area is of great importance for Jains but the fact is it is not the Jains but the adivasis who are living in the region and now facing Jain's dictates about culture and changing their practices.

Historical facts have already proved that adivasis 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 adivasis don't cooperate with them.

Will Jharkhand government listen to the voices of adivasis and stop imposing Jain values on them? The government must prohibit huge mansions in the name of ashrams and temples which the Jains have been building here completely changing the demography and ecology of the region.

One adivasi of the area Shanishar Manjhi has written a letter to the authorities on August 26, 2015 in which he accuses 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 should answer as to how the adivasi land has gone to the non-adivasis and how these huge religious structures and townships are being allowed in the adivasi zones.

Travelling to some of the most beautiful regions in Jharkhand, I found the life of adivasis so simple and yet so beautiful in the lap of nature. For years, adivasis have 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 adivasis for centuries. The rice-beer, which they produce, can beat any market product and the forest produce, which they eat, is far better.

Their beautiful lands are under threat both from the greedy corporate and the religious thugs. The state which they fought for is imposing dietary restrictions on them in the name of 'cultural sensibilities' of Jains. What about the cultural sensibilities of the 'adivasis'?

Will the Jains along with Jharkhand government and officials also respect adivasis 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 adivasis their due rights to protect their land and their ancient community deity Marang Buru.

The Santhals and other adivasis 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 adivasi zones.

For years, the adivasis have been exploited just because they have lived on their own without knowing much about the legalities of our system. Yet they fought valiantly against the British and threw them away from their region. If the state of Jharkhand does not act in good faith and give the adivasis their due, the situation might turn out of control.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Date:Sep 14, 2015
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