Bhuiyas and Pahariyas, are not Mahadalits, but in fact Tribal communities! And they’re organised in Jharkhand….
Tribal communities who were ‘derecognised’ as tribals once again were left with ‘no other option’ but to disrupt train services in protest!
Schedules of over a dozen express and passenger trains passing through the districts of Pakur and Deoghar were disrupted for over 8 hours, some having to be cancelled or diverted or halted at nearby stations.
The Santhal Parganas once again witnessed an agitation with thousands of people belonging to Bhuiyan-Ghatwal/Ghatwar, Khetauri and Paharia castes squatting on rail tracks at Pakur and Madankatta stations demanding their reinstatement to the Scheduled Tribes category.
The protesters, displaying tribal arms, marched under the banner of Melar Adim Janjati Sangharsh Morcha (MAJSM). The morcha claims to represent the interests of around 72 lakh people of the Santhal Pargana region and Bokaro district, who belong to these castes.
At Pakur, around 200 protesters trooped in around 8.15am and squatted on railway tracks near Pyarpur. Within two hours their numbers swelled to 2,000, forcing Pakur district administration and railways to deploy security forces to prevent violence.
“Pakur is a loop line but several important trains pass through the station,” said station manager B.K Das. “Kanchenjunga Express, Balurghat-Kolkata Express, Patna Shatabdi Express, Malda-Surat Express and Haldiwari-Kolkata Express had to be diverted, while several passenger and goods trains had to be cancelled.”
Das maintained that the agitation was peaceful and the protesters did not resort to damaging railway property.
At Madankatta, around 3,000 protesters blocked trains from 6 am. Passengers remained stranded as many trains, including Jainagar Ranchi Express, Bagh Express and Jasidih-Kolkata Express, had to halt, while several others were cancelled.
These communities were officially treated as tribes during the British era. “As per census conducted in 1913 and 1938 we were treated as ST. But in surveys held in 1950 and 1952, our ST status was revoked without reason. In 1990, the government accorded OBC status to us. But we are tribals of Dravidian origin not OBC,” said Mohan Rai Melar, secretary of the Morcha , set up in 2006.
Since 2010, when representations fell on deaf ears, the morcha carried out several agitations, including economic blockades of the Santhal Pargana region, to press their demand. One of their members, Taramani Devi, died in police firing in 2013.
Damodar said they withdrew their agitation to give the government another chance. “We had announced an indefinite agitation from today as successive governments have been fooling us for many years. But we decided to call off the stir in the hope that the government would act now,” he said.
The OBC status is demeaning for them. “Consider Dumka district where the state government has abolished reservations for OBCs in elections,” Damodar said, claiming that in 2013 the then Union minister of state for panchayati raj and tribal affairs V. Kishore Chandra Suryanarayana Deo had assured them recognition as an ST, but nothing happened after that.
Vishwanath Ishar, a post-graduate student of S.P. College of Dumka, explained that Melar stood for caste with distinct Dravidian roots. “Ghatwal/Ghatwar, Bhuiyan, Paharia and Khetauri should be treated as sub-caste of Melar,” he was quoted as saying.
The protesters withdrew at 2.10pm after Deoghar deputy commissioner Arava Rajkamal accepted their petition.
Senior railway officer of Asansol division R.N. Mahapatra said Madankatta was the worst hit as it was one of the busiest routes of the Sitarampur-Jhajha section of the division. While the Dhanbad-Patna Intercity Express (both up and down), BDMU Asansol MEMU, Asansol-Jasidih MEMU were cancelled, the Howrah Mokama Passenger and Patna-bound Patliputra Express had to be halted at Vidyasagar.