By Sanjay Sahay
In picture: Tribals in Ranchi attend the Adivashi Akrosh Maharally expressing solidarity with the unmodified “Tribal land Acts – Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) act against state government. (Parwaz Khan/Hindustan Times)
One person was killed and several others were injured in Jharkhand’s Khunti on Saturday when police fired on protesters trying to join a rally against the government’s alleged attempt to dilute two British-era laws safeguarding tribal land, officials said.
Several policemen was also injured when hundreds of villagers clashed with security personnel who tried to stop them from marching to Ranchi, 35 kms away, to join a rally by a conglomerate of tribal groups.
The growing tribal anger in Jharkhand has echoes of the nationwide protests by farmers against the Narendra Modi government’s controversial bill that aims to ease India’s laws governing land acquisition for industries.
The Raghubar Das-led BJP government has brought in an ordinance seeking changes in the century-old Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act to facilitate acquisition of tribal land for “public interest projects” such as roads, dams, water pipelines, transmission cables, hospitals and educational institutions.
The tribals — constituting 26.2% of the state’s 3.29 crore population – say the move could lead to rampant acquisition of land belonging to the indigenous people.
Land and citizenship rights are two of the most sensitive issues in the tribal-majority state with activists and political parties accusing “outsiders” – a term used to describe people from other states – of grabbing land and government jobs and taking control of businesses, depriving the indigenous population of economic and social benefits.
Saturday’s incident is the third time police have fired on tribal protesters, leaving seven people dead since August.
Tribals are also angry over Das’ frequent raising of the bogey of their alleged conversion to Christianity, a charge denied by organisations representing the indigenous people.
Khunti deputy commissioner Chandrasekhar, who uses only his first name, said police exercised “maximum restrained” but were forced to open fire when protesters allegedly holding senior officials hostage turned violent.
Activists rejected the police charges.
“This is total anarchy and dictatorship of the police,” said Pravin Kumar, social activist who was an eyewitness to the incident.
Local Jharkhand Mukti Morcha legislator Poulus Surin termed the incident a “serious human rights violation”.
Business establishments were shut in Khunti and in the neighbouring districts after the incident as tempers rose. People also blocked roads at several places.
The chief minister condemned the incident saying violence has no place in democracy. He announced aid of Rs 2 lakh each for the family of the dead and injured.
The article is republished from Hindustan Times, October 22, 2016.
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