Birsa Majhi, 43, has been a regular visitor to Tenughat Court in Jharkhand for a number of years. He was charged under the Prevention of Witching Practices (Daain) Act in 2006 after a quarrel with his relatives. But for the same court, Majhi has been perceived as a sub-perpetrator in another case since 2008. Until recently, he himself did not know anything about it
Two weeks ago, Majhi was summoned to the local police station and told that he was a “wanted Naxal with a bounty of Rs 1 lakh”. The revelation shocked the destitute tribal man.
Majhi and his wife are illiterate. Her four children, including three girls aged 15, 8, and 4 and a 20-year-old son, can barely read. The family lives in a small hut in the village of Charpania-Lalgarh in the Bokaro district of Jharkhand. Both Majhi and his son Sunil work as workers in a local brick kiln.
Majhi, whose face was written on his face, told Outlook: “You can arrest or kill me at any time. I am not a Maoist. I’m worried about what would happen to my family. “
(Birsa outside his humble home | Courtesy Image: Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha)
His fears, however, do not look entirely out of place. The state, contaminated by Maoist uprisings, often makes headlines with arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and fake encounters.
In September 2019, a CBI official wrote to the Prime Minister accusing his senior colleague of being involved in extrajudicial killings.
After the Supreme Court dismissed the state’s appeal in February 2019, it agreed to a CBI investigation into a “staged encounter” between Maoists and security forces that killed 12 people in 2015.
Recounting his daily struggles for a lack of steady income, Majhi said, “My family suffers from lack of food and clothing. Since I don’t have a pair of oxen, the villagers lend me theirs to plow. “
A piece of agricultural land about an acre in size is the only asset he owns, Majhi said. “The government and the police should have pity and put an end to my harassment,” he complained.
About 3-4 years ago, he claimed, all of his family’s meager belongings were confiscated. “The police only returned the mosquito net after I pleaded that I had nothing else to protect my children from mosquitos,” he added.
Stuck in the legal clutter
With legal proceedings pending, Majhi often fails to pay his attorney’s fees. “I recently tried to pay his fees to Karil (bamboo shoots), but he declined the offer. He wanted to decline my request for additional time, but gave in when I said: ‘We have nothing to eat at home’. “
Majhi said he had to appear in court every month.
Laxmikant Prasad, a lawyer representing Majhi, said five people had been acquitted in the case related to the witchcraft practices law. “Majhi and two other people are still on the trail as they were absent from the court on the day the testimony was recorded,” he told Outlook.
According to Prasad, the FIR in the second case, which is related to the militants, gives neither the name nor the ancestry of his father. “During the preliminary investigation, there was every possibility that the accused could be someone else. So he was a refugee for the police and the court, ”he said, adding that the case, which dates back to 2008, will face dozens of defendants on trial.
“The problem is that he is extremely poor and illiterate. He couldn’t follow developments in the case. Usually in these cases the police will complete all the legal formalities that are on the table and the accused will remain completely clueless, ”he said.
“As soon as your name is associated with the Maoists, the police will harass you for life,” he said, claiming that his client had no previous convictions.
Attitude of the security forces
Kanahiya Ram, SHO Jageshwar Vihar, confirmed that Birsa Majhi is a “wanted Naxal with Rs 1 lakh bounty”. He said Majhi was summoned to the police station for questioning on December 15. When asked why he was not arrested and asked to come back later instead, Ram replied, “We don’t want to spoil his life if he wants to be part of the mainstream. In this phase we give him a chance. “
Although he denied the possibility of a “false identity”, the SHO said, “We will consider all factors before taking legal action against him.”
At the police station, Majhi said, some police officers advised him to surrender to the district court in order to avoid unpleasant incidents in the future.
Ambika Yadav, activist of Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of progressive civil rights organizations, cited an example of a meeting that took place on June 12, 2021 in the village of Piri in the Latehar district. “Bramhadev Singh was shot dead by security forces during a search in Naxal. But to date not even an FIR has been registered on his wife’s complaint, ”he said.
Singh and several other youths, who came under fire during the botched operation, were out for Sarhul, a festival where tribesmen go to the forest to hunt and celebrate.
A number of prominent media outlets had previously reported on June 12th last year that the victim was a militant who was shot during an encounter between “Maoists” and the security forces.
(Birsa’s house in Jharkhand | Courtesy Image: Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha)
Survey promises not kept
In the state elections in 2019, Jharkhandis gave the Mahagathbandhan a clear mandate against the “anti-people policy” of the previous government, according to Yadav. “But the repressive stance of the security forces has not changed two years after the coalition government led by Hemant Soren came to power. Their violence against Adivasis continues under the guise of anti-Naxal operations, ”he claimed.
Both Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Congress had promised in their election manifestos the release of those involved in the process, in particular people from tribal, Dalit and minority communities who had been imprisoned without conviction. “There is absolute silence on this subject. The Hemant Soren coalition government spoke out against the arrest of Stan Swamy on false charges. But it is silent on the issues that Stan raised, ”Yadav complained.
Stan Swamy, the 84-year-old tribal rights activist, was imprisoned for over nine months without trial under the Central Anti-Terrorism Act, the Act against Unlawful Activities (Prevention). Swamy suffered from Parkinson’s and other age-related ailments. He died in custody on July 5, 2021.
Yadav scourged the state government for its contempt for the constitutional organs. “Their unconcern is exposed by the fact that the State Commission on Human Rights, the Women Commission, the State Commission on Planned Casts and Planned Tribes, and the State Information Commission no longer exist,” he said.
Appeal to the government
The Mahasabha meanwhile appealed to Prime Minister Hemant Soren to instruct the police to “correct their mistake” in the Birsa Majhi case. “There are many others who are persecuted through no fault of their own. We sent a written statement to the Jharkhand Police Chief. We also asked the prime minister to order an inquisitive, ”said Siraj Dutta, a Ranchi-based social policy analyst affiliated with human rights organizations in the state.
Dinesh Murmu, a Gomia-based activist with Adivasi Mulawasi Adhikar Manch, agreed and said, “These people are extremely poor and do not even have the ability to meet basic daily needs. Police cases have made their problems worse. “