A group of more than a dozen Adivasi organisations in Jharkhand, led by the Adivasi Samanvay Samiti, on July 5 sent a memorandum to the Governor of the State, asking that he exercise his office’s special powers under the Fifth Schedule to exempt tribals of Jharkhand from any form of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) that might be brought in by the Union government.
A few hundred Adivasi people from villages in and around Ranchi district gathered for a demonstration outside the Raj Bhawan in the State Capital on Wednesday afternoon before proceeding to submit their memorandum to Governor C. P. Radhakrishnan.
This comes a day after Mr. Radhakrishnan told The Hindu in an interview that as the Governor of a State like Jharkhand which is home to one of the largest tribal populations of the country, “I will take it up with the Centre when any specific draft comes through.”
Currently, the 22nd Law Commission is receiving public opinion on the UCC and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice has begun discussing it. And even though BJP MP and panel head Sushil Modi has batted to keep tribals out of the UCC, no draft for it exists yet.
While raising slogans against the possible implementation of a UCC, Deo Kumar Dhan, coordinator of the Adivasi Samanvay Samiti said, “There is no way tribal societies in Jharkhand will accept the erasure of their customary laws and practices, which have already been recognised and codified through centuries of struggle by our people.”
He explained that as far as Jharkhand is concerned, there are laws such as the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act, the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act, which recognise the customary practices of tribals, their customary procedures to resolve civil disputes and gives village committee the power to operate based on these customs.
“The government cannot impose its own rules and procedures on us. That is what they tried to do in Manipur and we are all seeing what is happening. It is imperative that Jharkhand is exempted from UCC to ensure that a Manipur-like situation does not end up occurring here,” Mr. Dhan said.
In their memorandum to the Governor, the tribal bodies said, “Tribal customary laws do not arise from any specific religion rather they spring from societal norms and practices since time immemorial… The STs are exempted from the application of Hindu laws because of their separate customary laws. In the absence of customary laws, they would be deemed Hindus and Hindu laws will be applied.”
Adding that as Governor of Jharkhand, the Fifth Schedule gave him the power to exempt the State from any Central or State law in the interest of ST, the memorandum said, “Therefore, in the interest of Scheduled Tribes, the UCC is unwarranted. This shall not be in the interest of peace and good governance “
“Through this memorandum, your Excellency being the custodian of a Fifth Schedule area and tribal population is requested to exclude the Scheduled Tribes of the State of Jharkhand from the UCC,” the tribal bodies said.
Meanwhile, calls opposing the UCC were raised even at a memorial organised by another group of Adivasi organisations on Wednesday to mark the second death anniversary of Father Stan Swamy, who died while in judicial custody in the Bhima Koregaon case on July 5, 2021.
Dayamani Barla, an Adivasi activist who runs the Adivasi Moolwasi Jameen Raksha Manch, while speaking about the injustice that had been done to Father Swamy and other jailed activists, said, “Our fight will extend to opposing the UCC as well. Father Stan was always with us for our lifelong fight for Jungle, Jal, Jameen. And something like the UCC only spells more dangers for our way of life and our customary practices which have already been protected by the Constitution and special legislation.”
Opposition to UCC picks up pace among tribal bodies in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh
She said that her outfit is also engaged in spreading awareness about the possible effects of the UCC in villages of Jharkhand and that they are also getting people to write to the 22nd Law Commission describing why they oppose the UCC.
As the opposition to a UCC is gathering steam in Jharkhand, Mr. Dhan said that a larger meeting of Adivasi bodies has been scheduled for the end of the month where outfits from States such as West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Odisha, and Bihar among others will also be present.