Parha jatra, and politics

Ravindra Bhagat, the political successor and son of former Member of Legislative Assembly from Mandar Karamchand Bhagat rides a wooden horse as the parha raja at the Bero yatra.

Ravindra Bhagat, the political successor and son of former Member of Legislative Assembly from Mandar Karamchand Bhagat rides a wooden horse as the parha raja at the Bero jatra.

The parha jatra, a congregation of 5/7/12/21 villages which form a parha, has been celebrated in Oraon and Munda villages since long. But what was traditionally a religious congregation has also become a rallying point and an occasion for political leaders to assert clout.
In 1967, Congress MLA Karamchand Bhagat supported and oganized the parha jatra in Bero for the first time. At the time, the police had imposed a curfew after six adivasis of the area were killed in police firing. Bhagat supported the village parhass efforts to organize the jatra to defy the curfew. Since Bhagat first supported it in Bero, it has been organized at the Bero market in Ranchi every 3rd June. Bhagat, who later joined the RJD, died a few years back and this year’s jatra was organized by his son Ravindra Bhagat.

Paika dancers wait at the parha jatra at Baridih, two kms from Bero, which was first organized by support from former Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA Vishvanath Bhagat to counter the bero jatra supported by then Congress MLA Karamchand Bhagat. Photos by Anumeha Yadav

Paika dancers wait at the parha jatra at Baridih, two kms from Bero. On June 3, Congress, BJP, RJD leaders attended the jatra at Baridih organized by Vishvanath Bhagat. Photo by Anumeha Yadav

In 1989, Karamchand Bhagat’s political rival former Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA Vishvanath Bhagat started organizing the same parha jatra at Baridih, in a ground two kms from Bero, notes anthropologist Alpa Shah in her 2010 book on Jharkhand. (In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism, and. Insurgency in Jharkhand, Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

As the villagers celebrate, the head of the parha , the parha raja and the parha dewans ride wooden horses and elephants supported on sticks by their supporters. In Bero Karamchand Bhagat started use of political flags at the jatra and political leaders occupied the place of the parha rajas in jatra, something that Vishvanath criticised him for. In Baridih, only children of the parha rajas appointed by the village occupy these seats at the center of the processions even now.

Bero and Baridih are now the site of the two biggest pahra jatra in Jharkhand. Villagers come from 30-40 kms away to attend the jatra which has the atmosphere of a carnival with stalls selling snacks, toys, ferris wheel rides.

Parha rajas arrive on a wooded elephants carried by villagers at Baridih. Unlike Bero where Karamchand Bhagat started use of political flags at the jatra and political leaders occupied the place of the parha rajas in jatras, only children of the parha rajas occupy this seat at Baridih. Photo Anumeha Yadav

Parha rajas arrive on a wooded elephants carried by villagers at Baridih. Photo Anumeha Yadav

Parha Jatra June 2013-AY 028

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Caste and the Maoists

On March 29, in one of the worst setbacks the Maoists have suffered in Jharkhand in recent months, cadres of the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), a splinter group of the banned CPI (Maoist), killed 10 Maoists after a gun battle that lasted over 10 hours at Lakarmanda village, 17 km from Kunda, where the Maoists had stopped en route to Gaya. The TPC took 25 Maoists hostage for four days in the Sarengdah and Kunda panchayats in Chatra district and released them after sending off photos to the press of the captured Maoists.

“We kept the hostages in a village school. We have released 12 cadres and some of their families came to take them from Chatra and Bihar. We kept 13 back. This is our area and the Maoists cannot enter it,” said a close aide of TPC founder Brajesh Ganju in Sarengdah. Another member said they had reports that the police had since arrested two of the 12 Maoists released by the TPC on Tuesday. But the police denied the claim.

“The Maoists are ugravaadi [militants]. The TPC has resolved to finish off Maoist militancy here. We have no enmity with the police or paramilitary forces, we will support them against Maoists,” said Mr. Ganju’s aide.

In a statement, the Maoists alleged that the police and their “vigilante group” TPC had cooperated in carrying out the operation. “We resolve to avenge the death of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army martyrs,” Bihar Jharkhand North Chhattisgarh Special Area Committee spokesperson Gopal said, calling a Bihar-Jharkhand bandh for April 6 and 7.

Caste clashes

The TPC was founded in 2001 in Chatra by Brajesh Ganju, a Dalit, who had left the Maoists Communist Centre (MCC), citing the dominance of Yadavs in the party leadership and discrimination against Dalits. The TPC, which has cadres from Dalit communities including Ganju, Turi and Bokta, is active in parts of Chatra, Palamu, Latehar, Ranchi and Hazaribagh districts in Jharkhand and parts of West Bengal.

“Caste is not the main factor anymore. Initially the feeling was that gains and funds were going to one caste group though everyone worked equally hard. But we have cadres from all castes, including Yadavs,” said a supporter in Chatra, a Dalit, who has helped the group with logistics since its inception and now works as a contractor building the panchayat bhavan building in the area.

While officials had denied taking TPC support in the operation against Maoists in Chatra, deep inside the forest at Lakarmanda in Kunda eyewitnesses said they watched TPC men handing bodies of the Maoists to the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) troopers who arrived in their village on Thursday morning.

Read the full story here