An accused in the alleged abduction and gang rape case of five tribal women in the Khunti district in 2018, Father Alfonso Aind, has been granted bail by the Jharkhand High Court on the condition of a deposit of Rs 15,000 by him in the ‘Martyrs Fund’ which is meant for the welfare of families of martyred soldiers, reports Business Standard.
Khunti district has been a hotspot for Pathalgadi movement. Members of the movement have been known to place stone plaques in villages warning outsiders not to enter; they don’t recognise any government authority except for the authority of Gram Sabhas.
The matter goes back to 19 June 2018, when the eleven victims, including a 18-year-old girl had travelled to RC Mission School at Kochang village, with the aim of performing a ‘Nukkad Natak’ against human trafficking.
At the school, they were allegedly kidnapped by members of the outlawed outfit People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) cadre and then gang-raped at gunpoint. Two FIRs were subsequently lodged against the Christian priest for conniving with the attackers and not notifying the police about the matter.
Couched in the language of PESA Act and tribal rights, the movement shows several different layers.
The Pathalgadi movement to which the alleged offenders in this case belonged, has been previously linked to opium cultivators. It is alleged that Maoists force the cultivators to grow opium to finance their illegal activities, and indoctrinate tribals to demand greater autonomy to protect their own interests. Reportedly, the police had destroyed around 23,000 acres of opium cultivation in 2018 and close to 50 cases registered in this connection.
The movement allegedly also shows a Christian missionary connection, and has divided the tribal community on religious lines. In the aftermath of the ghastly rape case, a police team, which went looking for John Junas Tidu, mastermind of the Khunti gangrape, and Patthalgarhi kingpin, Joseph Purti, in Madrudih village was attacked.
Patthalgarhi has been an age-old tribal tradition of remembering ancestors, drawing territorial boundaries, announcing communally held beliefs and providing information about settlements and demographics through stone inscriptions. The tradition close to the hearts of the tribals is allegedly being hi-jacked by Maoist and other anti-national forces to foment secessionist sentiments.