The Adivasis Will Not Dance: Stories

By Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

It’s the coal and the stone, sir; they are making us lazy. The Koyla Road runs through our village. When the monstrous Hyvas ferry coal on the Koyla Road, there is no space for any other vehicle. They are so rough, these truck-drivers, they can run down any vehicle that comes in their way. They can’t help it, it’s their job. The more rounds they make, the more money they earn. And what if they kill? The coal company can’t afford to have its business slowed down by a few deaths. They give money to the family of the dead, the matter remains unreported, and the driver goes scot-free, ferrying another load for the company.

And we Santhals? Well, we wait for when there is NO ENTRY on the Koyla Road. For that is when all our men, women and children come out on to the road and swarm up these Hyvas. Then, using nails, fingers, hands, and whatever tools we can manage, we steal coal. The drivers can’t stop us, nor can those pot-bellied Bihari security guards posted along the Koyla Road by the company. For they know that if they do not allow us to steal the coal, we will gherao the road and not let their trucks move.

But a few stolen quintals, when the company is mining tonnes and tonnes, hardly matters. They know that if we—the descendants of the great rebels Sido and Kanhu— make up our minds, we can stop all business in the area. So they behave sensibly, practically. After all, they already have our land, they are already stealing our coal, they don’t want to snatch away from us our right to re-steal it.

It is this coal, sir, which is gobbling us up bit by bit. There is a blackness—deep, indelible—all along the Koyla Road. The trees and shrubs in our village bear black leaves. Our ochre earth has become black. The stones, the rocks, the sand, all black. The tiles on the roofs of our huts have lost their fire-burnt red. The vines and flowers and peacocks we Santhals draw on the outer walls of our houses are black. Our children—dark-skinned as they are—are forever covered with fine black dust. When they cry, and tears stream down their faces, it seems as if a river is cutting across a drought-stricken land. Only our eyes burn red, like embers. Our children hardly go to school. But everyone—whether they attend school or not—remains on the alert, day and night, for ways to steal coal and for ways to sell it.

Santhals don’t understand business. We get the coal easy yet we don’t charge much for it; only enough for food, clothes and drink. But these Jolha—you call them Muslim, we, Jolha—they know the value of coal, they know the value of money. They charge the price that is best for them. And the farther coal travels from Matiajore, the higher its price becomes.

A decade earlier, when the Santhals of Matiajore were beginning their annual journey to share crop in the farms of Namal, four Jolha families turned up from nowhere and asked us for shelter. A poor lot, they looked as impoverished as us. Perhaps worse. In return, they offered us their services. They told us that in our absence they would look after our fields and farm them for a share of the produce. We trusted them. They started working on our fields and built four huts in a distant corner of Matiajore. Today, that small cluster of four huts has grown into a tola of more than a hundred houses. Houses, not huts. While we Santhals, in our own village, still live in our mud houses, each Jolha house has at least one brick wall and a cemented yard. This tola is now called the Jolha tola of Matiajore.

Once, Matiajore used to be an exclusively Santhal village. Today, it has a Santhal tola and a Jolha tola, with the latter being the bigger. Sometimes I wonder who the olposonkhyok is here. These Jolha are hardworking, and they are always united. They may fight among themselves, they may break each other’s scalps for petty matters, they may file FIRs against each other at the thana, they may drag each other to court; but if any non-Jolha says even one offensive word to a Jolha, the entire Jolha tola gets together against that person. Jolha leaders from Pakur and Sahebganj and where not come down to express solidarity. And we Santhals? Our men are beaten up, thrown into police lock-ups, into jails, for flimsy reasons, and on false charges. Our women are raped, some sell their bodies on Koyla Road. Most of us are fleeing our places of birth. How united are we? Where are our Santhal leaders? Those chor-chuhad leaders, where are they?

Forgive me. What can I do? I cannot help it. I am sixty years old and, sitting in this lock-up after being beaten black and blue, I have no patience anymore. Only anger. So, what was I saying? Yes, there are no shouters, no powerful voice among us Santhals. And we Santhals have no money—though we are born in lands under which are buried riches. We Santhals do not know how to protect our riches. We only know how to escape.

That is probably why thousands of Santhals from distant corners of Pakur district and elsewhere in the Santhal Pargana board trains to Namal every farming season. They are escaping.

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