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By: Brajesh Verma & Our Bureau /
Sahebganj : Today was a red letter day for Jharkhand’s most inaccessible and ‘underdeveloped’ north eastern region after the Indian prime minister for the first time addressed Pahariya, a highly endangered primitive tribes resides atop the Rajmahal series of hills, alike a British collector who some 250 years ago also managed to win the hearts of the community members with welfare measures.
It’s was Augustus Cleveland, the than British collector popularly known as “Chilimili Saheib” among the Pahariyas, as he for the first time in the history of this region managed to take the Pahariya community members known as ‘most hardcore rebellious’, in his confidence.
Prime minister Narendra Modi today open Pandora Box at this Pahariyas’ hinterland. He handed over appointment letters to the primitive Pahariya community members at Sahebganj after laying the foundation stone of a proposed six kilometre long four lane bridge over river Ganga.
Most significantly, laying foundation stone for a proposed harbor at the river bank of Ganga here by the prime minister today would also prove to be a milestone for the entire region, claimed party’s Godda MP, Nishi Kant Dubey. Dubey who was instrumental for preparing the all the blue prints for Sahebganj also, claimed the proposed port in coming days would automatically revive ancient ‘trade corridor’. Earlier Sahebganj was known for its high class trade center for food grains.
“Incidentally, the ruins Teliagarhi fort at Sahebganj district once known as the ‘gateway’ to Bengal and any invaders who attempted to conquer Bengal, had to manage their safe entry from Teliagarhi fort first. The fort was one of the strategic point of the then Pahariya kings who had to fight many decisive battles with the invaders,” told Ranjit Kumar, a Sahebganj based historian.
But now the bridge, in coming days, would connect the western part of India with North East and even with Myanmar and Bhutan in abroad too via the roads.
Meanwhile , Jharkhand government has recently constituted a Pahariya battalion under which the Primitive Tribes of the state would get job as policemen.
More than 250 years ago, a British Collector of the East India Company named Augustus Cleveland posted in Bhagalpur (present Bihar) had planned to provide jobs to the Pahariya of Rajmahal hills, the areas is situated in Jharkhand today. He constituted special ‘Hill Archer core’, a British army with Pahariya archers who always have perfections to set their targets.
Incidentally, prime minister, Modi visited the same area on today to lay the foundation stone of the bridge.
Between the days of Cleveland’s rule and Modi government, the Pahariya of Jharkhand had been facing tough situation. They had no job, no education and no means of livelihood; however the government had made several plans time to time for them after Independence in 1947. Their population has been reducing rapidly atop Rajmahal series of hills.
What Cleveland had planned under the colonial rule for the Pahariyas was like this:-
The Collector of Bhagalpur, Augustus Cleveland, had written a letter to the then Governor General of Bengal Warren Hastings seeking Rs 29,440 for the rehabilitation of the Pahariya community of Rajmahal hills in the downhill areas. He had also suggested that the Governor General provide Rs five per month as salary to the Pahariya chiefs for employment in the East India Company. Though Hastings turned down his first request, he accepted his second suggestion.
Cleveland knew that the Pahariya of Rajmahal hills, (today situated eastern part of Jharkhand state in India) had never accepted the supremacy of the Mughals. He therefore made a comprehensive plan to win them over with compassion than rule on them with the gun.
The record of the contemporary British travelers like Francis Hamilton Buchanan and Captain Brook also suggest that Cleveland was very famous among the Pahariyas, who affectionately called him “Chilimili Saheb.” Appointed assistant collector of Rajmahal in 1773, Cleveland had selected 283 villages of the Pahariyas in the region for reforms.
More than two centuries later, little has changed in the area. They were some 2.5 lakh strong just over a century ago. Today they number a mere 50,000. The Souria Pahariyas, a primitive tribe largely concentrated in the Rajmahal hill area situated under the Santhal Parganas division of Jharkhand state in India, are waging a losing battle against life-up against debilitating and often fatal diseases, their fields of corn routinely destroyed by herds of rampaging elephants, bereft of civic amenities that are taken for granted by the people of the cities and towns, illiterate because of the government’s unimaginative educational policies.
The Mal Pahariyas, another primitive tribe, one amongst the nine such found in Jharkhand, suffer from a similar predicament. Today the total number of Mal Pahariya men, women and children do not exceed 60,000 people. Settled mostly in Dumka district they too are the visible faces. Disease, elephants, illiteracy and with no access to either drinking water or education, they too suffer a fate that is akin to their cousins across the Basloi River that flows through Dumka.
The rolling Rajmahal hills are a scenic delight. But in its beauty lurks the shadow of death. The hills are a know zone for the deadly malaria parasite, not the common variety found in the towns and the cities but the often fatal PV and PF varieties. Shunning modern medicines both, the Souriya and the Mal Pahariyas, pin their hopes of deliverance from malaria, kala-azar, jaundice and dysentery on the herbs that the hill are just famous for.
Sitting outside the bamboo hut a little girl Chandi Pahariya stares into the vacuum waiting for her death at Dungri hill in Rajmahal area. Her mother stands besides her creeky charpoy, but can offer little except consolations. Chandi has jaundice in its advance age. Around her half-naked, pot-bellied body lays the scenic greenery surrounded by beautiful hillocks that could mesmerize any tourist. But Chandi’s pale eyes cannot see anything but the slow steps of death inching towards her every day! Her widow mother says, “My last hope is the medicinal herbs available in the jungle around. But I don’t know whether they will work or not.” Chandi is not an isolated case. Most of the 36 people living in this tiny hamlet of six houses suffer from various kinds of diseases, jaundice and diarrhea being common.
It’s a rare Pahariya who live beyond the age of 50. A majority of them die before they reach they half-way mark. Marriages take place early at 14 or 15 years of age. Pahariya women refuse to have themselves admitted to hospital for deliveries. The pregnancies are dealt with in their hamlets in traditional manner.
Get Pahariya to a pen a few words and his handwriting will delight you. It’s calligraphy of the highest order-something that a trained anthropologist should concern him with. But the percentage of education is very low. A few have down their graduations but a vast majority still continues to remain illiterate. Every effort to bring them down the hills has failed so far. Research reports say that Souria Paharia live on top of these hills since the Indus Valley civilization declined.