Rumbling Rails: Kudmi-Mahatos to Hit the Brakes for ST Inclusion

The Kudmi community is preparing for their third Rail Roko movement, set to commence on September 20. Their primary demands include securing ST status and the inclusion of the Kudmali language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. As tensions rise, railway authorities are bracing for disruptions, deploying security forces and drones to monitor the situation. Opposing voices question the legitimacy of the Kudmi's demands, emphasizing historical differences between Kurmis and tribals.
Rail Roko movement is not new to the community, as it marks the third time in a year, they have organized such an agitation.
Rail Roko movement is not new to the community, as it marks the third time in a year, they have organized such an agitation. File Pic- Tribe Tv

Ranchi: The Kudmi Mahato community movement is once again making headlines as they prepare for an indefinite rail stop agitation set to commence on September 20. The primary demands of the Kudmi Mahato community include the inclusion of their caste in the Scheduled Tribe Railway (ST) list and the addition of the Kudmali language to the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

This Rail Roko movement is not new to the community, as it marks the third time in a span of 12 months, they have organized such an agitation. Previously, they conducted similar protests on September 20, 2022, and April 5, 2023. The central focus of their agitation remains the demand for tribal status recognition.

The Kudmi Mahato community's Rail Roko movement is set to paralyze railway stations across Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha. Major agitations would be held at Muri, Gomo, Neemdih, Ghaghra stations in Jharkhand, Khemasuli, and Kustor in West Bengal. Simultaneously, the agitation will extend its reach to Odisha, with protests planned at Harichandanpur, Jaraikela, and Dhanpur railway stations.

Agitation Plans and Cultural Expression

Kudmi Vikas Morcha's president, Sheetal Ohdar, has asserted that this time, they are prepared for a protracted battle. The community feels that the government has continually postponed their demand for tribal status recognition. Ohdar expressed the sentiment that the government's inaction on their proposal for Scheduled Tribe inclusion is causing frustration within the community.

Ohdar went on to accuse Union Tribal Minister Arjun Munda of neglecting their cause. He pointed out that during Munda's tenure as Chief Minister, he had sent a proposal to the Central Government advocating for the inclusion of the Kudmi caste in the Scheduled Tribe list. However, now that he serves as the Tribal Minister himself, there appears to be a lack of progress on this front, despite the inclusion of 16 castes from across the country in the Scheduled Tribes list.

During the Rail Roko movement, thousands of Kudmi community members are expected to participate in their traditional attire, showcasing cultural elements such as Chhau dance, Pata dance, Natuwa dance, Ghoda dance, Jhumar dance, as well as employing drums and musical instruments.

The Kudmi community is determined to fight rigorously for their constitutional rights. They believe that their demand for tribal status recognition is just, and they intend to emphasize this through their peaceful yet resolute protest

Kudmi community  Rail Roko agitation in Odisha in September 2022
Kudmi community Rail Roko agitation in Odisha in September 2022Image Source-OTV (Twitter)

Rail Cancellations and Diversion Due to the Agitation

In anticipation of the agitation, Indian Railways has taken precautions by cancelling ten trains scheduled for September 19. Additionally, eight trains have been diverted from their usual routes to avoid potential disruptions. Trains making trips between Bhuvaneshwar-Dhanbad, Anandvihar-Puri, Bhagalpur-Ranchi, Gorakhpur-Hatiya, Kamakhya-Ranchi, Hawrah-Hatiya etc have been cancelled while routes have been diverted for trains including New-Delhi Ranchi Garib Rath, Dhanbad-Alapuzha Express, Jammu Tavi-Sambalpur etc.

Law Enforcement Preparations

In response to the impending agitation, the railway authorities have taken several measures to ensure the safety and efficiency of train operations. More than 100 Railway Protection Force (RPF) special forces, including 40 personnel from the Chakradharpur division, will be deployed at identified locations along the rail routes.

Furthermore, the use of drones for monitoring the affected areas is being considered, with the intent of capturing video footage of the agitators. In the event that the protest disrupts train services, legal action will be taken against the participants under the Railway Act, supported by video and photographic evidence.

Railway officials emphasize the importance of not allowing the agitation to disrupt train operations, as such disruptions can lead to substantial losses for the country and affect the livelihoods of daily wage earners.

Opposition to the Kudmi Demands

While the Kudmi community is steadfast in their demands, not everyone supports their cause. The Tribal Coordination Committee India has called a meeting to protest against the Kudmis' demands and has deemed the Rail Roko movement unconstitutional.

Geeta Shree Oraon, a committee member and former minister, expressed opposition to what she considers illegitimate demands by the Kudmis. She argued that there is no historical connection between tribals and Kudmis and that Kudmis have historically discriminated against tribals. Oraon cautioned that the government should not make any hasty decisions under economic pressure, as it could have severe consequences.

Jharkhand can turn into another Manipur: Salkhan Murmu

Salkhan Murmu, a former MP and prominent leader of the Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan, has been a vocal opponent of the Kudmi community's demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. Speaking to The Mooknayak, he remains steadfast in his stance, even as the Kudmis intensify their campaign. Murmu highlights the concerns of the broader Adivasi community and the potential consequences of granting ST status to the Kudmis.

He drew parallels to Manipur, suggesting that if the Kudmi-Mahatos were granted ST status, it could have devastating implications for the existing Scheduled Tribes. Murmu argue that this change could result in Kudmis dominating elections, employment opportunities, and educational institutions. Moreover, he raised concerns that they might acquire tribal lands, and he even foresaw the possibility of Kudmis from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrating to Jharkhand to benefit from ST reservations.

Murmu further contended that the Kudmi community's actions, including their legal efforts, were against the interests of the existing STs. He pointed out the paradoxical nature of their demands, highlighting that certain leaders, like AJSU Party MP Chandra Prakash Chaudhary, had advocated for Other Backward Class (OBC) reservations in Jharkhand's local body elections while simultaneously pursuing ST classification. In Murmu's view, the Kudmi agitation primarily stemmed from a desire to gain access to reservation benefits.

As the Kudmi Mahato community gears up for their Rail Roko Andolan on Wednesday, tensions are rising, with opposing voices expressing concern over the legitimacy of their demands. The government, railway authorities, and law enforcement agencies are taking steps to manage the situation while ensuring the safety and security of all parties involved.

Rail Roko movement is not new to the community, as it marks the third time in a year, they have organized such an agitation.
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The Kudmi Community: A Snapshot

The Kudmi community is primarily composed of peasants and is concentrated in the Chota Nagpur plateau region spanning across West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Odisha. In some areas, they are recognized as Mahatos or Kurmis. Additionally, a portion of the Kudmi population has migrated to Assam and northern West Bengal. Their livelihood is deeply rooted in agriculture, and they boast a rich cultural heritage.

Language- The Kudmi community communicates in Kurmali, an Indo-Aryan language. During the British colonial era, they were categorized as a "primitive tribe" alongside other indigenous groups like the Munda, Oraon, Bhumij, Kharia, and Santhal.

Exclusion from ST status- Despite their historical recognition as a tribe during British rule, the Kudmi community faced exclusion from the Scheduled Tribe list established after India gained independence in 1950. This omission prompted a persistent struggle for their rightful ST status.

A group of Kudmis asserts that their exclusion from the ST list was a strategic move to inflate the size of the Hindu community. This has added a layer of complexity to their ongoing struggle for recognition and justice.

The community contends that documents from the British colonial period had previously acknowledged them as a tribe and indigenous people of India. As a result, they are determined to reclaim their tribal identity and its associated benefits.

During the British era, some affluent Kudmis sought to elevate their social standing by adopting the "Kshatriya" status within the Hindu caste system. However, many others rejected this process of "Sanskritization." Historians note that several Adivasi (indigenous) communities, not just the Kudmis, underwent similar transformations during this time.

Despite historical variations in their path, the majority of Kudmis continue to adhere to their traditional faith and cultural practices. Their steadfast commitment to their heritage is central to their identity.

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