Prominent lecturer and activist, and a former student of NSD, Jeetrai Hansda was arrested by Jharkhand police earlier this week. Hansda has been charged with hurting religious sentiments with a Facebook post on beef consumption.
Hansda’s arrest is being widely protested. It has become a topic of discussion everywhere from Jharkhand politics to social media.
The question is whether Hansda has done something illegal? Did he really hurt someone’s religious sentiments? What is 'Jaher Dangari' and do the tribals of Jharkhand still celebrate it?
A play written by Hansda, titled ‘Fevicol’, based on the displacement of Adivasis, became very popular and has been performed across the country on many stages. He teaches at Cooperative College, Jamshedpur. Earlier, he used to teach at the Women’s College in Jamshedpur but was suspended after writing the Facebook post.
‘Arrest After Elections to Save Adivasi Votes’
In a Facebook post in 2017, Jeetrai wrote that tribals eat beef, and at sacred festivals like 'Jaher Dangri', cows are also sacrificed. Protesting against forcing the anti-cow slaughter law on Adivasis, Hansda wrote that if Adivasis are accepted as part of the country then the government needs to stop making such laws.
Jeetrai’s arrest is being called illegal. His supporters say he has not violated any law. Questions are also being raised because the arrest happened two years after he wrote the post and after the elections have concluded.
Those campaigning for his release say that in order to ensure that Adivasi votes are not compromised, the police administration waited for elections to end before arresting him.
Now the question is, do Adivasis in Jharkhand really eat beef? Devla Murmu, a social worker working in tribal areas in Jharkhand, points out that the 'Jaher Dangri' which has been mentioned by Jeetrai in his post, is common in tribal areas.
The event is organised in villages every five or twelve years. Relatives and residents of the village all gather together for the sacrifice, then they celebrate, eating and drinking. Jaher means the place of worship of gods and dangri means bull.
“In Adivasis, it’s the boys family instead of the girl’s that gives dowry. A calf is given in dowry. This calf cannot be sold. When it gets old it is sacrificed and its meat distributed as prasad.”Devla Murmu, social worker
Dr Ratan Hembram, Assistant Professor of the Santhali Department at Vidyasagar University in West Bengal and an expert on Tribal Rituals, says that eating beef and non-vegetarian fare is part of tribal identity. According to Dr Hembram, earlier the police used to provide security at such events, but now the opposite is happening.
“There have been many such events in near Jeetrai’s village in Echagar. The police used to provide protection at these tribal festivals.”Dr. Ratan Hembram, Assistant Professor, Vidyasagar University
The founder of BJP’s alliance partner in Jharkhand, AJSU, Surya Singh Besra has been fighting such a case for the past year. Besra says Jeetrai Hansda has not said anything wrong, his suspension from college over this issue was also wrong.
“What we eat, what we drink, how we live, it does not depend on anyone’s instructions. Irrespective of who forms the government, the country is governed by the Constitution. Diversity is the basis of the Constitution. There is a vast diversity in the eating habits of people from the North East to South India. Creating an issue over this is just the agenda of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and RSS.”Surya Singh Besra, President, Jharkhand People’s Party
Besra, who is now the president of the Jharkhand People's Party today, points out that at a public meeting at Latehar in Jharkhand on Birsa Munda Jayanti last year he had said that beef eating is a part of tribal tradition. For that he had a non-bailable lawsuit filed against him and he was arrested. For now he is out on bail.
“The BJP government is anti-Muslim, anti-minority and anti-tribals. Besra has said that if Jeetrai is not released soon, he will launch a protest.”Surya Singh Besra, President, Jharkhand People’s Party
Jharkhand BJP leader Ramesh Hansda, who hails from a tribal community, also says that Jeetrai did not say anything wrong, but just said it at the wrong time. He shouldn’t have written a Facebook post like that when the issue had become controversial.
Rishi Kapoor’s Statement on Beef
In 2015, when actor Rishi Kapoor drew a correlation between eating habits and religion and mentioned that he is a beef-eating Hindu, he was also trolled. Although he wasn’t charged or arrested over it.
Hansda has been charged under Section 153 A (1) (a), 295 A, 505 (2), ie, provoking religious sentiments and spreading rumours.
How Has Hansda Violated the Law?
Question is, what law did Hansda violate? Cow slaughter is banned in Jharkhand. Violating this ban would be a violation of the law, but is no one allowed to even speak against the ban?
Hansda has been charged with hurting religious sentiments and spreading rumours. But all he said in his post was that eating beef is part of tribal traditions. How does talking about one’s own community hurt another community’s religious sentiments? And since Adivasis have always eaten beef and still do, the part about spreading rumors also doesn’t stand.
Why Arrest Two Years Later?
Why has Hansda been arrested two years later? Jamshedpur police claims this is because he was absconding. But in its order dated 3 October 2018, Ranchi High Court refused to list Hansda as absconding.
The police failed to even tell the court what it had done to arrest him. Hansda’s lawyer also stated that he has regularly been participating in cultural events. So then is the accusation valid that they waited for the elections to end before arresting him?
What About the Religious Sentiments of the Adivasis?
Jains are pure vegetarians. Are their religious sentiments not hurt when they see goats being sacrificed everywhere in Kolkata during Durga Puja? When a vegetarian sees meat and fish being sold in markets across the country, are their religious sentiments not hurt? And then what about the religious sentiments of the Adivasis? Has every religion not been given an equal status in the Constitution?
The answer is probably in the advice of the famous Santhali writer Soubhendra Hansda. He says, the issue is sensitive but in a country where there is a multicultural society, there should be enough tolerance that each other’s traditions can be respected.
(This article was originally published on Hindi Quint and has been translated by Mariam Shaheen.)