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Kurmis Demand ST Status: Rail Blockade Completes 58 Hours, 7-day Cycle Rally Underway in West Bengal

The protesters have stated that if their demands are not met, they will block the Kotshila station of the Purulia-Ranchi railway and the Purulia-Ranchi national highway starting from Sunday.
rail blockade

The Ghaghar Ghera movement, which demands the status of Scheduled Tribe for Kurmi society,  started with a bicycle rally on April 1. From Panch Shaheed Crossing in Purulia Jhalda via Khatra Jhargram Khemasuli to the Kolkata CRI office, a campaign has been called by the Ghaghar Ghera Central Committee. Also, a road blockade has been going on in Khemasuli since Wednesday.

Even after 50 hours of continuous blockade for the last two days, the agitation has not subsided. On the contrary, it is getting stronger. The protesters want recognition of the Sarna religion as well as the inclusion of the Kurmali language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

In the western part of the state, the movement has been underway for various such demands. A continuous indefinite rail-road blockade has commenced in West Medinipur-Purulia and Bankura. The protesters have stated that if their demands are not met, they will block the Kotshila station of the Purulia-Ranchi railway and the Purulia-Ranchi national highway starting from Sunday.

According to Sudip Roy Mahata, a member of the Ghaghar Ghera Central Committee, a cycle rally has started from Gidhni on April 7th, joining the ongoing movement that started on April 1, and will continue all the way to Kolkata. “The Ghaghar Ghera Central Committee has been formed for this movement with members of five organisations,” he told People’s Reporter.

According to Mahata, a meeting with government officials was held in Kalaikunda on April 5, where top officials of the district administration were present. During the meeting, a 10-member delegation informed the officials that the movement would continue until their demands were met. “However, since that day, many of them have received threats, including threats of physical harm. We have been told that we will be crushed to death," Mahata said.

Tuhin Mahato, the state youth secretary of the Adivasi Kurmi Samaj, stated that they are planning to launch a larger movement in the upcoming days. Similarly, Ajit Prasad Mahato, Chief Adviser of Adivasi Kurmi Samaj, declared that they would persist with the movement and not back down. They plan to expand the movement to different locations as well.

According to the organisation, the ST List of 1950 was formed by amalgamating the Primitive Tribes List of 1931 and the Backward Tribes List of 1936, and some castes were listed following the recommendation by the Governor. But although the name of the totemic Kurmi community was included in the Primitive Tribe List of 1931, that name was omitted from the 1950 list.

In this context, Ghaghar Ghera central committee member Bikash Chandra Mahato told the People's Reporter, “On Friday, our cycle rally entered its 7th day. The agitation has been going on in Khemasuli for three days. In 1998, the central government told Parliament that to include the totemic Kurmi caste in the ST list, a constitutional procedure has to be followed. The Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India (ORGI) has sought a justification report from the state in this regard. Our main demand is that the justification report, which has been withheld by the West Bengal government for a long time, should be immediately sent to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.”

Last year on September 20, the railway in Khemasuli was blocked for six days due to this demand. Although the blockade was lifted on the assurance of the state government, nothing was done for the next six months. This inaction by the state government has led to the Ghaghar Ghera Central Committee calling for a long and indefinite movement.

The "Ghaghar Ghera" programme initiated a blockade of the national road 24 hours ago. The Kurmis, who had blocked the railway and national highway during the pre-arranged "Rel Teka, Dohar Chenka" programme, did so due to the non-fulfilment of their demands. To avoid any risks, the railway authorities decided to cancel and change the route of many trains in advance. As time progressed, the number of train cancellations increased, with South Eastern Railway cancelling at least 84 trains so far. On Friday morning, 58 trains were cancelled, and four had to be diverted due to the ongoing agitation.

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