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Dishom Manjhi - Supreme Court of the Santal Society

Ranchi, Sept. 27 (ANI): The visibility of Khap Panchayats in the media is a recent development, as they are opposed by "modern" society for their orthodox judgments in the name of honour. But similar Khaps, albeit with different names, continue to mock upon the elaborate law of Indian Judiciary responsible for maintaining law and order, settling disputes, punishing culprits and giving all citizens the right to prove their point in court
That said, one cannot turn a blind eye to the existence of the likes of Khap Panchayats and Kangaroo Courts. The fact that people do follow their judgments proves their acceptability among the communities, even if the acceptability comes from fear.
They operate in various little-known parts of the country.
Dishom Manjhi - the traditional self-governance system operating since time immemorial in the adivasi society of Santals in Jharkhand is a case in point. Till date, Dishom Manjhi pronounces the death sentence. If the accused is found guilty by Dishom Manjhi - the supreme court of Santal Society, the judgment is enunciated.
Like the kangaroo courts of the outlawed Maoists, such judgments are neither reversed nor challenged. Those who try to keep away from their decisions and gatherings are punished even more ruthlessly.
On 30th March this year, this traditional court pronounced death sentence on two adivasis - Bhim Tudu (40) and Shankar Kisku (35), who had been avoiding a Panchayat trial pertaining to an alleged murder they had committed a week before the trial. The third partner in crime, Betka Kisku, managed to escape by running away from his house the night before the trial.
The gathering was organized in the Hethgrahan village, about 40km from the district headquarters in Ramgarh Block of Dumka District, Jharkhand after Anath Tudu, father of the deceased Pramod who was purportedly beaten to death by the duo along with two other aides, had complained to the tribal body.
In the presence of more than 700 people - both the residents and the representatives of smaller traditional outfits, the duo were punished with death sentence. Worse, the sentence pronounced Bithlaha (social boycott and confiscation of property), which is not merely about being "thrown out of the community" affair, but entails burning alive the culprits as well as their houses.
As soon as the death sentence was pronounced for Bhim and Shankar, six people attacked them with spades and sharp-edged weapons and the two were beaten to death mercilessly before the stunned crowd. Later, in addition to the houses of the culprits, several other households were set on fire - in gruesome celebration of a "fair" trial.
The third accused, Betka (also the father of Shankar), who escaped the trial, narrated the entire incident to Hemant Toppo, Superintendent of Police, Dumka. The police registered a First Information Repot against Anath who had facilitated the Dishom Manjhi but till date has done nothing against the representatives of this traditional court - no arrests, no trials.
On the basis of the news that appeared in the newspapers, the State Human Rights Commission took cognizance of the matter and proactively asked the district administration to file a report. Toppo confirmed the news and has said that they are sending the report to the SHRC. In his report, Toppo has accepted that the furious villagers are responsible for the double murder that took place on 30th March.
The Santhali community, considered very much to be a part of Dishom Manjhi, differs in opinion on the decisions taken by the representatives. Some agree with the cruel judgments while several others condemn the procedure followed. Yet, none dares talk of it openly.
Dr. Louis Marandi, ex-member of State Women Commission, terming this incident as inhuman, said that such incidents will only increase enmity amongst people.
When such a gathering is to be called, all the villagers are summoned in the typical Santhali Tradition - a man beating a drum with an oiled bamboo announces the meeting of Dishom Manjhi, with no fear of reprisal from the administration. The turnout at such meetings is always large, nothing furtive or secretive about them.
The Charkha Development Communication Network would like to ask why such loudly disseminated information doesn't reach the ears of the police and the administration remains a moot point. The fact is such meetings continue to be held. Similar incidents have happened in the past - the 2003 incident of Godda district is a heart-wrenching story of two women who were burnt alive as per a Dishom Manjhi decision. By Shailendra Sinha (ANI).
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