Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is a government doctor in Jharkhand. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi award for his 2014 novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, and is the author of The Adivasi Will Not Dance. Recently, the Jharkhand government issued Shekhar a notice for a piece he wrote in The Indian Express opposing the new domicile policy announced by the state government in April this year. According to the policy, only those people who have been living in the state or have acquired immovable assets over the last 30 years, or their children, will be considered local residents of the state.
In this short fiction piece, Shekhar tells the story of Joga Paharia, a man who was arrested for a crime he did not commit.
Joga Paharia died on a winter day. He had been in the divisional jail in Pakur for about three years—an undertrial, his case was yet to end, yet to reach final judgment. All undertrial prisoners were kept in this jail; when their trial ended and they were sentenced, they were sent to the central jail in Dumka, some 80 kilometres away.
Joga was fifty…no, sixty…perhaps more than that. He was a small man, just a bag of bones sheathed over by a layer of skin. Very little flesh, a lot of grizzly hair and beard. He looked old when he was arrested by the police three years ago, and, through each of his hearings, Joga only looked older. He did not talk—he was mute when he was arrested, he lived in the jail in silence, he died in silence. No complaint—not a cry, nor a whimper.
It was the day of the Thursday hatia in Gokulpur village of Pakur three years ago. Men and women from the town and nearby areas were at the ground of the Bajar Samiti where the hatia was held. Non-Adivasis, Adivasis, all. The Adivasis included both Santhals and Paharias. While the Santhals came from Pakur and the nearby villages, the Paharias came from the hills. Paharias—those from the hills. That is what the word Paharia means—a person from the Pahar, the hills.