November 22, 2007. Have the Birhor Vanished?
Apparently the Indian state of Jharkhand has forgotten the existence of the Birhor people. While other states around the world have hassled their peaceful societies, expelled them from their lands, removed them from their villages, and desecrated their sacred places, completely forgetting about them is remarkable.
The Telegraph of Calcutta reported last week that Jharkhand’s minister for tribal welfare, Ramesh Singh Munda, was asked at a public meeting how many Birhors lived in the state. He made an awkward guess that there were about 1,000. In fact, the most recent census reports that there are about 4,000 Birhors.
Jharkhand has 30 “Scheduled Tribes,” five of which have settled over the past couple of centuries into farming. Those five are well recognized and receive many benefits from the state. Over the past seven years, since Jharkhand was carved out of the state of Bihar, a moneyed class has developed in these tribes; these people have learned how to get close to sources of power in the new state and secure public funds for themselves.
The other 25 tribes, including the Birhor, retain their nomadic, forest-based lifestyles. They generally have not applied for Scheduled Tribe certificates and the people don’t hold jobs working for state agencies. As a result, government ministries appear to have forgotten about them.
In addition, the Telegraph points out that colonies built for the Birhor out of public funds—in America they would be called public housing projects—remain virtually abandoned. “No one cares what has happened to the vanishing Birhors,” the article concludes. One has to wonder, however, how much the Birhors would care if the state of Jharkhand were to vanish, so long as they could continue living in their forest homes.