On 21 October, a team of Khunti police attached the belongings of 83-year old Stan Swamy, a well-known activist of Jharkhand, from his residence at the Bagaicha campus in Namkum, near Ranchi. The police took away two tables, three chairs, one almirah and one mattress from his room. Stan was not present during this procedure.
The attachment was in connection with a sedition case filed against him and 19 other activists of Jharkhand in July 2018, over their Facebook posts in which they questioned state excesses in villages that conducted Pathalgadi and attack on Adivasi rights. The posts have been framed as evidence of these activists’ endorsement of the Pathalgadi movement in Khunti in the particular FIR. Among other sections, they have been booked under 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000, which was repealed by the Supreme Court in 2015. (In fact, a recent fact-finding inquiry by Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) found severe repression and violence in the Pathalgadi villages. Thousands of Adivasis have been wrongly charged with sedition). Stan’s facebook posts, cited as evidence, are attached in Annexure 1.
In August 2018, Stan Swamy and three others (Aloka Kujur, Rakesh Roshan Kiro and Vinod Kumar) challenged the FIR in the Ranchi High Court and requested for its quashing. During the High Court hearing, the district court of Khunti, based on the prayers of the local police, issued an arrest warrant against them (under section 73 of IPC) on 19 June 2019. However, such a warrant can only be issued if it is proved that the accused is hiding or trying to evade arrest. Before the warrant was issued, neither did the Khunti police visit the residences of Stan and others to inquire if they were present nor did it send them any notice. This raises questions on the legality of the warrant itself. Interestingly, just a week before the warrant was issued, Stan’s room was raided by the Maharashtra police, in the presence of Jharkhand police, in the Bhima-Koregaon case (He along with ten other national activists are wrongly accused in the case). His presence at Bagaicha during the raid was reported widely reported in the media. And yet, the Khunti police got an arrest warrant issued in a week.
Following the warrant notice, the four persons filed an interlocutory application in the High Court to quash it. Subsequently, on 22 July 2019, the Khunti court, as prayed by the police, declared Stan an absconder. He subsequently appealed for quashing this order as well. On 24 September, the notice for attachment of his property was issued. The irony of the Khunti police declaring Stan an absconder, even though he fully cooperated with the Maharashtra police in their investigations (and was available at his residence) in the same period was raised by his lawyer in the High Court. The government lawyer asked for additional time when he was asked by the Court to explain this paradox. He was asked to justify the state’s orders, regarding the arrest warrant and declaring Stan an absconder, on the next hearing scheduled for 23 October. The attachment of Stan’s belongings just two days before the hearing, while the matter was being debated in the High Court, indicates an attempt by the police to ensure that Stan’s appeal for quashing of arrest warrant becomes infructuous.
For the past several decades, Stan has been working for the rights of Adivasis and other underprivileged groups in Jharkhand. Among other issues, he works on displacement caused due to forced acquisition of land, the condition of undertrials and implementation of PESA. The Mahasabha strongly condemns the continuous harassment of activists and public intellectuals who are critical of the policies of BJP governments. The harassments are wholly unjustified and are part of the government’s growing attempts to stifle dissent and intimidate those fighting for justice. The haste of the police to declare Stan an absconder and attach his belongings, weeks before the state elections, indicates that it is an attempt by the BJP to invent a false enemy and engage in scaremongering in order to polarise the election in its favour.
Stan is an exceptionally gentle, honest and public-spirited person. Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha has the highest regard for him and his work. The Mahasabha demands immediate quashing of the FIR and dropping of all frivolous charges against Stan Swamy and other activists and public intellectuals. It further demands action against the Khunti police for the repression unleashed by it in Pathalgadi villages and building a false case against Stan Swamy and others.