On 19 November, the news portal Scroll.in reported, on the basis of analysis of 19 First Information Reports (FIRs) filed in cases related to Pathalgadi movement in Jharkhand’s Khunti district, that 10000 people were accused of sedition as ‘unknowns’ in the FIRs. The Khunti police in a statement on 21 November called the media reports “totally incorrect” and “hugely inflated”. According to its statement, 172 persons have been accused with sections 121A/124A of IPC (commits offence related to waging war against state / sedition). Interestingly, it is silent on the issue of thousands of ‘unknown’ people accused of sedition. The Chief Minister, Mr. Raghubar Das, on 21 November, also called the report “wrong” and said that the government took “stern action against those indulging in anti-national activities”.
Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a network of several activists and people’s organisations, conducted a factfinding inquiry in August 2019 to understand the Adivasis’ motivation for doing Pathalgadi and the response of the administration (Report attached). The findings expose the misinformation being spread by Jharkhand government to downplay the repression.
The team was able to access 15 FIRs and had found that the police had charged about 150 named persons and at least 10000 unnamed people under several charges including sedition (Consolidation attached). In at least three FIRs covering several villages, rather than mentioning the number of accused ‘unknowns’, they mention “other unknown men and women of village involved in unconstitutional activity”. So it could effectively mean all residents of the villages thereby making the total number of “unknown” accused significantly more than 10000. The statement of police is silent on why thousands of ‘unknown’ villagers, mostly Adivasis, continue to be accused of sedition, since more than a year, if the police did not find any evidence against them. Police claims that it is not pressing for prosecution sanction under sections 121A / 124A IPC against any villager not accused in the case. In that case, why is the police not filing closure report against all the unnamed accused? The police further does not clarify the total number of FIRs filed against people in Pathalgadi related cases. It must be added the amongst the named accused, there are several traditional village heads.
The factfinding team had found that the state responded to Pathalgadi with severe repression and violence. Adivasis in some villages were severely beaten, houses were raided and ransacked. In Ghaghra village, a pregnant woman, Ashrita Munda, delivered a physically disabled baby, a couple of weeks after being beaten by the police during a raid. People of Ghaghra also claim that the police fired at them on 26 June 2018 in which two persons were shot and one of them, Birsa Munda, died at the spot. The police has also forcefully set up camps in schools and community buildings without the consent of Gram Sabhas in many Adivasi villages. Mahasabha has also found that the accusations made against the villagers in the FIRs stand in stark contrast to the testimonies of the people.
Due to this violence, there is immense fear amongst people. The villagers get scared whenever the police visits their village, because any of them could be considered as one of the ‘unknown others’ in the FIRs and accuse of sedition. Mahasabha has also found that many people named in the FIRs or picked up by police were not even aware of the charges against them.
The fact-finding team found Pathalgadi to be a non-violent response to specific policies of the government; primarily its attempts to dilute land laws, failure to respect the worldview of the Adivasis, implementing schemes without the consent of the Gram Sabha, non-implementation of PESA and provisions for the fifth scheduled areas and rampant violations of human rights. While most of the interpretations of the Constitutional clauses written on the pathals may be wrong or far-fetched, they are based on valid issues and demands of Adivasis and their basic idea about the supremacy of the Gram Sabha.
Mahasabha has submitted the factfinding report to the district administration, police department and the Chief Secretary. But no attempts have been made by them to address the issues and concerns.
Mahasabha would like to point out Khunti has a BJP MLA since 20 years and a BJP MP since 35 years. Both have been silent on the violations of people’s rights and police atrocities. Mahasabha welcomes the condemnation of the mass sedition cases recently by Rahul Gandhi but his own party and other opposition parties of the state, did not stand with the people of Khunti and agitate against the cases.
Mahasabha reiterates its demands being made since the last one year:
- The government must immediately file closure reports of all FIRs and charges of sedition on the thousands of unnamed residents of Khunti. It must also undertake judicial inquiry into the charges framed against the named people in the FIRs within a stipulated timeframe. It must make public all the evidence that formed the basis for these FIRs and the evidence collected in all related inquiries since then.
- The government should undertake judicial inquiry into the human rights violations by security forces in Ghaghra and other villages and ensure punitive action against responsible personnel. It must also ensure compensation to victims of police atrocities in these villages.
- The government must remove all police camps from the nine schools and two community buildings in Adrki, Kochang, Kurunga Birbanki, Kitahatu, Kewra and Hut.
- The government should initiate genuine dialogue with representatives of the Pathalgadi villages, Adivasi organisations and experts on the interpretation of Constitutional provisions written on the pathals.
- The government must ensure strict and immediate implementation of all provisions for the Fifth Scheduled Areas and PESA.
The factfinding report and consolidation of FIRs can be downloaded from this link https://drive.google.com/open?id=1aU9oFPt61TT0zBqkC3QW_33WwP5X-Ju2 – For details, write at firstname.lastname@example.org .