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Misinformation on sedition: Jharkhand govt 'downplays' repression in Pathalgadi villages

Constitutional clauses written on a pathal in adivasi area
Counterview Desk
The civil rights organization, Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JMM), has contested the state government claim that not 10,000 people but only 172 persons have been accused under sections 121A/124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which is regarding waging a war against the state or sedition.
Basing itself on a fact-finding report, prepared by a team consisting of activists, journalists and experts, JMM said that the state government, including the chief minister, are indulging in “misinformation” in order to “downplay the repression.” The team found that FIRs, talked of “unknown men and women of village involved in unconstitutional activity”.

Text of the JMM statement:

On November 19, 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 10,000 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. Chief minister Raghubar Das, on November 21, also called the report “wrong” and said that the government took “stern action against those indulging in anti-national activities”.
The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a network of several activists and people’s organisations, conducted a fact-finding inquiry in August 2019 to understand the Adivasis’ motivation for doing Pathalgadi and the response of the administration. 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 10,000 unnamed people under several charges including sedition. 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 10,000. 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 volence. 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 June 26, 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. The 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. The 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.
The 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. The 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.
The 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. 
*** 
*Members of the team: Ba Singh Munda (Khunti resident), Bilkan Dang (Jharkhand Munda Sabha), David Solomon (JJM), Elina Horo (JJM), Gunjan Singh (HRLN), Henry Tiphagne (People’s Watch), I.P. Tirkey (AIPWA), Jacinta Kerketta (journalist and poet), Jay Prakash (researcher), Kalyan Nag (Khunti resident), Kumar Chandra Mardi (JJM), Lakkhi Munda (AIPWA), Lingraj Azad (Samajwadi Jan Parishad), Madan (JJM), Manob Choudhary (journalist), Manthan (JJM), Praful Linda (Adivasi Adhikar Manch), Prem Chandra Murmu (Adivasi Buddhijivi Manch), Sago Munda ((Khunti resident), Samuel Purty (Khunti resident), Sanjay Verma (journalist), Siraj Dutta (JJM), Soma Munda (Pahda Raja), Sonal Tiwari (HRLN), Sunil Minj (journalist and activist), Sushma Mehta, Tanmay (WSS), Vivek Kumar (JJM)
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The fact-finding report can be accessed here

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