Vol. XLIII No. 01 January 06, 2019

Remove the Sedition Charge on adivasis

ON December 24, leaders of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch submitted a memorandum to the National Human Rights Commission at Delhi on the rampant FIRs against the adivasis accusing them of sedition. The memorandum was submitted by a delegation comprising of Brinda Karat-vice chairperson, Jitender Choudhury–national convenor, Praful Linda-state convenor, Jharkhand and Muchi Rai Munda-convenor Khunti district.

Below we present excerpt from the memorandum:-

This is to draw your attention to and request your intervention to end the ongoing violation of human rights of adivasi communities in Khunti district, a Fifth Schedule area in Jharkhand. The state government has recklessly and illegally used the draconian IPC Sec 124 A in open FIRs against more than 15,000 adivasis accusing them of sedition. The facts are as follows:

1. Since 2017 end, many villages in this district have been involved in “pathalgarhi” that is erecting stones at the boundary of the village, to demarcate the village. The stones erected quote sections of the Constitution and the provision of panchayats extension to Scheduled Areas Act 1996, (PESA) to assert that no project or programme can be conducted in the village without the consent of the gram sabha. In February 2018, when such erections of stones were being done, the Superintendent of Police of Khunti district, Aswini Kumar Sinha made a public statement that “police are on a state of alert throughout the district. The ceremonies are being conducted in a lawful manner and no untoward incident has taken place. Since the ‘pathalgarhi’ ceremonies are not against any law, we did not initiate any action.” (Times of India, Feb 26, 2018). In other words, the administration accepted that there was nothing illegal in putting up the stones.

2. The context for the support for ‘pathalgarhi’ among residents of the district were the actions of the state government of Jharkhand to dilute the rights of adivasi communities and more specifically their rights to land, forest land, and forest resources by the enactment of anti-adivasi laws, including amendments to the Chotanagpur Act. In 2016, when there were widespread protests, there was police firing in Khunti district in which one adivasi was killed and several injured.  

3. According to the administration, some elements in the name of ‘pathalgarhi’ were misleading the villagers not to permit the entry of “outsiders” and were targeting government officials and were not allowing the functioning of government schemes. There were several incidents in which there was confrontation between police and villagers. However instead of taking action, if required against those who were preventing entry of government officials and schemes, the Jharkhand government unleashed repression on residents of a large number of villages in the district, implicating them in false cases. Thousands of adivasis in the district are being subjected to police terror, intimidation, bullying with the threat of arrest hanging over them through a series of so-called ‘open’ FIRs filed by the police.

4. We have in our possession copies of at least a dozen of such FIRs. All the FIRs have been filed directly by the police. A number of FIRs although filed on different dates read like a cut and paste job. Several FIRs are hearsay and not direct accounts of eyewitnesses to the events mentioned in the FIR. What is shocking and of great concern is that most of these open FIRs, include Sec 124 A, a serious charge of sedition. Thus if there are between ten to twelve persons named in the FIRs which include the charge under Sec 124A,  the FIR also includes “1000 to 2000 unknown persons”. If all the open FIRs are taken together, the unnamed accused under Sec 124 A would include up to 15,000 persons.

5. The use of Sec 124 A is totally unwarranted. Contrary to the statement made by the SP quoted above, in the FIRs the very act of ‘pathalgarhi’ is seen as being against the law and seditious. This is a serious violation of the constitutional protection to adivasis of their customary laws and practices and also a violation of the rights given to the gram sabhas under the Forest Rights Act as also the PESA.

6. These FIRs were filed in 2018 between February and July. For the 124A cases to be heard by the sessions judge, government sanction through the state Home Ministry is required.  Even after so many months, this sanction has not been received, clearly showing that there is no evidence to use such a draconian section. Yet the Section 124 A has not been withdrawn.

7. At the same time, the police are using the threat of the open FIR to harass villagers and to subordinate and silence any and every protest. Surely after all these months, 15,000 persons cannot continue to be “unknown.” This is nothing but an instrument to deprive the adivasis of their democratic rights.

8. Some of the FIRs also include Sec 153a and 153 b a charge related to creating hostility between communities on religious grounds. In this case, adivasis are being accused of making speeches which hurt the “Hindu samaj.” The exact words in two FIRs (GR 47/18 filed by the Deputy SP on February 5, 2018 and GR 53/18 filed by a police officer in February 2018) charge that the adivasi leaders said ‘Hindu samaj call Maharaja Ravana and Mahisasura as rakshas which is very wrong.”

How does such a statement “hurt” the Hindu samaj? On the contrary it may be said that it is adivasi sentiments linked to a different view of the mentioned Ravana and Mahisasura which are being hurt. Such absurd charges in FIRs which include Sec 153a and 153b affect the dignity and beliefs of sections of adivasi communities.

9. It is also to be noted that as many as sixteen elected village pradhans have also been named in the FIRs leading to a further dilution of the rights of villagers and depriving them of democratic governance.

We request the NHRC to examine this case and to take the appropriate measures to uphold the rights of adivasis in Khunti district and to prevent the violation of their human rights.