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Activists move Jharkhand HC over FIR alleging sedition, say they're being targeted for supporting tribal rights

Ranchi: Several Jharkhand-based activists, including Father Stan Lourdusamy alias Swamy and Aloka Kujur, have moved Jharkhand High Court with a petition demanding quashing of an FIR registered against them by Khunti police in case number 124/18 registered on 26 July under Sections 121, 121A and 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and 66A and 66F of the IT Act (2000). The matter is due to be heard by the court on 27 September, 2018.

Kujur, a Ranchi-based social worker, got to know about the FIR from newspapers on 28 July, two days after it was registered, she says. The activists were accused of using social media to instigate sentiments against the nation and the Constitution and disturbing communal harmony.

File image of tribal activist Father Stan Swamy. 101Reporters/Manmohan Singh

File image of tribal activist Father Stan Swamy. 101Reporters/Manmohan Singh

“Though I was not surprised, I feel weird that no one from Khunti police station or Khunti SP office bothered to intimate me about the FIR till date despite charging me for an act as serious as sedition, which proves that their action (to register an FIR) is political in nature,” she adds.

The FIR was registered soon after four policemen posted as security guards of former Lok Sabha deputy chairperson and sitting BJP MP from Khunti, Kariya Munda, were abducted by irate villagers, who were attacked by the police forces while a gram sabha was in process in Ghagra village on 26 July.

Theodore Kido, former Congress MLA from Kolebira in Gumla district, Ghanshyam Biruli of Jharkhand Against Radiation (JOAR), and Belosa Babita Kachchap, a young author who is also one of the leaders of Adivasi Mahasabha — considered to be the driving force behind the pathalgadi movement — were also among the people booked in the aftermath of the abduction.

Interestingly, Section 66A of IT Act was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in its judgment in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India case on 24 March, 2015. The apex court called it ‘nebulous’ — as in open-ended, undefined, and vague.

Uncomfortable questions

Almost all of the activists charged with sedition in this case have been either highlighting the cases of social injustice being meted out to tribals in Jharkhand or have questioned the government’s intention behind non-implementation of Panchayat Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, bypassing gram sabhas in acquiring forest land in contravention of laid down procedure under Forest Act 2006. They have also been demanding wholehearted implementation of 5th Schedule of the Constitution, thereby actually empowering Tribal Advisory Council in the state which has been reduced to a political puppet by the government.

Supporters of the pathalgadi movement have also called for implementation of Samatha judgment of Supreme Court (1997), posters of which can be found painted across villages in Khunti and Gumla districts, where pathalgadi still stand. The Samatha judgment aimed at safeguarding with tribals the control of mining of minerals in their land, effectively giving them right over top soil, as well as minerals lying in the subsoil.

The judgment made null and void all mining and industrial operations by non-tribals or private companies in areas defined under the 5th Schedule and held that all mining activity in such areas should be taken up only by the State Mineral Development Corporation or a tribal co-operative, which would provide for a viable economic source for development of the area. Entire Khunti district is covered under 5th Schedule, as are 14 other districts out of 24 in Jharkhand.

“Our questions make them squirm because they know that they are at fault in not fulfilling their promises of development and non-implementation of the directives of the honourable Supreme Court issued from time to time. Politicians need to realise that it is the people that make a country — neither the industrial houses nor political parties," says Swamy, adding that the administration can win the hearts and minds of tribals only by actually implementing the laws created to safeguard their culture and respect their customs.

Incidentally, this is the first ever case filed against Swamy after decades of work giving voice to issues related to tribals ranging from uranium mines of Jadugoda to working for tribal youths falsely implicated and languishing in jails for being Naxals.

A fit case of state oppression?

Like Swamy, Kujur too seems to have been targeted for her intervention in the cases where tribals’ rights were abused. Under the aegis of her NGO — Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression and Sexual Repression (WSS) — Kujur led a fact-finding team to Kochang in the aftermath of the infamous gangrape incident reported in June.

The report they presented termed the gangrape incident as fabricated and implicated office of Khunti Superintendent of Police for ‘staging’ the entire incident to create terror in blocks where pro-pathalgadi forces were dominant and to break the movement by implicating the entire leadership under false charges.

However, Kujur denies being associated with pathalgadi movement or meeting anyone involved.

“I went to the villages of these five women (who were gangraped) and actually met two of them. Our findings reveal the incident was used by government as an excuse to unleash brute force on innocent villagers, provoke them to turn violent and arrest anyone associated with pathalgadi movement to suppress it,” says Kujur, adding, “I never posted anything about pathalgadi, so the police used a piece of information I shared on Facebook to target me. Since when did sharing information on social media become a fit case for being charged for sedition?”

In an emotional letter that Swamy penned in the aftermath of the FIR challenging the government to bring charges in a court of law, he wrote:  “Over the last two decades, I have identified myself with the Adivasi people and their struggle for a life of dignity and self respect…In this process, I have clearly expressed my dissent over several policies and laws enacted by the government in the light of the Indian Constitution. I have questioned the validity, legality and justness of several steps taken by the government and the ruling class. If this makes me a ‘deshdrohi’, then so be it.”

Battle ahead

Questioning the logic behind charging the social activists under provisions of the IT Act on the basis of Facebook posts, Shiv Kumar Singh, representing Swamy in the case, believes that the government will stand exposed in the court of law.

“The premise and timing of registering FIR is a proof in itself of the motivation of Khunti SP and in charge of Khunti PS, who are working at the behest of political forces to discredit Fr Swamy and other social activists,” says Singh, who will be joined by a battery of senior Supreme Court lawyers when the petition is heard by the Jharkhand High Court on 27 September.

Khunti district police establishment, meanwhile, is tight-lipped over the development. Superintendent of Police (SP) Aswini Kumar Sinha said the details of the investigation will be revealed at an appropriate time. “We are verifying the antecedents of the persons named in the FIR and going through their past posts on Facebook and other social media websites. We have also written to Facebook to provide historical data of the Facebook profiles of persons in question and will try to find if anyone had posted and later deleted any objectionable post in past,” says Sinha.

With inputs from AK Singh in Ranchi

Authors are freelance writers and members of 101reporters.com


Updated Date: Sep 26, 2018 10:16 AM

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