The Jharkhand Police filed sedition cases against 20 people, including Jesuit priest Stan Swami and former Congress MLA Theodore Kiro on Sunday for their role in the Pathalgadi protests. Pathalgadi is a practice adopted by some villages in Jharkhand to declare their gram sabha as the only sovereign authority, not the state or central government.
The Khunti Police said in the first information report that the accused attempted to mislead Adivasis on social media by providing false information about the Indian Constitution, Hindustan reported. They have been charged with trying to create communal tension, and cause law and order problems. Some workers of non-governmental organisations are also among the people charged with sedition.
The FIR also mentioned the abduction of Jharkhand Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kariya Munda’s bodyguards, allegedly by Pathalgadi supporters in Ghagra, on July 26. When the police arrived at spot, the villagers allegedly attacked them with arrows. Some police personnel were subsequently injured during an operation to rescue Kariya’s bodyguards, the FIR said.
Congress leader Theodore Kiro, one of the accused, told Scroll.in that the sedition charges were an effort to divide the society by labelling missionaries as Naxalites. “The activists were criticising the wrong policies of the government, and the hate that it is spreading,” Kiro alleged. “So the administration filed a case against us.”
“Our efforts are directed towards making the Adivasis aware of their rights,” Kiro added. The former Congress MLA said that the police had filed a case under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, though that section has been struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015. “So the government believes neither in the Constitution nor the Supreme Court,” he said.
Kiro said the case is an attempt to suppress the lifestyle of the Adivasis. “The corporate houses want to engage in mining here,” he said. “But the land is owned by Adivasis. So they want to remove the Adivasis from the land.” Kiro added that the defendants would fight the case through Constitutional means.
The former Congress MLA alleged that the corporations were working in connivance with the BJP government in the state. “The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh does not want the land. They want to uproot the Christian missionaries who have established many schools in the area,” he said. “The corporations, meanwhile, want to seize the land.”