Civil rights group Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha on Friday accused the state government of spreading misinformation to downplay the repression of Adivasis in Khunti district.
Earlier on Friday, the Jharkhand Police said media reports have given “totally incorrect and hugely inflated figures” about the number of people booked in sedition cases in the district. On Tuesday, Scroll.in had reported that the police had filed sedition cases against more than 10,000 people in the district over 2017 and 2018 when Adivasi villages erected stone monoliths with engravings of the Indian Constitution related to tribal autonomy.
The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha said that it had conducted a fact-finding inquiry in August to “understand the Adivasis’ motivation for doing Pathalgadi and the response of the administration”. Pathalgadi is a practice adopted by some villages to declare their gram sabha as the only sovereign authority, not the state or central government.
“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,” the organisation said.
“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’. This means that there are more than 10,000 people charged with sedition,” it added.
The Mahasabha said that the police statement issued on Friday is silent on why thousands of “unknown” villagers continue to be accused of sedition even over a year after the Pathalgadi incident. It added that if the police insists that it is not pressing for sanction for prosecution for sedition, it should file a closure report in the case.
“The fact finding team had found that the state responded to Pathalgadi with severe repression and violence,” the Mahasabha said. “Adivasis in some villages were severely beaten, houses were raided and ransacked.” The organisation added that in Ghaghra village, a pregnant woman, Ashrita Munda, delivered a disabled baby two weeks after being beaten up by the police.
“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 statement read. “The police has also forcefully set up camps in schools and community buildings without the consent of Gram Sabhas in many Adivasi villages.”
The Mahasabha said that there is “immense fear” among the Adivasis of the region due to the police actions. It added that some people the police had arrested were not even aware of the charges against them.
The civil rights group said that despite submitting the fact finding report to the district administration, the police department and Jharkhand Chief Secretary Devendra Kumar Tiwari, it has received no response. It also welcomed Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s condemnation of the sedition charges imposed on the Adivasis, but added that his own party has not stood with the people of Khunti.
The Mahasabha demanded that the police immediately file closure reports in the case, and that a probe be launched to investigate into the sedition charges filed against the Adivasis. It also demanded a judicial inquiry into “human rights violations by security forces in Ghaghra and other villages and ensure punitive action against responsible personnel”.
It also demanded that compensation be provided to victims of police atrocities in the region, and all camps the police have set up be immediately removed. “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,” it said.