Pleas filed under the Right to Information Act in connection with the Pathalgadi movement showed there are 30 first information reports, spread across Khunti, Saraikela-Kharsawan, and West Singhbhum districts in Jharkhand. The district panel, however, has recommended the withdrawal of only around 60% of the overall cases filed, excluding the two related to Kochang gangrape.
The Pathalgadi movement started in 2017, when stone monoliths engraved with provisions of the Indian Constitution began to be installed in the villages of Khunti. The engravings highlighted the special autonomy granted to Adivasi areas under the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. In November last year, Scroll.in was the first to report that more than 10,000 people in Khunti district were facing sedition charges for erecting the monoliths.
After the Scroll.in article was published, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Hemant Soren tweeted it, criticising the then Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government of Raghubar Das. In December 2019, ahead of the state’s Assembly elections, Hemant Soren’s father and the party’s President Shibu Soren promised to drop the cases if his party was elected. He made the remark even though the party manifesto contained no such promise. Following this, after assuming the chief ministerial post, Hemant Soren announced that his administration was dropping all the cases filed against the supporters of the Pathalgadi movement in 2017 and 2018.
The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of progressive organisations, that facilitates efforts to defend people’s rights in Jharkhand, on Friday held a state-level seminar on the status of the withdrawal of the cases and human rights violation across the state. During the seminar, it was also noted that the Khunti district committee has recommended the removal of only sections 124A/120A/B from seven cases. “Regarding action on the recommendations sent by the districts, the home department has simply said that it is under process,” a statement read.
Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code pertains to sedition, section 120A deals with criminal conspiracy, and 120B doles out punishment for the criminal conspiracy cases.
The organisation said that the Hemant Soren-led government’s announcement of withdrawing all the cases related to Pathalgadi highlighted that it acknowledged the failure of the previous BJP administration. However, the recommendations from the district committees to rescind only around half of the cases and the delay in withdrawing some of the others “indicate that the political decision of the government is yet to fully translate into action on ground”.
“Victims of repression unleashed in the Pathalgadi villages by the earlier government are yet to get justice,” the statement noted. “Ghaghra’s Asrita Mundu, who gave birth to a physically disabled daughter after being beaten by the security forces during her pregnancy, is yet to receive any compensation.” The organisation also highlighted instances where the action against security personnel was not taken, or the perpetrators of violence were yet to be held accountable.
The organisation also noted the recent episode of human rights violation. In June, 20 Adivasis in West Singhbhum district’s Chiriyabera area were allegedly brutally assaulted. Three people were severely wounded. “The CRPF, accusing the villagers to be Maoists and enraged by their inability to respond in Hindi, beat them using wooden sticks, batons, rifle butts and boots,” the statement said. “Even though the victims clearly told the police at the hospital that they were brutally beaten by CRPF personnel, the FIR filed by the police obscures many facts of the incident and makes no mention of the role of the CRPF in the violence.”
The organisation also criticised the police’s “blatant misuse” of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. It demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Pathalgadi cases, called for a judicial investigation into the Chiriyabera incident, disciplinary action against security forces, and pushed for compensation to victims.
It sought sensitivity training of security forces about the Adivasi culture, and instructions to all local administrations to “not exploit people, especially Adivasis”. The organisation also called for implementation of Supreme Court guidelines against lynching, and activation of the defunct state human rights commission.