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PUCL Statement on Father Stan and Others

Dr. V. Suresh

General Secretary, PUCL National

The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) condemns the clearly motivated, malicious and tyrannical action of the Jharkhand police and Jharkhand Government in registering a case against 20 adivasi activists for criticizing the Raghubar Das led BJP Government on Facebook; claiming that they are “manipulating the innocent and uneducated villagers against the government”, “misinterpreting Constitutional provisions”, “disrupting communal harmony” and indulging in “anti national speeches and propaganda”.

The activists have been charged with grave offences of Section 121, 121A (waging war), 124A (sedition) of the IPC and Section 66A/ 66F of the IT Act. The human rights workers include prominent and highly respected social activists such as the 75 year old Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy of the PUCL, who has been a strong and fearless voice of dissent against land acquisition policies, weakening of the gram sabhas, writer and anti-displacement activist Aloka Kujur, and Congress MLA Theodore Kiro. The FIR registered by a police inspector Rajesh Prasad Rajak in the Khunti police station has connected these activists to an accident of 26thJune 2018 in which villagers of village Ghagra and Anigarha – called “Pathalgarhi” supporters in the FIR - are alleged to have gheraoed the BJP MP Karia Munda's house and abducted his security guards, and resisted police lathicharge with bows and arrows and throwing of stones.

Without any shred of concrete evidence being cited, the activists have been accused of inciting this act through their facebook posts. Just a mere glance at their facebook posts, shows how they have been constantly talking about the implementation of Constitutional provisions like PESA and the right to life.The use of Section 66 A even after its being struck down by the Supreme Court, and the foisting of the extremely grave offences of sedition and waging war in obvious violation of repeated guidelines of the Supreme Court shows the absolute lack of application of mind by the police.

This FIR comes at a time when Jharkhand is witnessing continuous and widespread protests of adivasi communities against amendments of land laws and land policies in the state. The Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Parganas Act were sought to be amended to make diversion of land for non-agricultural purposes easier and also to lift restrictions on alienation of adivasi land for linear projects. Finally these amendments were rejected by the Governor Ms Draupadi Murmu in a rare use of the discretionary powers of the Governor. The passing of the state amendment of the new Land Acquisition Act of 2013 doing away with social impact assessment, restrictions on acquisition of agricultural land and creation of a Land Bank rather than returning unused lands to the farmers, has meant bringing in from the back door the very amendments that were rejected by the Parliament in 2016.

There is a growing perception that the Raghubar Das led BJP Govt is trying to ease corporate land grab and to favour non-tribals particularly after it announced that 210 MOUs were signed in 2017 in the Global Investors Summit. The state has witnessed many protests and Bandhs, and police repression on agitators, including firing at a crowd stopped 40 km away from Ranchi on 23.10.2017, in which Abraham Mundu was killed. Raghubar Das has had to personally face several protests – such being shown black flags at Torpa, Khunti when he went to inaugurate an electric sub-station; and in Saraikela-Kharsawan when he was obstructed from paying homage at an adivasi martyrs monument.

In the tribal regions of the country, particularly in Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh where mining has had devastating consequences on adivasi lands, livelihoods and the environment, there is a simmering unrest. Tribal communities are repeatedly raising the issues of failure of the governance model of the Fifth Schedule, the lack of political will to respect the decision making role of the Gram Sabha laid down in the PESA Act, and the poor implementation of the Forest Rights Act particularly in the refusal of community forest rights and resource rights. This has given rise to protests by adivasi villages in the form of “Pathalgadi” or erecting stone tablets as an assertion of their rights and self governance. This has no doubt created a panic among the mining interests, since village communities are demanding that they “seek permission before entry”.

The State Governments have come down with exceptional viciousness on this movement – in places claiming that it is linked to Maoists and in others to opium cultivation. In both Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh the political attack on Pathalgadi has been spearheaded by Hindutva organizations and it has been used as a means to repress and target Christian adivasis and drive a wedge among adivasis on religious grounds. The 20 activists recently targeted by the FIR dated 26th June held a joint press conference on 3rd August which was addressed by representatives of various mass organizations and opposition political parties including the former Chairperson of the National SC ST Commission Rameshwar Oraon, former Union Minister Subodhkant Sahay, sitting MLA Arup Chatterjee and former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi. The action of the police in registering an FIR of sedition was unanimously condemned by the opposition as well as civil society as an act only to suppress voices of dissent.

The People's Union for Civil Libertiesdemands that
(1) The FIR dated 26th June 2018 making vague allegations and foisting grave charges of sedition, waging war etc against social activists merely for expressing opinions critical of the Government should be immediately withdrawn, being an assault on the Freedom of Speech and Expression.

(2) The persistent demands of the adivasi people of Jharkhand, voicing their grave concern about changes being made in land laws and land policies detrimental to the adivasis and to facilitate corporate land grab, must be considered by the Jharkhand Government through effective consultations with the affected people.

(3) The provisions of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution of India, the PESA Act, the Forest Rights Act, the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Parganas Act should be strictly implemented in letter and spirit to protect adivasi lands and livelihoods.

(4) Baseless criminalization and demonization of the “Pathalgadi” movement should cease. The district administration and political establishment should resolve conflicts in the adivasi areas through effective consultations with Gram Sabhas and by respecting the centrality of the Gram Sabha in decision making as laid down in the PESA Act and Forest Rights Act, thus restoring the self governance envisaged by the Constitution and the faith of the adivasi communities in the state.

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