The Director of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has written a letter to the Gujarat government home department and Gujarat Director General of Police (DGP) seeking details of the police action regarding the arrest of a Pathalgadi worker, Babita Kachhap, from Mahisagar by the Gujarat Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) in July this year.
The letter was in response to an application made by a Gujarat-based tribal rights activist who alleged that Kachhap has been illegally kept in custody on fraudulent charges.
As per the letter accessed by The Indian Express, Satish Kumar Sharma, director of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes in Jaipur, Rajasthan, wrote the letter addressed to secretary, Home Department, and Gujarat Police DGP on December 19.
The letter states that the commission received a complaint from one Prasoon Masar, a tribal rights activist from Mahisagar of Gujarat, who alleged that the Gujarat ATS has illegally kept Kachhap in custody by filing a fake first information report (FIR) and subsequent fake chargesheet in the case.
Kachhap (33), a native of Dorbanda in Ranchi of Jharkhand was arrested from Mahisagar on July 24 along with two other workers — Samu Oreya and Birsa Oreya, both natives of Jharkhand and residing in Vyara taluka of Tapi — for allegedly “trying to instigate the local adivasi community towards violent uprising against the state government”.
All three accused were booked under Indian Penal Code sections 124A for sedition, 153A for promoting enmity between groups, 120B for criminal conspiracy, and 121A for conspiracy to commit offence. As per ATS officials, the three accused were trying to collect funds and instigate the local Satipati adivasi community in Tapi and Mahisagar districts towards the Pathalgadi movement.
Pathalgadi movement refers to the 2016 movement that started primarily in the Maoist belt of Khunti and surrounding districts in Jharkhand, where the tribal population had erected huge stone plaques outside their respective villages, announcing entry restriction to “outsiders” and mentioning excerpts from the Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Area) Act.
The word Pathalgadi literally translates to “carving a stone” in the tribal culture of Jharkhand. The Pathalgadi movement, which advocates self rule, resulted in violence in Jharkhand between the state government and tribal people in 2016 and 2017.
The letter written by Sharma states, “The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes had received an application from Prasoon Masar on December 19 regarding Babita Kachhap wherein it appears that there has been disregard for justice and harassment of the person.”
“The Commission has asked for an inquiry into the matter under article 338 A of the Constitution of India (which gives the right for setting up a commission for scheduled tribes). You have been asked to reply within 15 days in person or by post regarding the police action taken and accusations in the case (sic),” the letter adds.
It further states that if no reply is given within the stipulated time, then either the secretary of home department or Gujarat DGP may be summoned in person before the commission.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sharma confirmed that the letter has been sent from his office. “The onus is on Gujarat Police to ensure that there is a fair probe in this case,” he said.
All three accused in the case are in jail since July 24. A senior ATS official said, “Chargesheet has been filed in the case and court has accepted it… the case is going on. All actions have been taken in accordance with the law.”
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