Soon after being sworn in on December 29, 2019, the government of Chief Minister Hemant Soren decided to drop “all cases” related to the Pathalgadi movement of 2017-2018.
Almost a year later, the Jharkhand government is still to send a requisition to the court to withdraw the cases filed by the BJP government of Raghubar Das, many of which involved charges of sedition.
According to information obtained by Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, only 16 of the 30 Pathalgadi FIRs registered in Khunti, Saraikela Kharsawan, and West Singhbhum have been recommended by the district committees for “complete withdrawal”.
The charge of sedition under IPC Section 124A had been invoked in 19 of these cases; the committees have recommended withdrawal of this section in 17 cases. Most of these cases were registered in 2018; a few in 2017.
Of the total 172 accused, police had sought sanction to prosecute 96. The charges against them included, apart from sedition, “attacking the police officers with weapons”, “kidnapping officers or bodyguards of the MP with well-planned conspiracy”, “instigating locals to create hurdles equipped with local equipment without any information or permission”, “capturing the police station and snatching the weapons from the hands of police officers”, “creating an insecure situation, misbehaving with government officers”, “provoking the people with their inflammatory speech against government and administration”, and “creating obstacles in governmental progressive works and disturbed law and order”.
Asked about the delay in implementing the decision taken by his government in its first Cabinet meeting, Chief Minister Soren told Idea Exchange at The Indian Express: “When we took the decision, many questions also arose. Some [cases] were false… kuchh cases mein badmashiyaan bhi thi (There were problems in some). It is not that the matter is stagnant. A solution has been reached in half of the cases, which have been recommended for withdrawal; in some, investigation is still pending… It had slipped my mind, I will look into this now.”
Interestingly, there was no discussion on withdrawal of the Pathalgadi cases in a review by the state Home Department at a meeting on Friday, sources privy to the proceedings said.
76-year-old Thakura Munda expressed disappointment over the delay in implementation of the government’s promise. Thakura was accused in three cases, of which included the charge of sedition, arrested and sent to jail. Two cases have been recommended for withdrawal; in the third, the charge of sedition has been recommended to be dropped.
“I stayed in Khunti jail. I was [also] sent to Daltonganj jail where my health deteriorated. One day I collapsed… I spent a lot of money to get bail. Whenever Adivasis fight for their rights, they are crushed,” Thakura said.
During the Pathalgadi movement of 2017-18, giant stone plaques came up outside villages, declaring the gram sabha as the only sovereign authority. The plaques had inscriptions from the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled areas) Act or PESA, which the tribals quoted to claim their independence from the state and assert their rights and culture. While the movement petered out, many villagers alleged they were subjected to “police brutality”, or what they called “state’s repression”.