Ranchi: Just ahead of the Jharkhand Assembly polls, the property of activist Stan Swamy at Bagaicha campus in Namkum, Ranchi has been attached by the Jharkhand police. The 83-year-old activist’s property was attached by Khunti police in a case related to a Facebook post. The police considers Stan’s post to be an endorsement to the Pathalgadi movement.
At his residence in the campus, the police did not find much and had to be content with tables, chairs, an almirah and a mattress, which they took away from his room. Swamy was reportedly not present at the campus at that time.
This has come in connection with a sedition case filed against him and 19 other activists of Jharkhand in July 2018, over their Facebook posts in which they questioned state excesses in villages that conducted Pathalgadi and their "attack on Adivasi rights".
Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM), an umbrella body of civil society groups condemned the police action and claimed that the action taken by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government was in haste, with the intention of polarising the voters of Jharkhand, ahead of the elections.
JJM issued a press statement in which it said, “The posts have been framed as evidence of these activists’ endorsement of the Pathalgadi movement in Khunti in the particular FIR. Among other sections, they have been booked under 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000, which was repealed by the Supreme Court in 2015.”
The JJM members had also conducted fact-finding in Pathalgadi areas, during which they found evidence related to severe repression and violence in the Pathalgadi villages. Thousands of Adivasis have been wrongly charged with sedition.
In August 2018, Swamy and three others (Aloka Kujur, Rakesh Roshan Kiro and Vinod Kumar) challenged the FIR in the Ranchi High Court and requested its quashing. During the High Court hearing, the district court of Khunti, based on the prayers of the local police, issued an arrest warrant against them (under section 73 of IPC) on June 19, 2019.
JJM also raised question on the legality of the warrant itself. It said that such a warrant can only be issued if it is proved that the accused is hiding or trying to evade arrest. Before the warrant was issued, neither did the Khunti police visit the residences of Stan and others to inquire if he they were present nor not, nor did the police send any notice. This raises questions on the legality of the warrant itself, claimed JJM.
Interestingly, just a week before the warrant was issued, Stan’s room was raided by the Maharashtra police, in the presence of Jharkhand police, in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case.
His presence at Bagaicha during the raid was reported widely in the media. And yet, the Khunti police got an arrest warrant issued within a week. Following the warrant notice, the four persons filed an interlocutory application in the High Court to quash it.
Subsequently, on July 22, 2019, the Khunti court, as prayed by the police, declared Stan an absconder. He subsequently appealed for quashing this order. On September 24, the notice for attachment of his property was issued.
“The irony of the Khunti police declaring Stan an absconder, even though he fully cooperated with the Maharashtra police in their investigations (and was available at his residence) in the same period was raised by his lawyer at the High Court. The government lawyer asked for additional time when he was asked by the Court to explain this paradox. He was asked to justify the state’s orders, regarding the arrest warrant and declaring Stan an absconder, on the next hearing scheduled for 23 October,” the press communiqué read.
It added, “The attachment of Stan’s belongings just two days before the hearing, while the matter was being debated in the High Court, indicates an attempt is being made by the police to ensure that Stan’s appeal for quashing of arrest warrant becomes infructuous.”
For the past several decades, Stan has been working for the rights of Adivasis and other underprivileged groups in Jharkhand. Among other issues, he works on displacement caused due to forced acquisition of land, the condition of undertrials and implementation of PESA.
According to his colleagues and friends, Stan is an exceptionally gentle, honest and a public-spirited person.