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Pathalgadi Case: Jharkhand HC Declines to Quash Sedition Charges Against Tribals

The court was hearing the petition of four tribals who had allegedly posted “seditious” content on Facebook supporting the movement by the Munda community in 2018.
Pathalgari Movement

Image Courtesy: Maktoob Media

In the ongoing hearings regarding the sedition charges against tribals in Jharkhand following the Pathalgadi movement in 2018, the state’s High Court declined to quash an FIR against four tribals. The petition was being heard by the single judge bench of Justice Rongon Mukhopadhyay.

The judge was hearing allegations against the four petitioners – J. Vikash Kora, Dharm Kishor Kullu, Emil Walter Kandulna and Ghanshyam Biruly, who were charged with sedition for allegedly inciting the members of the Munda tribal community to attack police officials on June 26, 2018.

As per reports, the FIR was filed under Section 121 (waging war against India), 121A (conspiracy to wage war against India) and 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The FIR stated the attacks on police officials happened as the tribals were “misled” in the name of Adivasi mahasabha. It also stated that “anti-national feelings” had been spread and that “the harmony existing between the different groups and castes” had been disturbed.

Also read: Jharkhand: Every 10th Adivasi in Khunti Dist Charged with Sedition for Resorting to ‘Pathalgarhi’

The tribals were charged with inciting hatred and violence, through Facebook posts. One post read, “I don’t want your Aadhar card; My identity is ‘Pathargari',” and the other, “All constitutional steps should be taken so that England, USA and UNs feel compelled to act for the freedom of tribals”. However, advocate Prem Mardi, who was representing the tribals, stated that Facebook posts do not amount to waging war against the country and that the petitioners cannot be charged with sedition for merely engaging in discussions and debates on the problems faced by tribal communities.

However, the HC order which was issued on July 22, stated, “The Facebook posts have already been referred to and the intention is quite visible regarding an act of sedition on the part of the petitioners. Spreading of Gram Sabha Banks throughout the country, raising issue before the UN for independence are some of the justifiable grounds for proceeding against the petitioners. Such seditious activity led to incitement of violence and attack on the Police party. The incident cannot be said to be in isolation as the factual aspects reveals. On such context, therefore, a case under Sections 121 and 121A of the I.P.C. is prima facie made out against the petitioners.”

The single-judge bench held that the Facebook posts evidenced a prima facie intention to commit sedition. Justice Mukhopadhyay said that when criticism leads to violence or hatred against the government, it would amount to offence under Section 124A IPC and would not be covered under Article 19(1) of the Constitution, as per a report by Live Law.

Reacting to this development, Siraj Dutta, an activist based in Jharkhand told NewsClick, “These petitions have been rejected. There are four more pending cases. Their judgement is likely to come out on the 20th of this month. There are over 25,000 tribals who have been charged with sedition, with 29 separate FIRs being filed.”

The FIRs came in the backdrop of Pathalgadi, a tribal tradition of erecting stone slabs to demarcate the area of their villages’ jurisdiction. As such a movement had come up in the last two years, wherein several villages in Jharkhand including Khunti, Arki and Murhu tribes had started practicing this tradition. Based on the traditional practice of the Munda community, the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (PESA) and rules formulated by the Gram Sabha (village council) are written on stone slabs and erected at the entrance of the villages.

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