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Hatchet Of Sedition Law

Hatchet Of Sedition Law

Jharkhand has been in the news for many different reasons: The Naxalite rise, the lynching phenomenon, the ongoing tribal uprising over land alienation, minorities feeling insecure, and the like. There have been clear manifestations of such things particularly in recent past. The latest is the BJP run Jharkhand government’s own feeling of insecurity about a recent phenomenon called Pathalgadi.

Pathalgadi means  erecting stone plaques in some tribal villages in Jharkhand.  On it are written provisions of the Indian constitution’s guaranteed provisions of the Gram Sabha in terms of promoting grassroots democracy. The purpose of this operation is to sensitize the villagers of their rights and duties as marked out in the Panchayat (Extension) act, 1996 which invests the Gram Sabha for village self-rule.

The Pathalgadi activists have been campaigning for the implementation of this Act in Jharkhand. It has been reported that in nine states in India this Act has not been implemented.  Jharkhand is one. So, should not one look at the Pathalgadi movement as a timely warning to the government to implement the grassroots oriented law (a cherished dream of the Father of the nation)  and as a down to earth way of educating the people on the importance of the Gram Sabha?  That is where no one should have any quarrel with such people’s movements.

But the Jharkhand government feels that some activists are attacking it where it hurts most. When the Pathalgadi people campaign for Gram Sabha-bolstered laws for protecting tribal land and resources from alienating to private agencies for mining, for excavation, for business expansion and the like, the BJP government in Jharkhand has a different take. The latest phenomenon is that twenty social activists including Jesuit priest Fr. Stan Lourdusamy have been booked under the hydra headed sedition law. They have been accused of causing disaffection among the people, calling to revolt against the government etc. Hence the Khunti police in Jharkhand has registered an FIR by inspector Rajesh Prasad Rajak who alleges that in their Facebook post they have been indulging in antinational activities by inciting the simple and ignorant people and thereby acting against the ‘unity and integrity’ of the nation. The FIR lists 20 names along with their Facebook posting reference.  

  The thrust of the ‘development agenda’ as formulated by Modinomics has been spreading its tentacles far and wide at a tsunami speed. Social critics and many political analysts have been highlighting that people-oriented development does not mean that a whole scale sell out to mega business or private operators by impoverishing the landholders or causing large scale eviction and out migration. Lourdusamy, who has been active as a social critic and activist for over two decades in Jharkhand, feels he has a well thought out opinion on the matter: “Why are the adivasis doing this (Pathalgadi)?  I believe it is because they have been exploited and oppressed beyond tolerance. The rich minerals which are excavated in their land have enriched outsider industrialists and businessmen and impoverished the adivasi people to the extent that people have died of starvation. They have had no share in what is produced. Also, the laws and policies enacted for their well being are deliberately left unimplemented. So they . . . are seeking to re-invent their identity by empowering their gram sabhas through Pathalgadis. Their action is understandable.”

Those who are booked under the sedition law point out that “the adivasi communities in India have a rich social and cultural tradition of self-governance.” They strongly argue that the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, is in the right direction as it is in consonance with the adivasi tradition. They insist that this Act purposely swept under the carpet by Jharkhand government, if implemented, will ensure genuine development of the people.

Critics and analysts feel that questioning the state government’s non implementation of the Panchayat Raj act as amended in 1996 (PESA) is considered an anathema in the eyes of the ruling party. The heavy hammer blow of the sedition law is meant to pulverize such people through such a draconian law.

Jharkhand’s social activists, especially those who have been booked under the sedition law, have raised certain points which the government finds uncomfortable and provocative meriting sedition clauses.

They say they are earning the government’s wrath for acts such as calling for  implementation of the 5th schedule of the constitution, Article 244(1) which stipulates formation of a Tribes Advisory Council (TAC). It is to be composed solely of the members of the adivasi community for advising the Governor on all matters related to protection, well-being and development of the adivasi people. Their considered view is that “TAC takes place rarely, and it is convened by and presided over by the chief minister of the state and is controlled by the ruling party. TAC has thus been reduced to a toothless body. Verily a constitutional fraud meted out to the Adivasi people.”

They point out that the Samatha Judgment of 1977 was ‘meant to provide some significant safeguards for adivasis to control the excavation of minerals in their lands and to help develop themselves economically.’ As against its implementation, they contend, “the law of ‘eminent domain’ of the colonial rulers is invoked to alienate adivasi land and to loot the rich mineral resources.” They also question the half-hearted implementation of the Forest Act, 2006, and bypassing the gram sabha in the process of acquiring forest land for setting up industry. The Act was enacted, according to them, to correct ‘a historical injustice done to the adivasis and other traditional forest-dwellers.

The Jharkhand government with its developmental urge must be finding it uncomfortable with the social activists when they point to the Supreme Court order that  the ‘owner of the land is also the owner of sub-soil minerals’. In the order, the court had said, “We are of the opinion that there is nothing in the law which declares that all mineral wealth of sub-soil rights vest in the State, on the other hand, the ownership of sub-soil/mineral wealth should normally follow the ownership of the land, unless the owner of the land is deprived of the same by some valid process.” Activists also question re-allotting the Court declared illegal mines.

It is clear that the activists and the critics have done their homework concerning the lack of genuine development in the state and the government’s non-performance. They just don’t sit tight on their findings but do spadework and groundwork by sensitizing people about the current issues and questioning the government about its non-performance. That is where the government feels that the activists and their supporters are hitting below the belt. 

Booked for being anti-national by Jharkhand government, Lourdusamy asks the following questions. Is taking a stand in solidarity with the adivasis an anti-national activity? ‘Is standing for the interests of the adivasis and against their displacement an act that makes me anti-national?’ He claims that the accusation of the police that his facebook postings have been spreading antinational feelings and provoking people is totally false and baseless. He says that he would like to put it on record that he is totally against all communal politics. He also points out that all opposition parties have opposed the government’s recent land amendment Bill. The Bill is dangerous for the adivasis and moolvasis. In this context, he asks, how does expressing a dissenting opinion become a crime against the nation?

Will clamping the sedition law improve matters as far as people’s genuine grievance is concerned? Reactions to the government’s fidgety action have gone viral on social media. Some have wondered, should the Raghubir Das government use the hammer to kill a fly? Many ask if critical opinions and rightful dissent are not part of democracy, what else is? Stone walling freedom of speech is shooting the messenger!

(Published on 06th August 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 32)