Dissent isn’t sedition, said over 40 representatives of people’s organisations from across Jharkhand, including economist-activist Jean Dreze and poet Jacinta Kerketta, before Raj Bhavan on Monday.
Protesting the alleged violation of constitutional rights in Khunti and the government’s use of the sedition law as an instrument of repression, activists termed “brutal” the state government’s handling of the pathalgadi ‘self-rule’ movement in Khunti.
Activists said the state did not attempt a dialogue with tribals on what their frustrations and fears were, including losing their land and distinct cultural identity.
They pointed out “gross” police excesses, including alleged shootings and beatings, and pointed out how the government charged “30,000 unnamed” people under “draconian laws, including sedition”.
Activists added that according to the government, almost 10 per cent of the total population of three Khunti blocks (Khunti, Arki and Murhu) is “anti-national”. People of this belt can’t freely share violations of their rights as they are scared of being named in the FIRs, they said.
Addressing the dharna, Dreze said the pathalgadi protests should have been seen in the context of tribal fears. “The brutal manner in which the Jharkhand government is dealing with the pathalgadi movement is a case of gross overreaction to legitimate and nonviolent demands from the local Adivasis. The tradition of self-government in Khunti should be valued and celebrated,” he said.
Poet Kerketta added: “The government should stop labelling voices of dissent as sedition. It is a violation of right to expression.”
The protest by Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a network of activists and people’s organisations, had representatives of Adivasi Women’s Network, Samajwadi Jan Parishad, Right to Food Campaign, Bagaicha, Jan Sangharsh Samiti, Jharkhand Kisan Parishad, NAPM, Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, National Domestic Workers’ Union, Van Adhikar Manch and Sarvodaya Mitra Mandal, among others.
Dreze and Kerketta apart, other prominent figures included activists Arvind Avinash, B.B. Choudhary, Siraj Dutta, Jerome Kujur, Elina Horo, Bineet Mundu, David Solomon, Ambika Yadav, Jacinta Kerketta, Ranjeet Kindo, Saroj Hembram, Vinod Kumar, George Monippally, Vishwanath Azad and Sushma Biruli.
Adivasi Women’s Network’s Elina Horo asked the government to stop violations of human rights across the board, calling to attention the incidents of mob lynching and attacks on women in Jharkhand.
At the end of the dharna, Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha submitted a memorandum to the governor demanding immediate withdrawal of all “frivolous FIRs” filed against the thousands of unnamed residents of Khunti and activists on the charge of sedition. They demanded the government undertake a judicial inquiry into the charges framed against the named persons in the FIRs and make public all the evidence that formed the basis for these FIRs and the evidence collected in all related inquiries since then.
Other demands included initiation of dialogue with representatives of the pathalgadi villages, tribal organisation and experts on the Constitution and immediate implementation of all the provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and PESA in letter and spirit.
Asked whether it took more courage now to openly protest than before, tribal leader Ranjita said they would always protest against anti-people policies of the government. “That’s a basic necessity of any democracy,” she said.