The High Court of Jharkhand has refused to quash a First Information Report registered against four members of tribal community for allegedly posting seditious posts in Facebook supporting 'Pathalgadi' movement of Munda tribal community.
The single bench of Justice Rongon Mukhopadhay observed that prima facie case of sedition and waging war against India was made out against the four petitioners - J Vikash Kora, Dharm Kishor Kullu, Emil Walter Kandulna and Ghanshyam Biruly.
'Pathalgadi' is a tribal tradition of erecting stone slabs to demarcate the area of their villages' jurisdiction.
Several Adivasi villages such as Khunti, Arki and Murhu in Jharkhand have done 'Pathalgadi' in the last two years. Based on the traditional practice of the Munda community, stone plaques inscribed with legal guarantees for Adivasis under Fifth Schedule of Constitution, provisions of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and rules formulated by the Gram Sabha (village council), were erected at the entrance of the villages.
The petitioners were alleged to have incited Munda tribal members in Khunti village to attack police officers on June 26, 2017. Four policemen posted as security guards of sitting BJP MP from Khunti, Kariya Munda, were allegedly abducted by villagers to retaliate a police attack on the village while a gram sabha was in process in Ghagra.
The FIR alleged that "incident happened because the innocent tribals were misled and influenced in the name of 'Adivasi Mahashabha' and 'A.C. Bharat Sarkar Kutumbh Pariwar' who had distorted the Constitution through social media and were spreading anti national feelings as well as disturbing the harmony existing between the different groups and castes."
Hence an F.I.R. was filed under Section 121(waging war against India), 121A (conspiracy to wage war against India), 124A(sedition) of Indian Penal Code and Sections 66A and 66F of the Information Technology Act. Seeking to quash this FIR, the accused filed a petition under S.482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the HC.
The counsel for the petitioners, Advocate Prem Mardi, submitted that they cannot be charged for sedition and waging war against the country for merely engaging in discussions and debates on the problems faced by tribal communities. Referring to the SC judgments in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar, Arup Bhuyan v State of Assam etc, Mardi argued that expression of thoughts against government without any incitement for imminent violence will not be sedition.
Opposing the petition, the prosecution said that the petitioners had incited hatred, violence and contempt against the government. Some of the Facebook posts cited by the prosecution said : "I don't want your Aaadhar card; My identity is 'Pathargari'", "All constitutional steps should be taken so that England, USA and United Nations feel compelled to act for the freedom of tribals", "Khunti village wants to follow only customary law, PESA Act and Gram Sabha", "Spread the Bank of Gram Sabha across the nation".
Considering the arguments, the single bench of Justice Rongon Mukhopadhay said that when the criticism leads to violence of hatred against the Government, it would amount to offense under S. 124A IPC and would not be covered under Article 19(1) of the Constitution.
The Court said that the Facebook posts evidenced a prima facie intention to commit sedition.
"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 through out the country, raising issue before the United Nations 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.", said the bench while dismissing the petition.
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