In News: Jharkhand Government had reportedly booked more than 10,000 people for sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code for participating in the Pathalgadi movement.

About Pathalgadi Movement:

  • Pathalgadi’ literally means carving a stone — it is an ancient tradition in the tribal communities of Jharkhand.
  • Adivasis usually erected engraved stones to mark the birth or death of a person.
  • The practice took on a new meaning after tribal activists, former IAS officer B.D. Sharma (now deceased) and IPS officer Bandi Oraon, initiated the practice of erecting stones outside villages after the Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Area) Act came into existence in 1996. 
  • That Act empowered the gram sabhas or panchayats to safeguard and preserve their traditions, community spaces and culture, and gave them the right to mandatory consultation in land acquisition.
  • The two civil servants got stones engraved with the provisions of the PESA Act to spread awareness among the tribals about their rights.
  • These green-painted stones are usually 15-feet long and 4-feet wide, and are found in four districts of Jharkhand, including Khunti, the birthplace of Adivasi icon Birsa Munda.
  •  The stones include excerpts from the PESA Act and the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of India, which deals with the administration and control of ‘scheduled areas’ as well as of Scheduled Tribes residing in that area.
  • The stones signify self-rule by the local gram panchayat, declaring the village as sovereign territory and prohibiting the entry of outsiders into the village. 
  • The supporters of the movement also declare the gram sabha as the highest authority, and refuse to obey the state and central governments.
  • The current movement was against the proposed amendments to the Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act in Jharkhand which were impairing tribal rights over their land.

Section 124A of Indian Penal Code:

  • It defines Sedition as an offence committed when "any person by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India".
  • Disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity
  • However, comments without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, will not constitute an offence under this section.
  • In 1962, the Supreme Court decided on the constitutionality of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar.
    • It upheld the constitutionality of sedition, but limited its application to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence”.
    • It distinguished these from “very strong speech” or the use of “vigorous words” strongly critical of the government.
  • In 1995, the Supreme Court, in Balwant Singh v State of Punjab, held that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.