Kolkata: A Report from the Meeting of “Criminals” of the Mass Movements

August 3, 2016


By Debabrata Chakrabarty

Bharat Sabha Hall in Central Kolkata was filled with “criminals” today. People – both women and men, mostly above 60 – some from West Midnapur, some from Kakdwip, yet others from North Bengal, and needless to say, Kolkata and the 24 Pargana districts, had flocked here. The chairperson of the meeting was a septuagenarian, and the others, while not very old, were certainly elderly. They would stop periodically as they spoke, weighed down by age. Ragged clothes, torn shoes, and eyes filled with suppressed, insulted rage mixed with the sadness of surrender.

These people are all “criminals”, at least according to the affidavit passed down by the High Court of our current masters. Some are guilty of having participated in the Tebhaga movement, some of having been a part of the Naxalite movement. Some are criminals because they were jailed during the Emergency, when they raised their voice against the authoritarianism of Indira Gandhi and Siddhartha Sankar Ray. Criminals of all shades were present – there were those who had been jailed during the Teachers Movement, and some during the Food Movement.

Mass movements in West Bengal after 1947 drew many people within its folds – people who endured police torture, jail time – people who looked the State in the eye and still had the temerity to march on the streets. A tiny fraction of them, around 3800 people, with fractured lives and in dire financial straits, were brought under a Pension Scheme in 1988 by the erstwhile Left Front government. These people were supposed to have received Rs. 800 a month, which later increased to a measly Rs. 3200.

Our Ma Mati Manush government is apparently generous when it comes to doling out cash for sports clubs, for rural artisans, or for the families of those who died from hooch. But when it comes to these few people, it turns out that the government cannot afford their meager pension! It took one stroke of a pen for the Mamata government to nullify the pension scheme in 2013, on the grounds that this was a waste of State funds.

Some of these people protested here and there, mostly disjointed and sporadic, on their own personal capacity. Mostly, however, this authoritarian move by the government went unremarked and unheard. Finally, they turned to the High Court, which invalidated the government’s order and asked for the reinstatement of the pension scheme in October 2015.

Far from following the High Court directive, the government became vindictive at this display of insubordination. The battery of government lawyers now appealed to the High Court Division Bench against these pitiful elderly people. The government now argues that these people are “criminals”, since they had committed crimes against the State and various cases for anti-State activities had been registered against them. Thus, a few poor pensioners, who had endured Statist torture during mass movements, have now been criminalized.

The few people who had gathered today were the workers of the mass movements, the youth of yesteryear who had endured prison torture in pursuit of a dream to change society, and who had now grayed into old age. Their bitterness is not about the pension. They came together to protest the collective insult, the label of “criminal” which the State had hurled at them. For a second, bracket out their political beliefs, bracket out the particular ideologies for which they had been jailed, or the meager pension, and ask yourself this – are these people traitors to the country? Jailed during Emergency, for participating in the Food Movement – are these people criminals, to be hounded by the State from the High Court to the Supreme Court?

You will remember that last year on July 21, the Chief Minister had entertained in a Manch the mother of the Food Movement martyr Nurul Islam. This woman was also a pensioner. Since Nurul Islam is now a criminal, his mother’s pension has been revoked from 2013.

Shame on the State! Shame on this hypocrisy!