Political Prisoners in West Bengal, the Peoples Movements, and the Media

January 24, 2019

We are in conversation with Ranjit Sur, a central secretariat member of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR). The following is the transcript of the interview, which was conducted in Bengali.

Sanhati Q1. We want to begin with a discussion of the state of political prisoners in recent years, under the regime of Mamata Banerjee.

In 2012, as the new government came to power, APDR and Bondimukti Committee had recommended the release of political prisoners in the State. How did the TMC government react?

Ranjit Sur: Answer to Q1. In the aftermath of the Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh movements, the Trinamul Congress came to power with the promise of giving unconditional freedom to all political prisoners. One should note, however, that this was not a formal statement in their manifesto, even though it was loudly proclaimed time and time again in their leaflets and speeches, especially in the Jangal Mahal area. The official manifesto was careful enough only to go as far as to say that prisoners would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The day before the Trinamul came to power, APDR took out a spirited procession, which culminated in a written demand submitted to the authorities at Writers Building. We reminded the newly elected government of 1977, when the Left Front government had come to power and promised the unconditional release of political prisoners. We demanded that the issue be brought up in the first Assembly Meeting. It indeed was, and the decision was made to form Review Committee, skirting the question of release.

The Review Committee had members of the police as well as activists. But the reality is that a committee like this by its very nature ensures that nothing substantial happens. The terms and conditions were highly objectionable. For example, one clause was that the behavior of the prisoner in jail would have to be taken into account. Another clause was that the prisoner would have to give a statement that, after being released, they would not engage in that kind of politics anymore. Only then would the government consider that particular case. Debate raged on these topics, and APDR categorically refused to be part of such a committee. We conducted a separate movement.

To this day, not a single prisoner has been released by the government.

The situation is slightly different for North Bengal. Several prisoners associated with the Kamtapur and Greater Cooch Behar movement, who had been thrown into prison during the Left Front rule, have been released on bail. The Trinamul government has entered into an agreement with the Kamtapur and great Cooch Behar parties behind the scenes. Around fifty members of these nationalist parties have been freed in stages. Some of these nationalist parties are now allying with the BJP.

Even there, several leaders have not been released. For example, Malkhan Singh, whose actual name is Madhab Mandal, is still in Jalpiguri jail. He was released by the courts and then imprisoned again once he resumed his political activities.

In south Bengal, not a single prisoner hs been released. In fact, there have been many new arrests in Jangalmahal – in Birbhum, Kolkata, and elsewhere. They murdered Kishenji and Judhisthir Mahato. They have arrested people on the slightest of pretexts. And in these last eight years, they have not released anybody. Those who have come out have gone through the lengthy Court process and obtained bail. Some have been acquitted.

At this point of time, there are 89 Maoist prisoners in West Bengal. Out of the 89, if you leave the four who have been recently arrested, most others have been in prison for 8-10 years already. There are four prisoners from Purulia who have been in jail since 2004, charged with the murder of Jagadish Tiwari, a notorious jotedar from Odisha. Mamata Banerjee had gone there and given speeches promising to release these prisoners. But nothing has happened.

In addition to the 89, there are some SUCI prisoners, as well as some members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the IAS/ Jamaat. Their situation is a little hazy. There is hardly any data about them. Organizations like the APDR or Bandimukti Committee or CRPP keep track of prisoners of the mainstream political parties, but there is no such source on that side. In fact, you can tell that they view us with suspicion. Bandimukti Committee, after working with them for a long time, has built up a modicum of trust, but APDR hasn’t come to that stage yet – perhaps because we are city-centered, although we do have many branches in different districts, but even then.

We did some work on Khagragarh – for example, getting lawyers for the prisoners. They were not being allowed access to lawyers at all, until we intervened. Some trust was built up back then, but we could not maintain that consistency. We also have debates within the organization about what kind of political lens they should be seen through, or if they should even be regarded as political prisoners. This debate exists throughout the organization, from the top to the bottom, and requires more discussion and clarity. This is relatively new in West Bengal.

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Sanhati Q2. Mamata Banerjee had come to power after an unprecedented populist campaign, riding on the back of the peoples movements of Singur, Nandigram, and Lalgarh. Did this populism translate to any changes in the condition of political prisoners?

What are some of the new challenges faced by political prisoners? For example, APDR had protested against the amendment to the West Bengal Correctional Services Act, 1992 (https://www.thehindu.com/elections/westbengal2016/west-bengal-assembly-elections-rights-activists-take-an-aboutturn/article8552829.ece). This amendment stopped prisoners connected to “terror networks” from being classified as political prisoners. Who determines who is linked to a terror network? What is the status of this amendment? Are there other laws that have been introduced or amended under the TMC government, to further crack down on political prisoners?

How has the legal landscape changed, in terms of their access to family, access to books, fair trial, etc. 3b.? Are arrested prisoners lodged in jails far away from their homes? Who makes the determination of where the prisoners are sent?

Ranjit Sur: Answer to Q2. It would be incorrect to surmise that changes haven’t happened since the Trinmul came to power; changes have in fact happened, but *negative* ones. We were just discussing this yesterday – a peculiar situation has developed. The day-to-day material support of the prisoners has improved somewhat – for example, the quality of food is slightly better, they are now given a tiffin in the evening, and following a Supreme Court order, the bread they are given at night is now warm. Prisoners have fought on this issue of hot bread for many years, from the time of the Left Front government. The Trinamul Congress has somewhat, perhaps marginally, rendered better service than its predecessor.

What it has done, on the other hand, is to take away all the *rights*. It is a strange situation. The rights that were there – almost all of them have now been reversed. For example – in West Bengal, in the Corrections Service Act – a category called political prisoners existed, and the Mamata Banerjee government changed this. They changed the definition of “political prisoners” – now, only prisoners of parliamentary parties qualify to belong to this category. APDR has fought this change tooth and nail. The Sushanta Bose-Lakshman Seth’s of the world are political prisoners – but Kishenji or Sudip Chongdar or Chhatradhar Mahato are terrorists.

They don’t quite use the word “parliamentary”, but in essence people affiliated with banned parties are being denied the status of political prisoners. The respect or the treatment that is usually given to political prisoners is denied to them. Previously, the law was that if a person had been arrested due to political reasons – the charge could be murder – they would have a trial, but they would be treated as political prisoners as long as they remained in jail.

The status isn’t huge – some books – the most important thing is respect. Access to newspapers, being allowed to cook for yourself. Some oil for your hair, a comb, these things, that should be available to everyone. The minimum that a human needs to survive. Prisoners do not get these things – for that, one needs to be a political prisoner. It is this basic sense of respect that the new amendment seeks to destroy.

The same person who came to power promising to never apply black laws. The Mamata Banerjee government has slapped UAPA cases wantonly. Out of these 89 Maoist prisoners, 73 have UAPA cases against them. Most of the Muslim prisoners also have UAPA cases. Anybody they arrest in Khagragarh is getting a UAPA slapped on them. Who knows what the affiliations of these people are – but they are being charged as members of JMB, IAS, etc. We don’t have too much data on these people. We have requested information from the jail authorities but nothing is available.

Let me elaborate further on the lack of rights for people in jail. A major problem is access to books. Previously, the rule was that anyone could meet them – including friends. That has now been stopped. You have to be a blood relation to meet a prisoner now. This is a dangerous development. We have gone to the High Court – no relief there. This is a tactic being used to isolate prisoners. About books – the rule is that apart from textbooks needed for studying towards a degree, you are not allowed access to magazines, leaflets, political literature, etc. There is a judgement from the Supreme Court that even works by Mao should be available. But here even the slightest political literature is disallowed. If you give political literature, the jail authorities first send it to SB and IB and if those agencies allow it, then the prisoner gets access to the literature. Material sent to these agencies usually doesn’t come back. An impossible situation. Magazines are even worse, they are simply not allowed.

These rights have been taken away.

Another development – they now disallow bidis in jail, saying that they are injurious to health. One can imagine trying to survive in jail without bidis. It is very difficult! It is all very whimsical. If you ask them to show formal orders, there are no orders. There was a lot of protest on this issue both inside and outside the jail.

If you go to visit them in jail, the investigative agencies – SB, IB – wield immense power over you. They will take your picture, they will copy your identification card, they will try to record your conversations. All this, even though they have no jurisdiction over the jail – they are a completely different department who should have no say over what happens in jails. The jail authorities simply hand over all power to them. If you ask the jail authorities something, they will refer you to the investigative agencies. If you go the SB or IB, they will say that it is the jail authorities who are in charge.

After you meet the prisoner and start a conversation, you have to shout at the top of your voice to make yourself heard. They put a large distance between you and the prisoner, with wires in the middle. Many prisoners all together in one room, a cacophony of voices all talking at the same time. You can’t make out anything in that din. And on top of that, the investigative agencies are sitting there trying to record you. What are you going to talk about?

Table interviews have practically been stopped. In Dum Dum jail they allow it sometimes. But in Alipore or Presidency jails, in the women’s jail – it is not allowed.

How about if you need to consult a lawyer? You have to cross many hurdles. Day after day of harassment. You have to go three times for a signature.

Another very pathetic situation: after 2015, suddenly the question of “security” in prisons was raised, and it was proposed that so-called Left-wing extremists would have to be dispersed in jails all over the state. For example, Raja Sarkhel from Kolkata was sent to Jalpaiguri jail. To stay on the topic of Raja – today he is starting a fast onto death. He is a convict and has not been getting wages for fourteen months. He is not being given access to papers to lodge a complaint. Prasun Chatterjee – another activist from Kolkata – he was sent to Purulia jail. Chhatradhar Mahato – from West Medinipur – lodged in Presidency Jail. Sagun Murmu, Sambhu Soren – from West Medinipur – lodged in Jalpiguri. This is being done by design. Most prisoners from West Medinipur have been sent to jails in Kolkata and Dum Dum. Far away from their relatives. Breaking their spirit.

Prisoners are put in cells continuously, flouting the rule that prisoners can be kept in cells only up to a maximum period of fourteen or twenty eight days. They are kept in cells for many days, segregating them from the other prisoners. New orders are coming in – for example, a recent rule limits prisoners to the cluster of cells within their own ward. They are not allowed to go to other areas or speak to prisoners in other areas, presumably so they cannot extend their influence or organize for demands.

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Sanhati Q3. How do political prisoners view non-political prisoners and vice versa? Is there the possibility of coordinating action on prison reform or police reform? Is it possible to coordinate action between political and non-political prisoners? How do Left political prisoners view prisoners of other kinds of politics, such as separatist movements?

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Ranjit Sur: Answer to Q3. Prisoners from the Kamtapur and Greater Cooch Behar movements, as well as Darjeeling, have never been given the status of political prisoners, despite the fact that they are fighting for an explicitly political goal. APDR has often protested against this fact in the past.

Regardless, one should note that there is a natural affinity between such prisoners and the political prisoners. For example, the Maoist prisoners in Jalpaiguri jail are close to Malkhan Singh of the Kamtapur movement. At various points, they have conducted political programs together. This affinity is somewhat lesser in the case of the Darjeeling separatists. Prisoners from the plains are not lodged in those regions.

Yes, the scope for joint action among prisoners is being limited very deliberately. For example, in Presidency Jail, and in fact in most other jails as well, they try to keep the political prisoners in one block. This keeps them separate from other prisoners.

Another aspect needs to be thought about. Many political prisoners have endured year after year in jail, and are elderly. There are no social movements outside jail. All of this together causes severe mental anguish and depression. At least, if there’s a movement outside – people being mobilized in support of their political ideology – a movement to secure their release – it would give them something to dream about. None of this exists. The prisoners are in a very bad mental state. Their will to do political work in prisons, to persevere and remain hopeful, has dwindled over time.

In the beginning they had conducted several important struggles, in unison with other prisoners. For example, in one such struggle with the demand for speedy trials, prisoners refused to alight from their vans in a coordinated fashion, in jails all across Kolkata. This created quite a stir in the city, as the entire judicial machinery came to a halt during this struggle. This remarkably creative form of struggle was invented by the prisoners themselves.

At this point, however, their mental state has deteriorated. No social movements outside. No processions outside the jail, which they could previously hear and gain strength from. It is much harder to conduct agitations in the vicinity of jails now, as the authorities have clamped down. And the political forces outside – it is unclear whether there is enough energy among them to conduct such movements. The prisoners are mentally isolated.

Very few political mobilizations within jails still do occur. For example, there is a coordinated marking of August 15 as a black day across jails. Or for example – they celebrate certain days together. We sometimes receive news that simultaneous fasts are going on across different jails. Coordinations are forged during the common trial dates.

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Sanhati Q4. Please tell us about some of the political work of prisoners in the jails. Do they remain politically active? Is there cultural production, in the sense of writings, poetry, music, or theoretical work? Does this literature come out of the jails or is it seized by the authorities?

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Ranjit Sur: Answer to Q4. The amount of cultural production that makes its way outside has diminished. A lot of it is seized, as part of the erosion of their rights. Previously, prisoners could file RTIs or writ petitions from within jails. All that has pretty much ceased now. Not through explicit laws, but in creative ways. For example, an order has been handed down that RTIs cannot be filed because stamps will not be supplied. Writ petitions require tremendous energy – one has to go to the courts over and over. They are sent to the Legal Remembrancer’s office where they gather dust or are even lost.

The long periods of imprisonment and the mental anguish have caused a severe diminishing of writings produced in jail. The will to write, the energy, much of it has been lost. Getting such writings out of jail is also a huge problem. Many prisoners are sick and elderly. Even then, there is some cultural production. Arnab Dam writes, as do Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee. Telugu Dipak draws – sometimes his work is displayed during government exhibitions.

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Sanhati Q5. What are the challenges faced by prisoners after they get bail? How does the legal system continue to harass them? What are the creative ways in which the State is bypassing due process?

Ranjit Sur: Answer to Q5. One of the ways prisoners are harassed after bail is that whenever there is a big event, they are put under renewed pressure. For example, on certain days like PLA day, the birth of the Party, etc. there is renewed surveillance or questioning. A women prisoner who had been released several years ago was recently harassed. The police suddenly descended on her home in the middle of the night, insisting that she come with them to the station. Female police were not present. Her family informed us and some of our members went there and raised a hue and cry. We were able to stop the police for that night, but the next day she had to go to the police station and she was subsequently questioned for 2-3 days.

This was especially widespread in the Jangalmahal. Even prisoners who had been released on bail were harassed. This was very frequent in the beginning, but now it has been eight years since the new government has come to power and instances of post-bail harassment have abated somewhat. Of course, if there is a widespread social movement, this will certainly increase.

Another creative method of harassment is to mark them socially. For example, the police visit the neighborhood and ask about them, sometimes even pretending to be looking for the right house, all the while informing locals about their political activity. This creates social problems, as the activists are marked out in their locality.

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Sanhati Q6. We want to ask you about the tradition of the rights movement in Bengal. How do you see the movement evolving from the post-Naxalite era, to the eighties, and finally the liberalisation era of the last 15 years? Do you think the general interest of the middle classes in radical movements has decreased in the face of the neoliberalism and what is generally called “consumerist culture”?

Ranjit Sur: Answer to Q6. My personal opinion is that in West Bengal, the 34 years of Left Front rule gave rise to widespread disillusionment about politics. Misrule and an apolitical outlook were actively cultivated and the Left betrayal created a sense of cynicism among the people. This feeling has persisted.

At the end of the 34 years, we witnessed the Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh movements. The masses were stirred during these movements and Mamata Banerjee came to power riding their energy, but then her government continued the same kind of politics, the same kind of betrayal. This was perhaps the last nail on the coffin.

The masses are sliding towards the far-right. We will see what happens in the next elections, but up to now people who previously supported the parliamentary Left have lined up to support the BJP. The two betrayals – first from the Left and then from the Trinamul – have driven the masses to the right. People were shocked at the way Kishenji was murdered, followed by Judhisthir Mahato and others. Meetings, processions, and other forms of political dissent have been severely restricted if not outright banned. An organization like the APDR is finding it difficult to conduct public protests. Mahashweta Devi was cursed at openly. One must remember that the Trinamul Congress came to power on the back of the peoples movements, and then immediately turned the guns.

APDR has been working since 1977, and although it has attained a measure of respectability, there was often a perception that it was soft politics – those who could not take the heat of real repression became rights activists (Ranjit Sur laughs). I think that perception has now changed, and people realize that we are often the first in the firing line. The fact-finding reports when something happens – the first people on the scene are often the civil rights people. That said, we don’t get new members. Most people in our organization are in their sixties or seventies. Nobody below fifty five.

We are hoping that things have come to such a pass now that fresh blood will now join. The people have their backs to the wall. There is repression on so-called “urban Naxals” across the country. All of this may lead to a certain rejuvenation of the rights movement, some traces of which we have started to see. Many of our branches were inactive, but new people are coming to them. The movement is gaining in visibility in the greater society.

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Sanhati Q7. Is there coordination among the rights groups of different states, with the formation of organizations like CPDR, CDRO, etc.? We would like to understand the specific challenges faced by rights activists in West Bengal compared to other states, for example Jharkhand or Maharashtra.

Ranjit Sur: Answer to Q7. CDRO has created a coordination committee, to which APDR, CPDR-Maharashtra, APCLC, and other rights groups belong. It is a loose coordination of 16-18 organizations from all over India. We sometimes take joint programs, but it’s not as if there’s agreement on all questions. I do see a growing wish for unity and coordination – the need for taking concerted actions, one the same day in cities across India. The leadership of the organizations recognizes this need. It is driven by the political situation.

About the specific challenges faced by rights activists in West Bengal: I will reiterate what I said before, about the debilitating effect of the 34 years of Left Front rule. We were vocal in our opposition during that time, and then the Trinamul Congress came to power and did the same things. People tell us that we must take responsibility for this state of affairs – that we were minions of the Trinamul Congress. It takes time to convince them that we are protesting against the things the Trinamul Congress does, and that we do not unconditionally support any government. If the government does good things, we will support it. If the government does bad things, we will criticize it. And that applies to both the Left Front as well as the Trinamul.

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Sanhati Q8. We are seeing the growing strength of the BJP in West Bengal. What role will the rights organizations be playing in the face of the growing communalization of politics in the State?

Ranjit Sur: Answer to Q8. There’s something we have seen about the RSS-BJP, even during the times when they didn’t have any foothold in West Bengal. Antagonism to the human rights or civil liberties movement is in their blood. Even the mere mention of such movements would draw a reaction from them. They are against the very idea that every human has basic rights. The right to pursue one’s own religion, personal freedoms, the right to express one’s opinion – the RSS-BJP doesn’t acknowledge these rights. At a philosophical level.

We are facing the presence of Hindu Sanhati and BJP-RSS already. For example, in South 24 Parganas district, there have been several instances where the Hindu Sanhati and BJP-RSS tore up posters put up by our members and pushed them around. Some of our members were forcefully taken to the police. And they aren’t even in power yet. It is a sign of things to come. An indication is what’s happening in Uttar Pradesh. It is clear that the RSS-BJP doesn’t acknowledge the concept of human rights or civil liberties.

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Sanhati Q9. We would like to know about the current status of people associated with the Lalgarh movement from ten years back. Chhatradhar Mahato is in jail. How about the other leaders and footsoldiers of the PCAPA?

Ranjit Sur: Answer to Q9. Fifty-six people from Jangalmahal are in prison. Out of the 89 political prisoners designated as Maoists (LWEs – Left-wing Extremists) by the government, these fifty-six from that Bankura/Purulia/West Midnapur districts. There is a definite impact of these prisoners on the political atmosphere in Jangalmahal.

Fifty six people means fifty six families, which means fifty six villages. Many villages. There is an impact of this incarceration in that area.

Moreover, with a very rough estimate, there are at least 3000 people from Jangalmahal who have some kind of case registered against them. Fighting a case is a tremendously draining thing. A family has to sell everything they have to fight a case. It drags on for years. If even four court dates are scheduled in a year, they have to pay the lawyer a minimum of five hundred rupees. If they even give two hundred rupees, you still have to take into account the fact that they are missing a day’s wages, there are travel costs, staying overnight, etc. There is an impact of this in the region.

Another important thing that we have come to understand through analysis, or at least from the little news we are getting: the Mahatos, as a group, have taken on an anti-Trinamul position. They have taken a pro-BJP position. That is why Mamata Banerjee has now publicly taken the position of releasing Chhatradhar Mahato. Jobs have been promised to his two sons. Minati Mahato, his wife, has recently walked with the Trinamul in a procession. Among personal friends, Chhatradhar has said that he will join the Trinamul if he comes out. He has theorized this somewhat – the need to stop the BJP, etc. But the underlying calculation is clear: there is no mass movement, so he will be rotting in jail for his entire life. This is his way out.

APDR was sent messages along these lines, which we of course rejected. We made it clear to him that we would not go along with this, and that he was on his own as far as this issue was concerned. His co-accused were also approached: Prasun Chatterjee, Raja Sarkhel – who also rejected him.
It is clear that a deal with the government is in the making. It has come out in the papers, and the way the case is progressing in the Court confirms it. The Mahato community has taken an anti-Trinamul pro-BJP stand.

BJP has taken a good foothold in the Jangalmahal. This is becoming clear from the Panchayat elections and from various gatherings. The reason is probably a combination of economic and social forces, which should be analyzed. From what we can read in the papers, there is no Left presence there. Recently four activists were arrested from Goaltore. There is a border with Jharkhand, a border with Odisha. We really don’t have any inroads there. When something happens, we get to know – but we are not in a position to know things beforehand.

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Sanhati Q10. Finally, a few questions about the police. Are police forces in West Bengal reorganized along the lines of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh where special task forces such as C 60 were created? Are there shifts in patterns of recruitment in police force, if so what are these transformations? Are police being deployed to regions of their own communities or are postings increasingly shifted away from place of origin? What are the shifts in training of police force in West Bengal?

Ranjit Sur: Answer to Q10. Right at the beginning, when Mamata Banerjee came to power, she started something like this. The SPOs – like Salwa Judum – village police in Jangalmahal – such forces were created. At the village level, so-called “Special Police Officers” were recruited at meagre pay. Perhaps five hundred rupees on a daily basis. Local people from the village, often adivasis. In all three districts Bankura, Purulia, and West Midnapur.

But the truth is: with time, the need for this has ebbed. There is no social movement. The fear of popular uprisings that Mamata Banerjee harbored – and the hope that the people had – never materialized. A large force went over to the Trinamul. Cases, imprisonment, outright murder tamed the rest. State terror was unleashed there. Unless you are Trinamul, it is difficult to survive there. The people who were part of the Janashadharan Committee were forced to join the Trinamul at gun point. They have gradually been absorbed into the system. Thus, the need for SPOs, village police – people who would immediately know when somebody entered the village – has subsided. But these are still present and active.

At a higher level, the government has also created the Staco force. If there is any mass movement, these people are brought in.

Another development that has happened under the Mamata Banerjee government: the civic police. The civic police is a very dangerous entity. It is practically an army of Trinamul cadres. They are now formalized.

They work for very little money. They wear commando-style uniforms – camouflaged khakis. This is illegal. They are a very oppressive army – an army of at least 1.5 lakh. A huge army. There isn’t a single police station where the civic police aren’t there. While the recruitment of main (actual) police has come down, the civic police are being employed en masse. They work for little pay, are highly corrupt, extort money, and oppress the people. They play a huge role during elections. This development is a huge menace for our society.

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General observations by Ranjit Sur: About repression in Darjeeling:

Darjeeling has witnessed a huge amount of State terror. A minimum of 15-16 people have been killed by police. No justice. No court was able to give justice. We complained to the Human Rights Commission and there was no relief. The affected people were offered compensation which they refused. We didn’t get even a modicum of justice.

So many people have cases registered against them. UAPA cases. And the worst thing is that the people from the plains have great antipathy to their politics. We people of the plains are governed by Bengali chauvinism and are not willing to listen to their pleas for separatism. The media has also not really spoken about their plight.

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About the media:

There is a lot of understanding and agreements between powerful media heads and the State. Common journalists, even the ones sympathetic to peoples movements, have little power. It isn’t as if there aren’t dedicated journalists – they do exist, they keep in touch with the movements, and they try to write. But they maybe get 2-3 lines through. There are people from the movements themselves, from Presidency College and Jadavpur University, who are attracted towards journalism out of idealism. They become disillusioned very fast.

There is hardly any news of workers movements or farmers. We are rights activists in the heart of Kolkata – you might find us mentioned here and there. But as far as the workers movements are concerned, they are completely blocked. The Maruti movement is such a huge movement, but there is no media coverage of it. The Elgar Parishad case was covered, but the four Reliance workers arrested in the same case went unreported. A little comes out in social media and alternative sources like Groundxero, The Wire, for example. But that’s it.

Peoples opinions are formed by the big headlines in print media that they read in the morning. And there is no alternative news there. The same thing is true for television. Channels that are a little different cannot survive. Sponsorship gets pulled. This is Manufacturing Consent in practice.

How many people can you reach from a street corner with a microphone?

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About the constriction of the space for protesting:

One of the first things that the Trinamul government did after coming to power was to ban meetings in Metro Channel. One should remember that it was the protests there that played a huge role in elevating Mamata Banerjee to power. Recently, they have also banned protests in College Street. Now they are planning to also stop protests and meetings at the Bowbazar Bank of India location. The local Trinamul in the area is gathering signatures from people demanding this.

The popular spaces in the city have been cut off.

They have made it compulsory to get permission. You have a Constitutional right to gather, protest, have processions, meetings, etc. without disturbing the general public. It is only if you want to get a microphone that you are supposed to obtain permission. But now you cannot even get people to gather in one place. They’ll just register a couple of cases in your name and you won’t even know it. After a few months, you will summoned to the Court.

This is happening in West Bengal, which has a rich history of public protests.

Another problem we have faced, for example in the Garden Reach region: every time we have tried to conduct street meetings, the microphone owners are not willing to give us mikes. Under pressure from the police. Even if they consent to let us rent a mike, they will make it non-operational on purpose. It happened to us recently. The first time the mike owner didn’t turn up. The second time we got the mike, but the wires were cut inside. We couldn’t even do our program. Mike companies are not willing to give us mikes. We have to rent them from faraway places.

Basically, every method there is to throttle your democratic voice and ensure that it never reaches the people will be used. On the one hand, this – and on the other, there is no social movement.

In Conclusion:

There is a certain churning that is going on in society. People are disillusioned with all political parties. But I feel that they are hungry for change. What is lacking is the presence of an alternative politics.