Issues of the Rights Movement in West Bengal: An Insider’s Report

August 15, 2011

By Ranjit Sur

Today is 15th August. India’s Independence day. Today’s news papers have reported an incident from Junglemahal of West Bengal. Two Kolkata-based rights activists, Dr S. Gupta – a MBBS doctor and A. Sarkar- a Research Scholar with Jadavpur University, were arrested in Belpahari area of West Medinipur. They were going to attend the inauguration ceremony of a Health Centre to be run by the Peoples Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA).

On 7th August, in a similar incident, a Kolkata-based Bandi Mukti Committee activist, A. Chakraborty, and two medical students were arrested in Belphari while collecting data on political prisoners to help them move their bail applications.

Both the arrests were done by the Joint Forces operating in the area and the arrested were charged with sec 151 of CrPC i.e. “arrest to prevent the commission of cognizable offences”.

And on 7th July in Writers Building, 6 members of the ‘Civil Society’ namely Sujato Bhadra, Debasish Bhattacharya, Ashokendhu Sengupta, Kalyan Rudra and Prasun Bhowmik signed an agreement with the Government of West Bengal (represented by Home Secretary) in the presence of the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The agreement appointed these six persons as interlocutors for initiating a peace process in the Junglemahal area. And these ‘civil society’ interlocutors agreed and signed that “ joint forces will stay in Junglemahal until Junglemahal is free from arms and peace is returned there”. (clause vii of the agreement published in Ma Mati Manush).

So Joint Forces are very well there in Junglemahal with the blessings of a section of intellectuals active in rights movements along with Central and State Governments. They are arresting activists moving from Kolkata or elsewhere to help the oppressed people of the area – whether to help making Health Centres or preparing applications for bail. Everyone’s movement is under surveillance of joint forces. Even a stage made for Hunger Strike has been dismantled by them. Participants were severely beaten and forced to disperse. People returning from Jhargram attending a rally were severely beaten by joint forces injuring many women. Villages and homes are raided at odd times of the day in the name of routine patrol.

And these government-chosen ‘civil society’ members assure the activists that they will see to it that sedition-like charges are not framed against them and they get bail. This is the PARIBARTAN !

But the greater question remains unanswered. Why these arrests ? Moving anywhere inside the State is one’s fundamental right. Why is it curtailed? Jungalmahal is not a promulgated “Disturbed Area”! The autocratic Left Front government promulgated sec. 144 and other provisions to keep Junglemahal out of reach of the intellectuals, activists and media persons and to hide their heinous crimes. The TMC-Cong government is doing the same without any prohibitory orders. That’s why they are arresting right activists moving into junglemahal to find the miseries of the people of the area. And our honourable ‘Civil Society ‘ members are supporting it saying ‘ they will get bail’ or ‘ they are now getting bails’ !

On 9th August, the popular Bengali Daily Ekdin edited by Suman Chattopadhyay published a first page anchor story on these ‘Civil Society’ interlocutors’ visit to Medinipur jail to talk to Maoist prisoners there. The report revealed that on behalf of the interlocutors one of the visiting members proposed to Chhatradhar Mahato to issue a statement that if he is released he will not be with the PCPA anymore. He was also advised to mend his disputes with pro-Trinamul organizations in his area. If he does all this as advised his release will be considered by the Government.

What should this act of the interlocutors be called ? Hawking undertaking from the political prisoners on behalf of the TMC-led Government. In fact, hawking undertaking is very logical of these interlocutors who signed undertakings themselves that they would support the presence of Joint Forces in Junglemahal in their 7th July agreement with the Government, referred to above. Moreover, a section of them are members of the ‘ review committee’ for political prisoners who are assigned with the task of coercing ‘undertakings’ from political prisoners.

Today is 15th August. Till now not a single political prisoner has been released from jail, not even on bail. Government and its ‘review committee’ mouthpiece announced earlier that by 15th at least 50 prisoners would be released. All of them are of Kamtapur and Greater Koochbihar movement. But that too has not been done.

The Review Committee publicly announced that they recommended the release of 78 Political Prisoners. But the Chief Minister announced a few days later that the Government would release only 52 prisoners. Reasons? No reasons cited. Though later she said, the cases of the other 26 prisoners would be reviewed by the Government on a ‘ case to case ‘ basis. Very interesting ! The review committee with 6 IAS/IPS officers reviewed the cases ‘case to case’ and recommended release. Then why and what to review again ? But alas ! The honourable review committee members did not utter a single word of protest. They preferred to keep mum and continue, ’in the interest of prisoners’ !

And again the Governmnent announced, not 52, it would release only 50. The two Maoist prisoners in the list have been deleted citing the Central Government’s objection. It is very ridiculous. Law and order is a state subject. Releasing prisoners is totally a State prerogative. Just a few days ago, 4 high ranking Maoist leaders are released by Orissa Government. They are Granti Prasadam, a very important leader of Maoist movement in Orissa, CC member Ramkrishna’s wife who herself is a CC member and two others. These four leaders are far more higher-ups in Maoist heierarchy and so more ‘dangerous’ to Indian State. Yet they have been released (as per news published in Hindustan Times). While Orissa Government can do this why not Bengal ? So the game is some where else ! Moreover, the fact that the Centre would raise objections to the release of political prisoners was known to all. Yet the TMC government is bound to keep their promise. The people of Bengal are least bothered about the Centre’s ‘objection’. They demand IMMEDIATE AND UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS. Release of few prisoners of choice to show that the Government has kept their election promise will not be acceptable. People will hit the streets again and again to bring back their beloved children.