On the repressive situation in Jangalmahal – reports, statements

January 12, 2012

Mamata Banerjee encourages vigilantism in the name of Vivekananda

By Partho Sarathi Ray. Jan 12, 2012

On 12th January, 2011, the West Bengal government started the yearlong celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda with great fanfare. This is in line with the Trinamool Congress (TMC)- led state government’s policy (critics say the only policy in view so far) to impress the middle classes in Bengal by eulogizing their favourite icons.

As a part of the celebrations, the chief minister Mamata Banerjee travelled to Jhargram to preside over the last day of the ongoing Jangalmahal utsav (festival). This has been organized to ostensibly show that peace has returned to Jangalmahal after the killing of Kishenji and area domination by the joint forces. Together with usual gimmicks such as the staged surrender of four so-called “Maoist sqaud members” and calling the chief bureaucrats of the state and district administration on the stage to support her claims on the various development schemes in Jangalmahal (this was purportedly to silence critics who have called into question the success, or even the intentions, of these schemes, with the understanding that the audience would be more inclined to believe the bureaucrats than a politician),she initiated a far more nefarious scheme.

She gave an award of Rs 500,000, named Vivek Puraskar after Swami Vivekananda, to seven villages in Jangalmahal which according to her have “showed courage to resist the Maoists and help the government bring back peace”. She added that “I want peace to stay here and those who will help in bringing peace will be rewarded”. This is a direct attempt by the West Bengal government to encourage vigilantism of the Salwa Judum variety as these seven villages are the places where the Jana Jagaram Mancha (locally called the Bhairab bahini) organized by the TMC have established their strongest foothold. This organization that regularly terrorizes villagers by beatings, threats of false arrests and holding off access to developmental schemes, and forces them to act as informers for the security forces, has established itself in Jangalmahal with state patronage over the last eight months.

Yesterday Mamata awarded the “high achievers” of this organization in the name of Swami Vivekananda. Interestingly, one of the villages in this list is Radhanagar, where the vigilante force was originally the CPI(M)’s harmad bahini, organized by the local CPI(M) leader Prasanta Das, who is one of the main accused in the Sonamukhi rapes. He is currently absconding. There have been protests from even the local TMC in Jhargram against awarding the CPI(M) harmads of this village. Remarkably, another village on the same list is Netai, where nine villagers were killed by firing from another set of the same harmads. It suggests that the TMC government has no problem in awarding both the harmads and the victims of the harmads, as long as it dovetails with the states objective of bringing back “peace” to Jangalmahal. And Mamata has declared that there will be more such awards. We should remind ourselves that Salwa Judum also meant “peace hunt”.

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Mamata’s “tide of development” gives rise to new waves of corruption in Jangalmahal

by Partho Sarathi Ray. Nov 11, 2011

The West Bengal government has openly adopted a carrot-and-stick policy to combat the struggle of the people of Jangalmahal against state repression and exploitation. On one hand, the operations of the joint forces are continuing, resulting in raids on villages, arrests of people, especially youngsters, and brutal beatings being meted out to villagers. Just last week, twelve students, belonging to the student organizations Jharkhand Student Federation (JSF), Chatrasamaj and USDF, who had been campaigning in the villages regarding a convention which they were holding in Kolkata, were picked up by the joint forces from a house where they were staying near Jhargram, and brutally beaten up. The SDPO of Jhargram himself kicked a couple of students in their abdomen. They were released only in the afternoon, once the news of their detention became public in Kolkata and protests were held. Three days back, Raju Hansda, a student belonging to the JSF from Ramgarh in Lalgarh area, was picked up from his home and charged with eighteen different murder cases. As this juggernaut of state repression rolls on, the mainstream media is rife with speculation about when the “actual” operations against the Maoists are going to begin, as if this was not enough to bring misery to the life of people in Jangalmahal.

As this repression continues on one hand, on the other the government is trying to present a “human” face to win the hearts and minds of the people, with the chief minister Mamata Banerjee unleashing a “tide of development” in her words in Jangalmahal. She has declared a slew of measures in her recent meeting in Jhargram, which are aimed at bringing “development” to Jangalmahal and weaning the people away from the resistance. Although some of these measures, such as the recruitment of ten thousand youth for the post of special police constables on a no work-no pay basis, sound ominously like the formation of a Salwa Judum type of force, others such as providing fifteen kg rice at Rs 2 per kg per week to every below poverty line (BPL) family sounds quite innocuous and designed to win popular support. However, even these measures are proving to be something quite different on the ground. Reports from Jangalmahal indicate that these “development” measures are giving rise to a new wave of corrupt practices, and entrenching a new set of intermediaries in the villages, affiliated this time to the Trinamool Congress.

There is indeed a great demand for the rice at Rs 2 per kg, especially as the last two years have witnessed both successive droughts and disruption in agricultural work due to the occupation by the joint forces. However, the ground reality is that numerous families in the ninety-nine village panchayat areas in West Midnapur do not have the wherewithal even to afford Rs 30 per week to lift these fifteen kilograms of rice. Many families in the dirt poor Belpahari, Pukhuria or Jamboni areas might never even have seen thirty rupees together in their lives. Under these circumstances, a new breed of intermediaries has shown up in the villages. These people, borne on motorbikes, are visiting the villages and giving the thirty rupees to the villagers who cannot afford that money. The villagers are going to the public distribution system (PDS) shops and getting the fifteen kg of rice. However, they are keeping about 5-6 kg of the rice for themselves and are handing over the rest to the people who had initially given them the thirty rupees. In this way, this subsidized rice is finding its way into the black market, and a new “rice mafia” is entrenching itself in the villages. Significantly, this system seems to be working the best in the areas where the ruling Trinamool Congress has established its power, and this mafia is working under the patronage of local Trinamool Congress leaders. No one dares to lodge a complaint with the BDOs, although Mamata has given extraordinary powers to the BDOs in a recent meeting of BDOs and SDOs in Kolkata to control corruption in the panchayats. Interestingly, the picture is quite different in the 40-odd village panchayat areas where the Maoists hold sway. Here also the poverty is stark, and the need for the rice is intense due to the failure of the crops over the last two years. The Maoists have not called for a boycott of these development measures; rather it is the Maoist squads, or various peoples’ organizations in these areas such as the PCPA or the Nari Ijjat Bachao Committee, who have taken up the task to collect the money to get the rice four times a month. The organized presence of these forces is ensuring that the rice reaches the needy, and the state seems to be inadvertently strengthening the hands of these organizations in these areas.

The other source of corruption and patronization seems to be the process of enlistment of BPL people. In many gram panchayats, the poorest people are not even aware that the enlisting process is taking place and that photographs are being taken in the panchayat office for the BPL cards. Apparently, the panchayat authorities are making the announcement of the photography sessions from mobile vans late in the mornings, when most of the daily labourer families have left for the fields. Reports suggest that it is mostly the affluent who are getting photographed to get the BPL cards and there are widespread grievances about this. The general understanding is that in order to get enrolled in the BPL list, it is necessary to go to the local Trinamool office and request the party leaders.

It is therefore quite apparent what a flood of corruption Mamata’s “tide of development” is bringing to Jangalmahal. Corruption in the CPI(M)-led panchayats had become one of the major issues in the Lalgarh uprising, and the people used to point out with anger how CPI(M) bosses had fattened with money from schemes such as Indira Abas Yojana or NREGA. The Trinamool Congress, which is walking the same way, is going to make itself an object of public wrath in a similar manner.

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Press Statement from Committee of Democratic Rights Organizations

Will Mamata Learn from the Past?

17th October 2011

CDRO strongly condemns the statement made by Mamata Banerjee on 15th October denouncing Maoists as ‘supari killers’ and giving them a week to surrender their arms. The announcement coming on the heels of raids and arrests of local activists, beating up of organizers, harassment and detention of fact finding members including doctors and, sealing of Jangalmahal with a gag order on public demonstrations, is a clear indication of the opportunistic attitude of the Trinamool Congress towards people of Jangalmahal.

Evidently, the alleged killing of two Trinamool workers by the Maoists was the pretext that she was looking for and she is believed to have told the police, “You don’t have to wait for my instructions to establish law and order in Jangalmahal”. With the joint forces combing the area and Trinamool’s own armed squad, Bhairav Vahini, busily assisting the men in khaki, Mamata Banerjee’s road map for Jangalmahal is set: a repeat of the past with vengeance.

Mamata Banerjee claimed to be different from CPI(M) in her understanding of Jangalmahal. She promised the withdrawal of joint forces during her election campaign. Earlier, she had denounced the fake encounter of Maoist leader, Azad in Lalgarh. After winning all five seats in Jangalmahal, she claimed in a television interview to NDTV on 13th May 2011 that she was ready for “negotiation, discussion and development” as the people of Jangalmahal believed in democracy. After assuming office, she set up a review committee to look into the cases of political prisoners currently in jail.

Till date, the joint forces have not been withdrawn and the political prisoners have not been released. The conditional cease fire offered by the Maoists in early October has been simply dismissed and the more recent rape charges against the joint forces in the Shibani Singh case have been rejected. Moreover, when a battalion of IRB went on hunger strike protesting at the inhuman conditions in Jangalmahal, the government took note of it and initiated actions against the supposed ringleaders of the agitation. Perhaps, the signs were there in her earlier meeting in July when she promised 10,000 jobs as special police officers to local adivasi youth in the wake of the Supreme Court judgment declaring recruitment of SPOs in Chattisgarh as unconstitutional.

CDRO wishes to remind Ms Mamata Banerjee of the promises she made before she assumed power. If the promises were opportunistic and meant to be broken, then Ms Banerjee should know that Jangalmahal cannot be ruled by an elected government with the use of force. If, on the other hand, she is sincere and believes in negotiations and discussions, then she should withdraw the joint forces, release political prisoners and ask the Maoists for dialogue.

Asish Gupta and Kranti Chaitanya
Co-ordinators(CDRO)

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As the chief minister gives, her police takes away

a report by Partho Sarathi Ray

October 15, 2011

While the chief minister of West Bengal goes on a spree of inaugurating projects and “packages” for the people of Jangalmahal during her visit to Jhargram today, supposedly to wean them away from the path of resistance, her security forces are doing what they can do best: inflict atrocities on helpless women. A case has come to light yesterday.

A 28 year old housewife, Shibani Singh, from the remote, jungle-bound village of Sushnijubi in Kakrajhor area of Belpahari block of West Midnapore district was admitted to the Jhargram hospital on 14th October in a critical condition. She had apparently attempted suicide by drinking pesticide. On inquiring with her mother-in-law Mangli Singh, who was accompanying her, it was found out that she had consumed the poison because she has been raped by personnel from the Joint forces during a raid in her village that morning.

The joint forces had surrounded the village and raided her home in search of her husband Sushen Singh. Sushen Singh had been arrested previously by the police and had been granted bail after a period of imprisonment. He had missed a visit to the court because of the remoteness of his village, and the joint forces had come with a warrant to arrest him. However, Sushen Singh was not at home and the only people there were his wife Shibani and three young children. Her mother in law was away visiting her sick daughter in another village.

What happened next can be reconstructed from the disjointed statements of Shibani, who has just gained consciousness today, and her children. The policemen sent the kids out to get some cigarettes and then one of them entered the hut and raped Shibani. When her daughter came back from the errand, she found her in that state and raised an alarm. As the raiding party left the village and the villagers started assembling, Shibani, in shame and self mortification, consumed the pesticide. Her husband then returned to the village and she was brought to Jhargram in an unconscious state and admitted to the hospital. She is recovering today, but no one from her family has yet gained the courage to go and lodge a complaint with the police. Her husband, who has a warrant in his name, is scared that if he goes to the police he will be immediately arrested.

Incidentally, as Shibani Singh lies in the hospital, the chief minister of the state, another woman, is busy inaugurating welfare projects and declaring packages for the people of Jangalmahal a few miles away at the Jhargram stadium. She did not deign it fit to mention a single word about the rape of this bhumij (a very backward community in the West Bengal Jangalmahal) woman by her security forces. If the chief minister thinks that she can win the hearts and minds of the people of Jangalmahal by throwing some subsidized rice and bicycles at them, while her police and partymen takes away their dignity, she is gravely mistaken.

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Arrests of activists continue in Jangalmahal in the backdrop of ceasefire offer

a report by Partho Sarathi Ray

October 11, 2011

On 4th October, in a statement signed by the West Bengal state committee secretary of the CPI(Maoist), Akash, and two of the government-appointed interlocutors, the state committee of the CPI(Maoist) offered a ceasefire for a period of one month provided the West Bengal state government stops actions by the joint forces in the Jangalmahal area during the period. While welcomed by everyone as a positive step towards the beginning of negotiations between the two sides, the ball is completely in the court of the state government to respond favourably to this offer by the Maoists by creating a conducive conditions for the talks.

The major steps towards creating such conducive conditions are – to stop the atrocities by the joint forces in the Jangalmahal, allow democratic expressions by the people there in the form of meetings, rallies etc. and stop arrests of people on trumped up charges along with the the unconditional release of the currently incarcerated political prisoners. That the state has not been able to even respond to this statement by the Maoists, and signed by its own interlocutors, nearly a week after its release is ample testimony to the fact that the state government has no intentions for talks and is just waiting for a way out by hoping to create a situation such that the blame for breaking the ceasefire can be passed on to the Maoists.

Instead of responding favourably to the situation created by the statement by allowing the creation of a democratic space in the Jangalmahal area, the state government is continuing to ban the holding of any public meetings or rallies in Jangalmahal by peoples’ organizations such as the Nari Ijjat Banchao Committee, whereas rallies by the Trinamool Congress (such as the upcoming one by Mamata Banerjee) and its newly formed vigilante force, the Bhairav Bahini (such as the one held two weeks back) are being allowed.

To add to this throttling of the democratic expressions of the people, the arrests of adivasi activists and organizers are continuing unabated. In the latest incident, Bhagwat Hansda, a senior leader of the Santras, Durniti o Samrajyabadi Agrason Birodhi Ganatantrik Mancha, the forum on behalf of which Chatradhar Mahato had stood in the elections, was detained on 7th October and shown as arrested on 9th October on completely trumped up charges of laying a landmine near the CRPF camp at Dahijuri. Bhagwat Hansda is a popular adivasi organizer from the Andharia area of Jhargram, and is a sitting panchayat member. He was the election agent of Chatradhar Mahato in the last assembly elections. It is quite clear that the police wants to target the Santras, Durniti o Samrajyabadi Agrason Birodhi Ganatantrik Mancha, and in order to do so it detained Bhagwat Hansda and has then tried to implicate him in a false case.

This is part of the ongoing effort by the state administration to completely crush any democratic expressions by the people of Jangalmahal, and only allow its preferred brand of politics (currently of the TMC variety) in the region. It should be remembered that another leader of the Manch, and the erstwhile spokesperson of the PCPA, Manoj Mahato, was similarly arrested after the elections on trumped up charges and is still in jail. Since then, a series of arrests and detentions of common people have taken place to destroy all attempts at popular organizing in the region. It appears that the government does not have any political will towards peace and justice in Jangalmahal, and is hell bent on continuing the atrocities by the security forces there.

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Trinamool rampage continues in Jangalmahal, MKP activist brutally beaten up

a report by Partho Ray

October 04, 2011

The aim of the Trinamool Congress to convert areas of the Jangalmahal districts into no-go zones for other political parties/organizations continues with the brutal beating up of an organizer belonging to the Mazdoor Kranti Parishad (MKP) at Chandabila village under Garbeta police station in West Midnapur district. Chandabila, in Garbeta, has had a history of resistance against political oppression, and is the native village of Sudip Chongdar (Kanchan), the former state secretary of the CPI(Maoist) who is currently imprisoned. Even during the worst excesses under Sushanta Ghosh, the CPI(M) MLA and former minister, who had treated the Keshpur-Garbeta belt as his personal fiefdom and where no deviation from the CPI(M) line was allowed, the people of Chandabila had resisted and tried to organize under alternative political banners. In “post-parivartan” Bengal, the Trinamool Congress is trying to root that out.

Rustam Mallik, the MKP activist who has been attacked, was originally with the CPI(Maoist) in the early 2000’s, when he had worked closely with Asit Sarkar, who was one of the important organizers of the CPI(Maoist) in the Jangalmahal areas during the early “janajudhha” phase of the movement there. He had subsequently left CPI(Maoist) and joined the MKP, becoming an important activist of the organization in the area. He had suffered many threats from the Tapan Ghosh-Shukur Ali duo, the infamous CPI(M) leaders who controlled the area on behalf of Sushanto Ghosh. Now, after the TMC came to power, and Sushanto Ghosh was imprisoned, the TMC leaders, many of them formerly from the CPI(M), have taken over control of the area and explicitly declared that anyone doing any sort of politics except of the TMC variety would not be allowed to remain in the area. Rustam Mallik and another MKP activist, Iyajuddin Mandal, who had been organizing the villagers there became their targets. The TMC goondas, under the leadership of Shaker Ali and Kalu Khan attacked their houses multiple times, threatening them to either leave their political organization or leave the area. On 2nd October a MKP delegation had given a deputation to the local police authorities asking for police action against the TMC goondas and allowing everyone to do the political organization of their choice. The police inspector of Garbeta PS promised to do that and said that he would ensure the protection of activists such as Rustam Mallik. However, on 3rd October evening, Rustam Mallik was surrounded by a group of 7-8 TMC goondas led by Shaker Ali and Kalu Khan and brutally beaten up with iron rods, sticks and shoes. He was rescued by Iyajuddin Mandal and other villagers and has been hospitalized with serious injuries. The TMC goons are going around in the area threatening that anyone trying to go there from outside would be “buried at the Garbeta bus stop itself”.

This is the scenario in all parts of jangalmahal now, with activists of opposition parties coming under attack by the TMC goons on one hand, and the administration banning all democratic meetings or rallies by organizations such as the Nari Ijjat Bachao committee on the other. This is the “parivartan” that is so apparent in Bengal.

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Nari Ijjat Bachao Committee allegedly stopped from holding conference in Jhargram

Source – Anandabazar Patrika, 30 Sep. 2011 (Translated by Sanhati)

anandabazar-patrika-30-september-2011.jpg

Staff reporter, Jhargram: The police and administration have refused permission to hold a conference of “Nari Ijjat Bnachao Committee” (Committee to save women’s honour), which is an affiliate organisation of “Santras, Durniti o Samrajyobadi agrason birodhi ganotantrik mancho” (Democratic platform against atrocities, corruption and imperialist aggression). The conference was scheduled to be held at an auditorium at Jhargram over Thursday and Friday. The police detained delegates of the conference as soon as they disembarked at the Jhargram railway station on Thursday. The general secretary of the platform Ashokjiban informed “Three members of a women’s human rights organisation from Manipur arrived at Jhargram on Thursday, besides other human rights workers from Kolkata and Jharkhand, all totalling nine. The joint forces stopped them right at the station when they got down from the train at noon. The present government is snatching away democratic rights of the people.” Debolina spoke on behalf of the invitees, “We wanted to talk to the divisional magistrate, but the police told us we would be arrested if we venture out of the station.” Finally, the deputy magistrate of Jhargram Indradeb Bhattacharya came to the station and received the memorandum from the invitees. The nine delegates returned back by the afternoon train.

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Activists arrested in Jangalmahal

a report by Partho Sarathi Ray

September 18, 2011

Reports coming out from the Jangalmahal area of West Bengal describe an alarming situation, where indiscriminate arrests by the joint state and central security forces and atrocities by the Bhairav Bahini, the newly formed organization of Trinamool Congress goons are happenning rampantly. They are again trying to make the Jangalmahal into a no-go zone, following on the footsteps of the previous Left Front government and the harmads of the CPI(M). On 16th September, it came to be known that four people, Somprakash Chakraborty, son of jailed Maoist spokesperson Gour Chakraborty, Prasenjit Chakraborti, a senior producer of a Bengali news channel, Nitai Das, a member of the student organization USDF and Nityananda Thakur, who had gone to Belpahari on a fact-finding mission had been picked up by the joint forces from Patharchaki village where they had gone to meet the family members of those who had been arrested during the Lalgarh movement. The police consistently denied arresting them, which raised fears that the police might try to kill them in a false encounter, as the police is well known to do. However, it has just been known that they have been to Jharkhand and have been shown arrrested from Chakulia of East Singhbhum district. There are reports coming out from Jharkhand police that they are being interrogated at the Mathiabandhi outpost and they might be falsely implicated in the Sunil Mahato murder case.

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Sanhati statement on the repressive situation in Jangalmahal

We strongly condemn the recent arrests of activists by the central and state government joint security forces in the Jangalmahal region of West Bengal and express our deep concern at the renewed attempt by the state government to prevent access to this area. In the space of the last two weeks two such incidents have taken place: first the arrest in Belpahari of Arun Chakrabarty, an activist associated with the Bandi Mukti Committee and two medical students on 7th August while they were collecting data on adivasis who are imprisoned under various political charges in West Bengal prisons and then that of Dr. Siddhartha Gupta and Abhijnan Sarkar on 14th August while they were returning from attending a medical camp at Patharchakri village. Incidentally, Siddhartha Gupta and Abhijnan Sarkar, who had treated 140 poor adivasi patients in the medical camp the previous day, have been charged under Sec. 151 of the CrPC which is purportedly to “prevent the commission of cognizable offences”.

It is a matter of grave concern that the newly elected government in West Bengal led by the Trinamool Congress is walking in this path, in spite of its pre-poll promises of withdrawal of joint forces from Jangalmahal and normalizing the situation there, release of political prisoners and stopping terrorizing by the state . The brutal repression by the joint forces and the CPI(M) harmads on the people of Jangalmahal while Sec. 144 was promulgated there for a period of nearly two years, and access to all citizens was blocked, is well known. It is quite apparent that the government of Mamata Banerjee is following in their footsteps, surely with the active encouragement of the central home ministry led by P. Chidambaram. Furthermore, Mamata Banerjee’s recent announcement at a public meeting in Jhargram about her intention to recruit thousands of adivasi youth as “special police constables” is very ominous as it is clearly an attempt to start a Salwa Judum like force in the adivasi areas of West Bengal, disregarding the well known atrocities by the Salwa Judum in Chattisgarh and the recent judgment by the Supreme Court declaring any such arming of a section of the population completely unconstitutional. This is clearly a nefarious scheme in the name of bringing employment and development to the adivasis of jangalmahal. At the same time, there are reports that the Trinamool Congress is building its own private gangs in the area, emulating the example of the Harmad Bahini, and giving them equally ominous names, such as Bhairav Bahini (terrible force) At the same time, even after four months of coming to power, no efforts are being made to release the hundreds of adivasi men and women who had been arrested during the course of the joint forces operation in Jangalmahal and who are languishing in jail till date.

We strongly condemn all moves by the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal to intensify the oppression on the people of Jangalmahal and demand that unhindered access to the area should be allowed to all people; the joint forces, whose occupation of the area has marked a dark phase in our history, be immediately withdrawn; any plan to create state or quasi-state vigilante forces be cancelled; and all political prisoners, including the hundreds of adivasis arrested from the Jangalmahal area, be immediately released.