Does Didi want to make Jhargram into another Nandigram?

September 22, 2011

by Partho Sarothi Ray

Over the past few weeks reports coming from the Jangalmahal region in the Paschim Medinipur district of West Bengal have described an alarming situation. Numerous reports of the joint forces (both state and central) entering and laying siege to villages, beating up people and making indiscriminate arrests had come to our knowledge. Along with these, the atrocities being committed on villagers by a newly formed armed group called the Bhairav Bahini, reportedly organized by the ruling Trinamool Congress, have been coming. Also a number of killings of individuals have been reported in the media.

On Wednesday 21.09.11, a team of civil liberties activists and intellectuals, comprising of Gautam Navlakha of Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Prof Amit Bhattacharya of Jadavpur University, Dr. Partho Sarothi Ray of Sanhati, Kanchan Kumar of Peoples United Literary Forum (PULF), Shukla Bhoumik and Mitu Mandal went to the rural areas near Jhargram town to talk directly with the villagers and find out the details of these alarming incidents.

Originally, the PULF had asked for and received permission from the IC-Jhargram, to hold a public meeting in Jhargram town, which had been summarily withdrawn by the SP-Jhargram at the last moment. We, the members of this fact-finding team, along with members of another team (which had reached the area on the previous day), were supposed to address this meeting. As the permission for this meeting was suddenly withdrawn, we proceeded to the villages to directly listen to the experiences of the villagers. However, as we were proceeding to Nedabahara village (near Kalabani, off the road connecting Jhargram and Lodashuli), where the other team comprising of V V Rao, Saroj Giri and others was staying, we were stopped on the way by a heavily-armed contingent of the joint forces, comprising of WB Police and CRPF jawans and officers. They prevented us from going any further without providing any concrete reason for their action, except talking about orders received from higher authorities and expressing vague and unfounded apprehensions that our trip to the village would cause law and order problems. This was when the other half of our team was already in the village and there have been no law and order issues. We tried to reason with them and requested them to allow us to proceed. However, as the permission to proceed to the village was denied by the police and the BDO, and because of the hostile body language and threats by some of the police forces, we decided to turn back.

On our way back, we saw that were being escorted by two jeeps of joint forces personnel and heavily armed civilians who appeared to be accompanying them. When we tried to move towards Jhargram to have our lunch and also to meet members of the press (whom we had contacted), our way was again blocked, near the Sarada Mission, by the police who had purposely stationed a jeep across the main road to block our way. As our vehicle stopped, it was again surrounded by gun-wielding joint forces personnel. A police officer tried to take away the papers of our driver and search the car and our belongings. We again got down from our vehicle and reasoned with the senior officers present who said that we would not be allowed to go even to Jhargram. We were allowed to leave only when we agreed to turn back again towards Lodhashuli and Midnapur.

These shocking incidents made the current situation of the Jangalmahal absolutely clear to us. It is unimaginable that a group of people with established credentials and on a completely legitimate mission can be stopped from going even to Jhargram town by the main road in broad daylight. We can well imagine the condition of the general adivasi population of the area. It is quite clear to us that the new government led by Trinamool Congress is again trying to make the Jangalmahal into a no-go zone, following on the footsteps of the previous Left Front government and letting loose a reign of terror in the area. Our experiences also suggested that the joint forces are working together with the Bhairav bahini, which is playing the same role as did the CPI(M)’s Harmad bahini during the earlier government’s rule. While on our trip, we received reports about how the joint forces and the Bhairav bahini had raided Panchami village the previous night and kidnapped five people including two named Dhananjay Mahato and Ganesh Mahato, who had been brutally beaten up. Our experiences show an alarming situation in Jangalmahal which we think is completely unconducive to the much-touted talks that have been proposed between the government and the Maoists, and which the government is reportedly keen in pursuing. We think that any such effort is bound to fail under this climate of fear generated by the actions of the joint forces and the rampant violation of democratic rights that is taking place.