Nonadanga anti-eviction struggle : Sanhati statement on the recent events

June 23, 2012

Sanhati unequivocally condemns the arrest of 35 protesters from the Esplanade area of Kolkata on 20th of June, 2012. The arrests were made when about 200 protesters were on a peaceful demonstration demanding rehabilitation for Nonadanga slum-dwellers. Initially the urban development minister of the state government, Mr. Firhad Hakim, sent a message to the demonstrators saying that he would meet a delegation on the 26th of June. On this assurance the protesters agreed to disperse, provided an outlet was opened on the boundary wall erected at Nonadanga field. This wall, which has recently been built by the KMDA, has essentially encircled the slum-dwellers and has restricted their access to basic amenities such as drinking water and toilet facilities for women. After this the minister suddenly sent another message saying that he will meet the delegation only on the 3rd of July. Upon hearing this, the demonstrators refused to disperse and demanded an early appointment. However, no concrete assurance came.

Instead at 9 PM the Kolkata police descended on the protesters and severely beat them up. 35 of them were arrested and detained at the Lalbazar central lock up. Out of the 35 arrested persons, 24 are Nonadanga residents, 10 are activists and one is even a passer-by! The lathicharge by the police was so ruthless that two of the protesters (Sanjay Mandal and Subrata Sapui) were taken by the police to the emergency section of the Calcutta Medical College after other protesters in the lock up raised a hue and cry. But in a completely bizzare turn of events, when the activists assembled in the hospital demanded that they be admitted to the hospital for medical treatment, instead of admitting them to the hospital, the injured persons were whisked away by the police before daybreak, even denying them much needed medical attention. Another injured person, Swapan Shikari, also did not receive any medical attention although his arm has probably been fractured by the police lathicharge.

On 21st of June the detainees were produced at the court of the chief metropolitan magistrate, Kolkata, where they were charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to violation of public order. However, during the hearing, the government lawyer made the oral argument that the detainees had amassed a lot of arms and were preparing for an armed rebellion. The trumped up charges relating to amassing of arms and ammunition were levelled against them in order to convince the court that they were actually very dangerous people and the success of this argument was apparent in the detainees being remanded to police custody till the 25th of June. This farce had been enacted before when 7 activists, of whom 3 are Sanhati members, were arrested on 8th of April, once again from a peaceful demonstration – similar sinister allegations were made during that time as well. Out of those 3 members, Samik Chakraborty, has been arrested again on 20th June. Abhijnan Sarkar, a Sanhati member, and Debalina Chakrabarty are languishing in jail on a series of unrelated but also fabricated charges.

It is shameful that the TMC government has adopted the traditional carrot and stick policy to break the resistance of the Nonadanga slum-dwellers. Before the arrest of 20th June, the leaders and ministers of the Trinamul Congress Party had started threatening the Nonadanga residents. The Nonadanga residents were asked to dismantle the Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee and put up Trinamul Congress banners instead. Some leaders of the movement have even been given death threats by local TMC leaders and goons. The minister, Mr. Firhad Hakim, has dangled a carrot that tin sheds will be provided if they dismantle their shanties. When pressed, Mr. Hakim has refused to give any written assurance or public statement on the promise. On 15th of June the goons attacked the residents, but had to retreat in the face of united resistance by shanty-dwellers.

We demand

(1) that the concerted effort by the police, the administration, and the Trinamul Congress Party workers to harass and intimidate the Nonadanga residents, in a seemingly urgent need to clear that prime land for private real estate developers, be stopped, and all the 35 detainees of 20th June be released immediately and unconditionally;

(2) withdrawal of all cases registered against all persons arrested at various points over the past few months in connection with the Nonadanga movement, including Debalina Chakraborty and Abhijnan Sarkar who had been arrested for participating in this mass movement but later tagged to other cases including under the draconian UAPA Act, which has resulted in their continued imprisonment;

(3) a decent and dignified rehabilitation for the Nonadanga shanty-dwellers under the right to shelter which has been ordained by many Supreme Court judgements to be included in the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution .