West Bengal : Jaagte raho !

July 24, 2012

by Ranjit Sur

The Government of West Bengal has decided to recruit Chowkidars in 3341 Gram Panchayets. Initially, there will be one in each Gram Panchayet area which, generally covers 3 to 4 villages. Gradually this may extend to one Chowkidar in each village. These Chowkidars will act as the first tier of the Police. They will be paid Rs.310/- a day and handed mobile phones and a blue uniform. But they will not carry any weapon. They will work for 22 days a month and their initial contracts will be for one year. Initially it was announced that State Police Recruitment Board will select the Chowkidars. Later it was decided that district Police Super or Chief of respective Commisioneret will recruit the Chowkidars through a Committee created by themselves. The British Chowkidari Act of 1870 forced the Panchayets to tax people for Chowkidar’s salary. The Bengal Chief Minister Ms Mamata Banerjee, so vocal about Government fund crunch, is generous enough and agreed to pay the Chowkidars’ remuneration from Government exchequer. The name of this special force is given as “ Village Police Volunteer”. The name may differ but the very concept and duties enlisted will definitely remind one of the SPOs of Salwa Judum fame at Chattsishgarh province.

According to the Government pronouncements in the media, “ the basic job of the Chowkidars will be to gather intelligence and report any crime. They will be the eyes and ears of the state police.” Their jobs as specified are, a) to report at once to the OC of the local police station if any outsiders enter or any doubtful movement of local people come to his knowledge , b) to take note and report to the OC regarding unknown outsider’s movements, c) to co-ordinate between local Police station and local civil administration, d) to report crimes against women, elderly and children, e) to report natural calamities and accidents, e) to report Government announcements to the member of the public and f) in case of any disturbances a Chowkidars’s task would be to gather people to get hold of the disturbance creator/s and inform Police to come and arrest .

The Government, particularly Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is very keen to complete the recruitment process before ensuing Panchayet Election to be held before this year end. The State Police Head Quarter already issued instructions to start recruitment procedures.

But surprisingly enough not a single Political Party, not even the opposition parties, not a single human rights organization or not even a member of civil society publicly denounced the move. In a section of media, it is reported that erstwhile Left Front Government during their last days themselves planned to create such a force . Mamata Banerjee is only implementing their scheme, their thoughts. So it is not expected that Left Front will oppose it. But what about the ‘third stream’, Human Rights bodies or intellectuals of Civil Society ? Why are they silent on this derogatory move ? It is for sure that this force is to be created only for spying on the political activities of the opposition parties, rebel groups and peoples’ movements as such. The British imperialists also did the same thing through the Chowkidars and Police Commision of 1902-03 also appreciated their role for lasting British Raj. However, the Chowkidari system was done away with after independence. The colonial system of Chowkidari over every peoples’ move at grass-root level cannot be and should not tolerated upon at this age of democracy and after 65 years of emancipation from colonial raj. Silence is unpardonable now and let all of us come forward and give a call to the people “Jaagte raho“ .