Kolkata – Report on the recent attack on Nonadanga slum dwellers

December 22, 2012

a report by Partho Sarathi Ray

As the West Bengal government has failed to break up the resistance of the Nonadanga slum dwellers and evict them over the past nine months, the ruling Trinamool Congress has continuously tried to create dissensions and divisions within their ranks over this period and create a situation in which they can be forcibly evicted from their homes. Bapi Mandal, erstwhile vice-president of the Ucched Pratirodh Committee leading the movement, had shifted his allegiance to the Trinamool Congress a few months back and had been issuing verbal and physical threats to the slum dwellers who had been rejecting his ploys of getting them to leave the Ucched Pratirodh Committee and give up their struggle for a just rehabilitation. This process culminated in the brutal attack on the slum dwellers and activists by Trinamool Congress (TMC) goons on 19th December.

Tension had been simmering for the past couple of days, with Bapi Mandal issuing threats to come with “people” and beat up the slumdwellers. On 19th afternoon, Dr. Siddhartha Gupta (who had previously been jailed by the government for taking part in the movement) had gone to Nonadanga when he was chased by 50-60 of these assembled goons under the leadership of local TMC leader Manindra Datta. Then Siddhartha and others went to the Tiljala police station to lodge a complaint. They returned to the area in the evening to again meet and reassure the slum dwellers who were being terrorized by the motorbike-borne goons during the day. However, as they were leaving, they were surrounded by a hundred-strong mob of goons led by Manindra Datta and were brutally attacked. The slumdwellers who came to their rescue were also attacked. Especially targeted were the activists who have been associated with the movement for a long time and the slum dwellers who have taken leading roles in the resistance. Siddhartha, Mitu (the wife of Siddhartha Mandal who is in jail), Babai (MKP activist) were attacked murderously, with Babai having been thrown into the canal adjoining the area. Many of the slumdwellers were badly injured, including many women who were beaten up and molested. Bidhubhushan Naskar, the newly elected president of the committee, was especially targeted with the goons trying to kill him until he was rescued by some local people and hidden in a shanty. Archana (niece of Bidhubhushan) was thrown on the ground and some of the goons kicked her repeatedly on the chest. Both Bidhubhushan and Archana are still hospitalized with injuries. The police, which has a camp 10 metres from the place remained mute spectators to all this and when Siddhartha and others had gone to the police station in the morning had warned them of “janarosh” (public anger), which has been a veiled threat of beating up by goons from CPI(M)s times and is now regularly issued by TMC ministers and leaders.

On 20th December, at the call of the Uchhed Pratirodh Committee, various organizations and civil society members assembled at the College Square to do a protest march against this barbaric assault. Many of the slum dwellers, who had spent a sleepless night, also gathered courage to join up in the rally. However, the police which had remained a mute spectator to the previous evenings rampage by TMC goons, now descended in force and prevented the rally from being taken out. The Ucched Pratirodh Committee continued the assembly and demanded to meet with the Commissioner of Police to demand the arrest of Manindra Datta, Bapi Mandal and others who had taken part in the attack and who have been named in the FIR, demand that the police give protection to the slum dwellers so that they are not attacked again and also that the responsibility of medical treatment of the injured be borne by the administration. After protracted discussions, a delegation could meet the Joint CP (South-east) who assured them that they would arrest the accused people once investigations are completed (however, this is quite contrary to what the police has usually done in case of activists, where they first arrest and then start the investigations). In the evening the slum dwellers, accompanied by many of the activists, returned to the area, and got back to their homes. Although there is an atmosphere of palpable tension, the people are resolved to resist the goons of the TMC and the agents of the ruling party and the government who have been trying unsuccessfully over the last nine months to destroy their struggle.