June 28, 2009
A young rebel The assembly of women The women rebels
Jan 11 2010: A year of Lalgarh – Partho Sarathi Ray
Nov 2008: Background article on Lalgarh movement by Partho Sarathi Ray
Dec 2008: An introductory article on Lalgarh by Koustav De from Monthly Review
Feb 23 2010: The Silda attack: Understanding the role of the EFR camp in reoccupation strategies
Feb 23 2010: Lalmohan Tudu and two others murdered by CRPF
Jan 11 2010: Lalgarh – An account from Forum Against Monopolistic Aggression (FAMA) [PDF, Bengali] »
Oct 27 2009: The Sankrail episode: The story of the arrested women
Oct 27: Debates on Lalgarh: Sujato Bhadra, Kishenji, Amit Bhattacharya
Oct 8: Statement of Mahashweta Devi and other intellectuals on the comments of the Home Minister characterizing all dissent as Maoist [PDF, Bengali] »
Oct 6: Arrests begin in Kolkata: Sanhati statement
Oct 6: Statement on the arrest of Chhatradhar Mahato by Radical Socialist
Sept 28: Condemnation of Chhatradhar Mahato’s arrest by organizations and individuals
Sept 27: Statement on Lalgarh by the writers and the intellectuals of West Bengal, who stood by the Movements in Singur & Nandigram
Sept 8: Encounter deaths, custodial beatings of PSBJC members , and the lajja-bisarjan protest
August 15: A history of Lalgarh between June 24 – August 1 2009 – Amit Bhattacharya
July 29: APDR documents on Lalgarh: Press release on human rights violations of counter-insurgency forces [PDF, English] »
July 10: The unknown Binayak Sens of The House of Dreams
July 10: Healthcare issues in Lalgarh: 40 kg weight at full-term pregnancy
July 10: EPW articles on Lalgarh. Editorial piece: Lalgarh – Questions to the Left [PDF, English] », Sumit sarkar and Tanika Sarkar: Notes on a dying people [PDF English] », Monika Bora, Budhaditya Das: The Movement in Lalgarh [PDF English] »
July 10: MKP activists stopped from reaching Lalgarh
July 10: Anuj Pandey – the rise of a rogue
July 7: Amlashol: Unkept promises of development and lessons for Lalgarh
July 3: Medha Patkar, Gopal Menon and others arrested in Lalgarh: CRPP statement for release
July 3: Lalgarh: An interim balance sheet – Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri
June 30: From Meena Sardar in 2001, to the quartz mines at Chechurgeria, to Binpur where people die at 40 – Sankar Ray
June 30: Half-naked inhabitants against elite forces: Being reminded of Vietnam [PDF, Bengali] – Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri
June 30: Spraying dye from helicopters: how to recognise a Maoist – Amit Bhattacharya
June 29: (1) Operation Lalgarh: cobras, satellites, spies (2) Fact-finding team on Lalgarh arrested: CRPP statement (3) Reactions to Lalgarh in Telugu media (4) Police atrocities continue (5) Santhali scholar quits post over Lalgarh (6) Security-centric approach cannot resolve Lalgarh conflict – Sujato Bhadro
June 27: Fanshen in Lalgarh: A history of the crucial days between June 5 – June 22 – Amit Bhattacharya
June 25: Guns, at every twist and turn
June 24: Lalgarh: an analysis of the media’s war hysteria – Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
June 24: Statements from CPIML(Liberation), PUDR, Chhatradhar Mahato, Kannabiran, and Delhi intellectuals
June 22: The Maoist “Problem” and the Democratic Left in India – Saroj Giri
June 22: CPI(M) vs CPI(M) – Pothik Ghosh
June 22: Beneath sari, brutal scars: Emerging stories of 20,000 refugees
June 22: Cops Force Locals To Look For IEDs
June 22: Programs in solidarity with Lalgarh
June 22: Government wakes up to think of welfare measures
June 22: Amnesty International on Lalgarh
June 22: Koraput headed the Lalgarh way?
June 20: People’s Committee against Police Atrocities vows to fight until death
June 20: Dealing with bow and arrow – Latha Jishnu
June 19: Maoism in India: Panic or Panacea? – Nandini Chandra
June 17: Report of fact-finding team from JNU on the eve of Lalgarh violence
June 16: Statement from Sanhati on recent developments
June 16: CRPF arrives in Lalgarh, govt seeks more force
June 16: Tribals take control of Lalgarh
May 31: Hard times in Bleak Houses: How the women in Lalgarh eke out a living
May 3: 5000 villagers raze govt building in Salboni to keep cops out
April 25: A Brief Report on the Adivasi Rally on April 24 at the heart of Kolkata – Koustav De, Sanhati
April 22: Lalgarh agrees to elections on its own terms
April 12: Report of the All-India Fact-Finding Team on Lalgarh
April 12: Lalgarh movement: building infrastructure in the face of government apathy and terror - Koustav De. Journal
April 12: Funds misuse at the root of Adivasi stir: Bankura DM
April 12: Police and Harmad Vahini try to enter Lalgarh – a factfinding report
April 7: Armed Lalgarh adivasis descend on Kolkata
Violence imminent in Lalgarh over pretext of holding elections – Koustav De
Purulia tribals march in solidarity with Lalgarh
March 23 – April 3: Lalgarh people decide to boycott General Elections
Mar 21 2009: Gorkhaland and Lalgarh: dialogues, parallels, and a challenge to mainstream parties
Lalgarh movement faces State terror – Koustav De
Feb 5: Police camp shift demanded by tribals
Feb 2: Violence in Lalgarh – overtones of a Salwa Judum style conflict? – Partho Sarathi Ray
Jan 29: Lalgarh and a basic problematic of people’s movements – Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri
Jan 26, 2009: Member of the People’s Committee killed while having tea
Jan 23, 2009: An open letter to the rebels of Lalgarh from Shramik Sangram Committee [PDF, Bengali] »
Jan 12, 2009: Damages announced for Lalgarh women - The Telegraph
Jan 8, 2009: Tribals continue to boycott administration in Lalgarh – Expressindia
Dec 19: Police back in Lalgarh, so are protests – The Statesman
Dec 14: Lalgarh: probing the scale-down of the revolt and the need of the hour – Partho Sarathi Ray
Dec 7: Lalgarh blockade stopped – The Statesman
Dec 4: Ominous developments: impending two-pronged attack of the police and the CPI(M – Partho Sarathi Ray
Dec 4: Lalgarh: A leaflet from Shramik Sangram Committee [PDF, Bengali] >>
Dec 2: Lalgarh – nature of the movement, facets of impoverishment, bid for power, and the future – Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri
Nov 30: Novel methods of participatory democracy and gender equality in Lalgarh; tribals elsewhere stand up; development issues resonate – Partho Sarathi Ray
Nov 27: Indian Tribes after Sixty Years – A study by Walter Fernandes
Nov 26: Agitation spreads to Birbhum – The Statesman
Nov 25: We talk of patricipatory democracy, Lalgarh is practising it – Sumit Chowdhury
Nov 23: The Charter of Demands, as circulated by the Peoples Committee Against Police Oppression – Suvarup Saha
Nov 23: Pictures from Dalilpur Chowk
Nov 20,22: Violence in Bankura; venue of negotiations under contention – Mainstream media reports
Nov 19: Mass meetings in Belpahari and Chakadoba; movement spreads despite negotiations – Partho Sarathi Ray
Nov 18: Uprising spreads further, supported by migrant adivasis; CPIM stokes Bengali regionalist sentiments – Partho Sarathi Ray
Nov 16: Peoples Committee Against Police Oppression formed, uprising spreads near Garbeta – Partho Sarathi Ray
Nov 15: Spins of the corporate media, and the true story of Chotopeliya village – Partho Sarathi Ray
Nov 15: Some reports from mainstream media
Nov 14: Movement spreads to Midnapur, Jhargram cut off – Partho Sarathi Ray
Nov 13: Background of the movement – Partho Sarathi Ray.
June 16, 2009
From the very inception of the adivasi-moolvasi people’s movement, led by the Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocities, in Lalgarh and the entire jangalmahal region of West Bengal, we have expressed our solidarity with their struggle for dignity and the right to be free from state terror in their daily life. The political development in that region has received widespread support and also inspired people across the country. Having challenged the usual manner in which state machinery functions, the people have had to face the terror unleashed on the movement by the private militia (“harmads”) organised by the ruling CPI(Marxist). Such attacks have been strongly condemned by us, along with other political platforms. We feel that the Lalgarh movement has been historic in form and content and we will continue to support it in every possible way.
We are very concerned about the incidents over the past few days, in which a rally of the Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocities was fired upon by gunmen allegedly belonging to CPI(M) harmads near the village of Dharmapur. As usual, the front ranks of the rally had women in large numbers, who became the targets of this attack. The rallyists retreated, but thereafter regrouped again and retaliated, resulting in the death of a number of CPI(M) cadres. After this attack by alleged CPI(M) cadres, there has been a spontaneous outburst of popular anger which has resulted in the torching of a CPI(M) party office, CPI(M) leaders have fled from the area, and the police have vacated the three camps near Lalgarh which they had reoccupied. We think that the state might take this opportunity to send in paramilitary forces into the area in the pretext of combating the squads of CPI(Maoist) who are being accused to be behind this unrest. The corporate press is also paving the way for such intervention by the state by representing this peoples’ movement as a front of the Maoists and crying hoarse about the absence of “state control” in the area. We condemn any moves to send in paramilitary forces into the area to let lose a reign of repression on the adivasi-moolvasi people of Lalgarh.
However, we have also been alarmed by incidents in the recent past where some purported CPI(M) supporters in the area have been murdered or inhumanly attacked, allegedly by squads of the CPI(Maoist). We condemn these acts of violence – we feel that such actions are counter-productive for the growth and sustenance of the movement, which itself is directed against state-sponsored violence and which probably has origins in the years of organisational work done by these radical left organisations in the jangalmahal area. We strongly feel that any organisation or group involved in these incidents should refrain from such acts and owe an explanation to the people regarding why such acts were committed.
The recent parliamentary election has resulted in the formation of a central government which is allied to neoliberal interests. Therefore, there is every possibility that more and more anti-people policies will be enacted and thereafter enforced on the common people. This would require increased and widespread mass resistances through alliances of people from different segments of the society. Such a situation necessitates continuous dialogues among different streams of radical left and other democratic voices and evolving programmes, which are inclusive of all forms of struggles, through a process of debate and discussion – we remain committed to this process.
By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati.
The events that have been happening during the last one week in the adivasi (tribal) belt of West Midnapur district in West Bengal are so unprecedented that the authorities do not know how to respond to them, and the media doesn’t understand their significance.
Even the political parties and civil society are at a loss trying to come to terms with what is happening. What had started off as protests against police brutalities in Lalgarh have turned into a full scale uprising against state oppression and dispossession. Nothing like this has been witnessed in West Bengal in living memory.
The entire chain of events started after the 2nd November land mine explosion targeting the convoy of West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and union steel and mines minister Ram Vilas Paswan as they were returning from the inauguration of the Jindal Steel Works special economic zone (SEZ) in Salboni in West Midnapore district.
Around 5000 acres of land have been acquired for this project, of which 4500 acres have been handed over by the government and 500 acres have been purchased directly by Jindal from landowners. Reportedly, a large portion of this land was vested with the government for distribution amongst landless tribals as part of the land reforms program and also included tracts of forests. Moreover, although the land was originally acquired for a “usual” steel plant, last September Jindal got SEZ status for the project, with active help from the state government, which dispensed with the requirement for following most regulations for building and running the plant, including crucial requirements such as doing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The government was, and is, not bothered about the setting up of an SEZ having a polluting steel plant in the middle of a forested area, dispossessing tribals from their land and endangering their means of survival. Understandably, there were major grievances amongst the tribals against this, although the mainstream media had constantly portrayed a very rosy picture of the entire project.
The land mine explosion was blamed as usual on the Maoist insurgents allegedly active for a long time in Salboni and the adjacent Lalgarh area. According to press reports, the Maoist movement is active in twelve police station areas in the three adjoining districts of West Midnapur, Bankura and Purulia. Three junior-level policemen were suspended and show-cause notices were served on a few senior officers for negligence of duty.
Usually, the police harass and arrest tribal villagers after every Maoist attack; this time in order to hide their own failure in providing security to its political masters, and to save their skin from the wrath of the government, the police went on a rampage in the tribal villages. Having no clue about the real perpetrators of the land mine explosion, they started beating up and arresting people indiscriminately. Among the first to be arrested were three teenage students, Aben Murmu, Gautam Patra and Buddhadeb Patra, who were returning from a village festival during the night. They were charged with sundry charges including waging war against the state, conspiracy, attempt to murder, using dangerous weapons and obstructing justice. Then during the day on 4th November, an armed police party arrested Dipak Pratihar of Kantapahari village while he was buying medicine from a chemist’s shop in Lalgarh for his pregnant wife Lakshmi. In the process the police brutally beat up Lakshmi and threw her to the ground. She had to be subsequently hospitalized. Ten people were arrested during the police raids and beaten up, including a retired teacher Khsamananda Mahato and a civil contractor Shamsher Alam from Chotopeliya village, who was visiting the area for a day for some construction work. Although these two people were subsequently released, as the police could not formulate any charges against them, the rest were kept in police custody.
The police and CRPF, led by the officer in charge of Lalgarh police station, Sandeep Sinha Roy and the superintendent of police of West Midnapore district, Rajesh Singh, unleashed a reign of terror in 35 villages encompassing the entire tribal belt of Lalgarh. In raids throughout the night of November 6th, women were brutally kicked and beaten up with lathis and butts of guns. Among the injured, Chitamani Murmu, one of whose eyes was hit by a gun butt, and Panamani Hansda, who was kicked on her chest and suffered multiple fractures, had to hospitalized. Chitamani’s lost her eye because of the injury. Eight other women were badly wounded. These police brutalities soon reached a point where the adivasis had no other option but to rise up in revolt.
The adivasis of India are one of the most oppressed and downtrodden groups of people in the country. Police oppression is nothing new to the Santhal adivasis of the Bankura-Purulia-Midnapore area. But the unprecedented atrocities inflicted by the police in the past week, especially the wanton attack on women, wore out their patience. On the night of 6th November they assembled near the Lalgarh police station and surrounded it, effectively cutting it off, and the policemen inside, who had been rampaging in villages the previous night but had now locked themselves inside the police station, did not dare to venture out. Electricity to the police station was disconnected and all the lights were broken.
What began as rumblings of protest took the shape of a spontaneous mass uprising the next day. On 7th November, when the ruling CPI(Marxist) was “observing” the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution throughout West Bengal, ten thousand Santhal men and women, armed with traditional weapons, came out and obstructed the roads leading to Lalgarh, disconnecting it from Midnapur and Bankura. Roads were dug up and tree trunks were placed on the road to obstruct the entry of police vehicles, in the same way as it had been done in Nandigram.
The police jeep and the CPI(M) motorcycle have long been symbols of oppression and terror for villagers throughout West Bengal, so this digging up of roads, besides actually inhibiting the movements of these agents of oppression, have become a symbol of defiance and liberation. Towards the night of 7th November, the people also disconnected telephone and electricity lines, virtually converting a vast area into a liberated zone. The apex social organization of the Santhals, the Bharat Jakat Majhi Madwa Juan Gaonta took up the leadership of the struggle, although the leader of the organization, the “Disham Majhi” Nityananda Hembram has himself admitted that the organization has no control over the movement; rather the movement is controlling the organization.
Smaller organizations of the tribals, such as the Kherwal Jumit Gaonta, that have been playing active roles in the struggle have openly called for armed resistance, stating that there is no other way for the survival of the adivasis.
The demands of the adivasis were so “earthy” and original that the administration did not know how to respond. The demands were that the superintendent of police Rajesh Singh should publicly apologize by holding his ears and doing sit-ups, a traditional way of punishing errant youngsters, the guilty policemen should crawl on the streets of the villages where they had tortured people, rubbing their noses on the ground, again another traditional way of humiliating wrongdoers, and Rs 200,000 compensation for the injured and assaulted. The demands were marked by the total reliance of the adivasis on their traditional systems of dispensing justice, and not looking up to the formal judicial process which they have realized is by nature weighted against the poor and marginalized. Although these demands have since been modified to an unconditional oral apology from the police superintendent and punishment for the policemen involved in the raids, the administration has arrogantly refused to accept these demands, although they have said that the demand of compensation can be considered.
However, the adivasis have been in no mood to accept this “offer” and the upsurge has spread over an even wider area encompassing Dahijuri, Binpur, Jhargram and Bandowan.
The administration has virtually disappeared from these areas. On 10th November, adivasis led by the tribal social organizations set up new roadblocks in the Dahijuri area. When the police lathicharged the assembled people and arrested some of the leaders of the Gaontas, the situation turned explosive. The tribals surrounded the police officials present and a crowd of few thousand adivasis, armed with bows and arrows, axes and daggers, and led by women wielding broomsticks, chased the police for four kilometers along the road leading to Jhargram. The police were forced to retreat from the area and release all the leaders of the social organizations they had arrested.
The movement has been continually intensifying during the past week and spreading over a larger area.
The slogans emanating from the movement have also been changing and now the adivasis are demanding that the dispossession of tribals from their land, forests and water in the name of development and industrialization has to stop. The struggle against state oppression is turning into a bigger struggle against dispossession and marginalization.
The state has been helpless in front of this upsurge and has been trying to “negotiate” with the tribals. But what has been frustrating their efforts is the essentially democratic nature of this upsurge. Although the administration has been holding multiple all-party meetings with the dominant political parties, CPI(M), Trinamool Congress, Congress and the Jharkhand Party, the leaders of these parties have openly admitted to their inability to exert any influence on the adivasis.
The adivasis are not letting any political leaders access to the movement, including tribal leaders like Chunibala Hansda, the Jharkhand Party (Naren faction) MLA from Binpur. They are demanding that any negotiations be carried out in the open rather than behind closed doors. Even traditional leaders like the “Disham Majhi” Nityananda Hembram and other “majhis” are having to talk directly with the adivasis before talking to the administration. Villagers of the ten villages in Lalgarh have formed ten village committees with one coordinating committee to negotiate with the administration. This democratic nature of the upsurge have frustrated all attempts by the administration to “control” the movement till now, and have forced the political parties like the local Trinamool Congress to come out in support, although the state leadership of the party is strangely silent about it.
The state and the CPI(M) have not dared to respond with overt violence yet, although there are news that a motorbike-borne militia is being assembled nearby by Sushanta Ghosh, the notorious CPI(M) minister and Dipak Sarkar, the CPI(M) district secretary. The state has been forced to accede to the bail of the three teenage students arrested by the police and have also send Sandeep Sinha Roy, the notorious O.C of Lalgarh police station, on extended leave. There are also reports that, being unable to quell the resistance, the state government has requested the central government to send paramilitary forces to help in their efforts.
What we are witnessing in the tribal belt of West Bengal is of historical moment. A long oppressed people have risen up and are daring to confront their oppressors and question the logic of “development” that destroys their lives and livelihoods. It is interesting to observe that the nature of confrontation with the state, exceptional in scale and intensity, seems to be inspired by the popular resistance at Nandigram – thereby, providing some sort of continuity to the possibilty of an emerging people’s struggles against state repression.
The West Bengal government has been alleging that the movement is being organized and led by the Maoists, and that the Lalgarh area has become a “liberated zone” for them. These are common ploys used by the CPI(M), the government and its sympathisers to brand and delegitimize popular movements. The mainstream media, a faithful ally of the state in such matters, has been repeating the same allegations and lamenting that such acts, which are being dubbed anarchic in nature, has resulted in the breakdown of civil authority. In this manner, attempts are being made to dissociate the urban civil society and intelligentsia from the movement, who have not yet been able to formulate a response to the upsurge. Moreover, using such rhetoric, the state is perhaps also trying to legitimize whatever steps it wishes to adopt in overcoming the resistance.
It is quite expected that radical political forces would have been active among the adivasis as the latter have been the most downtrodden people in India and it is their land and resources which is being handed over for corporate plunder. However the presence and participation of the Maoists or similar forces in no way delegitimizes this seemingly spontaneous, and democratic, expression of people’s anger. This is amply expressed by what Arati Murmu, a woman who had been assaulted by the police, and who had gone to block the Lalgarh police station had to say:
“Whenever there is a Maoist attack the police raid our villages and torture our women and children. For how long will we suffer this oppression by the police? All of us are Maoists, let the police arrest us. Today we have come out.”
By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
Yesterday the movement spread to Jhargram town in one direction and crossed over from the Jhargram subdivision, where the movement has been continuing for the past week, to the Midnapore sub division. Jhargram town has been disconnected from the rest of the state. On the other hand, roads have been dug up 4 km away from Midnapore town. Yesterday, leaders of the Bharat Majhi Madwa, Prabir Murmu and Munshiram Murmu, had been talking to the administration and at the end of the day they said that the movement would be withdrawn from Jhargram. But as soon as they went back to the protesters, the latter declined to withdraw the movement. Munshiram Murmu was reportedly roughed up by the protesters. As a result, they made a volte face and declared that the movement will continue.
The Bharat Majhi Madwa has again stated that they have no control over the movement. Yesterday, to complement the traditional show of force by the santhal villagers, the Santhal Students’ Association took out a motorbike rally in Jhargram town. Also, the latest news say that the centre has declined to send the CRPF because of the impending assembly election in 4 states.
Report from The Telegraph
A new team of tribals from Lalgarh told district authorities today that the government would have to pay a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to each villager injured in police raids and searches should be stopped from 5pm to 6am.
The delegation of the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Jonosadharoner Committee (panel to protest police atrocities) was led by its secretary, Sidhu Soren. The committee was formed last night after villagers accused the Bharat Jakat Majhi Marwa, a group of elders negotiating with the officials till now, of “betraying the tribal cause”.
The panel put forward a list of 11 demands. The elders had wanted compensation earlier, but the amount was specified today. They had asked night raids to be stopped, too, but had not spoken of the time.
The police suspect the new committee has the backing of Maoists. Additional district magistrate (general) R.A. Israel, however, refused comment on the matter.
“Today, we did not come to work out a solution. We submitted our demands. They told us they would not be able to fulfil some of them. The SP will have to go to Dalilpur and announce the decision in front of villagers,” Soren said.
“We will discuss administration’s views with the villagers tomorrow and then decide our next course of action.”
Israel, who spoke to the team of 10 tribals, ruled out the possibility of the SP going to Dalilpur, which falls in the Lalgarh police station area, because of security reasons.
The committee repeated two earlier demands that the officials have rejected. One, that the district police chief should squat and apologise holding his ears. Second, that policemen should crawl from Dalilpur to Chhotopelia.
Israel added that “releasing those who were arrested with arms in connection with the (November 2) blast is not possible”. “We have asked them (the committee) to file a written complaint against those policemen whom they are accusing (of atrocities). A probe will be conducted.
“We have assured them (the committee) that the policemen in the camps set up in schools and hospitals will be removed once peace is restored. The administration will bear the cost of treatment of those injured in the November 5 raids.”
Today, the roadblock in Dahijuri was lifted, but Jhargram town remained cut off from the rest of the state because the damaged roads had not been repaired.
In Calcutta, home secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti said night raids would stop, but did not specify the time. “We have decided there will be no night raids. But the road digging will not be tolerated indefinitely.”
Lalgarh on boil, consensus elusive
Report from The Statesman
The state government is apprehensive of a clash between the blockaders and the those adversely affected by their stir in and around Lalgarh, Mr Ashok Mohan Chakrabarti, state home secretary said at Writers’ Buildings today. Locals are frustrated as supply of food and fuel like kerosene have been affected following the blockade in the wake of the arrest of some people after the Salbani blast.
The state government is yet to chalk out a strong action to remove the blockade and is looking forward to resolve the crisis through talks with the agitators, Mr Chakrabarti said. The decision regarding the ongoing agitation would be communicated to the government after the agitators representatives hold talks with their elders, the government representatives were told after the meeting today. He also said that demands for the release of those guilty in the blast case would not be conceded. Neither would the police camps be withdrawn nor the demand of some of the senior police officials apologising in public would be considered by the state government, he added.
Also a probe will be initiated regarding police excesses during the raids following the blast, he said. If charges against them is proved, strict action will be taken. No specific allegations about huts being ransacked have been received by the district administration, he said. Mr Chakrabarti however regretted that the consensus on certain issues which had been reached through yesterday’s talks could not be implemented after trouble broke out in the ranks of the agitators.
Nov 15: Spins of the corporate media, and the true story of Chotopeliya village
By Partho Sarathi Ray
It is interesting to see how the reporting on the movement is being done by newspapers like Telegraph and Statesman and the television channels. Everybody is out to prove that the Maoists are controlling the movement. And they are using the 11-point demand by the movement as a sure proof of Maoist control. For example, the TV channels are directly saying that the adivasis have demanded that all Maoists arrested over the last 10 years be released.
See what Shyamsundar Roy, a responsible journalist, is writing in The Statesman: “This stalemate has given rise to several questions like, who governs the area? ~ the civil administration or the indigenous people under the banner of the Sara Bharat Jakat Majhi-Madowa Juran Gaounta, an adivasi organisation, run by the Maoists behind the curtain. The charter of demands placed by the organisation leaders at least indicate so. They have demanded that all cases filed against the “innocent” natives of the area between 1998 and 2008 be withdrawn and the tortured families be duly compensated with unconditional release of the detained people, including those in 2 November blast case. These happen to be the same cases which the Maoists have been clamouring over the years.”
A copy of the actual demands, as shown on TV, tells a slightly but importantly different tale. It clearly states “1998 theke 2008 abdhi maobadi sandehe mithya mamlay jarano manushder mukti dite hobe” – “People arrested in false cases under suspicion of being Maoists, from 1998 to 2008, have to be released”. Now, it is natural for the adivasis to demand this, all adivasis arrested after every Maoist attack have been charged with waging war against the state, so they have to write “Maobadi sandehe” or “on suspicion of being Maoists”. This is being twisted as the adivasis demanding all “Maoists” should be released.
There is also a demand that the hated practice of police tahaldari (police vigils) during the night in villages should stop, but the home secretary has refused it.
In this context, it is interesting to revisit the incident at Chotopeliya village which had triggered the movement. It is interesting because it tells us a lot about the values of the santhals.
It seems that when the police was raiding Chotopeliya village, they found that this person called Shamsher Alam was staying for the night in the house of one person. He usually visited the village twice a year to recruit agricultural workers during the harvest season for his and others’ farmlands. When the police tried to arrest him for being a Maoist, the village women came out and protested saying that all of them knew him as he visited regularly and he was their guest. When the retired school teacher Kshamananda Mahato vouched for him the police also arrested him. Then they attacked the village women. The severely injured are from this village. This news spread around and triggered the revolt.
This illustrates how the traditions of protecting a guest, a non-adivasi and a Muslim, are still so important and powerful among the tribals. Both Shamsher Alam and Mahato were subsequently released after nothing could be found against them.
By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
The upsurge of adivasis is continuing unabated and is also spreading to newer areas. Although, after discussions between the Bharat Jakat Majhi Madwa Juan Gaonta and the administration, the siege of Jhargram town has been partially lifted. The blockade on the road connecting Jhargram and Dahijuri was lifted on 14th November but the Bharat Jakat Majhi Madwa could not convince the protesters to lift the blockades of the other roads connecting Jhargram. However, on 15th November efforts to lift the blockade on the other roads leading to Jhargram, mainly the Jhargram Lodhashuli state highway 9, which connects Jhargram to Bombay Road, have begun and it is being expected that the movement will lift the blockade of Jhargram town.
However, the movement has continued to spread to adjoining areas and reached Belpahari on one side and is approaching Garbeta, a stronghold of the ruling CPI(M), on the other. The grassroots adivasis organizations at the forefront of the protests, such as Jumit Gaonta, ESECA, Kurmi Chatra Sangram Committee etc. have come together to form the Peoples’ Committee Against Police Oppression (pulishi atyachar-er birudhhe janasadharan- er committee). Thus the leadership of the movement has passed on from the traditional elders of the adivasis to a younger generation. This mass organization is now leading the struggle and Santhal students belonging to this organization are moving from house to house telling people of the 11-point charter of demands that has been put forward.
These demands include the longstanding demands of the adivasis to stop night-time police raids in villages, removal of police and CRPF camps from the villages, release of all adivasis arrested since 1998 on the suspicion of being Maoists and charged with false cases of waging war against the state, punishment of the policemen guilty of the latest atrocities and Rs 200,000 compensation for the people injured in the brutal police attacks. The administration have flatly refused to consider the demands for removing police camps and for releasing the adivasis falsely implicated of being Maoists. The leaders of the peoples’ committee, Sidhu Soren and Singray Kisku, have said that the movement will continue till the demands are met.
On 15th November, a few thousand adivasi and non-adivasi people demonstrated in the Tamajuri area of Belpahari and cut off the road between Belpahari and Jhargram. This has disconnected the Jhargram subdivision from Bandowan in Purulia and Bnakura district. On the other hand, roads have been dug up and tree trunks have been piled up in Humgarh area under Garbeta police station and in Bulanpur near Goaltore. This is in the stronghold of the notorious CPI(M) minister Sushanta Ghosh, and there has been no opposition to the CPI(M) in this area for the past ten years. However, currently the CPI(M) cadres seem to have disappeared, although the district secretary of the CPI(M), Dipak Sarkar, have been holding meetings in villages in the Salboni area, exhorting CPI(M) supporters to get out into the streets.
The bandh called by SUCI in Jhargram on Saturday was successful. The Jharkhand Disham Party has called a bandh on Sunday in the three adivasi-dominated villages of Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore. The CPI(M) state secretary, Biman Bose, has tried to give a new twist to the movement, claiming that its a separatist movement designed to separate the adivasi-dominated areas from West Bengal and include them in the neighbouring Jharkahnd state. This is a blatant attempt to stoke regionalism among the non-adivasi people and deligitimize the movement. Mamata Banerjee, for the first time, has expressed oral support for the movement from a stage in Singur, although her party has done nothing in its support. And five out of the seven arrested people who were still in police custody were given bail on 14th November as the police and the CID could not produce a case diary against them even ten days after their arrest. The judge has show-caused the CID officer Purnashib Mukhopadhyay. The polce are at a loss how to build false cases against these people whom they had arrested after rampaging through the adivasi villages.
By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
The revolt of the adivasis reached the tenth day yesterday and is still continuing unabated.
Newer areas have come under the ambit of the movement and newer forces have joined it. Besides Lalgarh, the movement has now spread to Binpur, Jhargram, Jamboni, Salboni, Belpahari, Garbeta and Gopiballavpur. On Monday, the movement has spread to the last two blocks of the Jhargram sub-division, Nayagram and Sankrail. Nayagram block has been disconnected by piling tree trunks on the roads in Dhankamra and Barpat. Dhankhori, Gajashimul, Mudakati and Kungarda areas of Sankrail block have also been blockaded. On the other hand, all connections to police stations and camps in the Belpahari block of Jhargram sub-division has been cut off. A group of around 500 armed adivasis blockaded the Neguriya police camp near Chakadoba in Belpahari. The local shopkeepers and traders have declared that they would not supply anything to the policemen in the camps.
CPIM leaders hide out, many tribal members join movement
Motorcycle rallys consisting of upto 100 motorcycles are being conducted by the students affiliated to the Peoples’s Committee against Police Repression. This is also to build confidence against the notorious motor cycle-borne militia which the ruling CPI(M) is supposedly assembling. However, all local CPI(M) leaders have been shifted to police camps for their safety. The secretary of the Belpahari local committee Hariram Singh, the secretary of the Silda local committee and Anil Mahato, the secretary of the Banspahari local committee have all been staying in the local police camps to protect themselves from public anger.
On the other hand a large number of CPI(M) members and supporters, mostly from its youth wing, the DYFI, have joined the protests. DYFI members Lakshman Murmu, Rath Hansda, Jolly Murmu etc. proclaimed that they were Santhals before they were CPI(M) members. Therefore they had joined the movement. They were participating in a blockade of the national highway near Changuyal in Kharagpur. The bandh called by the Jhargram Disham party on Sunday also evoked a good response in the three adivasi-dominated districts of Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia. Train tracks were blocked in various places.
Migrant adivasi workers in other districts come out in support
Interestingly, the bandh had also evoked a good response in the agricultural belt of Burdwan district in Memari. No one expected it to happen as it is not an adivasi area and it is a stronghold of the CPI(M). It turns out that the bandh call was enforced in the area by the large number of migrant adivasi agricultural workers who work in different parts of the state during the agricultural season and who had joined the bandh call in solidarity with the struggle of the people in the tribal areas. The CPI(M) and the administration are terrified about the implications of this as these migrant adivasi workers are present in quite large numbers in different parts of the state, including North Bengal.
Administration brings forward “secessionist” charge, mainstream media rejects popular nature
The CPI(M) state secretary, Biman Bose, is trying to stoke the regionalist sentiments of the Bengalis by alleging that the uprising is a seccesionist movement designed to separate the tribal-dominated villages from West Bengal and join them with the neighbouring state of Jharkhand. He has accused the Jharkhand chief minister Shibu Soren and his party, the JMM, of being behind the protest. These allegations have been criticized even by the Jharkhand CPI(M).
The administration and some television channels have become desperate to “prove” that the Maoists are behind the upsurge. They have now focused on a statement by Kanchan, the West Bengal state secretary of the CPI(Maoist) which has sixteen demands on stopping police atrocities on the adivasis and calling on the chief minister to apologize publicly for the assaults on adivasi women.
These media outlets are trying to conflate these sixteen demands with the eleven demands made by the peoples’ committee against police repression, suggesting that the Maoists are behind the committee. On Monday, the committee held a public meeting of 8 to 10 thousand people from 150 villages in Kantapahari. These sort of novel assemblies are being convened to decide the course of the movement in a democratic manner. On the other hand, representatives from the Bharat Jakat Majhi Madowa, Jaowan Gaonta, Santhali writers association, ASECA and the Santhali engineering students forum met the district magistrate and the police superintendent on Monday, and after a prolonged meeting declared that the blockade would be withdrawn from all areas except Lalgarh. It is to be seen in the coming days if this can be enforced, as the traditional organizations do not seem to exercise much control over the agitation.
By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
The declaration by Nityananda Hembram, the “disham majhi” of the Bharat Jakat Majhi Madowa of withdrawing the agitation from all areas except Lalgrah does not seem to have had much effect. This declaration was made after a meeting between representatives of various adivasi organizations and the district administration, represented by the district magistrate and the police superintendent. However, the adivasi protesters are in no mood to agree to the withdrawal of the movement before their demands are met.
Yesterday, there have been mass meetings in Belpahari and Chakadoba, attended by thousands of people. The leaders of the peoples’ committee in Belpahari, Manik Mandi and Shankar Tudu, stated that the agitation in Belpahari would not be withdrawn unless people in Lalgarh, the area most affected by the police atrocities, agree to it. The adivasis in Belpahari have been laying siege to the police camps in Kakrajhor, Churimara, Burijor, Neguriya, Khattadhari and Jamtalchara.
Based on the declaration by some adivasi organizations to withdraw the movement, the administration have gone ahead in clearing up the roadblocks on state highway 9 and national highway 6 connecting Jhargram. Although tree trunks placed on the roads were cleared away from Kalabani, Dahijuri ad Lodhashuli on Tuesday, the protesters again established the roadblocks in Dahijuri and Kalabani in the early hours of Wednesday. Also, Sasankasekhar Maity, the deputy magistrate of Jhargram sub-division, had been blockaded in Bhanraru area of Binpur since Tuesday night. He had cleared up the roadblocks in Kalabani and Dahijuri and then proceeded to Binpur to clear up the roadblocks there, when large numbers of adivasi women laid siege to his convoy. Later, the deputy magistrate and his cohorts were forced to abandon their vehicles and leave on foot, with the adivasis continuing to block their vehicles.
Bureaucrats attempt negotiations with adivasi organisation
Meanwhile, a number of senior level bureaucrats and police officials have gone to Midnapore town and started discussions with the same adivasi organizations who seem to have lost control over the adivasi masses. These officials include the home secretary, the director general of police, the additional director general (intelligence), secretary of the Western region development authority and the inspector general of police (western range).
However, it does not look like that these negotiations would yield any results, as one of the main demands of the adivasi protesters is that all discussions should be held in the villages and in the presence of people.
A team from the democratic rights organization, APDR, has finally reached Lalgarh.
The Trinamul Congress
On the other hand, the main opposition party, the Trinamool Congress have finally woken up to the situation and have started an indefinite dharna at the Midnapore district collectorate after a visit by the opposition leader Mamata Banerjee. They are demanding that the demands of the adivasis should be met. However, all activities of the Trinamool Congress is restricted to Midnapore town as their leaders do not have any access to the adivasi masses spearheading the protests.
Attempts to shield police
According to reports, lot of turmoil is going on in the police ranks too, with everyone trying to lay the blame on someone else. There are unconfirmed reports that the additional police superintendent of North 24 Parganas district, Sisir Das, who was in charge of the Lalgarh area, has submitted his resignation to the Midnapore police superintendent in a novel manner, by SMS!
It has also come out that the medical report of the eleven women assaulted by the police in Chotopeliya village, the incident that triggered the revolt, nowhere mentions that their injuries were inflicted by the police. It seems to be a ploy to shield the police, just as had been done in numerous medical reports of the victims of police atrocities in Nandigram.
CPI(M) hits back in Garbeta, notorious minister Sushanta Ghosh prescribes “correct medicine”
The CPI(M) has tried to hit back at the adivasis in Garbeta, one of their strongholds where the movement had spread in recent days. After the public statement of the notorious CPI(M) minsiter from Garbeta, Sushanta Ghosh, about the “corrrect medicine (dawai)” for the adivasi revolt, CPI(M) cadres attacked the protesters in Garbeta and looted 30 cycles, 2 motor cycles and 12 thousand rupees. As a result, the movement has added two more demands to the original 11 demands, return of these looted items and compensation for the people injured in this attack.
Looking forward: democratisation of local Panchayati systems?
It is not clear what the long term effects of the movement will be, but an encouraging sign has been the establishment of the ten member peoples’ committees in about 150 adivasi villages. The adivasi people are all expressing hopes that these committees would become permanent and would act as more representative, and responsive, alternatives to the panchayats, which are all dominated by the established parties, mainly the CPI(M), and have never repsonded to the grievances and demands of the adivasis.
Three zonal CPI-M leaders were struck by arrow in the troubled areas of Sarenga in Bankura late this evening. The leaders were on their way back home to Sarulia after attending a party meeting. The leaders ~ Mr Ranjit Hembram, former panchayat samiti sabhapati and two other zonal leaders, Mr Ramu Duley and Mr Tulu Hembram ~ were accompanying a police contingent to Nakhrapahari where the tribal organisations of Bankura had obstructed the Bankura-Midnapore state highway placing tree trunks on the road. The leaders were rushed to Sarenga block primary health centre and the condition of two were stated to be critical. The tribals staged a demonstration in Mejia brandishing weapons for hours. Bharat Jakat Majhi Marawa, a tribal outfit, started the agitation in the south Bankura villages today to protest against alleged police atrocities meted out on the tribals in neighbouring area of Lalgarh.
At around 10 a.m. a crowd of about 2,000 villagers armed with bows, arrows, axe and spears brought out four separate rallies from Khoer Pahari, Nekra Pahari, Tanti Danga and Karbhanga. They started shouting slogans against the police and blocked roads connecting Chandrakona in West Midnapore with Sarenga, Bankura. A large contingent of police led by the ASP, Bankura Mr Sishram Jhajharia reached the spot but could not do anything apprehending retaliation if an attempt was made to forcibly disperse the agitators. The blockade was cleared after 3 p.m. from Nekra Pahari and Tanti Danga but the villagers refused to clear the road in Khoer Pahari and Karbhanga. The tribals also sent deputation to the Mejia BDO to submit a charter of their demands. Around 2,000 villagers from nine tribal villages in Mejia brought out a rally causing a traffic snarl on the busy NH-60 around 11 a.m. They gheraoed the BDO, Mr Avik Das, for an hour.
Nov 22: Venue for negotiations under contention
The Indian Express
With both the Government and the tribal leadership sticking to their respective stands, the Lalgarh-Salboni stalemate continues in the West Midnapore district. While tribal leaders want to sit with the district administration at Dalilpur Chowk, the state wants the meeting to be held at the Circuit House in the district.
The tribal leaders have welcomed Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s decision to visit the area, but they warned of consequences if it turned out to be a ploy to push in CPM cadres to the region. At a public meeting in Baruipur, North 24 Parganas, Bhattacharjee said he would visit Salboni. He blamed the Maoists for the current situation.
Talking to The Indian Express over phone, Chatradhar Mahato, leader of the newly-formed Policer Attachar Birodhi Committee (committee to fight police atrocities), said: “We will not go to the Circuit House for a meeting with the district administration. If they honestly want to resolve the crisis, they should come to Dalilpur Chowk in Lalgarh. We do not understand why government officials cannot come to us?”
Chatradhar added: “If our CM wants to meet us with genuine intention, he is welcome. But if they try break our unity, things will go wrong. The Nandigram situation deteriorated after he (the CM) visited the area.”
The state government, however, said it would hold the talks only at the Circuit House. “These are government norms. Official meetings are always held in official buildings,” said Home Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakrabarti. Left Front chairman Biman Bose supported the government’s stand.
There was an assembly of around 10,000 people in Dalilpur chowk where the district magistrate was invited to come for discussions. But they didn’t dare to come, saying that discussions should be held “in an administrative building, not in an open field”. Background of the movement and exact charter of demands from the tribals.
1. Adivasi women 2. Placards on one of the roadblocks 3. Communal kitchen
4. A young rebel 5. The assembly of women 6. The charter of demands at the meeting
10. The resolute women 11. The resolute men
12. Posters threatening to convene a “sarjam gira” the highest assembly of adivasis in India, the last one of which was called during the Santhal rebellion led by Sidu-Kanhu in 1856
13. The adivasis are fighting for dignity letting their harvested crops lie unattended in the fields
14. The women are at the forefront of the movement
15. The rebels with their traditional weapons and drums (dhamsa-madal)
16. Chatradhar Mahato, a leader of the peoples’ committee speaking at the meeting
17. Khsamananda Mahato, the retired school teacher who was arrested and tortured, speaks
The following is a verbatim copy of the 13 point demand made by the Adivasi agitators consolidated under the banner of “Pulishi Santras Birodhi Janasadharoner Committee” (Peoples Committee Against Police Oppression). Source: Poster in Lalgarh.
Translated by Suvarup Saha, Sanhati.
1.The Superintendent of police has to say sorry holding his ears. He must say “From today I shall stop arresting and victimizing common people, particularly, the women.”
2.The guilty police officers who had physically assaulted women in the Chhotopeliya village on 5th November, 4:30 am will have to come rubbing their noses all the way from Dalilpur chawk to Chhotopeliya village.
3.The women who have been injured by the police brutality have to be compensated by 2 lakh rupees each.
4.All the people arrested in the name of hatching the Shalboni conspiracy have to be released.
5.All the false cases and charge sheets registered against people framed as Maoists in west Medinipur, from 1998 to 2008 have to be withdrawn.
6.Rampant arresting of ordinary people without warrant, at any place and time, must be stopped.
7. Para-military camps, like those situated in Kalaimuri, Dharampur, Ramgarh phanri must be rmoved.
8.The allegation that Shashadhar Mahato has planned the shalboni blasts while he was actually in Bansbed village, has to be withdrawn.
9.All attacks on the peoples’ clubs and ‘gaonta’s spread all over West Bengal must be stopped.
10.Police vigilance inside villages from 5pm till 6am has to be stopped.
11.Police camps should not be set up arbitrarily in schools, hospitals or panchayat offices. All such existing camps have to be removed.
12.Attack on the protesters at Humgarh by the CPI(M) needs to be stopped. 30 cycles, 2 motorcycles, 12,000 rupees in cash and two bank pass books that were looted in the attack on 15th November on the NH60 between Moyrakata and Raskundu must be returned. Mohan Tudu, who was injured in the attack must be provided medical treatment and provided compensation of 2 lakhs.
13.If the armed CPIM militia attacks the adivasis or the common people then the administration will be held responsible for this and administration will have to provide compensation.
By Sumit Chowdhury
This is a report based on the findings of a team of concerned citizens from Kolkata who returned yesterday after a two-day stay in Lalgarh villages. Sumit Chowdhury, a member of the team, made the following points.
The movement is led by the Pulishi Atyacharer Biruddhe Janaganer Committee (Peoples Committee Against Police Oppression), a non-party body. It has a secretary, Sidhu Soren, a 26-year old graduate, and a spokesperson Chhatradhar Mahato. Committees are coming up in villages covering a region of 3-4 blocks, but there is no higher-lower committee structure. Many committees are led by women. All major decisions are taken at large gatherings. The last such meeting at Dalilpur was attended by 10-12,000 people from 158 villages. Apart from the 13 point charter of demands of the committee, the posters covering the walls of mud huts in the villages are all hand-written and signed “Janagan”, “Janasadharan”.
The people name the CPM, the Jharkhand parties, the Congress, the TMC, and the Maoists, and say that they will not allow any political party to call their shots. Young CPM, Jharkhand and TMC supporters repeat this. The Majhi Marowa and similar so-called umbrella organisations co-operating with the state government carry no influence in the villages and people like Dr Nityananda Hembrom (Disham Majhi) are completely discredited. This is an area where Maoist sympathies run high (Chhatradhar is the brother of the Maoist leader Sasadhar who is immensely popular) but there is no sign of any overt role of the Maoists in guiding the movement, let alone the state government and CPM’s apocalyptic vision of Maoist cadre led by Kisanjee(from Andhra!), Sasadhar and Kanchan (WB state secretary) prancing about.
If anything, there is a lack of co-ordination between the committees, which is somewhat intentional because decisions are sought to be taken only from meetings open to all. Lalgarh has heard of similar happenings in neighbouring Belpahari, and Sarenga in the neighbouring district of Bankura, but a living connexion is yet to be established.
We talk of patricipatory democracy, Lalgarh is practising it. Go and see while it lasts.
The demands are all against oppression by the police and the CPM. Some 1500 people, including many women, have been arrested over the last 10 years, tortured (including stringing up upside down and beating up), released and re-arrested, villages raided at night-time with attendant molestation of women, CPM cadres, always guiding the police, and now overtly active in the periphery, attacking a procession near Garhbeta town and seizing motor-cycles and cash.
The immediate spree of police torture followed the attack on the Chief Minister’s convoy on 2nd November. Now, the highlights. On the 4th, the pregnant wife of Dipak Pratihar was beaten up as, of course. Pratihar himself, who was subsequently arrested. On the night of Nov 6th the policemraided Chhotopelia and beat up people in their beds. Chitamani Murmu lost an eye even after treatment at Kolkata, Panamani Hansda had to be hospitalised, 7 other women were severely injured. Three schoolboys returning at night from a jatra show were arrested as Maoists.
The demands include release of/withdrawal of cases against all arrested people from the area on charges of Maoist activity since 1998 , punishment (including crawling from Dalilipur to Chhotopelia, rubbing noses in the dust (nake khat) of all policemen guilty of beating people and torture, public apology by police and administrative officers responsible for the raids accompanied by sit-ups while holding ears, removal of police camps, ban on night-time raids, arrests only after informing the headman (Majhi), compensation of Rs 2 lakhs to each injured persons. The administration has refused to consider any demands except the ones related to compensation and night-time raids.
The three teenage students were allowed bail and the notorious OC of Lalgarh PS sent on leave.
Completely alienated from the masses, the officials are afraid of meeting the people for discussing the demands anywhere in Lalgarh and want meetings at Jhargram town or Medinipur town. The CPM have put forward a story of land mines. The committee on the other hand says even the CM is welcome — let him come and see if there are mines, but the meetings must be held at Lalgarh because the concerned people must all be present. It is their charter of demands and only they can modify it, the committee cannot.
The CPM is preparing motor cycle squads in line with their re-capture of Nandigram.
The state government is trying to prepare public opinion for an onslaught, waving the red herring of purported demands for autonomy of three jangalmahal districts and even for their inclusion in Jharkhand. The fact is no such demand has been made.
The people of Lalgarh are fully engaged by the present . What is their perspective for the future : They oppose the ongoing policy of development — it is an attack on their rights over their land, forests, and water. Development means their displacement to make way for corporates, whether factory, resort or mall. So, they say they don’t need development and are quite content to pursue their culture and way of life, witness, the blockade causes them only minor disturbance..
The committee emphasises the peaceful nature of the movement. They say the people want peace. On being asked what will happen if armed police and /or CPM squads enter forcibly and unleash violence, they reply, “The people will then decide“.
The Lalgarh tribal agitation is showing signs of spilling over to other parts of the state as hundreds of tribals today took out a rally in Gazol town demanding basic amenities and protesting against police excesses in their villages. Demonstrating in front of the Gazol rural hospital, the protesters, calling themselves ‘Citizens’ Forum’, demanded suspension of the doctor-in-charge in connection with a child’s death last week. The tribals alleged that negligence on the part of the doctors led to the child’s death.
Tribal people from Jharkhand will be attending the meeting convened by the newly formed tribal organisation ‘Birbhum Adibasi Unnayan Gaonta’ (BAUG) in Suri tomorrow. Tribals will demonstrate in front of DM’s office in protest against the alleged police excesses in Lalgarh and press for their demands to develop their villages. “Tribal people in different villages of Jharkhand have assured us that they will also be a part of our movement without any political colour,” said Mr Rabin Soren, secretary of BAUG.
Birbhum tribals float apolitical group
A day after the district CPI-M leadership convinced Forward Bloc leaders to put off the agitation launched by the latter’s tribal wing, Birbhum Zilla Agragami Adibasi Tafsili Jati Unnayan Samity (BZAATJUS), tribal people in the district are assembling under a new banner ~ ‘Birbhum Adibasi Unnayan Gaonta’ (BAUG) ~ from Wednesday.
The leadership of the newly-formed tribal organisation has decided to demonstrate in front of the Birbhum DM’s office on Wednesday against the alleged police excesses in Lalgarh and would demand thorough development in the district’s tribal villages.
“On Wednesday tribal people from 30 villages of Rajnagar, Khoirasole and Mohammed Bazaar block area will gather in Suri to agitate against the undeveloped condition of their villages and the police excesses in Lalgarh. We have alerted the tribals that they may fall prey to different political manoeuvrings in this critical situation. We shall start a continuous movement in which the tribals will participate spontaneously without any political banner,” said Mr Rabin Soren, secretary, BAUG.
Last week, BZAATJUS had called for a prolonged movement from 28 November. Last evening, the CPI-M had convinced the FB leaders to put off the movement till 1 December ensuring that the Left Front remained united.
After this decision, the tribals organised themselves under a new banner to launch their movement demanding development and protesting against police torture in Lalgarh. However, the BZAATJUS leadership has threatened that if the police did not release Ajit Murmu, who was allegedly detained illegally in a rape case, by 1 December and the district administration did not undertake development work, they would start their movement from 2 December.
By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
At the beginning of the third week of the adivasi revolt, the movement is now approaching Midnapore town, the district headquarters of West Midnapore district. Road blocks are now in place just 5 km from Midnapore town. In the Chilgoda area of Midnapore Sadar block, four thousand adivasi women and men assembled with traditional weapons and started marching towards Midnapore town to the music of their traditional drums. Trees were cut down and laid on the state highway at different places at Chandra, Beliya, Depada and Bagerpukur. On the other hand roads have also been blocked at Pidrakuli and Patharkumkum near Pidakata, which connects Salboni with Lalgarh. There has been tension in Chandra area as the ruling CPI(M) organized a meeting where they declared that the movement would not be allowed to reach Midnapore town. However, the CPI(M) workers didn’t show much enthusiasm to remove the roadblocks, in spite of exhortations by their leaders.
The movement achieved a victory on 27th November when the administration accepted their demand and removed the police camp at Ramgarh outpost near Lalgarh. This camp was located at Rani Mokshadasundari Vidyalaya, the only girls school in the area and jawans from STRACO, the special force to combat the Maoist insurgency, had been located there. The location of this police camp in a girls’ school had understandably been a source of major discontent in the area.
Even last week, students were giving their “test” examinations, the final examinations before their boards, in a room adjacent to a room occupied by the jawans. The entire tribal belt had been filled up with grafitti calling for a boycott of the police. On 26th November, around 10-12 thousand protesters assembled infront of the camp and gave a deputation to the camp-incharge to remove the camp and threatened an intensification of the movement if their demand was not met. The administration finally caved in to their demand and the protesters removed the roadblocks to allow the police convoy to pass. Even the non-adivasi population of Lalgarh expressed their happiness on the removal of this source of disturbance from the school that their daughters attend.
Parallely, the agitation has now spread and gained intensity in Bankura and Birbhum, the two contiguous adivasi-populated districts. Road connections in the entire Bankura district have been severed because of roadblocks in the Khatra subdivision. Roadblocks have been erected in Moina, Golakpur and Bankathi area of Khatra subdivision and on the Baruipur-Bankura road at Bagijota, effectively cutting of Bankura town form the rest of the district. The Sarenga forest area has also been cut off. In Dhabani, the local CPI(M) has been accused of looting the food from a communal kitchen being run by the adivasi protesters. Besides this, the movement has been intensified in the Debra-Gopiballavpur area, which was a famous flashpoint of the 1970’s Naxalbari movement. Around 10 km of road between Debra and Madotola has been blocked.
In the adjoining Birbhum district, the ruling Left Front had been in a major discomfiture ever since the Birbhum Zilla Agragami Adibasi Tafsili Jati Unnayan Samity, the tribal front of the Forward Block, a constituent of the Left Front, had declared their intention to join the struggle. When the CPI(M) could finally convince the Forward Block not to join the struggle, the tribals formed a new organization, the Birbhum Adivasi Unnayan Gaonta, that launched an agitation in Birbhum district. Adivasis from villages in the Khoirasole, Rajnagar and Mohammadbajar blocks assembled in Suri, the district town, demanding development measures in their villages and in support of the Lalgarh movement. They have threatened to launch a full scale agitation from 2nd December.
Jhargram town in West Midnapore is still in the throes of the upsurge. There was a march of adivasi people in Jhargram town on 29th November evening. Around four thousand people, armed with their traditional weapons, marched through the streets and distributed leaflets containing the 13 demands of the Lalgarh movement. Municipal elections, which are to be held in Jhargram, are now in a state of uncertaintly. A two day general strike, called by the Jharkhand Party (Aditya group), was also evoking a good response in the tribal dominated areas of Birbhum, Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore districts.
Interestingly, the revolt in Lalgarh is instilling confidence in the adivasi people even in areas far from the adivasi-dominated districts to rise up against oppression and exploitation. An instance of this was seen in Nataberia of Bagda area, near Bongaon of North 24 Parganas district. On 28th November, Panu Sardar, and elderly adivasi from Malipota village had gone to the Nataberia police outpost to enquire about the case of his son Dipankar, who had been murdered six months ago. The policemen present in the outpost did not pay any heed to his entreaties, instead they ordered him to get them tea from an adjoining tea stall. When the old man protested, they beat him up brutally. When Panu Sardar returned to his village and narrated this incident, a few hunderd adivasi people from his village, all enthused by the events in Lalgah, accompanied him back to the police camp. They broke thorugh the gate of the camp and destroyed the place. Finally, a large police contingent under the Bongaon SDPO arrived to get the situation “under control”. Something like this would have been unthinkable even a few days ago.
Issues of development (or the absence of it) and democracy are coming up as recurrent themes in the ongoing movement. Although the immediate trigger for the movement has been the police atrocities, the adivasis are very much conscious about the basic issues of lack of development which are at the core of their grievances. They even recognize that the state terror, which they have been subjected to from the colonial times, is the “shock therapy” used to subdue them in order to dispossess them of their resources, their water, forests and land (which contains important minerals), which are required by big capital. They are saying that they are fighting for their right to these resources, with which their lives are intimately connected, and for their right to live in dignity. They are demanding the development measures which are totally lacking in the adivasis areas, health services, schools free of police camps, food through the public distribution system, jobs for their educated youth. Hence their fight is for “dignity and development”. Recently, when an adivasi was confronted with the question that their road blocks were hampering the supply of rations in the area through the public distribution system, he sardonically observed that the roadblocks did not matter because even in absence of the roadblocks they never received their rations. So, the roadblocks would continue till their demands are met.
The other important phenomenon is the development of novel forms of participatory democracy that is taking place. As a part of the movement, 10 member committees have been formed in every village, each having 5 men and 5 women members. Two persons, a man and a woman, from every village committee is part of the central co-ordinating committee. These committees are not only taking and ratifying every decision of the movement, they are now deciding about development issues in the villages too. They are inviting, and challenging, the administration to come and negotiate with them in their own villages, making high officials sit on the ground on hand woven-mats together with them, instead of the previous practice of officials sitting on chairs and the people sitting on the ground around them. We have to see how these new centres of democratic power evolve and function in the days to come and how they deal with the administration and the panchayats, which are the centres of established power in the villages.
Dec 2: Lalgarh: nature of the movement, facets of impoverishment, bid for power, and the future
By Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri
An uprising is sweeping the jangal mahal of West Bengal, almost all the tribes inhabiting the forests and their outliers in the districts of Paschim Medinipur and Bankura have arisen against rampant police oppression in the name of fighting Maoists.
The heart of the uprising is in the Lalgarh and Belpahari blocks with a total population between a quarter of a million and a third. The total tribal population of 160 thousand is up in arms. Nobody has seen a people’s uprising on this scale since the anti-colonial movements in the nineteen forties.
Trees have been felled and roads cut to build barricades. Lalgarh (the police oppression here on women triggered the discontent simmering over indiscriminate arrests and physical torture) is completely barricaded. While the CPI(M) has swept into attacks on the people demonstrating outside the forests, the left is mostly silent apart from some general statements. Even the usually vocal sections of civil society have shown a response much below the level expected for the case of such an unprecedented upheaval. This is perhaps an unfortunate response to the known influence of the Maoists in Lalgarh and some other parts of the jangal mahal, although the Maoists themselves have up to now made no overt attempt to dictate to what is still definitely a people’s movement from the grass roots up.
Statistics of impoverishment of the region
The blocks of Binpur I and II (Lalgarh and Belpahari) have a SC+ST population 54.6% and 57.5% of the total. For all of West Bengal, the proportion is half of this, 28.5%. The blocks are inhabited by many poor people, the proportion of BPL families are 40% and 37%, the all-West Bengal value for this index being 27%. The figures explain why the movement is so persistent and courageous, and why it could start as a movement mainly of the Santal, and go on to acquire a base among all the jana-jati ( the main committee has a Mahato as President and a Santal as the General Secretary). However, the movement must take special care to encompass the poor non-janajati “diku”, how will it fight the state without the active participation of more than 40% of the people? The Jhargram (town) municipal success of the CPI(M) is a pointer in this respect.
Proportionately more people are workers here in these blocks. Workers are 49% of the population in Belpahari but only 37% in all of West Bengal.
The proportion of cultivated area to geographical area is 58% in Lalgarh, 5.5 percentage points behind the West Bengal value of 63.5%. The proportion of cultivators and agricultural labourers among all workers is 44% in West Bengal and 32% in Belpahari. The figures suggest that agricultural activity is less than average here. This is supported by a marked decrease in the proportion of agricultural labourers to cultivators –1.3 ( that is almost 1 1/2 times) in all– West Bengal, and 0.76 (that is a 3/4 part) in Belpahari. There being little industry in Belpahari the figures means that many workers are involved in irregular and casual work, without security and continuity. Small and marginal farmers constitute 75% of all households in Lalgarh and 57% in Belpahari, the latter, however, being 92% of all cultivators and agricultural labourers (in all- West Bengal small and marginal farmers are 91.4% of all farmers).
The picture is that of a poor, industrious people, with a majority of tribal communities, dependent on a not too flourishing small peasant agriculture and casual employment.
The movement: a commentary on the State’s poverty alleviation programs and a bid for partial power
The people’s movement in Lalgarh raises a number of pertinent points.
1. The blockade emphasises the point that the poverty alleviation programmes are a huge hoax in such interior villages inhabited by the poor, because it is clear that the great majority of people in Lalgarh do not care if communications with the government are cut off, rather they rest in peace. They have said so explicitly. Ration cards are hard to get by, foodstuff allotted as rations is sold off and the holder is informed that there is no material to be distributed. Every one has collected a job card for the 100 days’ work for all, under the NREGS, but till now, in the current year, only 12 days work has been organised, on an average.
Yes, Chief Minister, they are definitely hostile to “Development”, because, as they say, the first thing that will happen is that they would be displaced and forest land cleared for establishing the factories. On the contrary, they want to preserve the forest and the water from the depredations of development so that they can continue with their way of life and their definitive culture.
Economists can call them physiocrats or Luddites or plain bucolic idiots. But they are going to protect their forests, lands and water, displaying today their resolve symbolically with tangi and teer-karh.
Politicians, you have two choices. You can try to force your medicine of jobless industrialisation down unwilling throats — but Singur and Nandigram have taken the blinkers off their eyes, all over India they will resist you. The other choice is to confer with them and learn through dialogue what they mean by development and how you can help them bring it about themselves, a development for the people, by the people. The party which does this (without issuing commands to follow this or that dictat) will win their hearts.
2. For the people to organise their own development they need power. The movement in Lalgarh is also an assertion of local political power with the village committee as its organ (5+5 representation for men and women). As yet, it is not a bid for total power, it is not asking the state to abdicate. It is a bid for partial power, demanding consultative rights over law and order implementation: the police must take their permission. Once again the state can recognise the reality of their power and agree to this curtailment of its central authority (which is not really a curtailment but a more even distribution, after all the people are sovereign!), or it can force a confrontation which will teach the people to think of total power as the only guarantee of peace. What the people have tasted in Lalgarh is the reality of their power, and it speaks volumes for their wisdom that they have desisted from testing it in confrontation provoked from their side. But they will never forget this power and if it is forcibly taken away from them they will strive not only to regain it but expand it to the utmost. Once again the party which recognises and respects (without usurping) their power will win their minds.
There are two possible scenarios which can emerge.
In one, the state agrees to a reallocation of local power with a recognition of the village committee as a local power centre. The people use the committees to fight for their rights and interests, on the one hand, within the panchayets (especially within reactivated Gram Sansads and Gram Panchayets), extracting from the state 100 days work for all to start with, the work being productive and locally necessary for agriculture, (local) industry or every day life, and, on the other hand, against predatory “development” and oppression by the organs of state power, thereby amplifying the scope and power of local autonomy in continual struggle with the state.
In the other scenario, the state refuses political space to the people’s committees and resorts to violent repression. The people will fight back and we might see an escalation to helicopters and army action, backed by “salwa judum” gangs comprising activists of the major ruling party, leading in all possibility, given the presence of Maoists, to guerrilla resistance on the part of the people. Such a conflagration will not remain localised and the plains of Bengal will not be insulated from happenings inside the forests of jangal mahal. Some might argue that the first scenario will also end in the same fashion. In fact, which scenario rules and with what consequence is entirely dependent on the flexibility of the state’s response to the just movement of the people. Much more hangs in the balance than the loss of face from “nake khat” and “owtth bose”.
In the mean-time the left and civil society must make up their minds as to whether they want to become irrelevant to the progress of this great people’s movement.
By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
In the past two days the West Bengal government has closed down two more police camps in Lalgarh, bowing down to one of the basic demands of the people. These two schools, Ramakrishna boys’ high school and Saradamoni girls’ high school, both run by the Ramakrishna Mission, were the biggest schools in the area. The long-standing presence of the police camps in the schools had been a major source of discontent and indignity for the local people.
When the peoples’ committee against police repression found that their repeated demands on removal of these camps were not being heeded by the district administration, they took up a new strategy of non-violent direct action. Thousands of adivasi people would surround the camp and give a deputation to the camp-incharge to vacate the camp, simultaneously giving a call for a social boycott of the police. This first worked in Kantapahari where the police abandoned the Ramgarh camp, and then it also suceeded in closing down the two camps in Lalgarh. This might be a small victory for the adivasi revolt, but a huge boost to their confidence and dignity.
The past two days have also seen an ominous development, cadres of the ruling CPI(M) are playing an increasingly belligerent role in trying to resist the adivasi upsurge. The CPI(M) had been lying low since the beginning of the movement, completely taken by surprise by the intensity of the revolt. However, just as the police administration has been retreating in the face of the movement, the CPI(M) is increasingly taking upon itself the role of executors of state terror.
The first clashes between CPI(M) cadres and the protesters has already taken place in Garbeta. In the Goaltore police station area of Garbeta, a stronghold of the CPI(M), a roadblock erected by the adivasis had been dismantled by CPI(M) cadres. This made the situation very tense as thousands of adivasi protesters assembled in a meeting and marched to the Kadra forest area where they blocked the road by destroying a culvert. Road blocks were again erected in Nohari, Jeerapara, Dashinija and Pingbani areas.
There is continued tension in the area as it the stronghold of the CPI(M) minister Sushanta Ghosh.
Similar events have been taking place in Bankura district too. On 1st November, the Khatra-Simlapal road in Bankura had been blockaded at twelve points by the placing of tree trunks on the road. Thereafter, hundreds of CPI(M) cadres descended on the road to remove the roadblocks.
Amiya Patra, the Bankura district secretary of the CPI(M) claimed that it was the “common people” who are fed up with the blockades and have taken the initiative to remove the roadblocks. He also claimed that the adivasi protesters are hands-in-glove with the timber mafia, whom they are helping by cutting down trees for them to smuggle out of the area! He also expressed his incredulity at the protesters’ demands for development measures, observing that in past the adivasis used to agitate for food and drinking water, now they were demanding an university. Apparently, for this CPI(M) leader, the setting up of an university is an unearthly demand on the part of the tribal people.
The tension in Bankura escalated as the CPI(M) cadres advanced towards the Sarenga forest, a stronghold of the adivasi movement. However, sensing the mood, and hearing that the adivasis were stationing archers on the forest tracks, the CPI(M) supporters abandoned their march at Bikrampur before entering the Sarenga forest. The leader of the peoples’ committee against police repression, Chatradhar Mahato, has declared that the adivasis will resist if the CPI(M) tries to launch attacks on their movement. Most of the adivasis think that it is a calculated move in which the police are abandoning the camps and the CPI(M) is trying to move in. The police will use the resultant clashes as an excuse to move back in force and crush the movement.
Already, a CPI(M) party office in Belatikuri village in Lalgarh has been burnt down by angry adivasi protesters in retaliation to the attempts of the CPI(M) to remove road blocks at Belatikuri and Bhagabandh. Five of the protesters had been beaten up by the CPI(M) cadres when they had tried to resist the CPI(M) cadres’ attempts to remove the roadblocks.
Two members of the Jharkhand Desham Party, Sunil Hembram and Nimai Tudu, who had been going to attend a meeting of the adivasis in Dalanpur in Bankura have also been brutally beaten up by CPI(M) cadres and have had to be hospitalized. The situation is tense in the entire adivasi area, as the people are getting ready to resist the two-pronged attacks of the police and the CPI(M).
Dec 7: Lalgarh blockade stopped
The month-long Adivasi agitation under the banner of the Police Santras Birodhi Public Committee (PSBPC) at Lalgarh, Jhargram, Belpahari, Binpur and adjoining blocks of Midnapore West was called off this evening with the district administration conceding 10 of their 12 demands.
Emerging after a meeting for almost five hours with Mr RA Isreal, additional district magistrate, at Lalgarh police station around 6.30 p.m., PSBPC leaders Mr Lalmohan Murmu and Mr Chatradhar Mahato removed tree trunks to clear the Lalgarh-Jhargram road.
The agitators, however, had agreed to back down from their rigid stand of holding their conciliatory meeting at Dalilchowk More, an interior place in Lalgarh where the SP was required to apologise publicly for the atrocities allegedly committed by the police during the 5 November crackdown after the 2 November landmine blast that targeted the CM.
The administration agreed to consider the criminal cases filed against the Adivasis and other indigenous people for their alleged Maoist links since 1998, particularly in cases where charge sheets have not been submitted.
The administration also said an inquiry committee had been set up to probe the atrocities committed by the police and CPI-M cadres as well.
The committee, headed by the principal secretary of the backward class welfare department, will begin meeting on 15 December. After the committee report is submitted, the PSBPC demand for Rs 2 lakh compensation to each of the affected people will be considered by the government.
By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
The blockades in Lalgarh ended last week. After 32 days of an unprecedented and heroic resistance, the barricades were lifted after a marathon discussion between the representatives of the peoples’ committee against police repression and the admininstration, at the Lalgarh police station. But what led upto this climbdown by the peoples’ committee? And what is the condition on the ground at Lalgarh and the adjoining areas?
The situation on the ground is that the entire junglemahal (the tribal areas) is seething with anger. The adivasis have gone back to their homes, but numerous spontaneous outbreaks of public anger are taking place. On the other hand, the ruling CPI(M), together with other reactionary parties such as the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, have floated a number of purportedly adivasi organizations such as Ganapratirodh committee (peoples’ resistance committee) and Adivasi o An-adivasi aikya committee (adivasi and non-adivasi unity committee) which are playing one section of the adivasis against the other.
Members of these committees, in the name of hunting down Maoists, are attacking adivasis, especially those who have played leading roles in the upsurge. We can just hope that the situation doesn’t degenerate into a civil war-like condition. The administration, in a carrot-and-stick policy, and really unnerved by the intensity of the feelings expressed by the adivasis, have announced a slew of development measures for the area, many of them rehashings of promises made long ago and never kept. And the peoples’ committee against police repression has threatened to relaunch the movement from 14th December.
What led up to this situation? Ever since the beginning of the revolt on 5th November, the government and the CPI(M), taken aback by the intensity and rapid spread of the uprising, had been lying low playing a waiting game to see how long the movement could be sustained, and how public opinion would shape up in support of the movement.
To their immense pleasure, for an entire month while the movement was at its height, the “civil society” in Kolkata, did not stir. Besides some feeble attempts at “building” public opinion by organizing marches (one of which, held by a human rights group, was attended by less than hundred people and which left Chatradhar Mahato, a leader of the peoples’ committee who had come from Lalgarh to address it, totally dejected) and localized propaganda campaigns, the “intellectuals” in Kolkata did nothing.
Why this happened would have to be a subject of further analysis. The “intellectuals” in Kolkata kept up a lively debate about whether the movement was spontaneous or controlled by political parties, whether it had a mass character or was remote-controlled by the Maoists, but did little else. The opposition political parties like the Trinamool Congress and the Congress also kept aloof, as they realized that they had little to gain from the adivasi upsurge. The government was relieved to see that there would be no mass display of popular solidarity with the movement in Lalgarh, as had happened in the case of Nandigram and Singur.
Then came the elections for the municipality of Jhargram, the headquarters of the Jhargram sub-division, which had been a flashpoint for the movement, and had been blockaded and cut-off for days. Jhargram, although situated in the adivasi belt, is mostly populated with middle class bengalis. The ruling Left Front, led by the CPI(M) won handsomely in the Jhargram municipal elections, which gave confidence to the CPI(M) to hit back.
The CPI(M) used the “logic of the legislature”, using the electoral victory as a show of support for its stance, to undermine the adivasi revolt. It is no wonder that the CPI(M) retaliation started from in and around Jhargram. Then came the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, which riveted the attention of the nation, and pushed news of Lalgarh from the front pages to the insides of newspapers. The CPI(M) was waiting for such an opportunity when public attention would be diverted (remember that the attack on Nandigram happened during a Diwali celebration), and immediately floated the above-mentioned organizations, which in the name of establishing unity between the adivasis and the non-adivasis, started clearing the roadblocks.
The adivasis resisted for a few days, re-erecting roadblocks and confronting the CPI(M) cadres, but the leaders of the peoples’ committee against police oppression possibly thought that they could not sustain the movement in the face of this assault and in the absence of support from the urban population. So, they came to the negotiation table, and met the additional district magistrate R K Israel in the Lalgarh police station.
They also cited the apology made by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the chief minister, in the West Bengal legislative assembly the previous day during a discussion on the police atrocities on the adivasi women, as a factor that brought them to the negotiation table. After the discussion they declared that the blockades would be removed and in return the administration had accepted their demands. The demands about the S.P having to hold his ears and the police having to rub their noses on the ground had been removed. Instead the S.P would go to Dalilpur and apologize to the people. The administration would take measures to implement the other demands. The peoples’ committee also said that they weren’t withdrawing the movement but were keeping it on hold till the 14th of December, after which the movement will start again if their demands are not met.
What has transpired over the next few days clearly showed what was to be expected, when a movement goes on the backfoot, but the people are radicalized. On 7th December night itself, barely a few hours after the blockades were removed, a CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) party raided Chotopeliya village, the site of the original atrocities, supposedly to look for Maoists.
They were besieged by hundreds of villagers and were only freed after intervention by peoples’ committee leaders and reportedly after the officer of the CRPF had to hold his ears and apologize. After that the police stopped entering the adivasi areas; instead a slew of minor government officials started visiting the areas, apparently to assuage the feelings of the adivasis and launch development measures. This included the BDO, the public distribution system officer, the BLRO, the additional DM etc. The BDO, in a public meeting in Dalilpurchowk, actually conceded that the police was wrong in inflicting the atrocities on the adivasis.
Together with this, the DM, Narayanswarup Nigam, declared a number of development measures, including the rejuvenation of the Western region development council, which had long been the fiefdom of the CPI(M) minister Sushanta Ghosh. Also, leaders of a number of political parties, most prominently the Congress, started visiting the adivasis in order to express their sympathies but in reality to create a support base there taking advantage of the fluid situation.
Parallel to these “carrots” from the administration, the CPI(M) sponsored organizations continued to wield the stick. A number of skirmishes have taken place in the past few days. There was a major attack by CPI(M) cadres in the Moupal area of Salboni. A large group of armed CPI(M) supporters (although the marchers didn’t carry the party flag, a number of CPI(M) Salboni zonal committee members could be identified in the group) took out a march from Bhadutala which then attacked houses of adivasis in the Moupal area.
The so-called ganapratirodh committee have launched a number of attacks in the Belpahari area where adivasis are being accused of being Maoist supporters and driven out of their homes. The Maoists have also apparently launched a retaliatory attack, murdering Sudhir Mandi, a leader of the ganapratirodh committee in the Chakadoba area, who was a member of the Jharkhand janamukti morcha. However, Babu Bose, the leader of the Jharkhand janamukti morcha, has said that it is uncertain that the Maoists have committed the murder because anyone could have taken advantage of the unstable situation to settle scores. The scheme of violence and retaliatory violence can soon spiral out of control in the entire area.
Yesterday, there have been further ominous developments. Going against the terms of the understanding between the peoples’ committee and the administration, the police and the CRPF returned to the Ramgarh police camp. The police and paramilitary forces had been forced to vacate the camp during the revolt and the camp was locked. However, possibly regaining confidence after seeing the situation for the past few days, the police returned to the camp and broke down the lock and re-entered the camp.
The discontent among the adivasis against this betrayal is again rising.
Apparently it was a decision taken by the police superintendent, against the wishes of the district magistrate. The S.P has said that the police and Straco anti-Maoist forces would be returning to the vacated camps in Kaima, Kalaimuri, Pirakata, Belatikari, Nachipur, Churimara and Jamtalagara. Also, the deadline given by the leaders of the peoples’ committee to the administration to implement the decisions of their meeting expired yesterday, and the peoples’ committee is meeting today to decide on the next course of action. The need of the hour is a massive expression of solidarity to the adivasi people in different parts of the state, especially in Kolkata, so that public opinion can be built against these moves of the administration.
Dec 19, 2008. The Statesman
Tribals in Lalgarh are planning to launch a large-scale protest against redeployment of police in the camps set up in the area. They claim that this move is in violation of the agreement they had with the district administration.
On Thursday, thousands of tribals demonstrated in front of a police camp at Kalaimuri village after police were redeployed.
Chattradhar Mahato, a tribal leader from Lalgarh, alleged that the district administration had deployed police at the eight camps to harass villagers or book them in connection with false cases.
“This is despite agreeing to withdraw the camps during a discussion between tribal leaders and the administration at the Lalgarh police station on December 7,” Mahato said.
He added that the setting up of a police camp at Lalgrah school had affected the studies of the students of classes V and VI, as no classes are being held for the last two months. Police should be withdrawn from the school and the health centre in the interest of the villagers, said Mahato.
The district administration, on the other hand, said that it had not made any commitment to the tribals on the issue of permanently withdrawing the police camps from there.
Denying the charges, ADM of West Midnapore A R Israel said the district administration had promised during its discussions with the tribals that police camps would not be set up in schools and health centres on a permanent basis.
The setting up of a police camp in Lalgarh or at the health centre was a temporary move, keeping in mind the present situation.
Israel said that the present situation in Lalgarh is ‘more or less normal’.
The district administration has started development programmes in the rural areas with the full cooperation of the tribals, said Israel.
Jan 8, 2009. Expressindia.com
Tribals in Lalgarh continued their boycott of the district administration for the second consecutive day on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the tribals had called for non-cooperation with the district administration demanding that the police apologises to the villagers for the atrocities they committed on women during the raids after the Salboni blast.
Tribal leader Chattradhar Mahato said the peaceful non-cooperation will continue unless the district police chief visits Lalgarh and tenders an unconditional apology.
The tribals leaders urged the shopowners to boycott the police and not to sell essential commodities like kerosene and rice to them. They have decided not to pay taxes like land revenue to the government. The bus service at Lalgarh remained suspended following the tribal unrest.
The tribals have also decided not to attend the meeting called by the block administration to discuss development schemes for the area.
The district administration has come up with various programmes for the upliftment of tribals and locals were asked to attend the meeting with the government officials.
N S Nigam, District Magistrate of West Midanpore, said the administration would not apply force to suppress the tribal movement but would try to resolve the issue through holding discussions with them.
January 12, 2009, The Telegraph
The state government today agreed to pay compensation to the assaulted tribal women of Lalgarh, but denied that any “atrocity” or “excesses” was committed by police when they had gone to arrest suspects after the Salboni blast.
The home department after consultation with the director general of police, would also decide on the action taken against the guilty policemen.
The state home secretary, Mr Ardhendu Sen today admitted that the action was being taken due to the ground situation referring to the large scale tribal unrest triggered off by the assault and the arrests.
The chief minister who was away and joined work today took the decision on the basis of the inquiry report submitted by the principal secretary of backward classes department, Mr RD Meena.
“There was a scuffle with the women when the police party went to arrest the suspects on 6 November last year. There was no excess or atrocity committed on the women. The inquiry revealed that there was an assault and the police party was involved,” said Mr Sen. He added: “It is not necessary that for similar situations similar decisions will be taken against policemen.”
However, keeping in mind the political fallout particularly with the Lok Sabha elections round the corner, the chief minister evidently took no chance and decided to pay compensation to the tribal women. Of the 14 injured Chitamani Murmu who sustained an eye injury would be paid Rs 50,000 and another, Panmani Murmu would get Rs 25,000. The home secretary said although the rest of the 12 women did not have any physical injury, they too would be paid Rs 15,000 each.
January 26, 2009. The Anandabazaar Patrika. Translated by Debarshi Das, Sanhati.
An active member of People’s Committee against Police Terror from Belpahari was killed on Sunday. Another member had been kidnapped. There was massive rally of the Committee at Chakadoba, Belpahari on Sunday afternoon. The murder took place in the same morning. Chhatradhar Mahato, leader of the Committee alleges, “Police, CPI(M) and a band of agents of theirs are launching such attacks on us so as to sabotage the rally.” In protest, the Committee would gherao the Belpahari Police Station on Monday. A 24 hour bandh call in the districts of West Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia has also been given for Tuesday. The police are not certain who are behind the crimes. West Medinipur police super remarks, “The slain man was with the Maoists. We shall look into the matter.”
The murdered Nirmal Sardar (36) was from Talpukuria village. The kidnapped youth Himadri Mahato was from Kneodishol village. According to local sources both Nirmal and Himadri were active members of the People’s Committee against Police Terror which took root in the background of the Lalgarh movement. However Chunibala Hansda, leader of the Jharkhand Party (Naren), has claimed that both of them were of her party. She alleges, “Resistance Committee which was formed to counter the People’s Committee is behind the killing and abduction. There are CPM supporters and many others, who claim to be Jharkhandis, in the Resistance Committee.” Till night there were no news of whereabouts of Himadri. Neither has there been any written complaint. According to police sources, a verbal complaint has been lodged.
Mr. Nirmal Sardar had gone to have his morning tea at the Charakpahari Mor as was his daily routine. He was gunned down there. Srimatidebi, Nirmalbabu’s mother, says, “Two strangers came looking for him as soon as he had gone out. I told them he had gone to take tea.” Nirmalbabu was killed at around eight thirty. According to eye witnesses, about eight armed people, their faces covered in black cloth, had surrounded him. Five shots were fired, Nirmalbabu died on the spot.
Himadri had been kidnapped before this. A gang had descended upon his house in Kneodishol village and forcibly abducted him at around six thirty in the morning. His mother Sushamadebi recounts, “About sixty-seventy armed people had surrounded our house. They dragged him out from the house; threatening ‘If you have any connection with People’s Committee we would kill you, if not you would be released.’ We tried to stop them without success.”
On Sunday afternoon the People’s Committee had a rally at the Chakadoba football field. There has already been a call to boycott the police. Today the leaders gave a further call to boycott the administration. Demand was raised that the police should come to Dalilpur Mor and tender an open apology. There were many demands concerning development of the area as well. Besides Chhatradhar Mahato, Bhurka-Ipil Hansda, Buddhadeb Tudu of People’s Committee, representatives of several human rights organisation of Kolkata were present. Criticisms of the police highhandedness, boycott of the police and administration were mentioned in the leaflet distributed by the Committee. Many posters of the Resistance Committee were however sited in the Belpahari region today. They contained warnings to the rally of People’s Committee: “Maoists in the mask of People’s Committee against Police Terror be aware!,” “Contributors to the People’s Committee rally be aware!”
By Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri. Regular columnist, Sanhati. Jan 29, 2009.
Nirmal Sardar, a leader of the Chakadoba people’s committee against police atrocities was killed on the morning of 25.1.09 at Charakpahari. A meeting of the Lalgarh-based people’s committee against police terror was due to be held at Chakadoba the same day.
Chunibala Hansda, a leader of the Jharkhand party (Naren), and the SUCI have claimed that the killers belonged to the “anti-terror” committee set up by the CPI(M) in conjunction with some other political outfits. The people’s committee against police atrocities sees the police as the main patron of the “anti-terror” committee. This killing, as well as the kidnap, beating up and release of another activist of the committee against police terror, was aimed at disruption of the 25th January meeting, revenge for the killing of Sudhir Mandi, a leader of the “anti-terror” committee, and demoralising supporters of the people’s committee against police terror.
None of the objectives seems to have succeeded. The 25th meeting was held, a little late, at 4.00 pm, attended by thousands of people who came in busloads. The people’s committee against police terror called a bandh in the three districts of Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia on the 28th, which was very successful.
The police having reneged on their agreement over tendering apology for atrocities committed by them, the people’s committee against police terror have called for a boycott of the police and the administration, non-payment of taxes, revenue and electricity tariffs, social boycott, including withdrawal of ‘dhopa-napit’ (that is, washerperson and barber), and marketing facilities.
The police, administration and the CPI(M) and its stooge outfits seem to have decided, as the events chronicled above reveal, to take the path of organising ’salwa judum’ type terror gangs.
The resulting confrontation (the ’scenario II’ discussed in an earlier contribution on Lalgarh at this site) brings out starkly a basic problematic of the current flood of people’s movements in India.
The Lalgarh movement has, till now, steadfastly persevered on a path of peaceful show of unity of purpose. Thousands still flock to its meetings, in spite of the gathering clouds of fascist terror. Even after the killing of Nirmal Sardar the programme adopted is one of boycott.
The killing of Sudhir Mandi was not any part of the programme of the people’s committee and was an act owned up to by the Maoists. Now, because the Maoists are active in this jangal mahal region, there is an attempt by the state to brand the people’s committee as a Maoist outfit. While it is true that the Maoists are respected by the poor people in the region for consistently upholding their rights, it would be wrong to decide that the tens of thousands rallying under the banner of the people’s committee against police terror are all Maoists with their full agenda. Again, the Maoists may have some influence in and around the people’s committee, but this may not extend to an influence over the people’s committee, a nuance not to be missed.
In a real democracy, thousand strong demonstrations would cause concern to the rulers who would hasten to address the basic grievances of the people. The Indian state offers a choice of parties with the same broad understanding on pro-corporate ‘development’ and agricultural stagnation to the electorate every five years and pretends that this non-choice makes it a democracy. The basically undemocratic nature of the state and the major electoral parties is revealed whenever there is a mass upheaval. The response is indifference to the basic issues being raised and treatment of the upheaval as a ‘law and order’ problem. The latest ploy is to organise, arm, and unleash on the people, besides the police and the para-military forces, gangs of goons: ’salwa judum’ in Chhattisgarh, the CPI(M) cadre itself in Nandigram and Singur, various ‘anti-terror ‘ outfits in Jharkhand, the pro-Posco gangs set up by Posco in Jagatsinghpur, the goonda gangs set up by Tata in Kalinganagar, and now the ‘anti-terror’ committee in Belpahari.
The armed attack of these gangs and the police erodes the space of peaceful agitation. What is then left is the ever-present Maoist agenda. This is the problematic before people’s movements in the undemocratic state.
In Nandigram the atrocities perpetrated on unarmed demonstrators on June 14 and November 14 led to a boycott of the government by intellectuals and brought more than 50,000 onto the streets of Kolkata. The unswerving resolve of the people of Nandigram, helped by this eruption of civil society, forced the state to retreat. The Maoist agenda which loomed on the horizon at one stage of the state’s offensive also retreated to the background. The price was the blood of martyrs.
In Kalinganagar,14 janajati demonstrators were killed, on January 2, 2006, while demonstrating against displacement by Tata Steel, and their bodies desecrated by policemen. The third anniversary saw the erection of a martyrs’ column,. Thousands attended the meeting, including delegates from all over the country (and, interestingly, as reported, from the CPI(M)!), in spite of a massive presence of 15 platoons of armed police. The people continue in their struggle and the Tatas are still stalled in their land grab here. The price has been the same.
The people of Nandigram and Kalinganagar were defending their land. The people of Lalgarh have asserted the existence of local power : the police must take permission from the headman before entering a village. The state refuses to part with an iota of its power, and has, with the murder of Nirmal Sardar, introduced violence into the confrontation. The basic problematic now faces the Lalgarh movement.
By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
It is a matter of grave concern that the situation in Lalgarh and adjoining areas is taking the overtones of a Salwa Judum – like condition. The CPI(M)-created and led Gana Pratirodh Committee and Adibasi-o-anadibasi Aikya committee, are mounting increasing attacks on members of the Peoples’ committees against police repression, which is exemplified by the recent murder of Nirmal Sardar. A few hours ago there was firing by CPI(M) cadres on a public rally of the Peoples’ Committees in Ramgarh, and reportedly four people have been killed with many more injured. This game of playing adivasi against adivasi is taking the situation to a boiling point. Yesterday, Nandalal Pal, an influential leader of the CPI(M), had been gunned down in the same area, allegedly by Maoists. With the ploy of resisting the Maoists, these Salwa Judum like vigilante groups floated by the CPI(M) are creating turmoil in the entire Jangalkhand area.
The Telegraph reports:
Three tribals were killed in restive Lalgarh in West Midnapore today in a clash between a resistance group and CPM activists carrying the body of a leader slain by suspected Maoists.
The tragedy is threatening to reopen the wounds in Lalgarh that was under a Nandigram-style blockade for over a month from November 7.
Today’s bloodletting traces its roots to the Maoist attack on the chief minister’s convoy on November 2. The alleged police excesses that followed gave birth to the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities in Lalgarh. The committee had declared the area out of bounds for the police even after the blockade with felled trees was lifted in December.
However, in today’s CPM cortege of at least 12 cars and 40 motorcycles, there were some policemen.
“Our supporters stopped the policemen escorting the convoy. Our intention was not to stop the convoy. But some CPM workers and policemen started shooting. Those killed are our supporters,” committee leader Chhatradhar Mahato said.
The CPM, which suspects Maoists backed the tribals in the clash in which bullets and arrows flew, alleged the committee’s supporters had fired first. Mahato denied the allegation.
West Midnapore police chief Rajesh Kumar Singh did not say who fired first but insisted it was not the police.
The victims were identified as Rajaram Mandi, 55, his son Lakhiram, 25, and Gopinath Soren, 37.
The CPM activists were returning with the body of zonal committee member Nandalal Pal, shot dead by suspected Maoists yesterday, after the post-mortem.
“When the procession reached Khas Jangal around 2.30pm, it was stopped by the committee’s supporters, including women,” a police officer said. The agitators allegedly smashed the windscreen of a police jeep.
“The tribals opened fire and shot arrows at our workers. Our supporters managed to flee with Nandalal’s body,” said Dahareswar Sen, a CPM leader.
Later in the evening, the agitators placed tree trunks on the main road connecting Lalgarh with Ramgarh, the site of a police camp, in about 15 places. “We will block roads across Lalgarh again tomorrow,” Mahato said, demanding that the camp be abandoned.
During the month-long blockade in November, security officials had expressed the fear that Maoists from Jharkhand were using the cover to replenish supplies.
CPM leaders said this evening they would not let the situation escalate. “We don’t want more trouble. We want the tribals with us. But we must remember that our partymen cannot just sit back and take all the beating,” state secretariat member Benoy Konar said.
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee dubbed the killings “state-sponsored terrorism”. She said she would visit Lalgarh if the situation did not improve in a day or two.
Tribal leaders today decided to launch a movement for the removal of two police camps here for “doing nothing to protect the tribals”.
One camp, in Ramgarh, houses 120 CRPF personnel and the other, in Kalaimuri, 80 Indian Reserve Battalion personnel.
Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader of the Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocities, said the decision was taken because of the “total inaction of the police while our people were being killed by CPM goons”.
“Three innocent tribals have been shot in front of the police,” Mahato said. “Instead of arresting the culprits, the police provided them safe passage. So we do not trust the police, nor can we hope they will ensure our protection. There is a nexus between the police and the CPM. Monday’s firing was a clear example of this. So we don’t require them here any more.”
Three tribals were killed in a clash between a resistance group and CPM activists carrying the body of a leader slain by suspected Maoists in Khas Jangal in West Midnapore on Monday.
Mahato said there would be a meeting soon to decide when to launch the movement. “We have decided to chase them away very sn. If they don’t go, we will pull them out of their camps,” Mahato said.
In December 2008, following persistent demands from the tribals, the Ramgarh police camp was shifted out of Lalgarh. However, a week later, it was shifted back following a meeting between the administration and the tribal leaders.
Today’s announcement came at a “protest meeting” of the committee at Belatikri, attended by around 1,000 tribals.
By Koustav De, MRZine.
The demonstrations of the indigenous tribal people [‘adivasis’] of West Bengal, India against longstanding police brutality have not dissipated with time, contrary to the expectations of the police, the ruling party of West Bengal the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], and the other mainstream parties, the Congress and the longtime Hindutva fascist allied Trinamool Congress.
The movement that had its roots in a sleepy hamlet of Lalgarh in West Midnapore district of West Bengal, India has spread and matured. It has come to pose a major threat to the CPI(M), the self-proclaimed vanguard of the ‘backward castes': the entire movement was without conventional leadership, and the villages that have been touched by this movement have done away with all traditional political leaders and tribal elders and elected a People’s Committee against Police Atrocities comprising five men and five women. They vehemently criticize the CPI(M) for the absence of development, even though they have been in the government continuously for almost 33 years now. Under the pressure of the movement even the government has, at least on occasions, had to accept that the funds allocated for tribal development have been misused.
The adivasi movement has been completely non-violent and democratic, as it has depended on mass mobilizations of tribal people, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the police and the ruling party to brand them as ‘Maoists’. For the West Bengal government, now repeatedly faced with popular dissent from the left, branding dissenters as ‘Maoist extremists’, thus justifying the use of murderous repressive violence, has become a convenient practice. This has long been the practice in many other states of India, but only in the last years has the CPI(M)-dominated government of West Bengal set down this tragic road. The turning point came in the villages of Singur and Nandigram, where blundering attempts at the expropriation of rural cultivators in order to set up capitalist Special Economic Zones [‘SEZs’] turned many against the CPI(M) and led to violence. But unlike Nandigram, the tribal people taking part in the present movement have not had to defend themselves by force as their mass base is almost absolute and geographically they are too widespread to be surrounded and attacked. And their demands, far from being revolutionarily or radical, are about basic democratic rights and assurance that they will not be illegally detained and tortured by the police for being ‘suspected Maoists’.
These developments have without doubt caused distress at the highest levels, both at the Home Ministry in New Delhi with its U.S. advisers, and at police and party headquarters in Calcutta. It has thus become increasingly necessary to drive this organized movement onto violent paths so that it could be justifiably suppressed with violence. On the morning of 25th January, these forces, in a textbook CIA-style operation, abducted and murdered Nirmal Sardar, a leading organizer of the Tribal movement in the Belpahari region of West Midnapore. The adivasi movement which prided itself in being able to achieve such success without shedding a drop of blood had their first martyr. Nirmal Sardar was murdered the same day the Peoples Committee had called for a massive demonstration near Belpahari. The committee, bravely, went ahead with their programme. And, as if this justified murder, police attempted to brand Nirmal a Maoist squad member (The Telegraph, Monday, January 26, 2009).
The murder of an organizer added another dimension to the program and the speakers called for the people to be even more determined and demonstrate in front of the police station against the murder of their beloved activist. Speakers called upon all locals to boycott that administration completely, putting forth the success of similar strategies in Lalgarh protests. The Lalgarh blockade that carried on for weeks had indeed successfully earned the people their rights to normal life and brought lasting peace in Lalgarh, free from police excesses. The rally of 25th January was a huge success with large number of the tribal population turning up in thousands with their traditional weapons and drums to display more of their spirit and culture than aggression. They distributed leaflets, played traditional music in their drums and listened to speeches all with the same intensity. There were even human rights and political groups from cities, who were welcome and shared the stage.
This major mobilization took place at Chakadoba village near Belpahari and was significant. It was a successful attempt to encourage the tribal population of the region to come out and participate in demonstrations, defying the police terror. Belpahari, which was supposed to be a major tourist destination, has been a centre of police atrocities in Bengal for quite some years; it has been among the first places where the adivasis rose up to demand their rights, but as they failed to spread their movement, the government choked them and terrorized them. This indeed led to many adivasi youth joining the Maoists and picking up arms in retaliation. And in turn this has led to further torture and staged ‘encounters’ by the police.
Evidently there has never been a positive initiative on the part of the administration to seek real solutions to the grassroots economic and social problems. All their energies and money have been spent on fortifying the police stations, acquiring anti-mine vehicles and arming the police with sophisticated weapons. The only thing this has done is to make more and more adivasi youths run away from their homes in fear of arbitrary police torture and join the resistance. The present movement has learnt from the Belpahari experience. It has not been on a small scale and un-coordinated. It has come forth on a large scale both in terms of support and geographic area; and with time it has become close knit and well organized. In fact the Lalgarh movement that has moved beyond its borders has given the Belpahari adivasi a new voice and a new support.
The meeting on the afternoon of Nirmal’s death saw 89 buses and trucks packed with adivasi activists, both inside and on top, coming from far-off villages in solidarity. As always a major percentage of them were women.
The next attempt at discrediting the movement came when on 1st February: CPI(M) leader Nandalal Pal was shot dead near Lalgarh, the epicenter of the movement, where the strength and support of this movement was absolute. Fingers were pointed at Maoists and the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities which has long been under scanner for any Maoist link. Exploiting the brutality and tragedy of the incident, the local CPI(M) became busy trying to blame the Maoists or the Committee for the murder. The best they could come up with was ‘retaliation against the murder of Nirmal Sardar’ (The Telegraph, Monday, February 2, 2009). However, murdering an opposition leader at a place where he had no influence seemed too weak a political motive, and soon theories of the police themselves carrying out this act in order to discredit the people’s movement emerged. Then on 2nd February, as the Committee was holding a scheduled mass meeting, a CPI(M) procession mourning Nandalal’s death passed the meeting, and suddenly gunshots were fired from within the procession towards the meeting, killing two people on the spot and injuring seven more. This has caused violent repercussions with blockades being erected all around Lalgarh and other villages and police vehicles being set to fire.
Even as I write the protest is taking new turns, and the entire movement with it. Unfortunately, past experience has proved that only with many more martyrs and blood do the media and the general urban masses take note of, let alone protest, such atrocities. What we are seeing is an attempt by the centre to use the West Bengal police, with the blind and mistaken assistance of the leadership of the West Bengal CPI(M), to extend the fascist police repression of the adivasi that has brought civil war to Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand to West Bengal. The people of West Bengal must prevent this disaster from happening.
Lalgarh people decide to boycott General Elections
March 23 – April 3 2009
A People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities meeting in Lalgarh today (March 27) formalised its decision to boycott the general election if its resistance to poll police failed.
“We have decided to boycott the polls if we can’t prevent the security forces from entering Lalgarh for election duty,” said Chhatradhar Mahato.
The tribal leader threatened to block and dig up roads after the polls if the police entered Lalgarh.
In neighbouring Purulia, the tribals of Chhapragera on the Ayodhya hills held policemen looking for a man with suspected Maoist links hostage for almost six hours.
Pratik Kit, the officer in charge of Balarampur police station, had to apologise to the villagers for the raid. The blockade was lifted after after the police went away.
Report from March 25
The tribal resistance group in restive Lalgarh today threatened to boycott the elections if police forced their way into the villages.
“We have repeatedly said we won’t allow security forces (for poll duty) in Lalgarh. But if the police or any other force make their way in and we fail to resist them, we will boycott the elections,” said Chhatradhar Mahato of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities.
The committee will hold a meeting on Friday to take a final decision on a plan to deploy forces for the elections, revealed to its leaders by the district administration yesterday.
“We will hold a meeting on the administration’s proposal. But we have already taken a decision not to allow the police inside Lalgarh at any cost,” said Lalmohan Tudu, the president of the committee.
The committee had pledged to keep the police out last December after its demand for the apology of the West Midnapore superintendent for alleged atrocities committed by his force while searching for suspected Maoists were turned down.
Asked whether police ac- tion had resumed in Lalgarh, home secretary Ardhendu Sen said: “The process of isolating the Maoists from villagers has already started. The task is difficult as the Maoists have strongholds in many villages.”
Chief electoral officer De-bashis Sen declined comment. “We are keeping a watch on the situation,” he said.
A team of senior police officers led by inspector-general (western range) Kuldiep Singh today made an aerial survey of Lalgarh and neighbouring Belpahari.
“We made the survey to work out the deployment of forces before the polls. We also wanted to assess the terrain and decide on the roads to be taken by the security forces,” an officer said.
West Midnapore police chief Manoj Verma said the chopper survey, being carried out in the Maoist belt of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura, had revealed “a shed made of hay and barricades made by piling stones”, which looked like a guerrilla training camp from above.
Report from March 24
Tribal leaders in West Midnapore’s Lalgarh today indicated they would not allow police to enter their “territory” for election duty, putting the government in a quandary.
After a meeting called by the chief minister at Writers’ Buildings, home secretary Ardhendu Sen said: “All of us are aware that the Lok Sabha polls are near and police presence in Lalgarh is essential. Hundreds of poll personnel would be in Lalgarh and their safety and security is the government’s concern. That is why we want the police to move into Lalgarh. However, we don’t want any confrontation with the people.”
The deployment “will be entirely from the poll pers- pective”, Sen said. “The Election Commission has told us there should be adequate security in Lalgarh.”
However, after a meeting with West Midnapore district magistrate Narayan Swarup Nigam and police chief Manoj Verma, the tribal leader of the People’s Committee Ag- ainst Police Atrocities said the government would have to accept responsibility if the resistance to the police resulted in casualties.
“We told the administra-tion we’d inform them about our decision after talking to our leaders. But I am certain our decision will be to not allow the police to enter Lalgarh. The polls can be held without any police presence in Lalgarh. However, if the police forcibly enter the area, the people will resist. In that case, the government will be responsible for casualties,” Chhatradhar Mahato said after the meeting at the Lalgarh subdivisional office.
The home secretary said the elections couldn’t be fair with armed Maoists stalking the area. “There is a need to flush out the Maoists operating in Lalgarh as they won’t allow peaceful polls. Any sort of appeal to them also won’t work,” he added.
Therefore, Sen said, “a tactical strategy” would have to be worked out.
“We are considering ways to ensure police presence in Lalgarh, though we cannot reveal what they are,” Sen added.
Chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti insisted that this would have to be through discussions with the tri-bals as the government did not want any armed confrontation.
“There’s no question of going into a confrontation with the innocent people of Lalgarh. Talks with the tribals will have to be taken forward. However, the state government will have to follow every poll panel directive on holding elections, be it police deployment or any other issue,” Chakrabarti said.
Koustav De, Sanhati
There are unconfirmed reports that there will be police action in Lalgarh on 7th April night or within the next couple of days. The people of Lalgarh are suspecting so and so are the media, all regional media are trying to send in their correspondents/ reporters, camera crew into Lalgarh by today or tomorrow as they are claiming to have reports that police will cut of Lalgarh, make in inaccessible to all from tomorrow onwards. However this is mere speculation and can be a conscious effort on the part of State to create some amount of panic among the people inside Lalgarh movement. Even as i key write this, it is being reported that the election commission is considering a dialogue with the Lalgarh committee against police atrocities before deciding upon forced police entry. There are opinions that the State will not take any chance before the elections, but nothing can be ruled out.
There are confirmed reports from teams visiting Lalgarh that few helicopters are seen regularly patrolling the sky above Lalgarh and at lest two temporary helipads have been built around Lalgarh. It is feared that this attack on Lalgarh would be of a different scale and magnitude, and it will not be carried out by CPI(M) mercenaries in police uniform carrying 303s but will most definitely be carried out by fully armed para-military forces.
There was a rally on 6th April from College Street to Esplanade called by ‘Lalgarh Andolon Sanhati Mancha’ with the slogan ‘Prevent another Nandigram in Lalgarh’, it was joined by the adivasis from Lalgarh and Belpahari who came all the way in three buses. It was a beautiful rally with tribal songs and drums being played alongside the slogans, but was attended by very few from Kolkata. In fact the adivasis were the clear majority.
Express News Service, Apr 07, 2009
Armed with traditional bows and arrows, tangis, chisels, sticks along with dhamsa and madol, nearly a hundred adivasis took to the streets of Kolkata on Monday. They were protesting against the entry of police into the tribal areas of Lalgarh.
While the tribals have vowed not to let the police in during the Lok Sabha polls, they have, however, welcomed talks with political parties and the Election Commission.
“I want to vote… but without the presence of the police. Why do we need the police when we can protect ourselves?” said 30-year-old Shombhari Murmu. With a tangi (a traditional weapon similar to a long axe) in her hand, she was one of the tribals who walked down the streets of the city shouting slogans against the police.
Under the banner of the Lalgarh Sanhati Mancha and other similar organisations, tribals and intellectuals raised their voice against the deployment of police during the polls.
“We know polls are a democratic process. So why should police be there. Today our people have come with weapons to warn that if the CPM-backed government tries to use force, the history of revolt will repeat itself,” said Chatradhar Mahato, convener, Police Santrash Birodhi Public Committee (PSBPC).
Following the statement by the home secretary about the police entering Lalgarh ahead of elections, Mahato had announced that there would be armed mass resistance if the police trie to enter the tribal areas.
At Monday’s rally Mahato and other tribal leaders said they will provide security to anyone who wants to come to Lalgarh during the elections. They welcomed any discussion with the government or the political parties without the presence of the police.
“The chief minister keeps saying he is not being allowed inside Lalgarh. That is a lie. If he wanted he could have come, but without any police personnel. Mamata Banerjee had also come. I was asked by the chief electoral officer to come for discussion today. But because of the rally I could not attend it. If the commission gives us a written invitation to sit for talks we will do so in future,” Mahato added.
“Using elections as a pretext they will oppress us again. We will not allow even the central forces to visit Lalgarh as they also work under the guidance of the state government,” he alleged.
April 12, 2009
Five members of the All-India Fact Finding team were present in Madhupur village of Salboni 1 Block on 11th April 2009 from around 10 am to 12 noon. On reaching the village, the members found the villagers anxious and agitated. A group of 25-30 police personnel carrying firearms had tried to enter the village ten minutes ago. From accounts, when the women of the village resisted and refused them entry, the police threatened to beat up the women. The villagers then gathered in full strength and forced the police to leave the village.
In the presence of the fact finding team members, the villagers prepared for a procession to warn nearby villages against possible further entries by the police and the Harmad Vahini. People from other villages who had been informed soon joined the procession. Women participated in large numbers. They were completely peaceful, not carrying any fire-arms, and not in a mood for any confrontation. Members of the fact finding team left as the procession was beginning. We later came to know from the villagers that the procession had been fired upon by the Harmad Vahini near Memul, a village adjacent to Madhupur. Members of the procession were forced to flee, and women in Memul had to lock themselves up in their houses. It appears that the Harmad Vahini also destroyed some of the houses in Memul, and tried to break down doors.
Given the past experience of the villagers, it appears that the attempted entry of the police in the morning is linked to the attack by the Harmad Vahini, subsequently, which seems to lend credence to the fears and distrust of police by the people of Lalgarh.
Madhupur fact-finding team:
Vidya Das, adivasi rights activist, Agragamee, Kashipur, Orissa
Gautam Navlakha, PUDR, consulting editor, EPW
Colin Gonsalves, supreme court lawyer, Human rights law network
Budhaditya Das, student, DU
Manika Bora, student, JNU
The district administration said today that the failure to utilise funds meant for rural development, especially in certain tribal dominated areas in Bankura, is responsible for the continued tribal agitation in villages adjacent to the jungle.
The district authorities have also initiated intensive mapping of areas where movements have taken place, following the Election Commission’s recommendations.
While mapping the troubled areas, the district administration has found that 56 villages are reeling under severe crises.
“A section of South Bankura villages have become troublesome, and we have learnt that the failure to fulfill demands for basic amenities is the root of these troubles. I have sought explanations from five BDOs as to why development work are still pending,” said Mr Sundar Majumdar, DM, Bankura, at a Press conference in the district headquarters. SP, Mr Vishal Garg, was also present at the Press conference.
It may be recalled that on 7 April, the Police Santras Birodhi Public Committee had hijacked nine CPI-M cadres and supporters from Bezdanga village in Sarenga PS area. They were released only after negotiation with Mr Chatradhar Mahato, the PSBPC chief, who said the abduction was staged to attract the attention of the administration. Admitting that certain areas are still poorly developed, Mr Majumdar said: “It’s a fact that villages are yet to enjoy the basic amenities.”
Koustav De, Sanhati. April 22, 2009
The Lalgarh adivasis have agreed to polls on April 30. After discussions with the election commission, it has been agreed that instead of police entering the villages, the booths will be located outside the villages where Police Boycott is still on. It is to be noted that the movement has spread across districts, but the area where police boycott is on is limited. Since the booths will be far away from the villages, the Election Commission will arrange for buses to carry the voters to the booths.
This solution was proposed by the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, and was accepted by Commission. The Commission was clear on its part that it had the sole intention of carrying out its duty ie. holding elections, the relocation of booths was possible and since that would lead a solution without force/bloodshed the comission agreed. As for establishing ‘law and order’ in the region, it was no concern for the elction comission and it was left to the State to decide upon it post election.
Importantly this proposal given by the committee cearly projects that it is a people’s movement that time and again reflects that people’s decisions. They wanted to vote sans the police, and that is what tehy have achieved. Being out of reach of police and amidst repeated mainstream media and ruling party claims that this is a movemnt of the Maoists (and not local adivasi), this clear departure of the People’s Committee from the Maoist line of Poll Boycott is most significant.
By Koustav De, Sanhati. April 25, 2009
The rally was a huge success with adivasis from across Midnapore, Puruliya and other areas of Jangal Khand participating in numbers. It was an enormous rally, next only to the rally on November 14, 2007. However there were several obstacles: a large number of adivasis were not allowed to join the rally and their buses were stopped and the drivers heckled by the police. Reportedly some 150 buses came from Lalgarh area alone. The rally was participated by people from Nandigram, Khejuri, Singur, Puruliya, Bankura, Asansole and several other regions.
A clear point was made as to the spirit of the adivasi movement and it’s mass base. The theme was to make a call upon all people to protest against state violence all over. And the call was thoroughly successful.
Trouble broke out near Kalamandir when six buses from Lalgarh unloaded it’s passengers and were returning. The police stopped the empty buses and demanded bribe (which happens to be the common practice for buses from outside Kolkata); when they refused the police dragged a driver out, beat him up and broke a glass of that bus. The other drivers informed the adivasi passengers who had alighted and were moving in a rally towards the meeting point. Soon some 1500 people gathered and blockaded the road in protest. They demanded immediate apology and compensation for the harassment and damage.
At the other end, the rally was being addressed from a stage near the decided point at Esplanade. As the news of trouble near Kalamandir came in, a team left to look into the matter. Even as a beautiful program, combining speeches and adivasi songs and dance was going on, in sharp contrast a heated exchange was going on between demonstrators and the police. The police decided to wait and watch thinking that the people who has traveled some six hours already were going to loose all their energy with time. However the protesters were adamant that without an apology they would not budge.
As the program at Esplanade ended, everyone decided to stand by the sit-in at Kalamandir and decided to blockade at Esplanade. Overcoming some minor obstacles and provocations of the police and the RAF, thousands of adivasis blocked the heart of Kolkata. The two groups at Esplanade and Kalamandir co-ordinated and decided that a consolidated blockade will be continued into the night at Esplanade. As the massive rally from Kalamandir arrived at Esplanade, their anger was quite visible and the RAF decided to keep safe distance and retreated. From the evening, well into the night the heart of Kolkata was virtually occupied by the people of Jangal Mahal. Media flocked in and their voices were heard. The police decided that it was no longer safe to assume that their enthusiasm would burn out. Chatradhar Mahato got a call from the commissioner and soon a high ranking police official was sent to Esplanade to receive the complain. The complain was received and the official agreed to look into the matter and punish the police officer responsible after a enquiry, within seven days. The people erupted in slogans and rallied towards Sahid Minar where the buses were parked.
Posters in the Rally:
Pictures of the Rally:
Nearly 5,000 tribals in Salboni, wielding shovels, axes and hammers and allegedly led by Maoists, today demolished a government building that till last week was a police camp.
The structure at Kalaimuri near Lalgarh in West Midnapore — the first government building to be torn down by the tribals — took three hours to destroy.
Chhatradhar Mahato, who leads the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities that is at the forefront of the Lalgarh tribal resistance, said: “We had appealed to the villagers not to demolish the building as we planned to set up a health care centre there, but we could not persuade them.”
He added: “The people have lost faith in the police and they feared the security forces would return.”
Today, neither Chhatradhar nor the secretary of the committee, Sidhu Soren, was present at Kalaimuri when the villagers rained blows on the building.
One of the tribals who helped bring the building down was 35-year-old Paritosh Mahato, a farmer from Gadra near Lalgarh.
“When we started our agitation in November last year, the police withdrew several camps, including this one in Kalaimuri. But the camps started functioning again in December,” Paritosh said.
“Had the building remained standing, the police would have returned with reinforcements. That’s why we demolished it.”
Bimal Tudu, a 40-year-old labourer who too was in the demolition team, echoed Paritosh’s fears.
“Now the police won’t be able to return to Kalaimuri,” he said.
The policemen stationed at the camp used to patrol parts of Lalgarh, an area the tribals have made inaccessible to the force after alleged excesses on villagers following a blast on the chief minister’s convoy route last year.
The 90 policemen stationed at the camp left it on April 27 after the tribals pushed them to the brink of starvation by preventing them from buying provisions for several days.
Manoj Kumar Verma, the West Midnapore superintendent of police, said he had received news of the demolition and had informed his superiors.
“We will not move into Kalaimuri now because it may lead to untoward incidents. We don’t want a confrontation with the villagers at this moment. Today’s demolition of the camp was led by Maoists,” he said.
The police said that around 11am, a group of Maoists gathered in front of the camp, one of four in Salboni.
“They (the Maoists) contacted people in the neighbouring villages and asked them to assemble near the camp,” a police officer said.
“Nearly 5,000 villagers with bows, arrows, axes, iron rods and shovels gathered within half an hour. Some in the demolition squad were women.”
The officer added: “The Maoists held an hour-long meeting with them and the demolition began around 1pm. The camp building was completely destroyed by 4pm.”
Police sources said the tribals had come from about a dozen villages.
Hard times in Bleak Houses: How the women in Lalgarh eke out a living
The Statesman, May 21 2009
Members of the All India Committee against Violence on Women expressed great shock and remorse over how the women in the Jungle Mahal of Belpahari and Lalgarh area in West Midnapore have been fighting a relentless battle to eke out a living.
Four members of the committee ~ Mrs Soma Mukherjee, Mrs Tripti Pal, Mrs Sanchita Mukherjee and Mrs Swapna Mukherjee ~ visited the area over the past two days to study how the womenfolk are making ends meet following the arrest of the male members of their families by the government’s security agencies.
The committee members told the Press today that the women have to go into the forests to collect sal and kendu leaves and other raw materials to make ropes and sell them earning a meagre Rs 20 to 25 a day during the summer. Their young daughters also help them and to this end most have dropped out of schools.
None of the families have benefited from the NREGA owing to which 50 per cent have no means to obtain food even once a day.
Their income increases to Rs 40 per day for only a couple of months during sowing and harvesting while the five to six-member families have to remain half-fed the rest of the year. Hinchajhore, Kheriarata, Bagdoba, Jamirdiha, Dangardiha, Chitamati and Laljal are villages that are worst hit. At Laljal, 30 families of the total of 36 families belong to the BPL category. They cannot even afford to avail of the Rs 2 or Rs 3 a kg rice and wheat schemes.
The committee members noted that the villagers have to walk two to three kilometres everyday to get drinking water. Most of the villages here are still inaccessible as the roads are non-existent. The landscape in the Jungle Mahal remained as it was 32 years ago, Mrs Soma Mukherjee added.
They were reluctant to get in touch with the local panchayats for ameliorating their grievances as it had done no good to them.
They were fed up with the panchayats as they had to cough up Rs 150 each to the local panchayat leaders to acquire basic amenities at their houses two years ago. But not a single facility has been set up in any of these villages, the villagers told the committee members.
They were stunned to see that the women along with the menfolk have been voluntarily working to dig four wells, two big bundhs and constructing village roads at Kirulia, Banslata villages with funds from their own pocket.
The committee members said that they will publish their reports in a book and send it to the MPs and MLAs so that they can raise the issues in the Houses besides carrying out a campaign across the country and abroad through the UNICEF.
June 16, 2009. Rediff News
Two more Communist Party of India-Marxist cadres were found dead as pro-Naxal tribals, agitating against alleged police atrocities, on Monday torched three police camps and demolished house of a Marxist leader, virtually taking control of Lalgarh in West Midnapur district after forcing security forces to leave the area.
The police camps at Belatkri and Dharampur and the Ramgarh outpost in Lalgarh were wound up in the wake of apprehensions that tribals, who have launched an agitation under the banner of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, may loot the arms, the police said.
The tribals later torched the Ramgarh police outpost as also police camps at Beratikri and Dharmapur. They also demolished a camp at Kaima from where the Central Reserve Police Force withdrew, the sources said.
The camps were ransacked before being torched, official sources said. With this the entire Lalgarh area came under the control of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, as also most of the area under Salboni police station, they said.
Three bodies of CPI-M supporters who were killed at Dharmapur, were still lying there, bodies of two others reported missing were found at Salpatra, the sources said, adding that four Marxist supporters were still missing.
Tribals also demolished the palatial house of a CPI-M leader Anuj Pandey with crowbars and hammers at Lalgarh, the sources said, adding that Pandey had fled the site.
Tribals have launched a violent agitation against the police since November last year when West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and two then Union ministers Ramvilas Paswan and Jitindra Prasad narrowly escaped a landmine blast at Salboni in the district.
In Kolkata, the Chief Minister on Monday evaded queries on the situation in the restive district. “I know nothing about what you are saying,” Chief Secretary Asok Mohan Chakraborty said.
Police chief Sujit Sarkar also refused to comment. Though Lalgarh was in the control of the tribals, the 40 to 50 police personnel at the police station were still there, but were not resisting the tribals, the sources said.
In the morning, a contingent of CRPF tried to go to Lalgarh, but were stopped by the tribals at Gherua. The CRPF personnel then entered a school building, but were compelled to leave when a mob of 2,500 tribals started demonstrating, the sources said.
The tribals allegedly went around 170 villages in Lalgarh area, threatening CPI-M partymen and supporters to leave for their own safety.
Meanwhile, a Maoist leader known as Bikash claimed that his outfit was leading the tribal agitation at Lalgarh. “Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is saying that we are providing support to the tribal movement and not actively participating. This is not true. We are actively in the movement and will continue to support it,” Bikash, told PTI over phone.
Referring to the landmine blast at Salboni, Bikash said, “We failed.” However, Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader of tribal platform PCAPA, reiterated that his organisation had no link with Maoists.
June 16, 2009. The Economic Times.
Finally, the fatigues are moving in to control the flare-up in trouble-torn Lalgarh in West Bengal’s west-Midnapore district. The Centre has just despatched two companies of specialist CRPF jawans trained in anti-Maoist combat to take up positions in Lalgarh by Tuesday night, while three more companies are on the way.
With 500 specialised commandos of the CRPF moving in, one expects the lawlessness at Lalgarh to subside to an extent over the next few days. One wonders, however, whether that will eliminate the problem of Lalgarh completely since the ultras have over the past several months been given so much of leeway by an extremely slack administration that they have had ample time to go from strength to strength.
Incidentally on Monday, Maoists went to the extent of holding a press conference at Lalgarh with the spokesman having his back to camera and claiming proudly that they had indeed planned to kill West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on November 2, 2008 in a landmine explosion.
Nevertheless, senior state police officials including the director general of police and inspector general of police (law and order) held a crucial meeting on Tuesday to chalk out the strategy for the crack CRPF teams to follow up. No state police official, no matter how senior or well armed, has had the guts to visit Lalgarh and take on the Maoists of late. However, since they know the terrain well, their advice will be of use to the paramilitary forces to some extent.
Incidentally, Lalgarh is an issue that has made both CPIM and Trinamool Congress demand Central help. The CPIM politburo issued a statement on Monday’s incidents at Lalgarh and urged the Centre to immediately rush the required number of para-military forces to Lalgarh. Within just a few hours, one company of para-military forces reached West Bengal and was rushed to Lalgarh.
Trinamool Congress chief and railway minister Mamata Banerjee also condemned the Maoist activities in Lalgarh and said that she did not support the politics of violence and killings. Mamata also said that “I want Central agencies to come to West Bengal and carry out a combing operations in the Maoist-infested areas.”
Mamata on Monday night sent one of her leaders and Union minister of state for shipping, Mukul Roy to Delhi to brief the finance minister Pranab Mukherjee the Lalgarh situation and post-poll violence in the state. Terming the continuous violence in different parts of the state like Lalgarh, and Khejuri as “frightful” Mamata told reporters that “if arms are not seized immediately, the situation will worsen in our state and internal security will be at a stake.”
The Trinamool supremo also came down heavily on the West Bengal home secretary Ardhendu Sen and urged him to take action against those CPIM activists from whose possession the arms were found. “I urge the home secretary to withdraw the cases against our men who were implicated falsely by the police and start cases under arms act against those CPIM activists who had stored arms and ammunition at their homes,” Mamata said.
Mamata also said that attacks were organised against the minority and Dalits in several pockets of West Bengal after the poll results were out. Political observers read a message in Mamata’s claim. As per the constitution of India, the Centre can intervene into affairs of any state government if the minorities and dalits face any atrocity and seek Centre’s support for themselves.
Even though Mamata is not openly claiming imposition of article 356 in West Bengal, she has already given enough indication that her party would not hesitate to demand for the same. The opposition leader in the state Assembly and Trinamool Congress MLA, Partha Chatterjee has already demanded imposition of article 356 during his recent meeting with the West Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi.
June 20, 2009. By Latha Jishnu, Business Standard
The views of the Lalgarh siege are largely determined by what the media considers the essence of the confrontation. We have seen pictures of torched CPI(M) buildings with the trademark hammer and sickle going up in flames, Maoists (angry villagers?) on the rampage, a chilling shot of a corpse outside the party office, the paramilitary forces in action — in combat positions and clean-up operations (men being dragged out of homes and taken into custody). Fundamentally, these tell a story of an uprising that is being brought under control by the heavy hand of the security forces nearly eight months after it started, a small battle that may be won in the many insurgencies that shake India.
But there is a more striking image that merits closer attention — of a huge rally of peasant women on November 7, 2008. They are dressed in colourful saris, hair neatly pulled back in buns, their dark faces determined and unsmiling. Most of them are wielding bow and arrow, a few with arrows at the ready. Others have axes slung across their shoulders, as is the wont of tribal folk, as they march on the Lalgarh police station.
Who are these women? Yes, we know these are women from Lalgarh who were incensed when men of their village were arrested randomly after Maoists had ambushed a convoy of the West Bengal chief minister just a few days earlier. Most of the angry villagers have banded themselves under the banner of the Lalgarh People’s Committee against Police Atrocities, which seems a fairly straightforward description of their cause. But they have all been dubbed Maoists now by officialdom and the media, even if ideology is far from being the spur that drove them to take on the state.
Take the case of the Dongria Khonds who managed to make their way to the Belamba village in Kalahandi district of Orissa for a public hearing in April on Vedanta’s plans to expand their aluminum refinery to the world’s largest such facility. Most of them were not allowed to speak — the brute force of the state aligned with corporate power, managed to keep them out. The Adivasis are fighting to retain their sacred mountain, and the source of amazing natural bounty that keeps them from the hungry maws of the bulldozers seeking the rich bauxite deposits in Niyamgiri. The clashes began six years ago and are set to become more confrontational when the mining work starts. Soon, the Maoists/Naxalites will come to their aid, or the tribal people will themselves be dubbed Maoists.
The point here is, does 21st-century India, determinedly pushing for higher and higher growth rates, understand the women with the bows and arrows, or the hill people with a radically different perspective on life? Does Lalgarh provide some pointers to what fuels the Naxalite/Maoist insurgencies across 125 districts of the country? The answer is yes and no. Although such struggles are fuelled by different causes, there are some fairly well-known reasons why the extremist movement is burgeoning. They draw their support from the deprived and dispossessed. To start with, one can be fairly certain that the Lalgarh women who are said to be Maoist supporters if not Maoists themselves, are predominantly Dalit or Adivasi. As such they are likely to have faced various forms of oppression, and been denied justice along with social, legal and political rights. They are also likely to be among the poorest strata.
This is the analysis of the report of an expert group set up by the Planning Commission in 2006 which submitted its report in April 2008. ‘Development Challenges in Extremist-Affected Areas’, a 95-page report prepared by a group of administrators with experience of dealing with extremism, social scientists and human rights activists, is an excellent delineation of the causes of alienation, some well-known and others that give a fresh perspective on the issue. The report says it found some common aspects in its study of the 125 Naxal-influenced districts.
The main support for the Naxalite movement, it points out, comes from Dalits and Adivasis, who comprise about a fourth of India’s population and usually in areas where there are high levels of rural distress among SCs and STs. And predictably, the report listed land issues, internal displacement from industrialisation, the growing hordes of the project-affected, as other contributory factors. But it also touched upon the class divide that makes even the best policy prescriptions futile.
“It is a matter of common observation that the inequalities between classes, between town and country, and between the upper castes and the underprivileged communities are increasing. That this has potential for tremendous unrest is recognised by all. But somehow policy prescriptions presume otherwise. As the responsibility of the state for providing equal social rights recedes in the sphere of policymaking, we have two worlds of education, two worlds of health, two worlds of transport and two worlds of housing, with a gaping divide in between.”
It’s a stark truth that the newly-enlightened government of Manmohan Singh, which harps on inclusive growth, should not ignore. Clearly, it would be extremely difficult for the largely urban and Western-educated ruling class—the current UPA government has the largest number of MPs who studied in American and British universities — who are also among the richest in the country (300 crorepatis in the Lok Sabha, mostly businessmen) to relate to axe-wielding women who seek justice and honour in the rough backwoods of the country. And it matters little what the political persuasion of the rulers is. States ruled by parties as different from each other (or perhaps not) as the Congress, the BJP, the CPI(M) or the BJD are all struggling with the problem of alienation and extremism.
All of them ought to take the dust off the report which offers some excellent administrative suggestions for coping with the Naxalite challenge. What the report does not offer is a political solution that is at the heart of the problem. It was not the brief of the group; for the government though, it must be the guiding core. It needs to put forward a vision of development that addresses the concerns of the millions who do not feel part of the changing India. Politics has to change before anything else can.
June 20, 2009. The Telegraph
The tribal body that started the seven-month- old Lalgarh agitation with Maoist backing today threatened a “fight to death” in the face of the government offensive.
“We were born here, we are agitating here and we will die here,” said Chhatradhar Mahato, chief of the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities.
“The barricades will continue. The more they are forcibly removed, the deeper will be the (public) anger at the police and support for us.”
Mahato, speaking to The Telegraph at Barapelia, 5km north of Lalgarh town, said the movement had begun because of the “government’s long neglect of the tribal people, who have been surviving on ant eggs for far too long”.
“Our movement is for the development of the people. They (the government) cannot gain people’s confidence by using force,” Mahato, the secretary of the committee, added.
He expressed surprise that the state government had called in paramilitary and additional police forces in response to the destruction of a house being built by Anuj Pandey, the CPM’s Binpur zonal committee secretary.
“Yet no one is asking how this leader could build such a palatial mansion,” he said.
Mahato alleged that Pandey’s brother Dalim, Lalgarh CPM local committee leader, had amassed huge wealth. “Whenever any land transaction took place in the region, he would take a commission. Why were the police brought in to protect these tainted brothers?”
The committee secretary wondered why no action was taken when CPM offices were burnt in Khejuri and the police boycotted at the behest of Trinamul Congress MP Subhendu Adhikari. “The same government is now using central forces against us….”
Committee president Lalmohan Tudu, who too was at Barapelia, said everyone in the region supported the movement. “The battle has entered the heart of Lalgarh. The forces will now see what they are up against.”
Singrai Baskey, resident of Kantapahari, 7km north of Lalgarh town, said: “We are with the movement. We have realised how much this movement means to us now that the entire nation has its eyes fixed on Lalgarh.”
June 22. By Sujan Dutta, The Telegraph
Shame is abandoned with great effort. But the women of this village are willing to draw up their saris, just to show how brutalised they are.
At a relief camp in Pirakata, the crossroad that practically marks the end of the authority of the West Bengal government on the route to Lalgarh, they pulled up saris to reveal weals and scars to show how mercilessly they were beaten by the police.
The police did not have orders to open fire. They were free to beat and brutalise.
Kuldiha is 4km up ahead from Pirakata. It is desolate, save for the cows tethered to bamboo masts. The village has about 40 households. The refugees from the village say there was only one person in the village with a regular job — a government employee in the land reforms department. Most were farmers and cowherds. But this afternoon there is no one in any of the houses. The village is desolate. The men fled to the forests when the security forces began assembling.
The battered women of Kuldiha roamed the fields and forests around here for two nights. This morning and afternoon, they began trickling into the camp at the Pirakata Primary High School set up by the local Trinamul Congress.
Every armed conflict must have its share of refugees. The relief camp in Pirakata is the first to shelter the first in Lalgarh’s latest round of violence.
The village is spread on either side of a narrow metalled road. Inside, a motorcycle upturned into a pond is evidence of the violence that it has been through.
There isn’t a soul in sight. Cows tethered to bamboo masts moo because they are hungry. Their owners have left home. They are in the relief camp this afternoon.
“The policewomen lifted my sari,” sobs Bijola Mahato, “and kicked me while lathis rained down and a man shouted ‘since your husband is not at home, let me come tonight and be your husband’”.
The Bengal government’s order to the security forces it has amassed over here to go easy on the trigger has meant they can go hard with the lathi.
In the wake of the advance to Bhimpur and Lalgarh over the last three days, armed police of the state force have been entering villages on either side of road, battering the people, rounding up at random, abusing and hurling obscenities.
“When the police came into Kuldiha they were accompanied by two or three men,” said Jamuna Mahato, whose 18-year-old son is missing. “They broke down the door of my house and dragged me out.” There were policewomen and policemen.
Belarani Mahato, who said she made tea at a shop in Kuldiha, said she was pulled by the hair. “The policemen were dragging the children but mostly our saris were being pulled up and we were being kicked and beaten with lathis,” she said.
June 22. By Caesar Mandal, The Times of India
The message from Writers’ Buildings to show a more human face while dealing with the warring populace in Lalgarh apparently hasn’t reached the force. Why else would a section of the state armed police (SAP) terrified of IED explosions catch hold of local youths and force them to poke around for hidden mines and explosives?
Acts like this will trigger more calls for vengeance and lead people to doubt the sincerity of the government’s attempts to pacify the tribal villagers. It also exposes the lack of preparedness of the administration. There are just two CID bomb disposal experts stationed at Lalgarh. A second team is kept in reserve in Midnapore town to be deployed in case of VIP movement’. A third is cooling its heels in Kolkata. There is not a single explosives expert with police forces anywhere else in the war zone a maze of over 250 villages and dense forests which are the site of several IED attacks. So much for battle plans.
Ever since Friday evening’s blast at Kuldiha, in which the Domkal SDPO’s vehicle was hit and three policemen were critically injured, police have been wary of such attacks. The moment they come across any culvert, many policemen are scared to cross, fearing that Maoists might have planted an IED. Not all police units are attached to central forces who have minesweepers to clear the path ahead.
Four blasts and half a dozen gunbattles have been reported ever since forces started their march to Lalgarh. Though no policeman has died, the guerrillas have scored a psychological victory they have sown the seeds of fear and anxiety. What’s under the next tree or round the bend?
It’s this fear that has led some policemen, who are themselves not trained to detect explosives, to force local youths to do the dangerous job for them. The equipment given to these hapless youngsters? S-shaped rods tied to a rope that they have to hurl at suspicious objects from a distance and then tug and poke to see if there is an explosion.
On Sunday morning, a section of SAP grabbed 7-10 youths, who have fled their homes, to scan the road from Pirakata camp to Bhimpur camp. Though the road was cleared on Saturday, the insurgents had regained control of it within hours and police were scared of an ambush.
Eighteen-year- old Shambhu Ghosh, Madan Mahato (20) and Shakti Ghosh (23) from Dhangori village were among the unlucky locals. They have been on run since last Thursday when security forces entered the village searching for Maoists. On Sunday morning, the trio were having breakfast at a roadside eatery, close to the Pirakata camp, when a team of policemen surrounded them. One of them asked if they were from Dhangori village.
“When we said yes, they asked us where we had been hiding for the last three days? We didn’t give any answer. One of the policeman grabbed us by our collars and threatened to arrest us of we did not work for them,” Shambhu said.
The two were taken to Pirakata camp and given three-foot-long S-shaped rods (possibly taken from a construction site). They were then told to scan for any suspicious object say, an abandoned bag or a box lying on the roadside and use the rod to poke around and see if it triggers an explosion.
The police divided the locals in two groups to scan the 7-km stretch between Pirakata and Bhimpur. The first stretch was from Pirakata to Kaima and from there to Bhimpur. The 10 youths worked for four hours, checking every culvert and every roadblock site. Some officers had no qualms about admitting to using locals for this dangerous work. “Even in Bankura, local youths have been pressed into service. There aren’t enough experts to deal with the situation,” explained an SAP officer.
Sources said that DIB has suggested combing the roads every five to six hours after an operation is complete unless the roads are cleared, central forces cannot move forward. But certainly not this way. Forcing local youths to do the dangerous job will end up alienating more villagers.
On June 21, at a meeting of Lalgarh Andolan Sanhati Mancha (LASM) it was decided that there will be visits made to Lalgarh in co-ordination with all others who wish to stand by the people’s movement and who want to condemn the state violence going on, be it political parties, intellectuals, rights groups or other organisations.
There will be regular campaign programs taken across Kolkata, in form of street corners, rallies, matador-campaigns etc. Preparation will be taken of another large central rally with maximum participation from Kolkata and around. LASM will invite all organisations to join their programs and will ask its own participants to take part in programs called by other groups.
There was also a proposal to set up a mancha on behalf of LASM for days, if not weeks at Esplanade, just like during Nandigram to take central programs there, including regular press statements and briefs of reports providerd by People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities and visiting teams.
It was further decided that other organisations can be allowed to take programs on the Mancha with their own organisagional banners beside the banner of LASM. But with the common minimum understanding that the organisations recognise the Lalgarh people’s grievances as legitimate and they condemn the ongoing police-paramilitary action. Beyond that, the organisations will be allowed to express their political views including criticisms from the Mancha.
APDR had called for a rally from College Square, Kolkata at 4pm on June 22.
Silpi Sahitwik O Buddhijibi Mancha has called for a demonstration on June 23.
MKP has called for a rally from College Square to Esplanade on June 23, 2-30pm. The rally will protest the deployment of central and state forces at Lalgarh to suppress the people’s movement.
June 22. The Times of India
In a desperate bid to win hearts in Lalgarh, the state government has decided to start Alchiki-medium schools and renew the cheques issued to 11 women who were tortured by police during a raid in Chhotopelia village last year. The government also plans to go full steam ahead with a special drive to implement the recommendations of the report of backward classes welfare secretary R D Meena a report that was on the back-burner till now.
In January this year, Meena found that allegations of police atrocities in Chhotopelia village of Lalgarh on November 6, 2008 were true. Women had been brutally assaulted by police in the crackdown that followed the Maoist ambush of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’ s convoy on November 2. This, and the arrest of school students, proved to be the trigger for the Lalgarh revolt.
A chastened government announced a compensation of Rs 50,000 to Chhitamoni Murmu, whose eye was damaged, Rs 25,000 to Panmoni Murmu, whose injury was also serious, and Rs 15,000 each to nine other women.
But the victims refused to accept the cheques. Government officials went to their homes to deliver them, but were turned back. PCPA was angry over the compensation amount, and demanded Rs 2 lakh for each of the injured women.
“Perhaps, they were under pressure from People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA). After the Lalgarh operation, we will approach them again,” home secretary Ardhendu Sen said on Sunday. District magistrate N S Nigam added: “The cheques are still with us. Our officials went to their homes, but they did not take the cheques, possibly out of fear.”
After Meena’s inquiry, two police officials inspector-in- charge Sandip Sinharoy and officer-in-charge Sushanta Rajbanshi of Lalgarh police station were removed from their posts. In addition, the West Midnapore SP, Rajesh Kumar Singh, was transferred out of the district. “The other recommendations of the report were related to the compensation cheques and development projects. We are looking at implemented them fully after the operation,” Sen said.
The state realizes that the battle against Maoists cannot be won without winning the trust of the tribals. It has begun by distributing rice and potatoes among villagers who have fled.
It plans a slew of economic measures in this underdeveloped area to bring the tribals back to the mainstream. But all these will come after the Lalgarh operation is over, raising questions on whether the tribals will be willing to wait till that time when they have already expressed their mistrust of the government.
Officials say many of Meena’s recommendations could not be implemented as the administration found it difficult to enter the area. The government then asked the panchayat and rural development, backward classes welfare and Paschimanchal Unnayan departments to utilize tribal sub-plan funds. The report also suggested that the work of identifying BPL families in the area must be done immediately because the people of this area are backward but do not get the benefits.
Nigam said an exhaustive BPL list is being compiled to include tribals. Other plans include distribution of goats and sheep among villagers, machines to sew saal leaves, setting up Alchiki schools, providing evening tuition and building of houses for Lodhas. Work for some of these projects has already started, Nigam said.
June 22. Amnesty International
Amnesty International calls on the Indian authorities to act with restraint and avoid excessive or unnecessary use of force against adivasi (indigenous) communities who are protesting against police violence. These communities have erected blockades in Lalgarh area, 170 km from Kolkata, in West Bengal.
Amnesty International has received reports that more than 40 people, including women, sustained injuries as over 800 paramilitary personnel used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse protestors and cleared blockades erected by the adivasi communities and armed Maoist rebels.
Amnesty International reminds the authorities that India has international treaty obligations to protect the right to life at all times. The state authorities must ensure that security forces comply with international human rights standards on law enforcement, in particular those relating to the use of force.
Amnesty International calls on state and federal authorities to ensure that all state officials, including police personnel, who are suspected of human rights abuses, including excessive use of force, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, are brought to justice in proceedings that meet international standards of fair trial and do not impose the death penalty.
Amnesty International also appeals to all political organisations in Lalgarh, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which leads the ruling Left Front in West Bengal, the adivasi–led People’s Committee against Police Atrocities and the armed Maoists to denounce and refrain from committing human rights abuses and to adhere to the fundamental principle of humanity as reflected in international humanitarian law.
At least 11 people have died, and several others have been abducted, during a wave of political violence in Lalgarh in the last seven months. Those killed included seven members and supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and four people belonging to the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities.
Allegations that police carried out atrocities against the adivasi community are at the heart of the protests. The violence followed alleged violations perpetrated by the state police after a landmine blast, set off by alleged armed Maoists, targeting the convoy of West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya. The police response allegedly include arbitrary detention of seven persons, three of them schoolboys, for several days and excessive use of force on at least 50 persons including 8 women. No inquiry was held so far into the alleged violations.
June 22. The Hindustan Times
It’s a similar story, headed for a similar ending. Koraput, an under-developed Orissa district, has been cut off from the world for the last five days and looks in danger of becoming another area “liberated” by Maoists.
Like Lalgarh in West Bengal, before it was won back.
Dispossessed tribals on one side and alleged grabbers on the other are in the middle of a violent battle for land waging in Koraput, which is 560 km from Bhubaneshwar. And no prizes for guessing who is winning.
The administration exists on ground but only just. It has no clue as to how much land was lost by tribals and is able to only hazard a guess about how much has been reclaimed by them through peaceful or not-so-peaceful means.
The tribals don’t bring their complaints to the local administration any more. They go straight to organisations backed by the Maoists. In fact, the tribals are not complaining at all. They simply grab back what was grabbed from them.
“They come and hoist a red flag in our agricultural land, signaling the end of our possession over it. I owned 11 acres of land. Now, I’m hiding in the houses of my relatives,” said Madhusudan Pondu, 72, of Balipeta village.
Both the locals and the administration said Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangha, an organisation of dispossessed tribals, is spearheading the agitation. But its violent ways are blamed on a more radical section within it.
The targeted non-tribals have no choice but to leave the area completely – an estimated 200 people have left the Narayanpatna block of which Pondu’s Balipeta village is a part, in recent days.
The Narayanpatna area has been completely cut off for the last five days as sangha activists have blocked the main arterial road with trees.
On Thursday, nine personnel of the Orissa Special Striking Force who tried to clear the road were killed in a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists. Now, no policeman wants to go anywhere near Narayanpatna.
The mainstream sangh leaders held a convention on Saturday but the hotheads from Narayanpatna stayed away. One of them, Nachika Ling, a tribal in his 30s, is believed to be leading the radicals.
This is where the Maoists come in — they are believed to be Linga’s chief backers. And this is where the story begins to sound like Lalagarh’s, where a committee of locals agitating against the police took on the state with the help of Maoists.
“The Maoists want the hawks within the CMAS to take over the organization so that they can guide the tribal movement in the manner the Naxals have done in Lalgarh,” said a senior official refusing to be identified.
“Linga is hand-in-glove with the Maoists,” Sanjeev Panda, DIG of Koraput area, told Hindustan Times. “He was arrested before and spent two to three years in jail before he was released on bail.”
Linga and his group are reported to have forcibly occupied hundreds of acres of land and handed them over to the tribals. The group has also damaged nearly hundred houses belonging to alleged “land usurpers”.
But the state hasn’t given up here yet, unlike in Lalgarh. “Presently, 100 CRPF personnel, about 30 men of India Reserve Battalion and one unit of Orissa Special Striking Force are deployed in Narayanpatna,” said police officer Panda.
And they are not leaving.
June 22. By Pothik Ghosh, The Hindustan Times
In politics, the truth is almost always counter-intuitive. In this realm — where the art of the possible intersects in unexpected ways with the science of the impossible — ominous portents of anarchy often conceal messianic promises of deliverance. Lalgarh, today, is perhaps the starkest symbol of this confounding cocktail, which has come to characterise the polity of Left Front-ruled West Bengal.
What distinguishes the Lalgarh uprising from other violent incidents that have scarred Bengal in recent years is that the cynical calculus of competitive electoral politics has had absolutely no bearing on the movement. The insurgency of the Lalgarh population has been shaped by its experience of a state that has registered its presence in the area through the brutal effectiveness of its repressive apparatuses but has been absent as a purveyor of emancipatory social development.
That is precisely why Lalgarh should not be classified as a tribal identity movement. The majority population of Lalgarh is tribal, but the anti-competitive orientation of their struggle, thanks to the objective politico-economic conditions that have shaped them, serves to invert the logic of identitarian movements, which always articulate their politics in supremacist terms of ethno-cultural domination.
The People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA)-led revolt, which was sparked seven months ago by a repressive combing operation launched by the state police in Lalgarh and surrounding areas in response to a Maoist mine attack on the chief minister’s cavalcade, has steadily become a two-pronged movement of resistance and social reconstruction through participatory management of rudimentary public services such as healthcare developed by the local community.
The Bengal government was extremely cagey until a few weeks ago to launch a crackdown. That was largely due to the movement’s mass insurrectionary character. In Lalgarh, violence has been a collective expression of disaffection against the oppressive socio-economic order the state defends. Even the guerrilla operations carried out by Maoists in the area have become a seamless extension of this insurrection, which enjoys wide-ranging legitimacy. It is this legitimacy, which derives from an assertion of popular sovereignty, that had compelled the West Bengal regime to keep its Stalinist proclivities — seen in Nandigram — in check for so long.
A modern State formation also acts in the name of popular sovereignty. But in an insurrectionary situation, as in Lalgarh, the government comes to be seen as an external threat to the sovereignty of the people. That renders the legal-illegal dichotomy problematic and makes it difficult for the state to monopolise violence to crush popular movements in the name of curbing anti-sovereign insurgency. The CPI(M)-led Left Front could ill-afford such a risk after the electoral drubbing.
Alas, Lalgarh has squandered that advantage, thanks to a tactical blunder by the Maoists. The recent claims by various Maoist leaders that the PCAPA was a front of their underground party has given the repressive arms of both the Bengal government and, to a lesser extent, the Centre, the alibi they had been waiting for. They know the police operation in Lalgarh will now be widely perceived as a legitimate measure to protect popular sovereignty from Maoist depredations.
The Maoists, thanks to their doctrinaire commitment to agrarian revolution and the tactical emphasis on guerrilla struggles exclusively in rural areas of the country, have failed to mobilise the working class in the urban areas. Their time-worn approach of encirclement of cities by a people’s army raised from the countryside has militarised their politics; their roving guerrilla squads carry out dramatic raids on behalf of a rural population they have barely organised. It has thus been easy for the Indian ruling classes to delegitimise it as an ‘outside’ threat to ‘internal security’.
The Maoists may have a significant numerical and ideological presence within the Lalgarh movement. But the PCAPA, diverse in its composition, is not a Maoist front. The situation was an opportunity for the Maoists to quietly provide the PCAPA logistical support and ideological orientation to expand the movement politically through the aggregation of other disenfranchised sections of Bengal’s society into one movement, which would articulate a polyphonous critique of a larger political-economic logic constitutive of their various miseries. That would, among other things, transform Maoism into an ideological current, which is always internal to an ever-expanding constellation of popular movements.
Under such conditions, the character of political violence, even when guerrilla tactics are deployed, would always be insurrectionary. The State would then be hard put to delegitimise such violence, or the movements that generate them, as anti-sovereign. It would also reclaim Maoism from its current sectarian militarism that has, often enough, ended up replicating the same repressive forms of state power.
Clearly, the Maoists’ conception of the party as an a priori state-form, which seeks to subordinate various registers of struggle to its doctrinaire conception of politics, is their Achilles’ heel. This predisposes their organisation to the same kind of social-democratic and Stalinist degeneration that has afflicted the CPI(M)-led Left Front’s strain of working-class politics in Bengal. In social democracy, there is no place for transformative politics because it treats the State, which actually is constitutive of an exploitative system, as a neutral instrument that merely needs to be controlled to enforce equity. The absurd Stalinist split the CPI(M) has managed to create between development and democracy is a symptom of this social-democratic malaise.
The Maoists, who too call their party the CPI(M) — Communist Party of India (Maoist) — should make sure their uncanny resemblance with the original CPI(M) stop right there. And that can probably begin with their redefinition of the organisation as a movement-form, where Maoism is envisioned as a dynamic organisational impulse and the party is always in a state of formation through a process of perpetual politicisation at the grassroots.
By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati. June 24, 2009.
War-hysteria in media: cobras, shields, and sanitization
We have been witnessing what can only be described as “war hysteria” in the media coverage of the current situation in Lalgarh and adjoining areas. It appears as if the great protectors of the “rule of law”, the West Bengal state police, propped up by the CRPF and a plethora of other armed forces, with suitably scary acronyms like COBRA, are out to regain a chunk of Indian territory occupied by a hostile country. What is conveniently not being mentioned is that for ages the police itself has behaved like invaders in the area, willfully torturing and humiliating people, and that is why they had been boycotted in that area for the past six months. With blow-by-blow accounts of their progress, and description of how they are penetrating “human shields”, and “sanitizing” whole areas, it doesn’t seem that their adversaries are the poorest of the poor, the most marginalized sections of Indian society, the adivasis who are armed with traditional weapons like bows and arrows, and some Maoist cadre, who would be a few dozen at the most, and armed mostly with weapons looted from the police and improvised explosive devices.
The trigger in Dharampur: a popular response to rampaging harmad militias
More importantly, what is being represented as a war between the Maoists and the Indian state, conveniently glosses over some points that we need to pay our attention to. The rural area of Lalgarh has been out of bounds for the administrative machinery of the state since last November, since the uprising of the adivasi-moolvasi people of the area against police atrocities. With the setting up of the PCPA, the adivasis had been running their own affairs, and even taking up much-needed developmental work, a whiff of functioning democracy in the middle of the hoax that goes on by the name of democratic governance in large parts of India.
Then, what suddenly triggered this confrontation, and this cascade of events that is today witnessing police dragging out women from houses in the Lalgarh area and beating them blue and black and hundreds of people fleeing to relief camps?
It points to the incident which happened in Dharampur, near Lalgarh town, on June 14th. It was reported in the press on that day, but now has been conveniently forgotten as the press is busy to set up the Maoists, and the PCPA, which they repeatedly call Maoist-controlled contrary to all evidence and denials by the PCPA leadership, as the arch-villains in this episode.
Dharampur is near Lalgarh town, and it was a CPI(M) stronghold where the house of the zonal committee member, Anuj Pandey, was located. On 14th June, a PCPA rally was proceeding towards that place, called to protest against the arrest and reported rape of adivasi women who had gone to a meeting in Chakulia in Jharkhand. It was a usual PCPA rally, with traditional weapons and led by women as usual. When it neared Dharampur, it was attacked by CPI(M) harmads, targeting the women. The rallyists couldn’t resist this attack and dispersed, but then a Maoist squad arrived and started a gun battle with the CPI(M) cadres, which continued till late in the night.
With their superior firepower, the Maoists gunned down at least nine of the CPI(M) attackers. Thereafter, the next day there were multiple rallies called by the PCPA, and the people in these rallies, who were incensed by the CPI(M) attack of the previous day, decided to take over the CPI(M) strongholds of Dharampur, a major operating base for the CPI(M) harmads, and Lalgarh town which was still under the administrative control of the government. The Maoist squad accompanied them, to resist attacks by the CPI(M), and not allow a repetition of the past day’s incident.
20,000 Maoists and “frontal organisations”?
What followed has been widely reported, how CPI(M) party offices were burnt down, how the palatial house of Anuj Pandey, the widely hated CPI(M) leader, was broken down, and how some CPI(M) members were killed. It was a spontaneous outburst of pent up fury of the people, people who had been subjected to humiliation and exploitation by these same CPI(M) leaders on a daily basis. They acted out of a sense of deliverance from the hegemony and corruption of the CPI(M). The Maoists were definitely present, but the 10,000-20,000 people who participated in this uprising were definitely not Maoists, as has been represented by the press. They were common people, and their anger and frustration found expression in this outburst. Although a number of political leaders, including those from the Trinamool Congress and Congress, made statements to this effect, it has completely been glossed over by the mainstream press.
Human shields – a physical protection of liberty and development
In order to reinforce this idea, multiple press reports have tried to represent the human walls set up by the adivasis as “human shields” being used by the Maoists to protect themselves from the police and paramilitary. It is possibly incomprehensible to the corporate media that these people were standing there not to protect the Maoists, but to protect the freedom that they have enjoyed for the past six months, freedom from daily harassment and humiliation, and to preserve the gains that they had made during that time, like the building of a few roads and digging of a few ponds, meeting the immediate needs of the people, things that Indian state has not provided in the past sixty-two years.
Teaching adivasis a few lessons along the way
However, as expected, they could not resist the brute force unleashed by the same state that had failed them so miserably. The police and paramilitary dispersed them by teargas and lathicharging, and since then there has been innumerable reports of atrocities being committed by the police. Remarkably, much of these atrocities were committed in the villages on the way to Lalgarh town, which were not even within the zone that was under the control of the PCPA. It appears that the state is bent upon teaching the adivasis a lesson for standing up for their dignity, and the Maoists represented a suitable bogey for doing so. The Maoists, according to their stated policy of guerrilla warfare, would not engage in a frontal confrontation with the paramilitary forces. So what have effectively taken place are a few skirmishes between vastly assymetrical adversaries, and the brave saviours of “law and order” have vented their righteous ire on the unarmed adivasis.
Maoist presence: an old fact and a rehashed bogey
The Maoists have been active in the entire jangalmahal area for a long time, and have been fighting a running battle with the state. The adivasis in the area have long been victimized by the police for this, and it was the police brutalities in the wake of the landmine attack on the West Bengal CM’s convoy by the Maoists that triggered this uprising. The Maoists have been with the adivasis of Lalgarh in this uprising against the state, just as members of many other political parties including the Congress, have been with them. What we are witnessing today is that the Indian state is using this as an excuse to delegitimize the just demands and aspirations of the adivasis, which stemmed from a simple demand for the recognition of their dignity. Attacks on indigeneous people are taking place all over the world, whenever they are resisting the state and the corporations attempt to deprive them of their land, water, forests and dignity, as we recently saw in the attacks on the Peruvian indigeneous people in the Amazon area. All attempts to resist and retaliate are being represented as insurgency and a breakdown of “law and order”. The corporate press is playing along with this, as we see in the case of Lalgarh, and deliberately glossing over facts and issues, to represent the struggle of the indigeneous people, in which armed struggle is increasingly playing a part, as a loss of sovereign authority by the state, which has to be regained at any cost.
Ground dynamics and civil society
The “civil society” in West Bengal, and all over India, has rightly been very distressed over these incidents and condemned both the atrocities committed by the state and what many think to be the reckless behaviour of the Maoists. However, it is also to be expected that the civil society cannot decide, or dictate, what course a movement on the ground will take. A movement develops its own dynamics, based on the ground conditions, and always does not follow a linear path to the most desirable end. Therefore, it becomes the duty of civil society to stand up and be counted when common people are at the receiving end of oppression by the state. We should express our solidarity with the struggle of the adivasis for justice and development, deplore the atrocities being committed on them by the armed forces of the state and demand the immediate withdrawal of the latter from the area as a necessary condition for normalization of the situation and also condemn all the attempts by the state to use this excuse to impinge on the democratic rights of the people. The adivasis had risen up with the demand of a small apology from the police, if what is happening now does not stop, the Indian state will owe them a much bigger one.
By Sujan Datta. The Telegraph, June 25, 2009
A nearly finished building for a 100-bed hospital at Kewakole on the road to this town will get its first occupants shortly — they will not be doctors, nurses or patients but uniformed security personnel with guns and bullets.
The Bengal government is deploying so many forces in its offensive in Lalgarh that there isn’t enough room to house them. Even a hospital — there is only a primary health centre in Kewakole with the bare minimum in facilities — is now designated as a camp for security personnel who are on their way here. Every school and college in Goaltore has been requisitioned.
There is too much firepower in too small an area. Police walk into shops with guns and ask for food, they talk to people with guns slinging from their shoulders. They talk about guns and forces. The chatter intimidates the villagers. It is like living in a militarised zone, not unlike scenes in Nagaland and Manipur and Kashmir.
Even if the army is not here, there uniforms are — so many of the state and central forces wear the army-issue fatigues that they are difficult to distinguish from the military. The forces have the bearing of the army but do not have its training.
Bengal’s Lalgarh offensive has already taken in 5,000 troops. The figure has not been announced officially. A senior security officer told The Telegraph today that the combined forces of the state and the Centre total 50 companies. There are another 10 companies of central forces coming in.
The “operations” are designed to sweep through 200 villages, with 100 in a core area. The official suggested using Kantapahari, the village on the south-to-north road from Lalgarh to Ramgarh —that the forces have not entered as yet — as the centre of the region.
“It will take time. There is no hurry. Our strategy is to clear-and-hold, clear-and-hold,” he said. “There is no point in simply going ahead without consolidation or we may land into a trap because the Maoists know the area well. We need to round up their ringleaders. So, normal policing activity has to be started in the areas we are holding,” he said.
Since the offensive began, the forces have only gone down an east-west axis to Lalgarh police station.
The forces will ultimately seek to secure about 500sqkm of territory inside which the villages are spread out. There are jungles and four roads “like fingers” that lead to Lalgarh.
The eastern periphery of this region is the road that runs from Midnapore through Salboni to Goaltore and up to Sarenga in Bankura district. The security forces are now pouring into Goaltore in a build-up for an offensive through Pingboni where the Bengal armed police were stopped by rebels last Saturday.
A total of 5,000 security personnel in an area of 500sqkm means an average of 10 police personnel per square km. The security forces have not yet been able to spread out.
With the Maoist rebels displaying that they are capable of putting up a fight — like they did in Pingboni where even today the police are not venturing — Lalgarh’s offensive and the build-up is putting thousands of lives at risk despite the delicate handling that Writers’ Buildings has ordered.
The presence of the troops here pleases nobody, including the police themselves. “I was posted in Birbhum,” says a Bengal Armed Police constable carrying a .303 rifle with him into a little roadside eatery for a lunch of rice and dal.
He is camping, he says, in the Goaltore Boys High School. “There are 50 of us in a room and the ceiling fan hardly moves. I am on guard duty from 8 in the morning till 3 and its bloody hot.”
He asks for vegetables to go with the rice and dal. There is none available in the eatery. “The central forces move with their cooks and provisions. We have been sent here without any arrangements. Thank God for this shop here, I haven’t gone hungry the last three days,” he says. He left Birbhum eight days ago.
Three more soldiers walk into the eatery. They are from the India Reserve Battalion. Each of them is carrying an AK-47. The armed police constable’s .303 weighs 7 kilos. One of the IRB troopers says his weapon “weighs exactly 4 kilos and 700 grams and can fire 30 bullets in a second”. The constable says he will take 10 seconds to fire 10 rounds because he has to pull the catch back every time.
In the eatery are four other people — the owner, the cook, the helper and a customer. They are agog, listening to this chatter about guns and bullets. The customer trudged from Babuibasha, a village about 4km from Goaltore past a forest. He forgets to chew his food.
He talks after the police have left. He said people in his village — in a zone that the police have not yet gone — were terrified. He does not talk of the police. In village after village here, the local people call the security forces by a different name — “shontrash bahini” — repressive force.
June 28, 2009. The Times of India
Noted Santhali author Dhirendranath Baske has written to the West Bengal government, asking it not to use his name any longer as adviser of the magazine Paschimbanga, published by the department of information and cultural affairs. Baske was the former editor of this magazine.
“The state government is behaving in a merciless manner in Lalgarh. In protest, I wrote to the director, department of information and cultural affairs, on Thursday, detaching myself completely from any of its publications,” Baske said. “The tribal population in Bengal has always been neglected. Norwegian missionary Paul Olaf Bodding did a lot of work among the Santhals between 1889 and 1933. In fact, it was Bodding who created the first alphabet and wrote the first grammar for the Santhals. His works have been microfilmed by the University of Oslo. After much effort, I succeeded in getting copies to Kolkata in 2003. Since then, nobody bothered to conduct any research on them. These documents contain the traditions and culture of the Santhals. This proves what the government feels about the community.”
It was Baske who first wrote Santhali in the Bangla script. He is also associated with the Loko Sanskriti O Adivasi Sanskriti Kendra and is the former vice-president of the Santhal Academy.
June 29 2009
As the central forces sanitise an area and move on, state police are facing charges that they are repeating the brutality which had provoked the Lalgarh agitation in the first place.
The police allegedly beat up villagers at Pathardanga yesterday and destroyed their food grain, reminding residents why they “hated the force so much” and providing the retreating Maoists a chance to play “protector” again.
After the police left the village, the Maoists returned. They persuaded the villagers to shift to the relief camps the rebels have opened at four places between Lalgarh and Ramgarh under the banner of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities.
Last afternoon, the security forces had come under fire from the direction of Pathardanga, 3km from Lalgarh, during a sanitising operation. They fired back and waited, but nothing happened. The central forces then headed for committee leader Chhatradhar Mahato’s village, Amliya. The state police stayed back to conduct a “search” at Pathardanga.
The state police’s first target was day labourer Manoranjan Mal, 30, who had stayed back when the other males fled the village.
The police kicked the door of his house and broke it open. They began slapping and punching Mal, wife Jharna said. “Tor ghore IED rakha aachhe (you have a bomb at your home),” a policeman shouted as Jharna and her two young sons cowered.
The “search” began, with the police flinging utensils around and tearing the mattress apart. Then they came across the sack of 30kg of relief rice from the government. They ripped it open, spilled the rice on the floor, stamped on the grain and emptied a can of kerosene over it.
“This was our month’s supply but now the rice is inedible,” Jharna said at the committee’s Kantapahari camp. “This is why we hate the police so much. This was all the rice I had to feed my two sons.” Mal, whom the police took away, is in detention.
Jipita Soren said she was alone when the police barged into her home. “They threw my dinner — a bowl of cooked rice — on the floor and stamped on it.” Kamalmoti Tudu said the police poured water on her firewood, so she couldn’t cook. “In the evening, the Maoists came and said they would look after us.”
IG (western range) Kuldiep Singh said he hadn’t heard of the incidents but promised to “look into it”. “It’s a large force; so it’s possible there are some bad pennies,” he said.
Spraying dye from helicopters: how to recognise a Maoist
The Bengali daily Sanbad Pratidin of 27 June 2009 carried a front-page news item which clearly shows that US intelligence agencies and the Indian space research centre, the ISRO are very much involved in this war declared by the central and WB state government against the people of Lalgarh. The report is captioned ‘Chemical dyes and foreign technology used to locate Mao’, and written by Rajarshee Dasgupta. This is a free translation by Amit Bhattacharya.
Goaltore: A literally ‘high tech’ war has started in Lalgarh. US intelligence satellites and the Indian space research centre, ISRO have been tagged with this war for regaining the areas held by the Maoists. On the other hand, in order to trace the Maoist guerrillas who have kept themselves mixed with the villagers, the administration has taken the help of the most modern technology.
At the beginning of the second round of the ‘Operation Lalgarh’, the air force has dropped special chemical dyes over Murarka village adjoining the Burishol forest where 1,500 Maoist guerrillas are supposed to be holed up. In case the dye falls on the bodies of the guerrillas, its colour will last for one year. This means that after they are driven out from the area by the forces and take shelter in another village, it would thus be easy to identify them. As a result, the Maoists, on the one hand, would not be able to get themselves mixed up with the villagers; on the other hand, the police forces would not be accused of arresting innocent people while going for the Maoists. The first part in this ‘high tech’ war was successful on Friday (26 June). There will be a fresh expedition on Saturday. On that day, the administration has taken the decision to apply the second special method.
For the last eight months, the police were totally in the dark about what had been taking place in the interior. It was only after decision was taken to undertake joint expedition that the state home department woke up from its slumber. They requested the central government to help them know about the whereabouts, base area, the location of the forces etc of the Maoist guerrillas inside the ‘core area’. After a lot of discussion, it was decided that foreign technological assistance would be taken. The central home department also thought about satellite pictures. Accordingly, the government turned towards the ISRO and US technology. It was through RI Sat-2 and US intelligence satellites that areas such as Baroperlia, Kantapahari, Ramgarh, Mahultal, Kadashol, Pingboni, Goaltore on one side and Dhrampur and Jhitka on the other came under the satellite scanner.
After continuous scanning, the two institutes started sending still pictures. Then army intelligence officers were called upon to analyze the data. The army intelligence officials sat down at the eastern army headquarter at Fort William, Kolkata and noticed the movement of a massive guerrilla army inside the Kadashol forest. They could also identify the movements of armed squads in Ramgarh-Narcha region. The news of a red Maruti van being parked in Ramgarh bazaar was communicated to police officials in charge of operations. On the basis of this information, the expedition started from Goaltore towards Ramgarh. More companies of the central forces were brought in. After that, order was given to those leading police supers, deputy supers and CRPF commandants for march. Ultimately, the expedition started on Friday (26 June). As the forces had prior knowledge about the area, the joint forces could, with ease, capture the 6-km area from Goaltore to Kadashol by overcoming the difficulty posed by 12 landmines and the Maoist guns.
In course of the expedition, time and again debate broke out over the question of how to separate Maoists from the villagers. It was to overcome this problem that the decision to drop one particular chemical from the helicopter was taken. On Friday, it was dropped on the Maoist guerrillas on an experimental basis. On different occasions in foreign countries and in many a war, this method was applied. It is in Lalgarh that for the first time in a state-led expedition, such things were applied against the secessionists. On the whole, it can be stated that from the satellite pictures to the dropping of helicopter – everything in ‘Operation Lalgarh’ is ‘high tech’”.
July 3, 2009.
The Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) strongly condemns the arrest of Medha Patkar, Sujato Bhadra, Gopal Menon and Anuradha Talwar at Bombay road on their way to Lalgarh by the West Bengal Police. They were arrested and booked under Cr PC 151 & 188.
Gopal Menon the filmmaker was specifically targeted by the vindictive police of West Bengal who brutally assaulted him with rifle butts and batons. He was beaten under the specific instructions of the Additional SP of police Pranab Kumar as per the information from several civil rights groups. After being beaten on the chest and other parts of the body he had to be admitted to the Debra Hospital near by as he started profusely vomiting. Gopal Menon had also tried to accompany another fact finding team a few days before comprising of senior trade union activists, women’s activists, lawyers and other social activists. This team also was arrested at Midnapore. Maybe the crime of Gopal Menon was his assertion to his right to know and document the activities of the state in supposedly bringing back ‘normalcy’ in Lalgarh and Jangal Mahal.
If this is what a documentary filmmaker has to face before the lawless police and paramilitary of the CPM-led government in West Bengal then one can imagine the state of affairs of the faceless Adivasi people of Lalgarh and Jangal Mahal. No wonder the police and the paramilitary are not allowing anyone with an independent mind to visit the area under occupation by the forces. This also brings to the fore the fear of several civil rights bodies and other independent observers that the police and paramilitary can resort to any level of barbarism in order to ‘sanitise’ the area. And this also makes it clear why the central home minister P. Chidambaram does not want any civil society group or human rights bodies to visit the area!
The only way that this government can deal with the issues of life and death for the toiling masses, pertaining to the four dreaded Ds—Displacement, Destruction, Destitution and Death—are only through the baton and barrels of the police and paramilitary. Otherwise any people oriented government would have first listened to the just demands of the Adivasis of Lalgarh. The latest reports coming from independent sources also say that the paramilitary has started burning the huts and destroying the poultry of the people in Lalgarh. Their wells are being poisoned and excreta being thrown into the water bodies that are normally used for drinking purposes. All these exercise of brutality point to Salwa Judum kind of campaign being undertaken against the defiant masses of Lalgarh. Already there are reports of harassment of children, women and the old.
The Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) demands the immediate and unconditional release of these prominent social and civil rights activists. We demand that the Additional SP Pranab Kumar who had specifically instructed his police men to brutalise the filmmaker Gopal Menon should be booked under the law of the land for abuse of his power. Such high handed and authoritarian behaviour of senior police officers should be curbed firmly. Such police officers can only be a bane of the society.
July 10 2009.
Police had a harrowing time trying to prevent 300 workers of the Majdoor Kranti Parishad (MKP) on Thursday. The MKP workers looked determined to reach out to Lalgarh breaking the police barricade right at the Midnapore railway station. Police finally detained all MKP activists at Kotwali police station for five hours and later released them on personal bond.
Agitators complained that police heckled some of their senior leaders and rounded up 48 women without women police being present. “Police can’t stop us at Midnapore railway station because the prohibitory orders are not in force in this area,” said general secretary Amitava Bhattacharya. “Our target was to reach Lalgarh and put pressure on the administration to immediately call off the joint operation. Villagers are leaving their home and hearth. Most of them are scared of the security forces. Some have already faced police torture. The government should concentrate on the development of Jangalmahal, including the forest hamlets in Belpahari, where the distress is maximum.”
MKP president Binanda Jha alleged that police heckled women’s wing leader Rakhi Sarkar and arrested all 48 women workers without any women police personnel being present.
Meanwhile, PCPA spokesperson Chhatradhar Mahato saw a CPM and police plan in an unsigned letter he reportedly received, demanding PCPA’s accounts. “I have received an unsigned letter asking me to furnish PCPA’s accounts. I fear that it is a mischievous design of the ruling CPM and police. Police ransacked a PCPA leader’s house at Amkola near the Kangsabati and beat him up. We will launch a movement against such atrocities very soon if police continue with the repression,” he said.
Rajesh Mahato, secretary of the Chhatra Yuva Kurmi Sangram Committee, said: “We will violate Section 144 in Jhargram on Sunday as the SDO did not give permission for a peace rally requesting the administration to stop torture on innocents and putting false charges on poor people.”
Meanwhile, Sudir Mahato, Swapan Mahato, Buddheswar Mahato and Saumyajit Mahato CPM leaders from Chuansol, 25 km from Midnapore, quit the party reportedly after being threatened by Maoists.
EPW articles on Lalgarh
June 27 – July 10 2009 Issue.
Editorial piece: Lalgarh – Questions to the Left [PDF, English] »
Sumit sarkar and Tanika Sarkar: Notes on a dying people [PDF English] »
Monika Bora, Budhaditya Das: The Movement in Lalgarh [PDF English] »
Students lock up cops in school
July 10, The Telegraph
Students of a high school 15km from Lalgarh today marched to their institution and locked its gates demanding that policemen camping there vacate the premises and let classes resume.
Over a dozen high schools in and around Lalgarh are shut now because they are being used to house security forces.
At Binpur High School, where classes have not been held since June 15, 250 students came in a procession and asked the 50 personnel living inside to clear out immediately. Then they locked the cops in.
At 12.30pm, the inspector in charge of Binpur came with a large team of baton-wielding personnel and chased the children away. The force broke the lock on the school gate.
“We have repeatedly asked the administration to shift the camp but nothing has happened. That is why we decided to demonstrate today but the police hit us with sticks,” said Dayal Sinha, who is in Class XI.
A farmer whose son is in Class VIII threatened a police boycott if they did not relent.
Ironically, it is a boycott that brought such a large number of security personnel here. The tribals of Lalgarh had been boycotting the administration to protest alleged police atrocities. Maoist guerrillas made use of it and turned the area into their stronghold until the forces marched in.
“If necessary, we will go for a police boycott,” said Amitava Bera, 48.
In Calcutta, home secretary Ardhendu Sen held out hope. “We will vacate the schools in 15 days and shift the forces to new camps.”
A retired police officer said occupying schools for an “indefinite period” was not a right “tactical” decision. “When a large contingent is invol-ved in area domination, they should be provided with good accommodation. Government buildings such as schools are ideal, but only if the forces are going to be stationed there for a short time,” said S.N. Sarkar.
West Midnapore police chief Manoj Verma said over 15 permanent camps were being constructed in the area. “We are trying to build them fast.”
Even before the forces move out for good, attempts are being made to resume the higher classes. Jhargram subdivisional officer P. Ulganathan said: “We have requested the district police chief to vacate a few classrooms so Classes VIII to XII can be held.”
District inspector of schools Santosh Patra said about 20,000 students were missing their classes. “The school education department told us to find rooms in the nearest primary schools and hold classes there. But it is not feasible. First, primary schools have few rooms. Second, all the affected high schools don’t have primary schools nearby.”
The higher secondary council said it was exploring ways to make up on lost time. “We may ask the schools to hold full classes on Saturdays and beyond normal hours. The Puja vacation may have to be curtailed,” said council secretary Swapan Sarkar.
Lalgarh funds may go unutilised: No project proposals for development
July 12. The Statesman
At a time when lack of development is being singled out as the major reason behind the Maoist menace in Lalgarh, uncertainty looms large over proper utilisation of a handsome amount of funds earmarked for development projects in the area.
Senior officials at Writers’ Buildings apprehend a major portion of Rs 50 crore, which was allotted as additional Central assistance to the Paschimanchal Unnayan Affairs department to undertake several development projects in Maoist-infested districts, could remain unutilised this year as the district authorities are yet to submit project specific proposals to the finance department. As per an order issued by the finance department this year, project proposals needed to be submitted to the finance department within 31 July if the Paschimanchal Unnayan Affairs department wants to use the funds allotted as additional Central assistance in this financial year.
A senior official of the Paschimanchal Unnayan Affairs department said: “The department has a total of Rs 60 crore as budgetary allocation this year to undertake development projects in backward blocks of West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Birbhum and Burdwan. Of this, Rs 10 crore is allotted as core budget of the department and the rest (Rs 50 crore) is additional Central assistance. We can use the funds allotted under the core budget on our own. But to use the Central assistance, we need to submit project proposals in advance.”
“The rule has been introduced this year. As of now, we used to spend Central assistance as per the requirement of the area and for this no prior proposals were needed to be submitted. We have asked the concerned district magistrates to prepare project proposals for Central assistance funds, but these are yet to reach here,” the official added.
Officials also said as the district authorities of the Maoist-infested areas were busy in holding Lok Sabha polls and later they had to concentrate on the Lalgarh operations, they did not get time to prepare the project proposals. Now, as no such proposals have been submitted with only about two weeks to go before the deadline, officials apprehend a major portion of the funds is going to remain unspent. The funds were meant for several water related projects like drinking water projects, minor irrigation, excavation of water tanks and rain water harvesting in the under-developed areas where Maoists have gained a foothold over the past few years.
Last year also, the Paschimanchal Unnayan Affairs department had failed to spend a major portion of the funds allotted to it to undertake development projects in these areas. The department could use only Rs 23 crore out of its Rs 50 crore budgetary allocation.
If the department fails to carry out development with the Central assistance funds, it would be a jolt to the state government which is desperate to develop the areas where Maoists have gained a foothold.
72-hr PCPA bandh in three districts
July 18 2009
Both the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) and the Maoists have called bandhs one after the other.
While the Maoist-backed PCPA has given a call for a 72-hour bandh in West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts from Sunday to protest the month-long operation and torture of innocent villagers at its core committee meeting near Lalgarh on Friday, CPI(Maoist) has called a bandh on July 22, immediately after this strike ends in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bengal in protest against the price hike of petrol, potato and essential commodities.
“We saw police and CPM-backed goons torture innocent people in the name of anti-Maoist operation for the past one month. They even heckled women. Many villagers have even been forced to leave villages. So, we have called a 72-hour bandh, demanding a stop to such torture and immediate withdrawal of security forces from the area,” said PCPA leader Chhatradhar Mahato.
“We have also decided to distribute farmlands among landless farmers and labourers of CPM leaders, who have left. Everyone knows that CPM leaders had encroached and evicted many farmers,” he added.
For example, CPM’s Binpur zonal committee secretary Anuj Pandey, who left Dharampur on June 14 following the exchange of fire between CPM and Maoists, used to possess two bigha vested land, after evicting the original patta holder.
According to PCPA, Anuj and his two brothers Ujjwal and Manas have 7 bigha cultivable land and 2 bigha vested land. Anuj’s maternal uncle and CPM zonal committee member, Binoy Pandey, and his three brothers had 12 bigha in all. Binoy’s brother Amal Pandey became Dharampur gram panchayat pradhan and owner of a 30-bigha plot. Another CPM leader, Dalim Pandey, and his three brothers have 12 bigha at Harina. All of them fled Dharampur and Harina on June 14.
CPI(Maoist) leader Bikash said: “Maoists will observe a bandh in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bengal to protest the price hike of essential commodities like petrol and potatoes on July 22.”
By Partho Sarathi Ray and Koustav De. Sept 8, 2009
Police reported of an extended encounter with Maoists on September 2 near Madhupur. In which allegedly 2 Maoists were killed, two others were arrested.
However, the PSBJC has asserted that the persons arrested and killed were all common villagers, supporters of PSBJC who were attending a rally called to protest the rape of a adivasi woman by the police. The police allegedly raped the woman by entering her house in the name of search-operation. The rally was reportedly 12,000 strong and unarmed when police started firing on the people without provocation. The PSBJC fully rejected the news of the encounter, stating it to be completely fabricated.
According to the police and administration, on September 2 there had been a 4-hour long gunbattle between the combined forces and the Maoists near Madhupur village as a result of which two Maoists have been killed and two others have been arrested. On Thurssday, September 3, the two arrested people, Ajay Sana and Gautam Mahato, were produced in court where they were remanded to seven days of judicial custody.
However according to sources in Madhupur village, on Wednesday afternoon the procession of PSBJC was proceeding from Madhupur, in Salboni block, towards Godamouli which is on the way to Sijua. Sijua is a CPI(M) stronghold and there have been previous attacks from this side on Madhupur (this correspondent has once witnessed such an attack himself). The procession was first fired on by CPI(M) harmads hiding in the jungles on the side of the road, and people started running back towards the village. Apparently the combined forces and the COBRA forces were searching in the jungles on the other side of the road and they started firing on these fleeing people. Two of the processionists, Hemanta Debsingha of Madhupur and Jaladhar Mahato of Goaltore were killed in the firing.
Since then the administration have been claiming that these are Maoists. Both the PSBJC and the CPI(Maoist) have rejected the version. The PSBJC has called a 12 hour bandh in West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia against this.
Beating of arrested PSBJC members
In another action, the combined forces had arrested 14 women and 3 men from a PSBJC rally in the Tensabandh area of Kantapahari. Among the three men, Ajay Murmu of Sarasbediya and Vishwanath Soren of Darigeriya were beaten up brutally before being released in the night. The other man, Ramdulal Mandi, and the 14 women were also beaten up badly and when they were produced in the court they actually told the judge about the torture they have undergone. From eyewitness accounts, most of the women, including elderly women like Sumi Mandi, couldn’t even walk by themselves when they were produced in the court. Their limbs were swollen from the beating.
There are also accounts of women being molested during the raids by the combined forces. However, according to the police version, when the police had raided Bansber village in search of Maoists, the women had tried to mobilize the villagers by blowing conch shells and beating drums. When the police lodged tear gas shells to disperse the villagers, the women had hurt themelves trying to flee. This sort of police version about injuries to prisoners is quite common.
On the other hand, Shibu Pratihar, a PSBJC member who had been arrested from Sarenga in Bankura was found hanging in the toilet in the court house in Midnapore where he had been brought to appear before a judge. The police are claiming it as a suicide.
The lajja-bisarjan protest
In protest against these atrocities, especially the assault and molestation of the women, the women of Lalgarh have decided to go for “lajja-bisarjan” protest, i.e they will strip infront of the police and the combined forces in the same way that the women of Manipur had done infront of the Assam Rifles headquarters a few years back.
September 27 2009
Shouldn’t we ponder over?
An almost unprecedented mass-upsurge has been sweeping over West Bengal for the last three years as evident from the experiences of Singur, Nandigram, and Lalgarh. Realising that their life and occupation are being endangered in the name of “development”, the downtrodden have stood up and built up massive protest movements, not led by any party or individual, but out of their own initiative. Consequently all the forts of conspiracy and persecution of the autocracy are being shattered. In this context the Central Government, the self-styled “nationalists” and the State Government, the self-styled “communists” have joined hands to impose anew devastating state-terror in Lalgarh. The Joint Force have been persecuting the vast masses of people, conducting wanton plunder and destruction. People have to leave their homes and take shelter in forests etc to save their lives. Even the women are being subjected to dishonor and sexual persecution. Like all democratic people we do condemn and oppose these acts.
But at the same time the situation has become complicated due to the activities of the CPI(Maoists). Our democratic sense imbues us to demand that every person must allowed to express their opinion and act according to their belief, and also that no one should be gagged, tortured or killed for holding opposition views. We oppose and condemn CPI(M) just for these trampling and raping acts on peoples’ democratic rights, which it has done during their rule in West Bengal, and has even been doing this at the present moment in Keshpur and many other places. But the same acts are being done by the cadres of the CPI(Maoist) Party in West Medinipur, along with their politics of individual annihilation. In our opinion, these acts of theirs are harming the process of mass-upsurge in West Bengal, and , in particular, the peoples’ glorious movement in Lagarh. At the same time these activities have been creating some sort of “justification” of the state-terror and CPI(M)’s party-terror.
While condemning the state-terror and all party- terrors performed by CPI(M) and other parties, we also do oppose the above-referred activities. When the state is making schemes for imposing state-terror on a larger and much-co-ordinated scale, it is not possible to carry forward the mass-upsurge in West Bengal by abandoning the mass-movements and following the politics of trampling of opposite views and policy of mass-annihilation. This lesson has been learnt again and again from the concrete experiences of the past. Shouldn’t we ponder over ?
Published by Dipankar Chakrabarti (Shyam Vihar :5/1D. Raghunathpur. Kolkata-700059 PHONE:94328 77560)
September 28 2009. West Bengal. Click here for Bengali version [PDF] »
We the undersigned individuals and organisations, strongly condemn the arrest of Chatradhar Mahato on 26 September 2009 by the CID and we demand his unconditional release.
All of us sincerely believe that the tactics used for arresting is absolutely illegal. Because, firstly: During arrest, according to Supreme Court Judgment (D.K Basu trial) police must be in uniform and bear the official batch. The police have to produce memo of arrest, they have to get it signed by the person detained, have to prepare the memo of inspection and also give a copy, letting the reason of arrest be known. The last one being a constitutional right under Article 22.
The police have not followed any of these while arresting Chatradhar Mahato. Not only that, police have knowingly violated the 2006 amendment to section 50A of Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Secondly, the Indian Penal Code has no provision for police to arrest someone incognito, rather the police can be accused of being an “Imposter” under IPC.
Thirdly, it is being reported in media that Chatradhar Mahato has been accused in 20-22 Criminal cases. This is completely untrue as Chatradhar Mahato is an activist of mass movement who was never accused in any criminal cases. Till June 13 2009 Chatradhar Mahato had participated in several discussions with the Election Commission and the State Government. No accusations came up then. It was only after the joint operation from June 18 2009 that the State Government came up with several allegations!
It is most clear that the government and police have falsely made the allegations to frame Chatradhar Mahato. It can be easily understood that the arrest is an act of vendetta against the people who protested against police atrocities.
We demand once more that the government should start a dialogue and before that must release Chatradhar Mahato unconditionally.
We appeal to all reporter friends and their media houses to protest and also take legal action against this act of discrediting the profession.
Jaya Mitra, Tarun Sanyal, Debabrata Bandopadhyay, Sunil Sanyal, Pratul Mukhopadhyay, Asim Giri, Ajanta Ghosh, Abhijit Mitra, Subhendu Bandopadhyay, Santu Gupta, Sudipto Dasgupta, Binayak Sen, Ilina Sen, Arundhuti Ray, Amit Bhaduri, Madhu Bhaduri, Tanika Sarkar, Sumit Sarkar, Sumit Chaudhuri, Prafull Bidwai, Asim Srivastav, Panchu Ray, Shantanu Bandopadhyay, Sumanta Bandopadhyay
FAMA (Forum Against Monopolistic Aggression)
TASAM (Teachers and Students Against Mal-Development)
Saha Nagarik Mukta Mancha
Gandhi Peace Foundation
Birbhum Adivasi Gaota
Loknadi Resource Center
Mandra Lion’s Club
Shilpi Sanskritik Karmi-
Majdoor Kranti Parishad
Sez birodhi Prochar Mancha
WB Govt Employees Union (Naba Parjay)
WB Govt Struggling Employees-
Hawker’s Songram Committee
Article 22: (1) No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice. (2) Every person who is arrested and detained in custody shall be produced before the nearest magistrate within a period of twenty-four hours of such arrest excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the court of the magistrate and no such person shall be detained in custody beyond the said period without the authority of a magistrate. (3) Nothing in clauses (1) and (2) shall apply— (a) to any person who for the time being is an enemy alien; or (b) to any person who is arrested or detained under any law providing for preventive detention.
October 6 2009
The police terror in Lalgarh has now been compounded by attempts to extend the terror to other parts of West Bengal, including Calcutta. The arrest of Chhatradhar Mahato, leader of the peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) was done in a flagrantly illegal manner, with police dressed as journalists arresting him, rather than being in uniform, and not providing the arrest memo in accordance with a Supreme Court judgement. He has subsequently been subjected to a media trial, instead of being given fair opportunity to defend himself. Every day, the police are releasing supposed news about what he has confessed, while he is held incommunicado and not being allowed to confer with a lawyer. The police have also planted about 20 cases against Mahato. It is worth noting that till June 13, 2009, the Government was in regular dialogue with the PCAOPA. So the allegation that there are so many cases against him is clearly a police plant. After his arrest, his so-called confessions are being used to on one hand carry out his character assassination, by alleging that he has a Rs. 1 crore (Rs. 10 million or about $ 209950) life insurance policy, and on the other hand trying to terrorise all those who have supported the peoples’ movement in Lalgarh, by alleging that they have aided Maoist terrorism and so forth. No confession can stand in a court of law as evidence against the accused. So it is the criminal intent of the senior police officials and the home secretary and the chief secretary of the Government of West Bengal to influence the court and the public opinion even before the commencement of the legal proceedings on Mahato in the court of law.
On October 3, 2009, the Chief Secretary of West Bengal declared that anyone extending support to the Lalgarh movement would be viewed as law violators. This is a bid to create terror and destroy the massive support enjoyed by the Lalgarh movement. Following this tactics, every evening, media persons are being granted “leakages”, stating one day that a civil liberties activist was suspected, on another day that a noted female author was suspected, so that intellectuals and activists who are fighting for civil liberties and supporting Lalgarh draw back.
We unconditionally condemn this state terrorism. We demand the immediate scrapping of UAPA, and the release of all those who have been arrested under UAPA. We also extend solidarity to all those rights activists who are being threatened by the police and the state for their defence of civil liberties.
October 6 2009
We strongly condemn the political witch-hunt that the West Bengal government has launched, arresting activists involved in the Lalgarh movement and charging them under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), alleging their links with Maoists. We deplore the atmosphere of fear that the West Bengal government has built up in the state, talking about “lists of people” to be arrested, threatening intellectuals and students who had expressed support for the Lalgarh movement and arresting activists based on fabricated charges. The democratic fabric of West Bengal is in grave danger from these actions of the government; we appeal to everyone to protest against these actions for which the only description can be: State Terrorism.
List of arrested: Prasun Chattopadhyay, Raja Sarkhel.
By Partho Sarathi Ray. Oct 27 2009
On 20th October, 2009, Maoists attacked a police station in Sankrail, West Midnapur, West Bengal, taking the O.C. Atindranath Dutta as a prisoner, and demanding the release of fourteen women from police custody. This was a media sensation – the debate centered around whether this defined a hostage situation in India’s heartland, whether this was a repeat of Kandahar, and whether the action is an example of violent turf expansion by the Maoists. Subsequently, the women were released and so was the O.C., who has become somewhat of a media celebrity and, much to the wrath of the Government, not condemnded the Maoists.
What is being hidden under all the media blitz is the story of the fourteen women whose release from police custody was ensured by the Maoists.
These women had all been arrested from in an around Teshabandh village on 3rd September after the 2rd September “encounter” between the combined forces and “Maoists” near Madhupur (there is a previous report on this in Sanhati). The PSBJC had claimed that the encounter was really a firing by the combined forces on a rally of adivasis protesting against the rape of a woman. It had also condemned the arrests of these women from Teshabandh, who were subsequently charged with waging war against the state, as being arrests of innocent people.
Today their stand has been vindicated. The public prosecutor didn’t oppose their bail plea at the Midnapore court, although the charges against them, which include rioting with deadly weapons, attempt to murder, waging war against the state, raising funds to wage war against the state, sedition and carrying illegal arms, are all non-bailable ones. This is an effective withdrawal of charges.
Now, the media has access to the stories of the women and people know who these “dangerous” people are, whom the Maoists were so intent on getting released from police custody.
One of them is Subharani Baskey, a grandmother of 55-60 (this correspondent knows her personally – she once treated him to a “nona“, a fruit very similar to the custard-apple, just saltier, from her tree). What she has told to the media now is that she was at her home when she heard a commotion outside as the police were arresting the village women. When she went out to enquire, she was arrested for “waging war against the state” and dragged to the Kantapahari police camp.
You can hear the real story from these women, Padmamoni, a mother of two children, Pratima Patra, Sumi Mandi and the others, about what happened that day. When the police had raided their village, alleging that the “Maoists” had taken shelter there, they had stopped whatever chores they were doing and come out and surrounded the police, not letting them enter the village. They were not protecting Maoists, they were protecting themselves, as according to what Pratima Patra has said, the police entering the village means they would go door-to-door, beating up people indiscriminately, breaking furniture and looting household goods.
Even women from surrounding villages, such as Sumi Mandi, joined them when the news about the raid spread, as is the standard practice in Lalgarh. All these women were arrested, beaten up brutally and taken to the Kantapahari police station where there were charged with the above-mentioned crimes. On the way back to Kantapahari, the police also arrested Ramdulal Mandi, who was walking towards Kantapahari bazar, and charged him with the same crimes. He was also released yesterday. This constant arrests and charging with false cases is the daily reality which Chidambaram- Buddhadeb has imposed in Lalgarh, and now wants to impose on the rest of the adivasi-populated region.
The other thing that we should understand about the reality in Lalgarh is that the adivasis think that the Maoists are their last resort, when everything else fails to protect them from exploitation and oppression, the Maoists are there. This is repeated by hundreds of adivasis when you talk to them, who express their confidence on the “bon-er party“, the “party of the jungles”. This confidence has now been reinforced by this action of the Maoists, where they have ensured the release of these innocent women, rather than their own party cadre, in exchange of the captured O.C.
Moreover, the action of the state which has consistently refused to release these women, and other innocent people who have been arrested in Lalgarh over the past four months, inspite of peaceful protests and demonstrations by the PSBJC and the civil society in Kolkata, but has bowed to the armed might of the Maoists, will further reinforce the idea that it is only a certain language that the state understands, and takes heed of.