The unknown Binayak Sens of The House of Dreams

July 10 2009. A part of the Lalgarh page.

The aim was to kindle an interest in education amongst children in remote, left-behind corners of the Jangalmahal, West Bengal. The result was a boarding school with a difference.

Children studied there free of tuition, taken care of the entire day by a group of local youths. Driven by the belief that through education and awareness the plight of local people could be bettered, these young men named their tiny school Swapnapuri – The House of Dreams. The local administration too extended its hands in support of this venture.

The 28-year old youth at the forefront of this effort, Udaylal Mahato, organised locals to construct a small concrete bridge over a canal in the region. Through voluntary labour, the bridge was completed in a month, to the wonder of many. Finally, some money was allocated from the Block administration for this project. The BDO and other officials used the bridge to reach remote areas, guided by Udaylal.

On Monday, July 6 2009, Udaylal Mahato arrived as usual to the Block office with some appeals for local development. As he exited, police arrested him.

He had officially become a terrorist.

Five cases including plotting against the nation were brought against him at Jhargram court. The judge ordered him to be held in custody immediately.

Udyalal Mahato – of Belpahari Block, Banshpahari Panchayat, had also been arrested in 2004 on charges that he had Maoist links. He served time for a few months and got bail. This time around he was a part of the PCAPA and immediately targeted.

At the Jhargram ACJM court, lawyers say that for the last few days the people they have been seeing are all totally ordinary people. What they are seeing is essentially a revival of the practice of false cases, harassment, and torture that had ignited the revolt in the first place. They fear that if locals lose all faith in the administration and government, an escalation in lawlessness will occur.

After reestablishing their control over parts of the Jangalmahal, the police have gone on a campaign of arrests whose stated aim is a return to peace and normalcy. Common people have been assured of safety. Assurances were given that no torture would be meted out, no arrests would be made.

In practice, however, lawyers Tapan Sinha and Satyajit Sinha feel that the exact opposite is being achieved. Citing the example of Udaylal Mahato, they say that in many such cases, police hadn’t been able to produce a chargesheet in five years. Many people who had been arrested previously on trumped up charges are now picked up as “soft targets”.

On Monday yet another youth called Jugal Kishore Mahato was picked up in the Bhulabheda area of Belpahari. His wife Basanti Devi says “He was working in the fields. As he was coming back, he was arrested. The police rifled through our belongings.”

Basanti Devi is a helper in a small primary school. Her eyesight is dim.

On Tuesday she was crying inconsolably at the Jhargram Court. “My husband does Congress. He is the secretary of the Bhulabheda area Congress. He isn’t mixed up in anything. Five charges have been brought against him. How will we survive now?”

Udaylal Mahato too breaks down in tears inside the court lock-up. “What will I do?”

This report appeared in The Ananda Bazaar Patrika. It has been translated by Kuver Sinha, Sanhati