Report of the All-India Fact-Finding Team on Lalgarh

April 12, 2009. Included at the end is a message from Sumanta Banerjee, author of In the Wake of Naxalbari.

1. An All-India fact-finding mission consisting of ten members, including a former ambassador, a Supreme Court Lawyer, human rights activists, economists, journalists, and writers, visited Binpur 1 (Lalgarh), and Binpur 2 (Belpahari) on the 10th and 11th of April, 2009. The team talked to the police, political party members, community leaders and local people. In addition, we attended meetings and witnessed rallies.

2. Our overwhelming impression was that the people of Lalgarh want to participate in the upcoming elections. However, they wish to cast their vote in an atmosphere of peace and security, rather than one in which they feel intimidated by threats of violence from the police or from the ‘Harmad Vahini’ (alleged CPM cadre).

3. On November 2, 2008 a landmine explosion occurred while the convoy of the Union Steel Minister and the West Bengal Chief Minister was passing Salboni, 50 kilometres away from Lalgarh. Seven people, including three schoolboys from Lalgarh, were arrested by the police in connection with this incident. This was followed by a sequence of further raids by the police, in which not just men, but children, old people and women were also subjected to various atrocities. The charges against all the suspects have subsequently been dropped by the Court. This pattern of arrests and violence fits into a long-standing history of atrocities against the adivasi-mulvasis of Lalgarh, which in fact goes all the way back to colonial times. Fed up with this sub-human treatment, the people of the area have ultimately formed themselves into a Police Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee (People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, PSBJC) and have blocked entry of the police and Harmad Vahini into their area for several months. They have specified that the blockade would be removed if the police apologise to the people for their past excesses (in the traditional tribal manner, by holding their ears and rubbing their own noses against the ground).

4. From eyewitness accounts, victims and families of victims we heard that the police was present on several occasions when the Harmad Vahini carried out murders and inflicted injuries on people in Lalgarh. The state administration has taken no action against the perpetrators and made no effort to compensate the victims’ families for these killings and neither has any medical assistance been provided to the injured.

5. The authorities have accused the PSBJC of Lalgarh to be in possession of firearms. However, in our two days we did not come across any evidence of this. We had the opportunity to be present at two rallies of the adivasis-mulvasis, at which tensions rose high. There were at least 200 well-armed police and security personnel at village Murar (on the border of Midnapore/Bankura) on April 10, 2009. As they marched and shouted slogans demanding dignity and justice, the local people could be seen carrying their traditional weapons (hammers, sickles, axes, bows and arrows).

6. The people of Lalgarh have expressed their demands in a 13-point charter which involves restoration of dignity and deliverance of justice. There is, in addition, a 9-point charter which makes specific demands relating to developmental needs like 365-day employment under NREGA, provision of basic health facilities and ration cards under the BPL scheme.

7. Our clear impression is that the struggles going on in Lalgarh are a legitimate and democratic expression of the grievances of the people against the excesses and shortcomings of state actions, guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

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Message from Sumanta Banerjee:

Thanks for the invitation. Since I live in Dehradun and can’t come to attend the 9th April meeting – however much I’d want to – let me wish you success in your endeavours. I strongly feel that there’s an urgent need to mobilize mass support for the Lalgarh villagers and build up public opinion against the impending police offensive that Biman Bose and the W.B.government have threatened to unleash on the plea of conducting a smooth election there. This reminds me of the elections carried out at gun-point in places like Assam in February 1983 (which is associated with the Nellie massacre), and Kashmir where citizens had often been conscripted by security forces into joining queus of voters to stamp ballot papers during elections. We surely don’t want this pattern of a para-militarist operation masquerading as `democratic expression of public opinion’ to be introduced in West Bengal – particularly by a government that claims to be Leftist. Lalgarh is a test case. Can’t we challenge the Left Front government with the poser ? If it is committed to democratic principles – as it claims so often – why don’t they lift the present siege from Lalgarh, and conduct an opinion poll there which would allow the villagers to express their views, and whether they want to participate in an election which is being held at gun-point ? Why can’t Lalgarh be opened up to TV channels, where the Left Front leaders and ministers can confront the villagers, face their questions and answer them, before forcing the elections on them. This is the only democratic means of solving the present problems and ensuring a fair election in Lalgarh. Let us call upon the Left Front government to participate in such a public debate on the eve of the Lok Sabha poll.

Fact-finding team:

Amit Bhaduri, economist, Professor emeritus, JNU
Madhu Bhaduri, womens’ rights activist, IFS, former ambassador to Vietnam
Vidya Das, adivasi rights activist, Agragamee, Kashipur, Orissa
Gautam Navlakha, PUDR, consulting editor, EPW
Colin Gonsalves, supreme court lawyer, Human rights law network
Aseem Srivastava, economist, writer, activist
Kaustav Banerjee, economist, CSD, Delhi
Budhaditya Das, student, DU
Manika Bora, student, JNU
Sudipta, human rights activist, Adhikar, Asansol, West Bengal