Lalgarh movement: building infrastructure in the face of governement apathy and terror

April 15, 2009

By Koustav De, Sanhati. April 15, 2009

The Lalgarh movement is not just confined to preventing the entry of police into their area until they accept their mistakes and promise never to repeat them.

It has moved far beyond that initial point. Even though there has been violence and a campaign to break down and isolate the people and their movement, it has failed to deter their progress. In the middle of all the violence and terror, the people have decided to take up development initiatives that in theory are their fundamental right but which they have never seen.

Among these initiatives is a irrigation project to make water available to certain agricultural fields and turn them to multi crop lands. They have also dug into their resources and put up a few tube wells to provide villages much needed clean drinking water and lastly they have managed to set up a health center.

Irrigation

The majority of land in the region of Lalgarh is capable of bearing only a single crop a year, essentially due to lack of water. There are canals that were built by the administration, but are most unplanned and practically useless. They carry water only during monsoon, when there is no lack of it and are dry otherwise. Thus it was left to the people to decide their actions and turn things around. There is a small rivulet that flows through the region, emerging from a forest nearby and most likely merging finally into the Kangsabati. The people have decided to use some water from it and use it for irrigation through canals. The rivulet has long been a perennial source of cold and fresh water even during the summers, and the villages have used it for washing and bathing, so they are extremely careful not to drain it completely for irrigation. They are also planning for some shallow underground pumps for irrigation purpose. All this labor that would be required to make this project a reality has been willingly committed by the villagers.

Drinking water

The issue of drinking water is not a problem specific to the village but to the entire region. The extreme dryness of the region makes most ponds seasonal. The very few ponds that are present are so shallow during summers that one could walk across them with his knees dry! And a major chunk of disease faced by the people is related to drinking water. People often are forced to drink from the same shallow ponds that they bathe in. Presently the peoples committee has managed to set up a few tube-wells which have been of great help and are being used for gathering drinking water.

BDO: Health center should be used for police camps, presence of doctors illegal

The villages of the region have mostly never seen a regular doctor. For any serious disease they need to travel to Midnapore Hospital, some 40 Km. away. Occasional visits by doctors to the villages had resulted in referrals to town hospitals or prescription of medicines which depending on affordability was possibly available some 15 Km away. This has led the villages to take up the matter in their own hands, and the result was a health center, which has been among the most successful initiative so far.

The village already had a building set up by the administration to be used as a health center, but just like most other health centers all over rural Bengal, it was kept locked for a year due to absence of any staff and then for another year it was used as a camp for the police.

Then the movement started and people reclaimed their school buildings and health centers. The police were driven out of the villages and confined to police stations and at this point, the ‘Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities’ (Pulishi Santrah Birodhi Janagon-er Committee) which has been co-ordinating the people’s movement in Lalgarh took the initiative to turn the building into what it was supposed to be.

With a little help from ‘Solidarity Forum for Lalgarh Movement’ (Lalgarh Andolon Sanhati Mancha) the building has turned into a proper health care center with regular doctors visiting the place twice every week. Several organizations related to health care movement in Bengal came forward, some of them are Shramajivi Swastha Udyog, Utsha Manush, Janaswastha Committee, Janaswastha Swadhikar Mancha among many others. Keeping in mind the main health problems of the region, arrangements have been made for specialists as well, importantly an eye specialist. Medicine is being collected and distributed free of cost whenever possible. Doctors are visiting from cities like Kolkata and Asansol among others. Finance has been a major issue, but it won’t be an obstacle, the people have pledged.

The main diseases that the doctors have encountered is related to malnutrition, overwork and unclean drinking water; cataract also turned out to be a common problem among the aged. Many doctors have expressed their limitations by pointing out that the main medicine the people need is proper food and water and not pills; and this food and water is what brings to the center the political question! This is exactly the issue that the movement has repeatedly tried to focus upon, the history of oppression and neglect of the entire adivasi society. The health care initiative has not been confined to being a welfare interference from outside. To make it a sustainable one, the doctors are sparing time to teach a team of volunteers from the villages as to how they can apply first aid or treat diseases like diarrhoea. Also noticing the huge number of cases of cataract, people are trying to arrange for a special eye-camp where minor cataract surgeries can be carried out.

All these activities organized by the villagers is what is perplexing the authorities and the ruling party. Till date they have had to counter opposing parties or protests but have never had to counter development. They are confused, scared and in absence of answers are reacting in an erratic and violence manner. The BDO has declared the health center illegal stating that it has been forcefully occupied! But he had no answer to the question as to what state was it in before occupation. According to him it is fine when authorities fail to appoint a single doctor to visit a health center in two years and it remains locked, but it becomes illegal as soon as people decide to turn it into a functional one.

The murder of Indrajit Sahish

There have been acts of tremendous violence at places where CPI(M) still has influence mostly by operating armed gangs. Supporters of the peoples movement in places around Lalgarh are regularly threatened and terrorized. Most recently, a supporter of the movement has been brutally murdered on his way back from the March 29 rally of Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocities near Belpahari. The twenty five year old Indrajit Sahish lived in a village called Maitypara some 15 Km from Lalgarh towards Jhargram.

Visiting his house a team from Kolkata found that the entire village had signs of no other party than CPI(M) and people were extremely terrorized and would not come forward to speak. It was only his family that spoke and neighbors decided to look from a distance. Earlier, right after the tragedy the People’s Committee had decided to arrange a rally in the region with the martyr’s body, but with pressure from the local goons the family was forced to cremate the body before any program of sorts could be arranged.

It was learned that while returning home Sahish was caught by a group of CPI(M) sponsored mercenaries. Even in that situation he managed to call his home from his cell phone, but soon his cell phone was taken away and he was killed. The murderers left him half buried in the sands of Kangsabati. His father barely managed to tell how his son’s dead body told the torture that he faced before death. He also said that his son wasn’t the only one to be killed, after reporting him missing the police has taken them at different spots to see at least two other dead bodies which were still unclaimed.

The team from Kolkata was the first one to visit the house on April 3 since Sahish’s death. After the visit, the People’s committee also arranged a rally in the region to express their solidarity and to stand by the family.

Amongst all this turbulence, the development initiatives of the people of Lalgarh is a breath of fresh air and this is what is worrying the administration and the police most. They are facing crisis to explain their necessity, the lives of the people have improved in more than one way since the commencement of the movement.

3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Lalgarh movement: building infrastructure in the face of governement apathy and terror”

  1. Anonymous Says:
    April 21st, 2009 at 21:53

    In his article “Singur to Lalgarh via Nandigram,” Prof. Amit Bhattacharyya describes some of the same developments.

    People’s Development by the People’s Committee

    It is well-known that the WB state government did not do anything to introduce genuine developmental work in the Jangal Mahal area, not to speak of uplifting the living conditions of the people. What the so-called ‘left-front’ government had failed, nay, preferred not to do, is now being sincerely attempted by the Committee of the People against Police Atrocities. The long-neglected health services have already started work at the committee’s initiative.

    The health centre at Kantapahari was set up two years ago by the government, but remained unutilised—a sad commentary on the apathy of the powers-that-be to the plight of the people. The People’s Committee took control over it and started a free health centre, thereby partially meeting the long-standing needs of the people of the locality. Some physicians from Kolkata have been paying regular visits to Lalgarh to ensure that everything is kept going. The centre was inaugurated on 19th March by Chhatradhar Mahato and given the name of ‘People’s hospital’. It started functioning with one physician and six health workers.

    On the first day, nearly 100 persons came to their own hospital for treatment. Dr. Shanti Mullick, a physician who went there from Kolkata, said: “Most of the patients have been suffering from mal-nutrition. One has to see in order to believe it. The health services here are very bad. Although the infrastructure is there, there are no doctors, no medicines due to the apathy of the administration. I welcome the initiative of the committee”.

    Among those who attended was a woman named Shantabala Nag who had one of her bones in the right hand broken and did not have any treatment at all. Others like Panmani Murmu, Jiban Kisku of Dalilpur and Churamani Murmu of Narcha came for ailments related to malnutrition. They said that what the government failed to do has been done by the committee of the people(Dainik Statesman, 21st March 2009).

    Agricultural production and removal of scarcity of water are the two other pressing problems. For the promotion of agriculture and addressing the problem of scarcity of water, the committee has already taken steps to install tube-wells in many villages. For many years, the local people had pleaded with the authorities to pay attention to people’s health, potable water and irrigational facilities; but the government could not be moved at all. The People’s Committee that grew out of the people’s struggle has taken up that task. As reported in the press, two tube-wells have been set up in Bahardanga and one at Barapelia and steps are being taken to set up tube-wells in Kantapahari, Krishnakumari and other villages.

    For the purpose of irrigation, canal dredging has commenced in Barapelia and the work is about to start in Kalaimuri. The cost for installing each tube-well is around Rs.12,000 and that for canal dredging in the two areas would come to around Rs. 8 lakh. The PSBJC has appealed to the people for donation to meet the expenses and the response is tremendous. Although the people are poor and many of them cannot make both ends meet, they are coming out with whatever amount they can offer, since here they realise quite well that this money is essential for their own development, and not for fattening the purse of the people’s enemies.

    Apart from monetary contributions, the people are also giving voluntary labour i.e, unpaid labour for the cause of local development. Local people said that scarcity of potable water was grave; however, the setting up of tube-wells has improved the situation considerably. “We need more tube-wells and we have informed the committee about the requirement”. Persons like Chhitamani Murmu, Panmani Murmu and Gopinath Mandi told one reporter that they had contributed some amount from their income to the committee meet the expenditure. “What the government has failed to do has been done by the people’s committee and thereby removed our problem”.

    Not unexpectedly, the CPI(M) leadership of the locality out of their own frustration have criticised the committee by alleging that the money was being forcibly taken from the people(Dainik Statesman, 5th April 2009). The CPI(M) cadres are behaving in a manner which is similar to a situation when the ghost is being compelled by circumstances to take the name of God. It shows the sorry plight in which they have landed themselves. When they extract money from the people by intimidation for fattening their own purse, then, in their eyes, that is voluntary contribution; but when people’s committee makes appeal to the people for meeting the expenses for developmental work, however limited that might be, for the benefit of the people themselves, which the ruling CPI(M) and their government were supposed to do but which they did not, then such noble efforts are being branded as forcible extraction.

    Incidentally, such developmental work at the elementary level, employment of voluntary labour for people’s interest and many other things were accomplished by the people of Dandakaranya under the leadership of Maoist Communist revolutionaries many years back. That again proves that means and methods invented by the people in course of their struggle either for the creation of a new society or for the betterment of their living conditions or against state repression are adopted and implemented by other people in other areas as well.

    The full article can be found at http://www.no2displacement.com. Look at the end of Amit’s article, which focuses on the Salgoni SEZ, for the Word document with the full text.

  2. Evan Das Says:
    June 17th, 2009 at 12:09

    What ever the reason but present status shows that there going to happen an another incident of mass killing which could remember us the memoroies of 70’s decade.My question is that, an civil movement aginst the local corrupted politics,movement for minimum need of life ,how it could be demolished by army? how the state power can be used to stop revolution by mass killing?

  3. JANAKINATH MALLIK Says:
    July 8th, 2010 at 10:06

    PRESENTLY WE LOOKING MOST OF AFFECTED PUBLIC IN LALGARH AREA ARE DEMAND MORE DEVOLOPMENT TO IMPROVE THEIR LIFESTYLE GENERALLY ADIVASI (DALIT) UNEDUCATED AND UNHEALTHY POOR AND DOWNTRODDEN PEPOLE

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