June 17, 2009 (revised version June 20). By a fact finding team of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
A 9 member fact finding team comprising students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and journalists recently visited Lalgarh, to probe into the reality of the ongoing movement of the people in the area. Here is a preliminary account of our observations. We would like to appeal to your daily/ news channel to highlight on certain issues of the movement, which have so far been overlooked and neglected by the media.
We heard through various media and other sources that massive state repression had been underway in Lalgarh and other adjacent areas since November 2008, after the attempted mine blast on the convoy of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. We had learnt of the incidents of rampant police atrocities after this land mine blast, especially on women and school children in the area. Following this the people there had formed the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharoner Committee (PSBJC) or the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities and have blockaded Lalgarh and other adjoining areas from police and other administration. With these preliminary facts in hand, we visited Lalgarh from 7 to 10 June. The team visited the villages of Chhotapelia, Katapahari, Bohardanga, Sijua, Dain Tikri, Sindurpur, Madhupur, Babui Basha, Shaluka, Moltola Kadoshol, Basban, Papuria, Komladanga, pukhria, Korengapara, gopalnagar, Khash jongol, Shaalboni, Shaal danga, Andharmari, Darigera, Bhuladanga, Chitaram Dahi, Teshabandh, Bhuladanga and talked extensively to people. We attended a big meeting called by the People’s Committee in Lodhashuli on the 7th of June and witnessed other small meetings which were held inside the villages. A firing and frontal battle between the people on the one hand and the state and armed gangs of the CPM on the other, in Dharampura and Madhupur/Shijua had started during our stay in Lalgarh.
The visit to Lalgarh and interaction with the people broke many of the myths which we still held before going there. After listening to the chronological narrative of the history of police atrocities in the area, we realized that the November incidents were not unique. It was merely the continuation of extreme state terror and police atrocities that the people of the region have been subjected to since 2000.
What is unique this time is the resistance, which has taken an organized and sustained shape this time around.
The people in all the villages we visited conclusively verified police torture. They described how the police entered houses very late at night, and in the name of ‘raids’ and ‘checks’ vandalized their houses and mercilessly beat them up, how any movement of the villagers at night even to look for their cattle was banned. Almost every family had one or more members who had been booked for being a ‘Maoist’. We were told about the 90 year old Maiku Murmu of Teshabandh who was beaten to death by the police way back in 2006. Young school girls were regularly molested by the police in the pretext of ‘body check’. Women were forced to show their genitals at night during ‘raids’ to confirm their gender. Before every election 30-40 people from every village were picked up as ‘Maoists’ in order to weaken the opposition to the ruling CPI (M). The incident of police brutality in Chhotopelia, where a number of women were ruthlessly beaten up and one of them Chhitamoni lost her eye, acted as the last straw. The arrest of three students on the baseless charge of ‘waging war against the state’ further enraged the people. Lalgarh have now risen up-in-arms against this long drawn atrocities and organised oppression of the CPI (M)
For the villagers, police terror was accompanied by the terror unleashed by CPI (M). In fact, the police and CPI (M) are not just in alliance with each other, they meant one and the same thing for the villagers. Our team was taken to Madhupur, where the local panchayat office had been turned into a camp of the harmad vahini (armed gangs of the CPM). They told us how the ‘motor cycle army’ of the harmads roamed around the villages, terrorizing people, breaking their houses brutally, firing in the air, and beating people up, exactly in the same way they did in Nandigram. The police not only stood as mute spectators whenever the harmads went on a rampage, it supported them in all possible ways. The harmads even used police jeeps to move around. To return these ‘favours’, the local CPI (M) cadres acted as informers for the police. We met one villager whose house was demolished by the harmad, during which he kept calling the police for help, but they never came. Similarly, they narrated the incident of Khash Jongol where the harmads open fired on a village meeting and killed three people, injuring three others. It was only after an armed resistance was put up by the villagers, that the harmads were forced to retreat to Memul and then to Shijua.
The Committee was formed against police atrocities but has also been carrying out alternative developmental work inside Lalgarh in the past seven months. These areas are marked by extreme poverty and backwardness. Agriculture is dependent on rainfall which is scanty. We saw the dysfunctional government canal, which is lying dry. They showed us the pathetic condition of roads which become completely inaccessible during the monsoons. The Committee on its own has made 20 km of roads with red stone chips (‘morrum’), with villagers volunteering their labour. They have repaired several tubewells, and have installed new ones at half the price than the panchayat. They have also started constructing a check dam in Bohardanga to fight the water crisis. Two major works undertaken by the committee is the process of land distribution and running a health center in Katapahari. The government was supposed to distribute wasteland among the landless, but never did so. Now the Committee is taking initiative in Banshberi and other villages to distribute the wasteland adjacent to the forests to the landless people. We witnessed the distribution of the patta in one village. The Committee has also turned a dysfunctional building in Katapahari into a health center, which attends to more than 150 patients every day. Doctors from Kolkata and other regions visit there thrice a week.
We had also attended a huge meeting called by the Committee in Lodhashuli against a sponge iron factory located in the region. We visited the factory site and saw the adverse effect of pollution on the trees, water bodies and land. The people informed that even the paddy grown in the region have turned black, so much so that even the panchayat has refused to accept the paddy. The meeting was attended by around 12000 people from many villages of the district, despite a bus strike called by CPM. It was a vibrant meeting, where the committee resolved among other things to boycott the factory and bring about its closure.
The presence of the Maoists within Lalgarh was one of the most contended issues during our visit. Our team observed the presence of Maoists and that they had mass support of the people in this area. Their posters could be seen everywhere. We were informed by the villagers that Maoists have held meetings attended by thousands of people. The people seemed pretty clear about the need for an armed resistance in the face of the regular joint attacks by the CPM and the state. The restriction on carrying traditional arms by them is a clear signal by the state to debilitate this movement.
This team was witness to the genuine anger and suffering of the people. Therefore, we do not agree with many sections sections of the media which brand the resistance there as ‘anarchy’. We also believe that the police, administration and CPM are solely responsible for the current situation in Lalgarh.
By the time we left Lalgarh, the struggle has intensified. By then, the people had been successful in making their immediate enemy CPM to escape along with the police. The enthusiasm we saw in the people was exuberant. For the first time they are being part of not some vote-minting political party but a committee which is their own organization. They are living a life free of state terror and building their own developmental projects. In different villages many residents held one opinion in common, ‘we have got independence for the first time’. Their fight is against age old exploitation, deprivation, torture and terror. In this way, it is a historic fight.
We urge the media to revisit Lalgarh. The movement has its roots in extremely impoverished socio economic conditions increased by the inaction of the state. The state is bound to strike back at this fight of the people. The CRPF and other central forces will soon come with the orders to open fire on the resilient masses. The state government is also shamelessly asking the notorious and infamous Grey hounds and Cobra to come and crush the people’s movement. That will be the most unfortunate and condemnable thing. The anger of the masses against massive state terror, underdevelopment and corruption is valid. And so is the fight against it. This team will publish a detailed report based on our visit about this movement in Lalgarh. We remember the progressive role played by some sections of the media especially the regional media in Bengal progressive role during the Nandigram movement and would appeal to you to also stand by the people of Lalgarh and their genuine fight before the state carries out yet another genocide.
Priya Ranjan, Banojyotsna, Sumati, Anirban, Gogol, Kusum, Reyaz, Yadvinder, Veer Singh,