India’s Flames of People’s Anger: Lagarh Update #2 part 2
Posted by n3wday on August 18, 2009
Thanks to D for making us aware of this. The previous articles leading up to this one are available here and here. We are breaking this post into three parts because of its length. This is part 2. Part 1 is here and 3 will be available soon.
Singur to Lalgarh via Nandi gram: Rising Flames of People’s Anger against Displacement, Destitution and State Terror
Lalgarh Update 2
Schools and Colleges Forced to Bid Goodbye to Teaching and Admission as Troops Set up their Camps in their Buildings
With central and state police forces engaged in this totally unjust war against the people, occupying about 14 school buildings. About 20,000 students have been affected as the schools have been shut down. Nobody knows for how long this situation will continue. Of these, five schools are situated in Midinipur Kotwali police station area while the rest are in Lalgarh, Jhargram, Salboni and Goaltore areas. The occupation of schools by occupation forces has resulted in strong resentment among students, their guardians and teachers. The students of Mohandas Vidyapith in Medinipur even staged a demonstration. A group of students and their guardians also demonstrated outside the district inspector (DI) of schools’ office demanding that the police camps be shifted to other places. But the DI expressed his helplessness as the acquisition of the schools is an administrative decision. Leaders of the Medinipur Suraksha Committee staged a dharma outside the office of the district magistrate on 26 June over the same issue. Students of Class V to IX of these schools could not appear for the unit tests which were to begin on 26 June. In all, they have to undergo five such unit tests before the annual examination and three before the pujas (annual social/religious festival of the Hindus) which had been pre-poned this year. Besides, the academic session in the state has also been advanced by two months. Thus this loss of time would give them lesser time for preparation.
However, the problems of the students of Gargaria Subhas High School and Bejdanga high School in Sarenga, Bankura, bordering Lalgarh, seem to be more acute, particularly for those who stay in school hostels. They have been asked by the school authorities to vacate the hostels to make room for police accommodation. But some of them who hail from Lalgarh are in dire straits as they do not know where to go. Most of them have fled home fearing police atrocities and are now finding it difficult to go back home (The Statesman, 28 June 2009).
In Satpati village, Lalgarh, the local school has turned into a ‘prohibited zone’. Even teachers were not allowed to enter. “We will allow only four”, said a plainclothes police officer. The teachers protested. Seeing the media, the police let them in, but only because they had to collect their salaries (TOI, 26 June 2009). According to one report, every school and college in Goaltore and even a health centre in Kewakole have been requisitioned (The Telegraph, 25 June 2009). On 9 July, the students of the Ramkrishna High School, Lalgarh, protested in front of the two government secretaries who had come to look after the welfare of the adivasis on behalf of the West Bengal government and said that the camps of the jawans inside the school buildings should be shifted immediately (Dainik Statesman, 9 July 2009).
In the early 2000s, in order to combat CPI (M-L) People’s War activity in the Belpahari area, the West Bengal police had set up camps of jawans in school buildings meant for scheduled tribe students. When Paritosh Mahato, the headmaster of the Odolchua High School protested, he was booked on the charge of having links with CPI (M-L) People’s War. There is an old Supreme Court ruling relating to Manipur whereby the highest court debarred the setting up of camps in educational institutions and hospitals. The conversion of the schools into camps for accommodating paramilitary forces in Lalgarh – Jangalmahal is a clear case of violation of the Supreme Court order.
Another important development that will possibly have some bearing on the Lalgarh people’s movement is the banning of the CPI(Maoist) after it was included in the long list of, what the central government describes as ‘terrorist organizations’. It implies that the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2008(UAPA) would henceforth be applied on the members of the CPI (Maoist) or on people who are sympathetic to their cause. Now the people of Lalgarh could be subjected to this draconian legislation as the Maoists have been present in this area for more than a decade and actively supporting the people’s movement of Largarh. But, quite possibly, the CPI (M) led West Bengal government in a completely reversal way could implicate the fighting tribal people of Lalgarh by imposing the draconian sections of this law saying that they are helping the Maoists.
Banning the CPI (Maoist) with a ‘Terrorist’ Tag
The CPI (Maoist) was banned on an all-India level, with a tag of a ‘terrorist organisation’, on 22 June 2009 and, henceforth, it came under the purview of the draconian UAPA. The banning of the CPI (Maoist) by the central government put the CPI (M) leadership in a dilemma. On that day itself, as if sensing that something like this is going to happen, both Prakash Karat and Biman Bose—the central and state leaders of the party—talked about ‘political battle’ with the Maoists and opposed any attempt to put any ban on them separately through a local legislation. Ironically, on the very next day (23 June) after the ban was imposed by the Centre, the West Bengal government toed the central government and declared its operative in West Bengal as well. Biman Bose retracted and said that the state government had no option other than imposing the ban in the state. The ‘left’-front partners who supported the joint military operation, opposed it but as expected, without any meaning. Gour Chakrabarty, the person who had been officiating openly as the political spokesperson of the CPI (Maoist) for quite some time, was picked up on 24 June from a local TV channel in the midst of a discussion on the current situation in Lalgarh. He was booked under the UAPA—the first instance of such an arrest since the ban was imposed anywhere in the country (TOI, 23, 24 June 2009). How the Maoists will react to this ban is for them to decide. On our part, we would like to state a few words about the political implications of this ban, before we get back to the battle in Lalgarh again.
First, by banning the CPI (Maoist), both the central and state governments have clearly admitted the fact that the Maoists are a formidable enemy to reckon with. Second, by banning them, they have also admitted their own failure to combat them politically. The Naxalite/Maoist movement is the longest surviving revolutionary movement in the history of our country, having a history of more than four decades since 1967. Decades of brutal suppression through state terror, despite major setbacks, only increased their strength. They had raised certain fundamental questions on socio-economic conditions, poverty of the people, hunger, malnutrition, death, negative impact of the imperialist model of development; plunder of the country’s resources by foreign MNCs and the need for introducing a truly self-reliant, pro-people development model in our country. Many of these issues are being raised by social scientists, writers, political persons, intellectuals, and retired and in-service bureaucrats in the past six long decades. Even when Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh described the Maoist movement as ‘the greatest single threat to the internal security of the country since independence’ in April 2006, he, apart from other things, also talked of ‘walking on two legs’; he admitted the fact that this movement was the outcome of socio-economic deprivation. Even those democrats and intellectuals who may not agree with the strategy and tactics adopted by the Maoists, also don’t wish them or their movement away. The reality is that the successive central and state governments had never cared to address these fundamental issues. So by treating it solely as a ‘law and order problem’, the ruling elite that is running this country has only betrayed its utter inability to combat them on the political and socio-economic planes. By banning the CPI (Maoist), both the central and the West Bengal state governments, in fact, have admitted their own defeat in the face of this formidable political challenge. Thirdly, the invocation of this draconian law like UAPA sections, like other similar laws
now in operation in other parts of the country, only tramples down the fundamental rights of the people that the Constitution of the country professes to uphold. Fourthly, history has proved time and again that such invocation of draconian laws and unrestricted terror thereby let loose on the people in the name of containing that ‘enemy’, would invariably have an opposite effect. When the state bans something, puts restrictions on the reading of literature of people’s own choice, gags freedom of expression, the people, particularly the young generation, get more attracted to these. They would want to know why such restriction was necessary. Fifthly, on the question of whether the CPI (Maoist) can be treated as a ‘terrorist organisation’, I would like to quote a few words from a letter written by K.G.Kannabiran, the eminent civil rights lawyer, presently All-India President of the PUCL and President of the Andhra chapter of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) to the Prime Minister of India. Opposing the ban, he remarked in his letter: “Maoist intervention or for that matter any political intervention on account of the failure of successive governments to perform their fundamental obligations could not be considered an act of terrorism and justify invocation of draconian laws”(Indian Express, dated 25 June 2009).
The Involvement of US Intelligence and the Indian Army in Lalgarh
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 along with the Indian army are very much involved in this war declared by the Central and West Bengal state governments against the people of Lalgarh. The report is captioned “Chemical Dyes and Foreign Technology Used to Locate Maoists”, and written by Rajarshee Dattagupta. We give a free translation of the text of the news item here:
Goaltore: A literally ‘high tech’ war has started in Lalgarh. The names of both the US intelligence satellite and the Indian space research centre, ISRO have been tagged with this war preparation 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 that dye falls on the bodies of the guerrillas, the colour will last for one year. It means that after they are driven out from that area by the forces, they will take shelter in other villages and then it would 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 (i.e, 26 June). There will be a fresh expedition on Saturday. On that day, the administration has taken the decision to apply this special method.
For the last eight months, the police were totally in the dark about what had been taking place in the interiors. It was only after the decision was taken to undertake this 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 will be sought. 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 satellite 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 to march ahead. Ultimately, the expedition started on Friday (i.e, 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 the debate over the question of how to separate Maoists from the villagers took place. 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 wars, this method has been applied. In Lalgarh, for the first time in a state-led expedition, such things were applied against the secessionists (sic!). On the whole, it can be stated that from the satellite pictures to the dropping of chemical dyes from helicopters—everything in the ‘Operation Lalgarh’ is ‘high tech’.
Near Mutiny within Joint Armed Forces
According to press reports, resentment is brewing among the police and joint forces as the government has virtually failed to provide them with basic amenities such as food, toilets and a place to sleep. On 23 June, troops from an IRB deployed at Lalgarh were relieved after four days of constant duty only after they threatened to rebel. In Lalgarh’s primary health centre, at least seven to eight security personnel are admitted because the heat has got the better of them. The only casualties that helicopters have evacuated are security personnel who suffered heat stroke. Bengal’s one IRB, however, was close to mutiny in the middle of an operation because of faulty planning. The whole operation, it is now felt, was started in rather in a hasty manner without any back-up, particularly of doctors and paramedics accompanying the forces. In fact, since the security forces are aware that they are entering hostile terrain, and there is little they can expect as support from the villagers. Even in areas through which soldiers had passed, villagers did not conceal or disguise their anger and despise towards the forces (The Telegraph, 24 June 2009). Sensing that such discontent within the IRB might have a negative effect among other units of the joint armed forces such as the CRPF and the BSF, the administration took care to send those units on patrolling duty (Dainik Statesman, 26 June 2009).
A woman constable said: “We are barely managing. The time we get to get ready before an operation is too short, while long queues form outside the toilets. Men are worse off, as they are more in number. They have to go to the river bank to answer nature’s call. The condition of the toilets is deteriorating every day because of the pressure. We feel as if we have been simply dumped here”. Meanwhile eight dogs have been requisitioned to guard the cops at the Lalgarh police station, keeping a watch through night and barking every time they see an unfamiliar face (HT Live Kolkata, 2 July 2009).
Transfer Requests from Lalgarh Cops Pour In
The cops feel that the battle for Lalgarh is far from over. At least that is the feeling among those who have fought the Maoists for the last two years from behind the locked gates of the Lalgarh police station, scared to even venture out for a cup of tea or buy essential goods. According to press reports, most constables and officers manning the Lalgarh police station have applied for transfer. According to a sub-inspector posted at Lalgarh, “This is only a temporary victory for the security forces. Most of the hardcore Maoists have left the area for a safer place. The paramilitary won’t be here for long. What will happen after that?” The last two years have been a terrible experience for all of us. We have seen our colleagues die from landmine blasts or bullet injuries”, he added.
The mental plight of the state policemen and women who have come from various areas in Bengal is also not at all encouraging. Many of them confessed to journalists that the operation was indeed dangerous and they had not informed their families about the exact nature of the assignment. “It is just a beginning and those who will have to stay in Lalgarh will have to face the consequences. I have applied for a transfer and I hope my seniors will oblige,” said another officer on condition of anonymity (HT, 1 July 2009).
NGOs under Intelligence Scanner
According to news reports, the effect of Lalgarh has fallen on the NGOs operating in the region. Following an upswing in Maoist activities, the state Intelligence Bureau (IB) is said to keep an eye on the activities of “some suspected NGOs” in the state. In a confidential report, according to the media, the state IB has asked district units to monitor the work of certain NGOs in places where Maoists operate. According to some sources, the IB supposedly has information that Maoists are striking roots with the help of certain NGOs and do not rule out their involvement in the upsurge in Lalgarh and its surrounding areas.
Maoists on the Wanted List
When the troops are flushing out the Maoists in Lalgarh, the state cops, according to news reports, are preparing a list of Maoists whom they want to arrest. Other than Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji, the other names are Bikash who the police say is Karan Hembrom and is on the Belpahari list. Of the seventy names that figure in police records, thirty-one are from Belpahari. Sumitra (48), wife of Ananta, is also from Lodhasole in Belpahari. There are eight who are on the most wanted list from Lalgarh. The police, according to reports, have also scanned the names of Maoist activists from Goaltore, Salboni, Binpur, Garbeta,
Bankura, Purulia and Jharkhand. Sudip Chongdar alias Malay Ghosh is from Garbeta. There are six women activists from Balpahari. They are Sumitra alias Durga Hembram, Jamuna Singh alias Jayanti, Jagari Baske alias Rehala, Shobha Bhumij alias khepi, Chapi Singh and Puspa Mahato.
Sasadhar Mahato and his wife Suchitra alias Sulekha top the Lalgarh police list. Active Maoists in Lalgarh are Bimal Mandi, Laxmiram Mondal, Pradip Murmu, Matal Soren, Baidyanath Murmu and Jyotsna alias Manisha/Manika/Tara. Madan Mahato, Mongal baske, Ganesh Madal, Baneswar Tudu and Sukhdev Mahato are active in Salboni, while the 60-year-old Purna Murmu alias Lakhiram tops the list in Binpur. Adding to the Maoist strength are Sukumar Mitra, Chitta Mahato alias Fuchu and Mahadev Singh.
Jaladhar Mahato alias Jalan, Mansaram Hembrom alias Rajen, Sambhu Hembrom alias Gome, Biswanath alias Biswajit/Bishu Mahato, Subal Mandi alias Rameswar are active in the Goaltore police station area. In the Bankura-Purulia region, Jiten Mistry, Neel alias Sunil, Ranjit alias Tarit Pal, Sagar Soren alias Santal, Ananda alias Ananda Kumar and Lambodar Majhi are active.
According to police, the Maoists from Jharkhand are also active in Bengal. They include Purnima Singh, Puspa Munda, Purnima Sardar, Sumitra Sardar and Samita Sardar. Their male comrades are Bijoy Bhumij, Atul Munda, Bhola Singh, Milan Munda and Gangadhat Singh (HT Live Kolkata, 26 June 2009).
It was against these seventy Maoists that this whole military operation, according to the Central Home Minister and the West Bengal Chief Minister, is directed. What actually is the total number of soldiers of different companies being deployed in the Jangalmahal area for this unjust war against the people? The Lalgarh battle has already taken in 5,000 troops, although the figure has not been announced officially. Besides these, another ten companies of central forces are coming in. That will make the total around 6,000 (The Telegraph, 25 June 2009). These 6,000 troops, even if the unconfirmed reports in the media are true, though this figure could be possibly higher, have been deployed against 70 Maoists, which means that the ratio is 85 plus troops each for just one Maoist rebel. It is clear from the announced names of the seventy targeted Maoists, (as announced by the West Bengal government to the media, if it is to be believed) that most of them are the local people. So Maoists or not, the war is against the local people of Jangalmahal.
Civil Rights Activists Prevented from Going to Lalgarh by West Bengal Government to Conceal their Own Brutality
The government of West Bengal has been using its muscle power to prevent people from making investigation into incidences of brutalities perpetrated by the joint forces and the CPI (M) hermads against the people of Jangalmahal. During the Singur struggle, the same government imposed section 144 in the area and continued it for nearly 70 to 80 days together to prevent people from making investigation into police atrocities and also to stand by the side of the people in struggle. In Nandigram, they used the hermads to do the same while the police forces remained mute spectators. Here in Lalgarh, the West Bengal police are back in business and thwarting any attempt by conscientious citizens to go there. An all-India team comprising Rajkishore, General Secretary, Revolutionary Democratic Front, K.N.Pandit, Co-ordinator, Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, Gopal Menon, documentary film-maker, Padma, a woman rights activist from Tamil Nadu, Damodar, and M Srinivasa Rao, anti-displacement activists from Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh were arrested the moment they got down from a train in Medinipur station on their way to Lalgarh on 27 June. In the name of enforcing the so-called ‘rule of law’, the police broke the law itself and booked them with impunity (Case no. Kotwali PS no. 1668 dt.27-6-09 u/s 151 Cr.Pc.). The team threatened to start hunger strike and refused to give any undertaking that they would not go to Lalgarh. In late night, they were released and sent to Kolkata in a police vehicle (Dainik Statesman, 28 June 2009).
On 3 July another team comprising Medha Patkar, Gopal Menon, Sujato Bhadra, Amitdyuti Kumar, Saktiman Ghosh and some other civil rights activists were prevented from going to Lalgarh at Debra about 60kms distant from Lalgarh. When Gopal Menon started taking photographs, he was beaten on the chest with rifle butts on instruction from the Pranab Kumar, Addl. S.P. Another media photographer was also hit hard. Both of them had to be taken to Debra hospital. The whole team was booked under sections 151 and 188 and released after sunset. This CPM-led ‘left-front’ government seemed to have invented this novel method—mobilize the whole state machinery and the hired goons and debar people from going to affected zones by violating all laws in the name of ‘rule of law’ with total impunity. They applied it in Singur and Nandigram, and they are applying it in Lalgarh also. After the Gujarat carnage, even the much- maligned Narendra Modi government did not restrict people from visiting the affected areas so shamelessly.
Section 144 for Others, Not for the CPI (M) Goons
Both Mr. Ashok Mohan Chakraborty, the chief secretary, government of West Bengal and Mr. Ardhendu Sen, the home secretary, government of West Bengal, are all set on a very noble mission. They will establish ‘rule of law’ in the Jangalmahal area with all muscle power at their disposal. However, what they are actually doing is the trampling down of that very ‘rule of law’. We came to know from Mr. Sen’s statement that Section 144 (which prevents assembly of more than 3 persons together) is in operation within 2kms radius of Lalgarh police station. When some urban intellectuals went there to meet Chhatradhar Mahato and came back, nobody told them anything about this at all, although they had been subjected to all forms of checks by the police on the way. It was only after they started relating tales of police and hermad brutality in the adivasi villages in front of the media, that the administration started threatening them with arrest. When the all-India team was encircled in Medinipur station and taken to the Kotwali police station, they were charged with breaking Section 144. When the team asked whether 144 was imposed in the Medinipur town, they stammered to answer; then they said that their presence in Lalgarh would create law and order problem, so they would not be allowed to go there. The police insisted that if they gave a written undertaking that they would not go to Lalgarh, they will be released. The team protested and refused. When the team members said that they would stay in the Medinipur town for the night and decide on their future course of action, the police said that they would not be allowed to do so. Is this the ‘rule of law’ that Mr. Chakraborty-Sen & Co wants to establish? When another team comprising, among others, Medha Patkar, Gopal Menon, were stopped at Debra, was there 144 in Debra Mr. Sen? In the same way they were prevented from moving further; when they sat down on the road at dharna, they were arrested. Why was the film-maker Gopal Menon beaten up by the police with rifle butts on his chest on the orders of Pranab Kumar, Additional SP, which caused vomiting and his shifting to the hospital? Was it because he was shooting another tale of barbarity perpetrated by your police forces? Is this ‘rule of law’, Mr.Chakraborty? Is this ‘rule of law’, Mr. Sen? What you are actually establishing is the rule of the lawless law, the law of hell.
Where was your ‘rule of law’ and so-called 144 when the armed CPI(M) goons in bikes came in large numbers together and demonstrated their muscle power in Lalgarh and Goaltore, where 144 was operative? On being pressed by media questioning, the home secretary replied that CPI (M) members were roaming in areas outside 144 zone; hence the question of arresting them did not come up (Sanbad Pratidin, 30 June 2009). There should be a limit to telling fairy tales, Mr.Chakraborty-Sen & Co. On 7 July, 2009, Medha Patkar has filed a suit at Kolkata High Court stating that the police did not have any right to prevent a free citizen like her from going to Lalgarh and appealed to the court to direct administration not to stay in the way of her going to Lalgarh (Sanbad Pratidin, Mahanagar 8 July 2009).
Political Prisoners on Hunger Strike in Protest against the Lalgarh War
Thirteen Maoist political prisoners in Krishnanagar jail in the Nadia district of West Bengal started an indefinite hunger strike from 22 June demanding withdrawal of joint armed forces from Lalgarh and resolution of problems through mutual discussion (ABP, 23 June 2009). About 100 political prisoners from different parties started an indefinite hunger strike in Alipur Central Jail, Kolkata from 24 June (Dainik Statesman, 25 June 2009).
Santhal Editor Resigns in Protest
Noted Santhal intellectual Mr. Dhirendranath Baskey resigned from the advisor’s post of the government journal Pacchim Bangla to protest against the joint operation of police and paramilitary forces in Lalgarh. He has been the advisor of this Santhali magazine, published by the West Bengal state government since 1990 and was its founder editor. Dhirendranath is the author of many books including one on the Santhal rebellion of 1855 (Santhal Ganasangramer Itihas). He was the first to introduce the Santhali language in Bengali script. “I am marking with great pain that the state government is mercilessly applying force on the quiet way of life and honour of the tribal people”, he said reading out his resignation letter to the director of information and cultural affairs department at a press conference held in Kolkata on 27 June 2009 (The Statesman, 28 June 2009); Dainik Statesman, 28 June 2009). In that press conference, Niranjan Haldar ridiculed the Chief Minister as ‘stupid’ as he described ‘alchiki’—a script, as language; so profound is the ignorance of Buddhadev Bhattacharya, who happens to be the Chief Minister of West Bengal, that he does not know that alchiki is the script of the Santhali language (Dainik Statesman, 28 June 2009).
Protest Demonstrations in the Urban Areas and Debates within the Forums
In Update1 we wrote that the response from the urban literati to the Lalgarh struggle was partial and not that encouraging. One plausible reason might be that the obvious involvement of the
Maoists in the Lalgarh movement made them respond with caution. In Nandigram also, the Maoists were very much there and became an important part of the BUPC which spearheaded the anti-SEZ/CPI (M) movement along with the TMC and other political parties. It was mainly their armed resistance that enabled the people of Nandigram to stand up to the challenge of their enemies. But the urban intellectuals either were ignorant about the reality, or preferred to remain non-committal on the issue as Mamata Banerjee’s party was also involved in it. The TMC leader had all along been maintaining that there were no Maoists in Nandigram, herself knowing full well that she was telling a lie. In Lalgarh, people assembled under the banner of PCAPA and TMC as a party was nowhere to be seen and so Mamata Banerjee was not at all interested in this movement initially. Just after the Central Ministry was formed, she even spread the fairy tale — which many eminent intellectuals accepted as true — that the Maoists are the creation of CPI(M), working hand in hand with the CPI(M) and even branded Buddhadev as a Maoist. There is also another side which many might not accept. As the Lalgarh movement is a tribal movement, and as the tribals are people having a lower social status, urban higher class/caste people preferred not to give it its due. Among those who on other occasions take to the streets, are some former Naxalites who are very critical about their past political existence and even disown their Naxalite past. They are critical of everything revolutionary or those associated with some ‘violent’ acts. These people are more critical when people either under the influence of Maoism, or under the banner of any forum, take up arms and resist oppression or state terror; they are less vocal when it comes to continuous acts of violence that the state goes on committing over the years. To some of them, there is no class nature of ‘violence’; they condemn all violence — irrespective of their nature and the context against which these were committed. When it was pointed out by some that the destruction of palatial buildings of CPI (M) leaders and their party offices were also acts of violence, and so need to be condemned in the same way, they did not have any answer. Someone said that since the Lalgarh Andolan Sanhati Mancha
(LASM) was born to express and act in solidarity with the PCAPA, so we should simply toe what the committee advocates. In reply, others said that the LASM was a separate entity and should take decisions on the basis of its own understanding and historical experience and could not toe anyone’s line. Someone blatantly said that since the state is trying to brand this movement as ‘Maoist’, so the LASM should try to exclude the Maoists from this movement, and in this would they be able to have a larger following under its fold. Such opinion was strongly opposed by others. They argued that the Maoists had already been identified by the central government as the greatest threat to the internal security of the country, and it is trying first to exclude and then to suppress them; at such a juncture it is the duty of the civil rights forums to stand by their side without necessarily subscribing to their ideology. But without doing so it tantamount to falling into the trap that government has laid and actually isolating them. This was reflected also at the time of making a draft for a leaflet on the basis of consensus. Needless to say, there was heated exchange of arguments among members of the forum. There was another clear opinion. This forum should not be the site for discussion/criticism about the ideology or method of struggle of any political party.
And as these people do not find any regular forum to give vent to their feelings and political opinion, they try to utilise these broad forums to air their feelings. Lalgarh is also a site which they try to utilise in their own way. But when things do not go their way, they resent and stay away and also tell others to do the same. That is how the LASM (Solidarity Forum for Lalgarh Movement) almost died out of existence. A new forum was formed called Lalgarh Mancha (Lalgarh Forum) with Mahasweta Devi as the convenor and it was announced through a press conference in College Square, Central Kolkata on 26 June 2009. Needless to mention, debates on the same issues continued in the new forum also.
On behalf of the new forum (LM), the following demands were highlighted:
1) Immediate withdrawal of joint armed forces from Lalgarh;
2) Immediate cessation of state terror in Lalgarh;
3) Repeal of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA);
4) No organisation can be banned;
5) Immediate unconditional release of all political prisoners including Gour Chakrabory;
6) Withdrawal of the case under section 144 against the intellectuals. It was pointed out that no ideology can be banned.
The Lalgarh Mancha does not consider the CPI (Maoist) a terrorist organization. As none of the constitutionalist parties could solve the problems of Jangalmahal, the villagers themselves had invited the Maoists to fight for their cause. Finally, all the contending parties should sit together and try to resolve the problems through discussions (Dainik Statesman, 27 June 2009). Sujato Bhadra, Anuradha Talwar, Manik Mandal, Sabyasachi Deb, Pradip Banerjee and others spoke on that day. On 28 June, Mahasweta Devi said that the whole military operation against the adivasi people was conducted to hand over large chunks of land to the Jindal industrial group so as to set up an SEZ there. She urged upon the people to build up a mass movement in solidarity with the Lalgarh people’s struggle (Dainik Statesman, 29 June 2009). Rajkishore, Debabrata Bandyopadhyay and Gopal Menon, among others, spoke on that day. The dharna mancha in College Square continued for some days and decision was taken to organize a mass procession on 11 July with as many participants as possible. Meanwhile, decisions were taken to initiate campaigning in different corners of Kolkata from 8 to 10 July by moving in a van. A number of organisations are reported to have decided to organise a procession on 9 July in Asansol, district Bardhaman.
Rallies were held in other areas as well. The Bandi Mukti Committee (Political Prisoners’ Release Committee), West Bengal organised a demonstration programme on 26 June in front of the office of the district magistrate, Nadia district with a 8-point charter of demands, which included immediate withdrawal of joint armed forces from Lalgarh, cessation of police terror, granting of political prisoner status to the captives and the immediate unconditional release of all political prisoners (Dainik Statesman, 27 June 2009). On 30 June, in the town of Berhampur, district Murshidabad, eight organisations organised a mass sit-in demonstration at the crossing of the Berhampur Textile College amidst torrential rains. Civil rights bodies, cultural organisations, Union of rickshaw-pullers, workers’ union, and college students joined the programme (Dainik Statesman, 1 July 2009).
Discontent is brewing also among the adivasis in other districts. The adivasis of Murshidabad took to the streets on 6 July against state repression of the adivasis of Jangalmahal. On that day, more than 100 adivasis on Nabagram block gheraoed (encircling a place with a view to stop its operation) the Nabagram police station and demonstrated. The secretary of the cell of the block told reporters on 7 July: “The state government is solely responsible for the volatile situation in Lalgarh. In the name of nabbing the Maoists, the intense brutality has been perpetrated on the adivasis of that place. We are demanding immediate cessation of military operation and sit down for dialogue with due respect to their hopes and aspirations, failing which police station would be gheraoed for an indefinite period”. On 6 July at the initiative of the Berhampur branch of Paschimbanga Ganasanskriti Parishad a protest demonstration was held by the intellectuals at the crossing of the Berhampur Textile College (Dainik Statesman, 8 July 2009).
Lagarh people’s movement earned support and solidarity from a number of organisations from abroad. On 8 July, people demonstrated in front of the Indian High Commission office at Athens, Greece condemning military intervention in Lalgarh. Another demonstration took place in Birmingham, UK on 10 July. Like Nandigram, Lalgarh has already become another inspiring symbol of resistance against displacement, destitution and state terror.
Eminent Personalities Speak on the Lalgarh Movement
Let us see the views of as many shades as possible of political activists, academicians, civil rights activists, artists, writers, and persons connected with the human rights commission.
Kanu Sanyal, a leader at the time of Naxalbari movement and now leader of a CPI (ML) group: “Our agenda was fixed. We led the farmers from the forefront and were ready to die. So many of us got caught and killed, but it was for the cause of revolution. But the Maoists are egging on the tribals of Lalgarh from the rear. When the state machinery strikes, they have their retreat route ready. Do you call this revolution? I had expected them at least to come up with their charter of demands for the people. Instead, they have already played on the emotions of the tribals by calling them a class. During the Naxalite movement we just had two classes—the rich and poor—we did not create such class divides” (TOI, 19 June 2009).
Prasanta Roy, a former professor of the department of Sociology, Presidency Colege: “The Lalgarh offensive should not be seen as a solitary case. Sporadic tribal unrests have been breaking out all over the country for some time now and Lalgarh is just one part of that picture…Lalgarh is just the name of a place, much like Naxalbari was, but it might soon be associated with a phenomenon. It has taken a violent turn today and a distinct political leadership has emerged out of the seething discontent. Chhatradhar Mahato was leading a relatively spontaneous movement, which was not acutely political initially. He unwittingly prepared the ground for Maoists and they simply seized the opportunity… . The Maoists have seized the opportunity of the existing discontent and the somewhat weak leadership to penetrate into the zone and expand their political base. That is completely natural…The Lalgarh agitation revolves around the question of right to land, forest rights, food, health and jobs. It is a story of continual deprivation of life’s basic needs…Today the Maoists can be militarily controlled and Chhatradhar Mahato too might go, but that will not put an end to this revolution. Even if the state suddenly decides to pay attention to the development of the tribals it will not succeed because such development needs time and understanding of the situation. Moreover, the state would do from within its capitalist frame. It also requires radical redistribution of resources…Such questions have always come up when revolutions need to be resolved. But the irony of a revolution is that its purpose soon gets corrupted. No revolution has ever been able to bring in equality, mind it” (TOI, 25 June 2009).
Sujato Bhadra, a wel-known human rights activist: “Unlike Singur-Nandigram, the initial social resistance movement in Lalgarh revolved around police atrocities; with tribal people raising their voice against law-enforcing agencies breaking the law of the land. So, this movement is political in nature; a story of the demand for the restoration of civil liberties since November 2008…The question is whether the presence of a few gun-toting Maoist cadres are sufficient, reasonable and proportionate factors for joint military operation in Lalgarh. Are more reinforcements of force and deployment of deadly CoBRA jawans going to serve any purpose except more suffering and torture of the tribal people? It is a clear case of “pre-emptive” military action. As reports reveal, such ‘war on terror” has created “tyrannicide”in the affected region…The institutionalised left parties now fiercely argue that the “world is a better place” without Maoists and hence eliminate them. Another question: why did armed oppositional politics gain a social base among the ‘wretched of the earth”? The answer lies in the actual condition of the area where people live in abject poverty. They are deprived of all sorts of civic amenities and simply denied all their entitlements as citizens of this country…Crores and crores of allotted money have either not been spent on the development of the adivasis or siphoned off. It is a matter of shame that after 32 years of rule, the self-proclaimed pro-labour government is still announcing fresh schemes for social and economic development of regions like Lalgarh…Now the security-centric approach will not resolve the conflict…What we need today if to build up a new ethic to enhance all potential for non-violent pursuit for the creation of dialogue and articulation of alternate versions of comity as public good” (TOI, 26 June 2009).
Purnendu Basu, a former Naxalite: “They (Maoists) are using helpless tribals as bait to increase their influence. Several Naxalite leaders like Santosh Rana, Pradip Banerjee and Aditya Kiosk, have been trying for the past year to visit them and start a dialogue.
It would have helped the Maoists as these three leaders had led the struggle in the same zone in the ‘70s and could have shared their experiences and seen that there were no excesses” (TOI, 19 June 2009).
Shyamal Sen, former WB Human Rights Commission Chairman: “Personally, I have not visited lalgarh in recent times, but I came to know from media reports that the local tribals even eat ant eggs just to live. Neither there is supply of safe drinking water, nor any healthcare facilities. These are all basic human rights as per the constitution. When the people of Lalgarh are not getting what they deserve as human beings, their rights are surely violated. It’s the state’s duty to make basic things of life available to its people” (HT Kolkata Live, 26 June 2009).
Saibai Mitra, writer and former Naxalite: “Banning an organization doesn’t help to either to root out or prevent it from carrying on its activities. So, I don’t think the decision to ban the Maoists will serve any purpose…History shows that whenever the Communist Party was banned, it emerged stronger and bigger. From a political point of view, it is not sensible either. If the Centre proposes a ban on Leninism or Gandhism, shall we support that? Having said that, I must add that I don’t subscribe to this politics of terror and murder. But has the government ever tried to probe why these people resorted to this extreme path?…For the last 60 years, no government has ever addressed the needs of these poor people. They have only made empty promises…The Lalgarh movement and all previous armed Naxalite movements are a consequence of that. Unfortunately, governments in India take a very simplistic view of things and follow the easy route. Once an armed movement spins out of control, they declare it banned and try to crush it with the help of army and police. In the long run, this has no effect…there seems to be an effort to equate this movement with secessionist movements like the one we saw in Punjab and in Kashmir. The Maoists are not a separatist force. They are apparently fighting for the poor and the neglected sections of society…We can’t compare the Maoists with Al-Qaida either. Is it too late to counter the Maoists politically? I don’t think so. Any time is good for a dialogue to commence. They can still be called for a discussion and asked to lay down arms. There are other channels through which this movement can be defeated. The civil society, for instance, can play a big role in brokering peace by acting as a mediator between the government and the Maoists…A simple move on the part of the leaders could have helped defuse tension. They could have visited the area and spoken to PCPA members. Excesses were committed, so PCPA was quite justified in asking for an apology. It could have acted as a balm and soothed the frayed nerves. Instead, the government waited for the movement to escalate and take the form of an armed revolt” (TOI, 27 June 2009).