Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

A World to Win: Uprising in Lalgarh

Posted by n3wday on July 7, 2009

lalgarh_uprising_adivasis_womenThis article was sent out on the AWTW e-list. We have already posted the longer version of this article here, but are choosing to republish it because of the AWTW intro and because a condensed version of this article may be useful to our readers.

India: Uprising in Lalgarh

[Note from AWTW] 29 June 2009. A World to Win News Service. Central government troops and state police and militias are continuing the brutal assault on the adivasis (tribal people) and the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in and around Lalgarh in the West Midnapore area in the state of West Bengal that began in mid June. Indian Air Force helicopters rained down leaflets on the masses warning them not to support the Maoists. While the repressive forces boast that they will achieve a quick victory, the Maoist-led guerrillas melt away and reappear in other villages and forests nearby Lalgarh with the support of the people. Urban intellectuals from Kolkata who have gone to the Lalgarh area confirm that the armed forces are beating and humiliating the masses in every way imaginable and herding them into refugee camps.

The area encompasses vast tracts of the forests of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts of West Bengal and adjoins parts of the states of Jharkhand and Orissa, where the CPI5Maoist) enjoys strong mass support. Unrest in Lalgarh had been going on for a number of months, reaching a boiling point last November with the arrests, torture and rape of women and children after a bombing that almost killed a West Bengal chief minister. The state has been dominated by a reactionary so-called Left Front led by the Communist Party (Marxist). Decades ago this oppressor party abandoned any semblance of Marxist or communist thinking and joined forces with the Indian ruling classes to suppress and exploit the people and steal their land. After making a series of demands, the tribal people of the area took matters into their own hands, forcing out government agents and police. CPI(Marxist) officials were run out of the villages and some killed. Their offices as well as many police stations were torched. Trees were felled to block roads and prevent security forces from re-entering the area.

The CPI(Maoist) have broad support in the Lalgarh area due to their uncompromising stand against rich landlords and corrupt officials. They recently claimed the area as the first liberated zone in West Bengal. The Maoist party was declared a nationally banned organisation under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act by the Indian government on 20 June 2009. The Indian government describes them as the greatest threat to the country’s internal security. Gour Chakraborty, described as a CPI (Maoist) spokesperson, was arrested as he was leaving a radio studio where he had been interviewed. Many other suspected supporters have also been arrested.

Following is a condensed version of an article appearing in People’s Truth Bulletin No. 5, April-June 2009. It gives their views on the situation in the Lalgarh area and its background, and traces events in late 2008. For the full article, go to http://peoples- truth.googlepage s.com.

Described as the biggest adivasi rebellion ever in the state and as the second Santhal rebellion [Santhals are the largest tribal group in India], the militant mass uprising in Lalgarh drew banner headlines for several weeks following the land-mine attack on the convoy of the West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, and a host of other VIPs on 2 November 2008 near Salboni in West Midnapore district. Maoist guerrillas attacked the convoy as it was returning from Salboni after Buddhadev’s inauguration of a mega-steel project for which 4,500 acres of land was acquired by the so-called Left Front government. Three policemen, including an inspector and two constables, were suspended following the land-mine blast.

What sparked off the rebellion was the brutal reign of terror unleashed by the police in the Lalgarh region committing indescribable atrocities against innocent people in the aftermath of the blast. Along with state terror, the social-fascist [socialist in name, fascist in deeds] goons belonging to the CPI(Marxist) had pounced on the villages with firearms, abducting and beating up people on suspicion of being sympathetic to the Maoists. On 3 November, West Midnapore police raided far-flung villages of Lalgarh at the Belpahari end of Jangalmahal, and detained 15 people. Three of these were high school kids who were tortured badly and charged with sedition or waging war against the state, conspiracy and use of explosives. They were returning in the evening after attending a village festival when police picked them up with four other “suspects”. These incidents provoked the initial protests. But the police continued with their terror campaign.

The turning point came when the Lalgarh police tortured 11 adivasi women during the night of 6 November in Chhoto Pelia. Mrs Chitamoni Murmu, a poor Santhal woman, lost her vision after policeman struck her in the left eye with a rifle butt. Some, like Panmani Hansda, suffered fractures. This brutal incident set off a prairie fire spreading to the rest of West Midnapore and neighbouring Bankura and Purulia districts too.

The month-long agitation was initially spearheaded by locals under the banner of the Sara Bharat Jakat Majhi Madowa Juran Gaonta, a Santhal organisation of adivasi elders, but was later led by an independent organisation that was set up exclusively to fight state repression – Polishi Santras Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee or People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities.

A 12-point People’s Charter was drawn up. Among other things, it called for withdrawal of all “false cases” foisted on the people since 1998, adequate compensation to the victims of police atrocities, an immediate halt to police raids on clubs run by Santhals, an agreement not to carry out raids without the presence of Majhi Maroas [a tribal organisation] , etc. But the committee’s most important demand was that the Superintendent of Police of West Midnapore, Rajesh Singh, and the culprits responsible for the outrage on women, should hold their ears and crawl with their nose to the ground all the way from Dalilpur Chowk to Chhotopelia Chowk apologizing for the police raids and detentions since the landmine blast on 2 November. They demanded that the chief minister too should apologise for the high-handedness of his police officials. And though most of the other demands were met, it was this demand that became the driving force behind the agitation that went on for almost two months.

To lead the movement, committees known as Gram Committees (GCs) were formed at the grass-roots level. Each committee had five men and five women, something unheard of in the highly patriarchal and male-dominated semi-feudal social set-up in India. Moreover, every committee had to get its decisions ratified at a general assembly of the people that acted as the supreme decision-making body. Such Gram Committees based on genuine democratic values and traditions were formed in the villages of Belpahari, Binpur, Lalgarh, Jamboni, Salboni, Goaltore and adjoining blocks. 85 GCs were formed in Lalgarh block alone and 65 GCs in Belpahari block.

From Lalgarh, the agitation soon spread to Goaltore, Garbeta, Salboni, Gopiballavpur and Nayagram blocks.  Attempts by the government and CPI(Marxist) goons to isolate the adivasis from the Maoists had miserably failed. A 65-kilmetre stretch of road from Banspahari to Lalgarh was blocked by villagers during the agitation.

The People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities which led the protests in Lalgarh remained uncompromising on its major demand that the SP of West Midnapore should apologise before the people by doing sit-ups. Given the incessant harassment, humiliation, torture and arrests of poor and helpless adivasis by the police for decades, such a demand came as no surprise.

The agitation drew wide support from various sections of people throughout the entire state. Students from all over West Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura and other districts of the state came out in large numbers expressing solidarity with the Lalgarh uprising. Students from Kolkata’s elite institutions like Presidency College and Jadavpur University and some rights activists went to Belpahari in support of the movement. The Jharkhand Disam Party called a 12-hour bandh [strike] in the district on 16 November. Traffic on the NH-6 was disrupted as the Kurmi Chhatra Yuva Sangram Committee blocked the highway at Lodhasuli point in Jhargram. The town of Jhargram remained inaccessible as the Lodhasuli-Jhargram Road was blocked with tree trunks dumped at Kalaboni and Belphari-Jhargram Road.

By the end of November, the agitation had spread to over 400 villages. Deputy Superintendent Shyamal Ghosh, now posted at Lalgarh police station, said: “The large area that includes Belpahari, Banspahari, Lalgarh, Binpur and Shilda has become a free-zone for Maoists. We can’t go even 500 metres from the police station because of the roadblocks.” “We don’t call it a tribal movement,” said Sidhu Soren, secretary of the apex committee elected by the Dalilpur meet. “Most villagers, cutting across caste and creed, have endorsed our charter of demands against the police. We will continue with the blockade ’till the administration concedes to our demands.”

Unable to suppress the mass agitation, the social-fascist CPI(Marxist) government had drawn up a heinous plan of pitting adivasis against adivasis as done by the BJP-Congress governing coalition in Chhattisgarh in the name of the salwa judum that had earned world-wide condemnation. Hordes of CPI(Marxist) goons pounced on the villages and unleashed a wave of terror on the tribal masses. At least 50 truckloads of armed CPM men, flaunting the banner of Adivasi O Anadivasi Shramajibi Janasadharan, and accompanied by policemen, cleared all the blockades along the entire 22-km stretch from Gurguripal near Midnapore town to Dherua on 4 December. They issued warnings of death to the adivasis if they continued with the agitation. A similar operation has been planned from Kalabani, where two top district officials had been arrested by the people a day before.

On 27 November, bowing to pressure from the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, the West Bengal government withdrew all thirteen police camps from the Ramgarh, Lalgarh, Belpahari and Salboni areas of West Midnapore as protestors dug up the road branching off from NH 6 to Jhargram, cutting off the town from the rest of the state. These camps were set up on 10 November. The PCAPA demanded that the police camps be withdrawn within 24 hours or they would confine police officers in the camps and boycott police and civil administration. The setting up of police camps in school buildings had prevented the children from continuing their studies at schools and drew the anger of the masses.  Most of the 700-odd policemen posted at these camps and outposts moved out. “The withdrawal of the police camp was a virtual ‘surrender’ to the Maoists as this was part of the Maoist-backed PCAPA’s 12-point demand,” decried a newspaper.

Seven of those arrested by the West Midnapore police who were produced in court and remanded in police custody untill 14 November were released. The charges of sedition, conspiracy, illegal assembly, use of explosives and the attack on the minister foisted upon them had to be dropped after ten days as no evidence could be found against any of them.

Despite this, the mass agitation continued demanding punishment of the police officials responsible for the torture of adivasi women. To appease the agitators, the state government ordered an inquiry into the torture on 1 December, but the PCAPA dubbed this move nothing but a farce intended to hush up the case since the so-called probe was conducted by an officer of the department charged with some of the torture.

The mass agitation became further intensified as adivasis blocked fresh roads at Sankrail and Nayagram on 1 December. They also demanded the withdrawal of the main police camp from Lalgarh town. The town of Jhargram was cut off again from the rest of the state. The fury of the people also took the form of several attacks on CPI(Marxist) offices and goons. When CPI(Marxist) cadres forcibly cleared the road blockades put up by the tribals in the area, the latter set ablaze a CPI(Marxist) office in the Belatikri area of Binpur, West Midnapore on 1 December.

The month-long adivasi agitation under the banner of the PCAPA at Lalgarh, Jhargram, Belpahari, Binpur and adjoining blocks of Midnapore West was called off on the evening of 7 December. Agreement was reached on ten issues, including the release of three schoolboys, the withdrawal of the cases against others held on charges of involvement in the land-mine blast of 2 November, the withdrawal of the police camps, meeting the medical expenses of villagers injured during police raids, the removal of the Lalgarh inspector-in- charge, an end to night raids by the police, the setting up of an enquiry committee to investigate the atrocities committed by the police as well as CPI(Marxist) cadres and compensation for the damage to the houses during police raids, and so on. The administration agreed to consider the criminal cases filed against the adivasis and other indigenous people for their alleged Maoist links since 1998, particularly in cases where charge sheets have not been submitted. The committee, headed by the principal secretary of the backward class [lower caste] welfare department, was to begin meeting on 15 December. After the committee report is submitted, the PCAPA demand for compensation to each of the affected people will be considered by the government. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev himself apologized for the police atrocities on adivasi women.

A day after the truce in Lalgarh came a huge government bounty for adivasi development in trouble-torn Jangalmahal. West Midnapore district magistrate Narayan Swaroop Nigam announced the package for Lalgarh, Belpahari, Jamboni and the adjoining areas of Jhargram. The package includes augmenting drinking water facilities, setting up new hostels for tribal students and upgrading the existing ones, and a land development programme to facilitate cultivation.

The Lalgarh uprising stands out as a shining example of how people can ensure their lives and liberty in face of ever-growing state terror and state-sponsored terror by waging a resolute, united, militant mass resistance movement. It demonstrates how the masses of ordinary people can become part of the decision-making process and how they can make history by active participation in the people’s movements at the grass-roots level. Today, as the reactionary ruling classes of India, in collusion with the imperialists, conspire to strengthen the state apparatus in order to unleash the cruelest state terror to suppress the struggling masses in the name of the “fight against terror”, Lalgarh shows a way to unite the masses into organized resistance.

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