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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 48, November 19, 2011

An Open Letter to the Chief Minister of West Bengal

Monday 21 November 2011

To

The Chief Minister

Government of West Bengal

Kolkata

Madam,

Last week some of us who signed here sent an open appeal to you requesting you to personally initiate the process of opening a dialogue with the Maoists as that, in our opinion, was the only way out to resolve differences with those who are the sons and daughters of our soil, and not our enemies. We also emphasised that the issue was not at all a law-and-order problem, but rooted in socio-economic deprivation and hence deserved a totally different kind of solution. The group of interlocutors formed by you also issued a joint declaration with the Maoist State leadership on September 30, 2011 on cessation of armed action on the side of the Maoists on condition that your government would stop the operations by the joint forces.

In this context, the Jhargram public meeting where you spoke had attained significance, with expectation of some declaration on the withdrawal of joint forces and release of political prisoners and of course the need for a dialogue with the Maoists. But what transpired at that meeting—the spectacle, rhetoric and intent—was a retreat from the early earnestness that you had displayed in appreciating the gravity of the injustice meted out to the people of Junglemahal. It has been a great disappointment to all those who have taken the initiative with the express purpose of addressing the issue on the basis of the principle of justice.

While sidestepping the central issue of the categorical ceasefire offer given by the Maoists, the castigation of the Maoists as ‘supari killers’ (contract killers) and ‘jangal mafia’ has vitiated the atmosphere. It made matters worse by betraying the seriousness and understanding that Mamata Banerjee as a Chief Minister wanted everyone to believe her government has while dealing with the issues related to the Maoist movement. While such remarks cannot but be condemned, it is pertinent to look at the whole issue historically to see that it was the Naxalite movement that had for the first time brought the question of development to the centre-stage and today the Maoist movement is carrying that legacy and has propelled the wretched adivasis, Dalits and other deprived minorities to the centre of the development discourse albeit with a diametrically opposite vision from what your government is proposing. The Maoists have time and again made it clear that if all development can primarily put the interests of the adivasis, Dalits and other oppressed and deprived sections at the centre then they will automatically develop and the rest of the country will follow.

In other words, there needs to be political will, if one is serious, to address this crucial question that has been in existence for the last forty years—a fact acknowledged by many including government bureaucrats and officials, and in various committee reports appointed by the Central and other governments. The way you attempted to wish them away by making promises of bringing development to Junglemahal without taking into recognition the real demands of the people there cannot be considered a proper and adequate approach on the part of the ruling government. We would request you to boldly address the questions that the resilient people of Junglemahal force upon the government. Two recent newspaper reports have stressed the importance of this point.

The report in The Hindu(17-10-11) says: ‘Sujato Bhadro, who heads the six-member team of interlocutors, said the Chief Minister should be “more careful in her selection of words. It is true that political tension still exists in the relationship between the government and the Maoists. But such comments may only create political grudge,” he said at a press conference. He was referring to the use of words such as ‘supari killers’ or ‘jungle mafia’ by Ms Banerjee at a rally at Jhargram in West Midnapore district on Saturday.’ The Hindustan Times (17-10-11) reported: ‘One of the interlocutors remarked: “…at a time when the peace process is still on, her spirit and body language were so bad that, from now on, it becomes meaningless to move the peace process forward…Top Maoist leaders had offered ceasefire for a month on October 3 this year. Since then, they’ve been keeping their word. But the state seems to be moving in just the opposite direction. Then, why should we deliver? It would be better if we’re relieved of our task of mediating”.’ Restraint in the use of words and, more importantly, a change in outlook towards these political forces, are the need of the hour.

In your speech you said that the Maoists are indulging in violence, that they have killed three persons, while the joint forces are not carrying out military operations. That did not cover the whole truth. How many people were killed during the post-election phase in which mainstream political parties were involved? The fact is that since 30-9-2011, the day your interlocutors signed the joint declaration, not a single killing could be attributed to the Maoists. This has been categorically pointed out by your own interlocutors at a time when the Central Government and the Central and State burea-ucrats and top police officials have been beating war drums against our own countrymen. On the other hand, your police and joint forces are not sitting idle, however loudly you or your top officials might try to convince the people. Information has been pouring in through the media as also from the victims and their near and dear ones of the arrests, rapes and raids both by joint forces and the police. They have been raiding villages, chasing and harassing villagers and preventing them from collecting sal leaves and firewood for their survival. We have come to know that the recent story about the exchange of fire at Bankisole, Salboni is fake. The three persons arrested as squad members are actually ordinary villagers who had gone to collect firewood. Side by side, the district administration has imposed an unwritten ban on the constitutional rights of the people to democratic assembly and freedom of expression and criticism. Till now, nearly 80 persons have been arrested by your forces including those eight who were arrested in Belpahari, but then handed over to the Jharkhand police to be booked there under the UAPA. How can a newly-formed government that has come with overwhelming people’s mandate do such illegal things by suppressing facts? On October 21, the Lodha-Sabar Kalyan Samiti complained before the Paschim Medinipur District Magistrate that in the name of search operations, the police and joint forces are torturing innocent people, as a result of which 16 Sabar families in Aulgeria village have been forced to leave their village. (See Ananda Bazar Patrika, 22-1-2011) On October 26, as the civil rights activists informed us, at village Patasol in the Goaltor area, the house of Gopal Pandey was looted by the Bhairab Bahini. Although Gopal escaped, his mother Aruna Pandey (62 years), wife Sarita Pandey (30 years) and daughter Choti (nine years) were taken away. So far the police have taken no action. As the Chief-cum-Police Minister, it is difficult for you to ignore this hard reality. We need not tell you, as you would be already aware, of a new repressive vigilante force that has emerged in the Junglemahal known as the ‘Bhairab Bahini’. People say that this force is formed by sections of your own TMC men who have replaced the CPM-led ‘harmads’ and they are acting as jungle mafias and killing people! They are moving with sophisticated weapons with the forces in plainclothes and getting protection from them, very much like the ‘harmads’ under the previous CPI-M regime.

It would have been a meaningful exercise had you talked to the local people, local people’s organisations who, in writing, sought your audience to air their grievances. That would have given you first-hand experience to take stock of the ground situation when the people themselves had expressed their willingness to talk to the Chief Minster. It is unfortunate that you have decided to know about the ground reality by talking to your intelligence officials, bureaucrats and a section of your party leadership.

In your speech, you declared compensation to the members of families of those TMC members who, according to you, were killed by the ‘Maoists’. All deaths—particularly those of the sons and daughters of our soil—are painful. Then why should not the deaths of those who fell to the bullets of the joint forces, the police and the ‘harmads’ be also compensated? What about the deaths of a large number of adivasi and other poor people like Lalmohan Tudu, Sidhu Soren and Umakanto Mahato who died in fake encounters? What about those women who were raped and humiliated by state forces and the ‘harmads’ in Sonamukhi village? Don’t they also deserve compensation? Are they also not sons and daughters of our soil? Don’t you feel from your heart that serious injustice has been done to them also and that the perpetrators of terror and brutality should also be brought to book? The list of those perpetrators belonging to your armed forces and those of Palaniappan Chidambaram are rather long. Why are you not forming enquiry committees and why don’t you act against policemen and joint forces who had committed most heinous crimes against the people? By not doing so, are you not making the same distinction between ‘we’ and ‘they’ as your predecessors had done and met their doom as a result?

In your speech again, you have warned against ‘some people’ who are coming from Kolkata to instigate the people of Jangalmahal. It reminds us of the bogey of ‘outsiders’ raised by the Alimuddin Street bosses during days gone by. It would be pertinent to remind you that you along with many others who went to express solidarity with the struggling people of Singur and Nandigram were ‘outsiders’ when those movements were on. It is ironic that you are raising the same bogey against the critics of state repression in Jangalmahal. Is it because in the past you were not in power, but now you are in power?

ON October 14, just one day before you made the speech in Jhargram, joint forces and police forces went to house of Sushen Singha, a resident of village Shushnijobi, area Shimulpal under Belpahari P.S. to arrest him. At that time Sushen was not at home. The police and the joint forces found his wife Sibani Singha in the house and humiliated and raped her. Unable to bear such indignity, Sibani consumed poison to end her life. She was taken first to Belpahari Block health centre and then admitted to Jhargram hospital in an unconscious state. The Jhargram SP, Gaurav Misra, refused to hand over the medical report to the members of the victim’s family. Thanks to the efforts of the physicians, Sibani could regain her consciousness and on her complaints her family members registered an FIR at the Jhargram SP’s office when the Belpahari P.S. refused to do so on flimsy excuses. That news came out in the media on the day you visited Jhargram. Do you remember what you stated publicly? You stated that whenever the policemen entered into the villages for investigation, the charge of rape was levelled against them. What does it imply? It implies that your police forces can do whatever they like and that they would get protection from your side even if they molest or rape. Have you totally forgotten that day you were dragged out of Writers’ Buildings by the police forces under the previous regime for bringing the rape case of Chapala Sardar to the fore?

Whose interest is it to keep the war drums beating? No doubt, the Central powers-that-be are acting as war-hawks waging war against our own people. Then there are sections of the State bureaucrats and top police officials who have minted millions on the plea of paying for the secret informer-network. They have squandered public money under the previous regime. Manoj Verma (former SP of Paschim Medinipur who earned much notoriety) is only one among many. Why should a cash-starved State bear such a huge expenditure? Don’t you think it wise to spend on works of public utility rather than on a suppression campaign?

You have formed two committees—one for the review of cases of political prisoners and the other for talks with the Maoists as government interlocutors. But does the review committee have any power? The review committee recommended the release of 78 political prisoners in the first phase. You deleted some names (all Maoist prisoners) from that list and brought it down to 52—to be released on August 15. Then two other names were deleted (again Maoist prisoners) by you. We wonder whether the pre-election promises made by you were meant to be broken!

On October 18, you met your interlocutors with your top police bosses, bureaucrats and some hand-picked Ministers and whatever information that came out in the media shows that there is hardly any change in the approach. This whole game is an integral part of the ‘Operation Greenhunt’ that the Central Government has been waging in the interest of the foreign MNCs and domestic big capital against the people of our country. Do not be a part of it. If you stick to your stand of going all-out against our own people after seven days, just think about the consequences, of the human toll that it would take and the sufferings that it would cause to our countrymen. How many would be killed by your firearms-wielding policemen and joint forces, how many would get disabled for life, how many women would fall victims to your forces’ lust? How many would disappear forever? The people of Junglemahal have been suffering a lot. They are suffering because they are fighting for justice. So long they have been denied justice. Do you want their suffering to increase and deny them justice? Or will you do your best to see to it that justice prevails and the tormentors are punished? The previous hated regime has met their doom because of their arrogance and total isolation from the people. Think about it again.

We again make an appeal to you to sit in dialogue with the Maoists and representatives of different other democratic organisations who have been victims of state repression in Jungle-mahal both in the past as also in the present. We again reiterate our demand for the withdrawal of joint forces and the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the creation of a conducive atmosphere for the dialogue to take place.

Tarun Sanyal; Varavara Rao; Nabarun Bhattacharya; S.A.R. Geelani; Gautam Navlakha; Saroj Giri; G.N. Saibaba; Arup Dasgupta; Rona Wilson; Meher Engineer; Subhendu Dasgupta; Sukhendu Bhattacharya; Amitdyuti Kumar; Dipankar Chakraborti; Ratan Dasgupta; Himadri Sankar Banerjee; Kalyan Roy; Anuradha Roy; Ranesh Roy; Debasree De; Guruprasad Kar; Sanmathanath Ghosh; Muktesh Ghosh; Swati Ghosh; Kanchankumar; Pranab Nayak; Partha Sarathi Roy; Suman Kalyan Moulick; Debarata Panda; Amit Bhattacharyya

[Issued by Amit Bhattacharyya on behalf of the signatories on 27-10-2011]

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