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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 28, June 27, 2009

Report of the All-India Fact-finding Team on Lalgarh

Thursday 2 July 2009

West Bengal’s Lalgarh is very much in the news due to the para-military operation undertaken there by the Central and State forces to ostensibly fight the Maoists and eliminate them. In this context we present here a report of an all-India fact-finding team on the developments in Lalgarh much before the military operation began there on June 18, 2009. It gives a clear idea of the problems the people face in the area.

1. An all-India fact-finding mission consisting of ten members, including a former ambassador, a Supreme Court Lawyer, human rights activists, economists, journalists, and writers, visited Binpur 1 (Lalgarh), and Binpur 2 (Belpahari) on April 10 and 11, 2009. The team talked to the police, political party members, community leaders and local people. In addition, we attended meetings and witnessed rallies.

2. Our overwhelming impression was that the people of Lalgarh want to participate in the upcoming elections. However, they wish to cast their vote in an atmosphere of peace and security, rather than one in which they feel intimidated by threats of violence from the police or from the ‘harmad vahini’ (alleged CPM cadres).

3. On November 2, 2008 a landmine explosion occurred while the convoy of the Union Steel Minister and the West Bengal Chief Minister was passing Salboni, 50 kilometres away from Lalgarh. Seven people, including three schoolboys from Lalgarh, were arrested by the police in connection with this incident. This was followed by a sequence of further raids by the police, in which not just men, but children, old people and women were also subjected to various atrocities. The charges against all the suspects have subsequently been dropped by the Court. This pattern of arrests and violence fits into a long-standing history of atrocities against the adivasi-mulvasis of Lalgarh, which in fact goes all the way back to colonial times. Fed up with this sub-human treatment, the people of the area have ultimately formed themselves into a Polishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee (People’s Committee against Police Atrocities, PSBJC or PCPA) and have blocked entry of the police and harmad vahini into their area for several months. They have specified that the blockade would be removed if the police apologise to the people for their past excesses (in the traditional tribal manner, by holding their ears and rubbing their own noses against the ground).

4. From eyewitness accounts, victims and families of victims we heard that the police was present on several occasions when the harmad vahini carried out murders and inflicted injuries on people in Lalgarh. The State administration has taken no action against the perpetrators and made no effort to compensate the victims’ families for these killings and neither have any medical assistance been provided to the injured.

5. The authorities have accused the PSBJC (PCPA) of Lalgarh to be in possession of firearms. However, in our two days we did not come across any evidence of this. We had the opportunity to be present at two rallies of the adivasis-mulvasis, at which tensions rose high. There were at least 200 well-armed police and security personnel at village Murar (on the border of Midnapore/Bankura) on April 10, 2009. As they marched and shouted slogans demanding dignity and justice, the local people could be seen carrying their traditional weapons (hammers, sickles, axes, bows and arrows).

6. The people of Lalgarh have expressed their demands in a 13-point charter which involves restoration of dignity and deliverance of justice. There is, in addition, a nine-point charter
which makes specific demands relating to developmental needs like 365-day employment under the NREGA, provision of basic health facilities and ration cards under the BPL scheme.

7. Our clear impression is that the struggles going on in Lalgarh are a legitimate and democratic expression of the grievances of the people against the excesses and shortcomings of State actions, guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

Fact-finding Team Members:

Amit Bhaduri, economist, Professor Emeritus, JNU; Madhu Bhaduri, womens’ rights activist, IFS, former ambassador to Vietnam; Vidya Das, adivasi rights activist, Agragamee, Kashipur, Orissa; Gautam Navlakha, PUDR, consulting editor, EPW; Colin Gonsalves, Supreme Court lawyer, Human Rights Law Network; Aseem Srivastava, economist, writer, activist; Kaustav Banerjee, economist, CSD, Delhi; Budhaditya Das, student, DU; Manika Bora, student, JNU; Sudipta, human rights activist, Adhikar, Asansol, West Bengal

April 12, 2009

Members of the civil society are feeling disturbed by the happenings in Lalgarh and Jangalmahal in West Bengal. In spite of the rationality and ethics behind the mass uprising in the area, wanton acts of violence committed under grave provocation would detract the moral foundation of this popular and legitimate movement. Hence we, from the Paschimbanga Shilpi Sahityik Sanskritik Sangha, fervently appeal to the organisers and participants of this movement to eschew violence at all costs. Agent provocateurs are working overtime to derail the movement from its righteous path.

We appeal to the Central and State governments not to unleash brute force in the name of maintenance of law and order and/or reconquering lost territory. Both the governments should try to ascertain the causes of this kind of acute dissatisfaction, resentment and anger—which have been there for decades—among the tribals of Lalgarh-Jangalmahal and should make efforts for the immediate solutions of the problems. Democratically elected governments cannot wage wars against their own citizens. Moreover the bloodbath that would ensue following the police action will have its impact all over the tribal areas of Central India. It may cause a general tribal uprising comparable with the Santhal rebellion of l856-58. The consequences would be dreadful.

We, from this organisation, are willing to act as mediators to bring about an environment of peaceful talks at the preliminary stage provided both the sides agree. Our appeal to both the sides is to start the process of democratic dialogue and to avoid bloodbath and violence. There is no other alternative.

Mahasweta Devi, Tarun Sanyal, Shuvaprasanna, D. Bandyopadhyay, Sunanda Sanyal, Jogen Chowdhury, Gautam Ghosh, Joy Goswami, Amiya Chaudhury, Samar Bagchi, Kalyan Rudra, and others

Kolkata June 18, 2009

We are profoundly disturbed by the massive Central and State armed police operation in Lalgarh-Jangalmahal in West Bengal. This was launched without exploring a negotiated settlement of genuine popular grievances and by blurring the crucial distinction between violent Maoists and peace-minded civilians. The operation is taking an unacceptable toll of civilian life and safety in an extremely backward area with sub-human living conditions and absence of public services and social opportunity worsened by unremitting police atrocities.

We deplore the reckless, self-serving violence of the Maoists, who have exploited West Bengal’s post-election chaos by using deprived and angry tribals as pawns and by brutally attacking CPM cadres and offices. This cannot be rationalised as just retaliation against the violence unleashed by the CPM over the years. The two kinds of violence only feed and aggravate each other.

Some self-proclaimed leaders have appeared, claiming to represent the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA), who openly preach violence and murder. Their actions can only invite more state repression. Deplorably, the media has equated the Maoists with the PCPA, which has conducted a democratic and peaceful struggle among tribals for dignity and security, and against state excesses.

We urge the State Governor, respected for his integrity, understanding and compassion, to take an initiative to bring about a complete cessation of violence and open a dialogue on the people’s concerns highlighted by the PCPA, by using responsible civil society groups as mediators. Preventing a bloodbath remains the greatest imperative today.

Sumit Sarkar, Achin Vanaik, Tanika Sarkar, Praful Bidwai, Sumit Chakravartty

New Delhi June 19, 2009

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