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Eviction of Slum Dwellers and Repression of Anti-Eviction Demonstrators in West Bengal

April 13, 2012

[We are publishing below the following report based on materials received courtesy Sanhati, whose members were also arrested in the course of the struggle]

“If Didi could rush to the scene for one Tapashi Mallik, then she could surely hear the voices of 800 poor people and come here to see us” –Residents of Nonadanga slum in Kolkata

It is the same story once again. Cleaning up and beautification of cities in the clamour for urban space for consumption and the luxury of the rich. And as we have seen, it makes little difference whether the government/s are Leftist or Rightist, whether they claim to represent the oppressed poor or not. Thus, on 30th March, 2012 the TMC government forcefully evicted around 300 poor families from the Nonadanga slum area in South 24-Parganas, in the name of ‘development’ and ‘beautification’ of Kolkata. Their shanties were razed to ground by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority. The homeless slum-dwellers have been staying in an open field and are facing constant police harassment. Despite these harsh conditions, they have refused to depart and are presently on hunger strike. Their demand has to date failed to draw any favourable attention from the government. This neglect comes on the heels of the Planning Commission agreeing to annual Bengal plan around 16 per cent more than last year’s.

But the neglect is not only economic : the state government has intensified its repressive tactics. On 4th April, 2012, the Kolkata police and a gang of ruffians who viciously lathi-charged the dispossessed as they organized a protest march to draw attention to their wretched condition. A large police force attacked the protesters including women and infants; there was not a single female constable in the posse. Rita Patra, a pregnant woman, was seriously injured in the lathi-charge. Ten persons, including a baby boy and two girls in their early twenties, were severely injured. To protest this police brutality, slum demolition and forcible eviction, a day long sit-in demonstration was scheduled at Ruby Crossing, E M Bypass of Kolkata, on 8th April, 2012.
Sit-in by evictees
But this peaceful demonstration was broken by the Kolkata police, who alleged the assembly as ‘illegal’ despite having granted prior permission for the same. 69 protesters of  ‘Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee’ (Anti-eviction Committee of Nonadanga) were arrested and transported to Lalbazar police station. A nine-year-old girl child, Manika Kumari, daughter of Dilip Shaw, was in the lock-up for nine hours; Manika Kumari’s detention violated the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, which starkly reminds us of Payel Bagh’s case during the Singur unrest. The police deliberately did not, moreover, issue any Memos of Arrest—another violation of legal procedures.

Continuing with the high-handedness, cases under section 151 of the IPC were slapped on the detainees. During the evening of April 8, all the arrested persons were released on PR bond in the presence of members of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) and other activists through the rear gate of Lalbazar police station. However, seven democratic rights activists were not released and remained in confinement, i.e., Debolina Chakraborty, Shamik Chakraborty, Manas Chatterjee , Debjani Ghosh, Siddhartha Gupta, Partho Sarathi Ray and Abhijnan Sarkar. They have been falsely charged with a number of non-bailable criminal cases. When the released activists and others assembled at Lalbazar became agitated at this unexpected development, all were forced to flee by a huge contingent of aggressive police. APDR members proceeded to the central gate of Lalbazar to speak to the officer in charge and lodged a protest. According to the officers on duty, the seven activists had been charged under various sections including 353, 332, 141, 143, 148 and 149 of the IPC and were to be produced at the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (ACJM) court, Alipore, on 9 April, 2012.

The seven activists were remanded to police custody till April 12 by the ACJM court in Alipore Court after the state counsel raised the bogey of Maoist links and alleged that the activists were involved in ‘stockpiling of arms, ammunition and explosives at Nonadanga’. On the same day, a protest rally under the banner of ‘Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee’ (Anti-eviction Committee, a common platform of the evictees of Nonadanga and various mass organizations), demanding rehabilitation for dispossessed people in Nonadanga and release of the arrested protesters was to be held at 1 pm from College Square to Writers’ Building. But police prevented the rally from starting and arrested 50 men, 36 women and 4 children accompanying their mothers. They were taken away by 5 prison vans. The rest of the protesters started sit-in there in College Square, in front of the Vidyasagar statue and a gathering began. Engaging in activities like sloganeering, addressing the local people, etc., the College Street protest continued till 8:30pm, until those 86 arrested men and women were released on bail. The saga of state repression continued on April 10 with APDR activists reporting that the police did not allow family members to meet the seven detained activists. While repression continues in full force, the slum area is also being prepared for the real estate sharks waiting for the people to be “cleared off”. It has been reported that the police undertook a “land survey” on April 10 and declared that they would start fencing off the area from the next day. The evicted slum dwellers, who have living in the nearby fields for the past week, have decided to sit on a hunger strike to protest this move by the authorities.

Meanwhile, friends and supporters of Dr Partho Sarathi Ray have launched a campaign for his release. The following statement gives the details:

Dear Friends,

We are writing to bring to your attention the illegal detention of our colleague, Dr. Partho Sarothi Ray by the Kolkata Police. While participating in a peaceful protest against the eviction of slum dwellers of the Nonadanga area of East Kolkata, Partho along with 68 others including several women and one 9 year old girl was picked up by the Kolkata police near Ruby hospital crossing on Sunday, April 8, 2012. This happened despite the fact that prior permission for carrying out the peaceful protest was granted by the Kolkata police. That same evening, the police released 62 of the 69 people arrested but detained 7 including Partho. Various charges were laid against Partho (and the remaining 6 people detained) for activities allegedly undertaken on April 4 (Wednesday) during which the police resorted to lathi charge on women and children and other brutal tactics to break up a similar protest. Partho was not even present at the site of the protest on April 4 and there is documentary evidence of his presence in IISER, Kolkata (Mohanpur Campus, Nadia, West Bengal) on that day where he participated in a faculty meeting of the Dept. of Biological Sciences, interacted with colleagues and students and stayed overnight at the institute guest house.

Subsequently, during a farcical police court hearing on April 9 held at Alipore court, Kolkata, Partho along with others was remanded to police custody till April 12, 2012. A sessions court on April 12, 2012 remanded the seven detained activists to jail custody until April 26th.  Some of the charges laid against Partho and 6 others detained are  serious falling under sections 353 (assault on public servant), 332  (voluntarily causing hurt to public servant), 141 (unlawful assembly),  143 (punishment), 149 (common objective of disruption).  There is some confusion regarding the number and nature of charges  laid since the lists obtained from different sources do not match.  In asking for the continued detention of these 7 individuals, the government  lawyers made the absurd argument that these people, involved in a peaceful  protest for which prior permission was given by the police, had potential Maoist links and it is therefore necessary to keep them in police custody to get “information” about “possible stockpiling of arms and explosives” in Nonadanga. This chilling message reveals the sinister design of the police and the West Bengal government and raises serious concerns for the safety and well-being of Partho and others currently in police
custody. It is therefore essential that we, members of the Indian academic community vociferously condemn the illegal detention of our colleague, a reputed scientist, under false charges and raise awareness so that pressure may be brought on the government to quickly release Partho and remove all the fabricated charges laid against him by the police. Friends in the media can help publicize the issue.

You can also help by signing online petitions here:
Release activists arrested for protesting Nonadanga
http://www.change.org

Aruna Roy and the MKSS have also sent the following statement in solidarity with Partho Ray and others arrested by the Westy Bengal government:

Dear friends,

An eminent scientist  Partha Roy, faculty at IISER Kolkata, an alumnus of IISc and a member of Sanhati, a web paper which reports on democratic and human rights issues, was reporting on a protest against slum clearance in Kolkatta on the 8th of April. He and six others have been booked under sections 143, 149, 332, 341, 342, 353 of the IPC and have been detained unfairly for alleged participation in a protest which took place on the 4th( details in the petition). As it so happened Partha Roy was not there that day, but in the Institute and there is documentary evidence and testimony to prove this.

Despite all this being presented at court he was refused bail by a Kolkata court on the 9th. Intimidation, illegalities and abuse of
power must be questioned and stopped .

In solidarity.
Aruna
Aruna Roy , Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh and the MKSS

5 Comments leave one →
  1. अहंनास्मि (Ahannāsmi) permalink
    April 13, 2012 11:06 PM

    Another case of TMC atrocities here: http://www.kolkata-online.com/blog/?p=692

    I wonder what is it about many of these self-professed “grassroots” leaders than gives them a bout of “Hitleria” as soon as they come to power.

  2. P. Basu permalink
    April 14, 2012 12:24 AM

    Is she really the saviour of the farmers as she projected herself to be during her opposition days? Or just another opportunistic politician with “drama” as her main weapon?

  3. ipshitasamanta permalink
    May 4, 2012 1:52 AM

    Scene 1: It was a day of din. It was a day of virtual space humdrum. People suddenly woke up with a feeling that they lost their freedom of speech for a professor who was beaten up and arrested for seemingly sharing a cartoon depicting our chief minister. They started believing they live in Orwellian dystopia. And they fought back with élan by sharing more cartoons!!!!

    Scene 2: Nonadanga was an unknown name until some people who were tagged maoist were arrested. Among them was a scientist. He was acquitted as internationally news of arrest became widespread. Also a draconian law called UAPA was slapped to certain Debalina Chakraborty for allegedly participating in a certain Nandigram case. Ironically present government promised to make clear of these cases before coming to governance. So what happened in Nonadanga?

    Nonadanga was a dumping place for last few years for some people who were evicted / uprooted from their home/land. It was touted as ‘‘rehabilitation’’. But this kind of expropriation is a main feature in neo liberal economic policy. And these marginalized people would be sacrificed in the altar of the so called progress. So a landless ”rehabilitated” rickshaw puller had been a farmer in ayla devastated sunderban. A road side tea stall owner had been leaving in canal side for last 30 years in his life. But now they would live in shack of 10 feet by 10 feet flats or make shift vinyl tents for making themselves ‘’useful’’ for the city. On 30th march their homes were bulldozed.

    Some activists and civilians who resisted these attacks as they saw this eviction as a part of a bigger plan, as a part of expropriation, as a part of cleansing the city for the noveu rich organized protest marches,dharnas,conventions. And state came down brutally. A march was stopped before their beginning. lathis was lashed freely in a peaceful gathering. And above all the state claimed all these are the acts of maoist fortifications. This ridiculous assertion does expose the interest of present government. For that they are being puppeteer in lieu of global capital or should we say monopolistic capital? From various news paper sources it is known that KMDA is going to lease the land in Nonadanga for multipurpose buildings. And quoting Swapna Guha Bannerjee in her recent article in EPW
    ‘’Are these projects a novel idea of the current government of West Bengal or are they unique to Kolkata? In both cases the answer is “no”. The previous West Bengal government also enthusiastically introduced similar urban development programmes, associated with displacement and eviction, following the prescription of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), the largest post-independence urban planning initiative in the country. And again, Kolkata is not the only city where such beautification drives are seen. One city after another, in different parts of the country, has joined the bandwagon, under the diktat of the JNNURM. Beautification of Kolkata is only a part of a larger programme framed by a larger ideology, the imperative stemming from the nexus of big capital, international financial institutions and the state machinery.”
    It is clear that in nineties to counter the ongoing global financial crisis, the phenomenon of restructuring happened for the sake of financial capital. Also the character of capital had transformed from industrial capital to finance capital in eighties itself. Where the market was kept alive by pumping in more money by speculation, by trading it was necessary to co-opt the market of third world country. So the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) participated in drafting the urban reforms mandate for India. Finally in 2005 it took an official shape in the name of the JNNURM.
    The finance capital was in its heydays. The debts and credits were basis for the bubble. So it was necessary to purging up the third world big cities to make it acceptable to credit rating agencies. It was necessary to create a haven for neo rich who will cater the criteria for finance capital, who will participate in the gamble. The inclusive growth was not the call of the day. Service sector was sustaining the whole system. Hence the boom in IT sector, real estate, big malls, infrastructural change in tactical places and the contriving fires in slum areas, forceful eviction from canal sides, bulldozed houses, the naked child in scorching heat and freezing cold in vinyl sheet…. the state declines to justify its means. It just abets for the sake of market for making Kolkata into London and so on.

    But in this seemingly obscure world of economics and cleansing the identity where do stand the middle class? The smug, argumentative, privileged, conscious middle class intelligentsia? They seem to be satisfied in posting insinuating remarks in virtual space…if they wish they may walk alongside the slum dweller…They may be acerbic in remarking that their democratic right is being curbed. With all due respect to the middleclass political activists, the same faces are again and again in spotlight as messiah for the poor and the uprooted. Where goes the old man? Where goes the woman who was beaten in her advanced pregnancy? They may not be so rightly conscious about their right of land, right of dignity, right of rehabilitation. These political activists may know. In Indian constitution there has been clearly said that before any development projects are finalized the state needs to minimize displacement, promote non-displacing or least-displacing alternatives (as far as possible) or offer adequate rehabilitation measures, especially to the weaker sections, prior to displacement, if at all displacement is unavoidable.
    The very handling of the case of Nonadanga by state machinery raises a question is democracy only limited in curbing your posts in facebook? Why till now the most published English news daily in West Bengal is averse to publish the news of Nonadanga? And who gave this blessed voice to be heard and for the others not to be heard? Who gave this audacious right to vouchsafe them while majority of people are now busy with IPL, previously cartoons? Why middle class is beleaguered by uprising of uprooted people while they are busy with conforming with states until advantages are coming by? Why we don’t react by operation green hunt? Why identity politics and class struggle seems so either Latin or dangerous to us? Calls of sovereignty by north eastern states, by Kashmir are seen in conspiratorial angle. We almost forget an epoch has passed by thrashing them, killing them, raping them, and abusing basic human rights. We almost forget right to autonomy is a basic question to humanity.

    To occupy it is necessary to unshackle ourselves first. To realize, we have to use both legal and illegal means. And to fulfill the role of vanguard does not mean that you have to be shepherd. People are not sheep.

  4. Pradiptamohan Basu permalink
    May 4, 2012 11:54 PM

    First of all, I agree fully with Ms Samanta. And then I would like to tell something to the advocates of “one should not break the law” [one such was present in a recent talk show in one of the bengali TV channels]. I know of many cases where urban land belonging to the State (as claimed by the State) has been, allegedly [to be legally correct], encroached by rich builders for building high rise apartment blocks. This naturally leads to one party or the other moving the court. After that the usual thing follows – i.e., the process goes on and on for an indefinite period of time. And, this, needless to say, costs money. So the moneyed people are safe because of their financial strength (combined with cunning and education). The State can not simply hound them out. Now, can the above-mentioned advocates of the “legal way” please tell me, where these slum dwellers [or, for that matter, the tribal people of our country] will get the necessary fund if they have to go the “legal” way in fighting their battles for survival?

  5. Satyabrata Chakraborty permalink
    July 2, 2012 11:08 PM

    The Second Singur ‘Rebellion’ by Ma, Mati and Manush: Nonsensical Note by a Reactionary
    Csbrata, Kolkata
    It is rather cruel that Khamata Banerjee and her cronies have offered some more stuff for fun at the cost of the dispossessed and hungry farmers of Singur. Immediately after the slap by the High Court two precious gems of the ruling party, reportedly on the advice of Swartha Chatterjee, the Phd-aspirant Mahasachib of the party, staged a ‘c-grade’ jatra on the floor of the assembly. Absolutely irrelevant to the on-going proceedings, one of them raised a point of order asking for the names of the judges having been allotted land at Rajarhat. To everyone’s amusement, the other gem, ever-busy in flaunting as a minister (probably himself baffled by such sudden elevation and always apprehensive that people have taken it as a joke), immediately read out a list making it clear even to a yet-to-be-born baby that the script was pre- (and, as natural, poorly) written. The first name that the minister-gem mentioned was that of Justice P. Ghosh who delivered the verdict against the government some minutes before. This indecent hint of a link between the two reflects extreme disgrace for the judiciary. But who expects graceful manner from such persons!
    Maddened with power, Khamata was suddenly alarmed by this development and called a hurried meeting of the Krishi Jami Raksha Committee she had long forgotten and had systematically kicked the non-TMC elements out of it in order to project that Singur was Her solo song. Though committed to the cause of the dispossessed farmers, most of these small organizations and individuals preferred to abstain from the meeting. By now they have possibly discovered the asur having long pretended as Durga! However, the Trinbhojis and aspiring-Trinobhojis attended. (If the buddhijibis (intellectuals) close to the Left Front could be dubbed as buddhajibi (surviving on Buddhadeb), for ‘intellectuals’ regularly or intermittently paid from Trinamool government’s exchequer Trinobhoji should be an apt term, if linguists do not discard it on grammatical ground!)
    This grand assembly of the leaders of ‘peasant rebellion’ at the Town Hall — who often recharge their rebellious batteries by the dream of acting, during mid-day nap, in the role of Titumir and Digambar Biswas – have resolved to kick-start the movement again — to take the issue from law-court to the people’s court. The compulsions are not difficult to decipher. The great Singur-bluff earned them the Assembly. Exposure of the bluff might cost the panchayats. Over and above, how would the Kenarams (Kenaram is Khamata’s man at Singur) live there if such impasse and resultant hunger continue?
    Rebellion is sacred. So should be the proposed Second Singur Rebellion! But petty reactionaries have already started raising some nonsensical — mostly in social networks because that is the Queen’s latest fad.
    Movement against whom?
    Against whom will the movement be directed this time? a) Left Front for acquisition of land? But it is no longer in a position to return the land. b) Central government for not sacking the LF at that time? c) the President of India who did not give her assent to the bill because it was not sought! d) Ratan Tata for not violating a judicially pronounced unconstitutional law and returning the land to the government without compensation? e) the farmers who received cheques? f) the smaller democratic groups and concerned individuals who had then participated in the movement but now are less than willing after burning their fingers (Shyamolina Chakraborty, Khamata’s Naxal associate in the Singur and Nandigram movements is still in jail for protesting against another eviction, this time by the netri herself)? g) Justice Pinaki Ghosh for observing constitutional provisions? But he has already left for Hyderabad! h) the advocates who pleaded for the government, obviously Akalyan Banerjee — the Solee Sorabji(!) of TMC being exempted? i) the semi-literate ‘experts’ who had drafted such a weak law and advised Khamata to go in haste? But Khamata can never disclose their names! i) against judiciary itself for violation of human rights? But that requires prior confirmation from Bijito Bhadra, the moving Oxfrord Companion to Human Rights. j) against imaginary enemies? The netri herself being a poet-painter and always roaming in company with Bijay Goswami, another great poet with his eyes being never on the people around, ‘honest’ journalists with enviable capacity of ‘making’ news and doing nothing but echoing Their Masters’ Voice, Oscar-deserving film directors, actors and actresses and a row of all-time great painters not remembering exactly when they had last used their easels, there should not be much problem in imagining enemies. k) against God — the softest prey always pretending to be both deaf and dumb? The only problem is that agreement on identifying the appropriate enemy from such a long list will take at least four years and nearly forty sessions. Moreover, any decision will require Her consent, and She these days is too busy in noble activities like evicting slum-dwellers from Nonadanga, covering up rape cases and denying farmers’ suicides. Can She spare so much time for Singur? But, then, by that time both the panchayat and the parliamentary elections will be over and the assembly elections would be knocking at the door!

    Who will lead the movement?
    Madam Khamata already being too preoccupied with the beautification of the city, announcing exotic projects at breakneck speed, transferring upright police officials, roaming with scanners for identifying conspiracies and, of late, posting on the facebook cannot be expected to lead the movement with regular personal presence. The second-in-command, Sri Goukul Ray may not be that effective. In his last meeting at Singur, he could, reportedly, mobilize only 300 buses and 1500 people! Bibrata Mukherjee’s problem is that from the dharna manch itself he might switch over to the Congress Party. Akalyan Banerjee, one of the most authentic bearers of TMC culture, is firebrand. But he may not deliver enough publicity because even the paid newspapers may not be very comfortable with Banerjee’s extremely civil lexicon! As already noted, Swartha is too busy with his Phd. His further dilemma is that he, reportedly, trembles in Madam’s presence and crumbles in Her absence. He appears to be a good-for-nothing howling guy. Among local leaders, Kenaram Manna’s expertise is, as reported during the First Rebellion, mainly in distributing khichri among the gathering masses. He will make a mess beyond the make-shift kitchen. Kabi babu, on the other hand, is a respected teacher of the old school, and can never be an effective distributor of bluffs that his party thrives in. His being in the TMC seems more of an accident. In the inner circle of the party, he is reported to be treated as an outcast. Outside TMC, Timir Putatunda of the PDS may be both partly capable and fully agreeable because, despite all the honour he was greeted with by Khamata in recent past, sheer survival instinct is likely to inspire him take any plunge whatsoever. After all, persistence pays. This time, if he can please Her Highness, he may at least be made the pradhan of a Gram Panchayat around Diamond Harbour. But if we think of ‘non-political’ persons enjoying Her full confidence, Bivaprasanna will definitely rank first. However, the problem with him is that at the end of the movement, the farmers might discover that their land had slipped into Biva da’s hand, obviously in the ‘public interest’ of setting up another ‘art academy’ to be run by a trust with Biva da as the fonder, permanent and sole trustee.

    What will be the mode of the movement?
    Again, there are several issues. Should there be only occasional rallies and mass meetings? That may not be adequate to keep the flock together, and the rallies will turn thinner quite soon. With the number of cadres declining and the anger of the hungry farmers increasing the likelihood of the processionists experiencing the taste of broomsticks hurled by desperate women getting neither compensation nor their land back cannot be wished away. Sources report, Kenaram has already become a non-frequenter in some areas of Singur. One way-out may be to assign the duty of taking out processions to the Hoogly police in civil dress and hidden arms. (After all, as human beings, they are also scared of their own lives.) What about the idea of blocking the Durgapur Expressway till the case is settled by the Supreme Court? Knowledgeable persons say that such settlement should not take more than three/four years! But reactionaries think that by that time there will be only mosquitoes in the dharna manch. A viable alternative may be indefinite fast. After all, last time it proved quite effective. But, then, who will be the sacrificial lamb? Naughty journalists had spotted one member of the last fasting team shopping at Puri after three or four days. Another, belonging to the Socialist Party was, reportedly, badly beaten up before the last Assembly elections by Her non-violent ‘brothers’ though the gentleman accompanied Her during ‘fast’. The most effective way would be for Her to go on ‘fast’ again. True, She has to ‘run’ the administration also. But with the divine power at Her disposal She can carry on the ‘fast’ from the Writers’ Buildings itself with – wicked people allege and one ex-TMC MLA has recently written – some more bites of sandwich hyphenated by calorie-disbursing chocolates.
    What will be the outcome?
    As of now, only God and She know. The problem with God is that he neither speaks nor writes. But She will definitely declare the success of the movement before it starts. There is, however, one small problem – She has recently vowed not to speak any more (much to the relief of the saner people). So what? Visit her ultimate asylum – the facebook. After all, it does not cost you anything! Only a little bit of patience.

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