Eviction of Slum Dwellers and Repression of Anti-Eviction Demonstrators in West Bengal
[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.
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:
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
Aruna Roy and the MKSS have also sent the following statement in solidarity with Partho Ray and others arrested by the Westy Bengal government:
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 .
Aruna Roy , Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh and the MKSS