Sit-in Demo demanding inquiry into the carnages of the ’70s

THE DECADE of the ‘70s was steeped in revolutionary heroism unparalleled in the history of post-Independence India. Inspired by the Naxalbari peasant revolt, and responding to Charu Mazumdar’s call, thousands of students and youth in Bengal plunged into a revolutionary course for the cause of liberation of the motherland. A unique revolutionary saga of sacrifice and martyrdom was scripted with the precious blood of these revolutionary youth. But it was also a decade that witnessed the worst kind of terror perpetrated by the ruling classes and the state revealing sharpest class antagonism. To finish off the revolution and the revolutionaries, numerous massacres were executed and several CPI(M-L) leaders including Saroj Dutta (5/8/1971) and Charu Mazumdar (28/7/1972) were killed in cold blood. The question of political democracy has, therefore, been a living issue in West Bengal since the latter half of the ’70s.

When the Left Front Government (LFG) came to power in West Bengal in the ’77 elections, its promises also included inquiry into the massacres and meting out punishment to the culprits. However, nothing has been done by the LFG in this regard during the 24 years of its long rule. On the contrary, notorious police officers, perpetrators of the ghastly crime, have been rewarded during the left regime. The CPI(M-L) and other democratic sections in West Bengal have time and again raised the demand of trying and punishing the guilty. The CPI(M-L) had organised a padayatra from Siliguri to Calcutta from 11 to 22 February in 1999 and even called a successful Bangla Bandh on the issue on 26 February, 1999. But the Left Front has all along turned a deaf ear to the issue, betraying utter callousness. Around 50,000 signatures have also been submitted to the then Home Minister (Police), Buddhadev Bhattacharya.

To raise the demand forcefully once again, the CPI(M-L) state committee organised a sit-in demonstration on 12-13 August on the 30th anniversary of Baranagar-Cossipore carnage at the ground beside the martyrs’ column at Sinthi More in north Kolkata. Besides the CPI(ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya and State Party Secretary Comrade Kartick Pal and other central and state Party leaders, other Naxalite leaders Azizul Haque, Santosh Rana and Pradip Banerjee, distinguished poet Amitava Dasgupta, intellectual Tarun Sanyal, SUCI leader Prativa Mukherjee and others also participated in the sit-in demonstration and addressed the participants. The programme began with offering of floral tributes at the martyrs’ column by the central and state leaders and the noted personalities present. Two-minute silence was also observed in memory of the martyrs. The sit-in concluded on the evening of 13 August with CPI(M-L) leaders and other participants addressing a mass-meeting. In the speakers’ reminiscences, the spirit ’70s once again came to life. Slogans like “Put killer Siddhartha Shankar Ray to trial”, “Arrest Siddhartha Shankar Ray”, “The Congress goons involved in the heinous carnages must be punished”, “The Left Front must explain its failure to try the culprits and punish the guilty” etc. rent the air.

12th and 13th August are two days that weigh heavily on the Bengali psyche even today. On these two fateful days in 1971 the infamous Baranagar-Cossipore carnage was perpetrated in which more than 150 youth were slaughtered by Congress goons in connivance with the state administration. The orgy of violence let loose by them even surpassed the British butchers in cruelty. To get an idea of the ghastliness of the whole incident we here reproduce a portion of the report published in Frontier on September 18, 1971: “More than 150 boys were butchered within two days –– the Friday and Saturday. Others who were not young had also to die. Lest there be any mistake, a list containing the names of the boys killed was hung up on an improvised scaffolding on Kutighat Road, the main road connecting the Baranagar police station with the other parts. There were hour-to-hour additions to the list, and the list covered only a part of the whole area of operations. The list ran to more than 60 names on Friday alone, and enlisting the dead was discontinued as the dead were lost count of.”

But what prevented the LFG from trying and punishing the guilty? The CPI(M-L) leaders addressing the gathering pointed out that it was the lack of political will that explains its passivity. Addressing the gathering, Com. Dipankar said that this immobility on the part of LFG is no less a shame than the shame of 1971. He went on to say, “Europe tried Hitler and fascism. And so few will be found in Europe who dare say that Hitler is his/her role model, because they had squared accounts with fascism. But in West Bengal, in spite of a Left Front Govt. presiding over the state for long 25 years they are yet to deal with the semi-fascist rule of the 70s.” The speakers said that it were not the Congress goons alone that were involved in the ghastly carnage. Pointing to the CPI(M), Com. Kartick Pal asked, “Was it out of fear that some people at Alimuddin Street (CPI-M headquarters), some ex-MLAs of the party and even some party leaders would get implicated in the case, that the LFG not ready to inquire?” He informed the gathering that in its Howrah State Conference, the CPI(M) had included the name of Sata Ghosh –– the notorious Congress leader involved in the Cossipore-Baranagar carnage –– among the list of the dead to be remembered. However, on CPI(ML)’s protest, the name was finally dropped.

The speakers pointed out that it has become a ritual of the CPI(M) to remember the Naxalites before the elections. Taking a dig at this opportunism of CPI(M), Com. Dipankar observed, “Every five years, as the election approaches, they remember the decade of the 1970s. They tell the people that in case they are not returned to power, the black days of the 1970s will return, the carnage of Cossipore-Baranagar will be repeated. Did our 200 martyrs lay down their lives for this politics of black-mailing?”

Some people including Azizul Haque were in favour of a non-governmental inquiry. With utter lack of confidence in the LFG, they feel that a citizens’ inquiry was the only possible course. Deliberating on it Com. Dipankar said that CPI(ML) was not opposed to the proposal. He however was not ready to spare the Government either, “It is also the duty of the citizenry to force the government to do its duty. … I appeal to you all to put pressure on the government so that it cannot dare to pursue the path of duplicity again, it cannot exploit the election market by shedding crocodile tears for our martyrs. Side by side, I also hail the initiatives to be undertaken by the citizenry. It will be better if the matter is settled before 28th July, 2002 the 30th year of the martyrdom of Com. CM, so that this agony of West Bengal can once again be laid bare to the conscience, to the democratic consciousness of the state.”

The West Bengal Government’s decision to extend its policy of granting allowance to the Naxalite political sufferers also drew a flak from Com. Dipankar, “If the West Bengal Government really wants to do something it must, first of all, do political justice to the martyrs of the 1970s. When it intends to pull a curtain on that political chapter bypassing the issue, we cannot but condemn it.” The speakers also reiterated that the reminiscences were not an end in itself, the objective was to derive inspirations from the martyrs, for moving further onto the path lit by them and for accomplishing their unfulfilled mission. Com. Kartick Pal appealed to the assembled people, “In the 1970s you did not confine yourself to the four walls of your home. To realise the dream of the martyrs, today you must emulate the martyrs’ path.” Com. Dipankar’s fervent appeal also echoed in all ears, “In this rain-soaked evening let us pay our tribute to the martyrs of Cossipore-Baranagar, to all the martyrs of the 1970s, and pledge ourselves to the unrealised tasks of the martyrs and forge a broader unity to build up surge of relentless movements.”

-- Joydeep Mitra

Resistance against eviction

NOW THAT elections are over in West Bengal, the Left Front Government (LFG) and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) led by Trinamool Congress (TMC) have once again started evicting hawkers, slum-dwellers, residents along Tolly’s Nullah (a sewage canal) and tenements of other poor people. It may be recalled that on an earlier occasion the LFG had undertaken “Operation Sunshine” (Nov. 24, 1996) to evict the hawkers from Kolkata’s footpaths. The TMC, then in opposition at the CMC, opposed Operation Sunshine. And on 17th of June this year, the RAF and police bulldozed hundreds of hutments, shops etc. on the bypass at the eastern fringe of the city. Those people who once raised slogans like “McNamara go back” are now acting at the behest of institutions like the World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB). After initially putting up a reluctant posture, the ruling LF regime has finally taken aid from these imperialist institutions accepting their conditionalities and has set out to give a face-lift to Calcutta, newly christened as Kolkata. In this process, the livelihood and survival of the poorest of the poor are under threat. It is because of these projects, sponsored by the imperialist institutions, about 3,00,000 people are threatened with displacement. It is a sad commentary on the Left Front’s much-touted self-employment scheme. At a time when unemployment is at its peak these policies of the government are all set to deprive a huge number of people of their employment.

But the people have refused to take it lying down. Particularly, the residents along Tolly’s Nullah have been putting up a dogged resistance for quite sometime. The ADB has sanctioned more than Rs.1000 crore as loan for its projects, that include, development of sewerage and drainage in Kolkata and cleaning up of Tolly’s Nullah. To implement these projects, the CMC wants to displace several thousand families who have been residing along Tolly’s Nullah for two or three decades and has offered only a paltry sum of Rs. 1500 per family. The residents have made it clear that they are not opposed to these projects and are ready to move away, but have demanded that a proper rehabilitation be arranged first. The CMC and the LFG did not pay any heed to their appeal and were bent on going ahead with their demolition drive and displace them through brute force. The Tolly Nullah Anti-Eviction Committee made extensive propaganda and undertook several programmes. They also moved the Court. On 6th July, a citizens’ convention was held, attended by prominent personalities, in which the speakers criticised the government’s policy of evicting the poor and appealed to it for refraining from such action without arranging rehabilitation. On 9th July, a procession was organised – with 1000 people participating and blocking the Hazra Road Crossing in South Kolkata – and leaders addressing the masses in a street-corner meeting came down heavily on the pro-rich and inhuman attitude of the Government and the CMC.

Meanwhile, an anti-eviction morcha has come up, with different organisations coming under the same umbrella to resist eviction policies. The Jukta Morcha organised a huge procession of around 10,000 people on 10th August. The programme got good coverage in the local media. The hawkers, the rickshaw pullers, the auto-rickshaw drivers, the residents of Rajarhat and Kulpi facing eviction threat, and the poor residents along the Tolly’s Nullah – all people coming from the lowest rungs of society surged onto the streets to tell the world that their very existence is at stake even under the left rule. Different organisations of workers, students, youth, women, and democratic rights activists, environmentalists etc. also took part. The procession started from College Square, and winding through a 10-KM stretch, terminated at Gariahat. The speakers addressed the masses at the start as well as at the end of the procession. The speakers on behalf of the morcha included Prashanta Sett, Prabir Das, Shaktiman Ghosh, Sujato Bhadra, Imanul Haque, Bidhan Chatterjee, Gautam Sen, Arijit Mitra. Besides them, Sunil Das, leader of the rickshaw pullers’ organisation, RYA leader Jayatu Deshmukh, Indrani Dutta of AIPWA and environmentalist Chira Dutta also addressed the masses. They put both the LFG and the TMC-led CMC on the dock. They made it clear that the city of Kolkata belonged to the poor, the toilers and the middle classes. Real development of Kolkata is not possible sweeping them away like dirt. Every attempt of eviction without rehabilitation will be resisted, they asserted. They also demanded that while drawing up rehabilitation blue-prints, the representatives of the poor and the toilers should also be included in it. They also appealed to the masses to resist the World Bank-inspired inhuman, undemocratic measures of the Left Government and the CMC by putting up united resistance. The authorities have been put on the defensive, but for the time being, and there should be no complacency. The people must be vigilant and fight future eviction attempts also, they stressed.

-- Joydeep Mitra