Peasant Suicides in W Bengal

(A CPI(ML) team comprising Polit Bureau member Comrade Kartick Pal, Burdwan district committee member comrade Paresh Banerjee, AIALA West Bengal President Sajal Pal, and West Bengal Kisan Sabha President Annada Prasad Bhatttacharya visited villages in Burdwan district on 3 September to investigate cases of peasant suicides. Below is a summary of their findings by Comrade Kartick Pal.)    

Burdened with debt, three peasants committed suicide on August 21 and 23 and on September 1 at Basantapur, Karotia and Purbatati villages in Block–I of Ausgram, Burdwan district in West Bengal. The area falls under the parliamentary constituency of former MP Somnath Chatterjee and is dominated by CPI(M). Burdwan is one of the districts declared drought-affected this year.
This region being backward, it is a mono-crop area and cultivation is done only once in a year during the Kharif Season. The agriculture here depends mainly on loans advanced by money-lenders. Due to paucity of rain about 25% of land in this area remained uncultivated during the last year. This year many people had mortgage lands and sell off cattle to keep cultivation going. Help from the block and the panchayat authority remained elusive. Though the Village Panchayats and Panchayat Samiti have long been under CPI(M) control, people did not get more than 5-6 days' work under NREGA.
Eunus Seikh of Basantapur committed suicide on August 21. He had been taking a little land on lease, and for cultivation he had mortgaged his wife's ornaments and taken loan for an amount of Rs. 10000 at 3% interest per month. Apart from this, he had also taken loan to the tune of Rs. 44000 from different sources. With rain-gods failing, the paddy he had planted began to dry up, and with the spectre of ruin looming large, he committed suicide. His name was excluded from the BPL list, but it has been learnt that some wealthy farmers have got their names enlisted in the BPL list.
Jitu Bagdi, a share-cropper of village Karotia, committed suicide on August 23.  He had taken 15 bighas on lease from three persons, and for cultivation he had taken a loan of Rs. 32000 from six persons. He would repay his loan not in money but in paddy produced and twice the quantity of paddy that the loaned amount would fetch. Jitu Bagdi has left behind a daughter and a son, and at present they are starving.
Gonsai Patra of Purbatati commmitted suicide on September 1. For cultivating his family share of 2½ bigha of land, he took a loan of Rs. 30000 from the money-lender. He had even sold off his cattle for doing the cultivation. His pregnant wife was in hospital requiring money for caesarean delivery. On the one hand, the paddy sown was drying up and the pressure of money-lender building up and on the other there was urgent need of money. Gonsai Patra chose to put an end to himself. The other three brothers of Gonsai also find themselves in situation not very different. All have taken loan form the money-lenders, and the spectre of drought haunts them. All the three have been excluded from the BPL list. Gonsai's elder brother Madhusudan Patra said: “We all have to commit suicide. Or, starve to death.” 
Peasants told us that seven kilometres away from the village Purbatati, there is a canal existing since 1974. If the canal is cleaned up and extended, it will enable cultivation for peasants of about 70 neighbouring villages twice or thrice a year. But this has been neglected. There is also no effort to facilitate irrigation by setting up river pumps. In this bleak irrigation situation when the peasants do cultivation with the money-lenders' money and if rains fail, they find themselves in peril. Denying the role of debt burden, the CPI(M) and LF Government (through the panchayat authority or block officials) routinely blame the suicides on family quarrels. 
The Left Front Government came to power on the slogan of land reform and strengthening the cooperative movement. They also promised bank loan to the recipients of vested land and share-croppers. Quite a few cooperatives came up in 1979 and 1980, and the rural poor got some loan from the cooperatives and the banks. But the share croppers and the patta-holders could not repay their loans due to poverty and were deprived of further loans. This is now a glaring fact that the rich peasants, the Kulak lobby and the traders hold sway over the cooperatives, and they have become almost the exclusive beneficiaries of the cooperative loans and other benefits. The poor peasants, patta-holders and the agrarian labourers are denied any assistance from the cooperatives in the form of fertiliser, seeds and loans. The Karanda massacre at Burdwan is well known to us. It was actually a saga of the agrarian labourers rising in revolt against cooperative corruption and challenging the local powerful CPI(M) leadership and paying the price with their lives.
Due to utter failure of 33 years of Left Front rule, 65-70% of the peasants have to depend on money from money-lenders. They have to repay the loan either in money or in crops at an exorbitant rate of interest. The rich peasants avail loans both from the banks and the cooperatives. And a section of them again lend the loaned money to the poor and small peasants. The president of the Burdwan Central Cooperative Bank, Sri Chittaranjan Bandopadhyay – a CPI(M) district committee member of Burdwan – claims that they provide 73% of the total amount of agrarian loan in the district. This is a pure and unalloyed falsehood. Abdur Rezzak Molla, Secretary of the CPI(M) Krishak Sabha, says that their aim is to make 68% of the small and marginal peasants members of the cooperatives. But the reality tells a totally different story. The benefits meant for the poor are being appropriated by the rich. As a result, earlier labourers from other districts used to come to Burdwan for work; now workers from Burdwan migrate to other places for their survival.
A CPI(ML) team led a deputation to the State Finance Minister Ashim Dasgupta on August 31. He pleaded that the Government was bound by the rules of the central government and the RBI, and therefore would not be able to help those drought-affected peasants who have borrowed money from money-lenders as such loans are not officially recorded. The CPI(ML) then called a state-wide protest, with an 8-point demand including acknowledgement by the Government of peasants' suicide due to drought and debt-burden at Ausgram; waiver of all government loans and an ordinance passed to relieve the peasants of loans by money-lenders; compensation of Rs. 6000 per bigha and free fertiliser-seeds-pesticides-electricity-diesel for the next round of cultivation to drought-affected peasants; job cards for all the rural poor including agrarian labourers; and without waiting for the rectified BPL list, supply of 50 kg foodgrains and other essentials to all poor households; compensation to peasants of Singur who lost their land to Tata. 
The LF Government has denied the 3 peasant suicides at Ausgram; starvation deaths of tea-garden workers; and earlier the peasants' suicides of ten potato farmers in 2009. The Government follows this policy of denial because they know that to admit it would render hollow their tall claims about land-reforms and substantial increase in agricultural production.

Protest at Parliament Street on CWG

On September 15, Delhi’s construction workers, street vendors, slum-dwellers, rickshaw pullers and various sections of Delhi’s struggling poor and working class as well as students held a massive protest under the banner of CPI(ML) at Jantar Mantar in protest against exploitation of the poor and massive corruption in the name of Commonwealth Games. A protest march was held culminating in a public meeting at Jantar Mantar.  
The protest was led by party CCM and AICCTU General Secretary Swapan Mukherjee, CPI(ML)’s Delhi State Secretary Sanjay Sharma, CCM Kavita Krishnan, Delhi AICCTU leader Santosh Roy, General Secretary of AISA Ravi Rai, CPI(ML) Delhi State Committee members Amarnath Tiwary, Delhi Building Workers' Union General Secretary VKS Gautam, Delhi Khokha-Patri Mahasangh General Secretary Shyamkishore, All India General Kamgar Union leader Mathura Paswan, DTC Workers' Unity Centre leader Shankaran and many others including Comrade Ramkishan, National Convener of All India Health Workers' Federation.
The protestors demanded punishment of corrupt officials, strict implementation of labour laws and prosecution of those contractors and officials responsible for violation of labour and safety laws, and guarantee of rehabilitation and employment of displaced people.

AISA Torchlight Procession in Batla House

On 19 September this year, to mark the second anniversary of the killing of two youths at Batla House in an 'encounter,' AISA held a massive procession at Batla House. The procession protested against the refusal of the government to concede the demand for a judicial probe into the incident in spite of civil liberties' activists having pointed out the gaping holes in the police version, and despite the NHRC requirement of a magisterial probe into every encounter killing. 
Apart from students of JNU, DU and Jamia Millia Islamia, a large number of local residents also spontaneously joined the procession. On the previous day, AISA activists had distributed leaflets widely and held street corner mike campaigns calling for the procession.
The demonstration culminated in a mass meeting at Tikona Park which was addressed by AISA General Secretary Ravi Rai, CPI(ML) CCM Kavita Krishnan, Farah Farooqui of the JTSA, AISA President Sandeep Singh and several others. Speakers commented on the Congress leader Digvijay Singh's Azamgarh visit as the ruling party's attempt to run with the hare and hunt with the hound, pointing out that in spite of Singh's promises of a 'healing touch,' no probe had been ordered in spite of the fact that post mortem reports of the slain youth obtained through RTI had revealed injuries which are in no way consistent with an encounter.

Anti-Repression Day in UP

Against the barbaric lathi-charge of 14 September on para-teachers in Lucknow, CPI(ML) organised statewide protests on 18th September to observe anti-repression day in Uttar Pradesh. On this occasion a dharna was held at the “Shaheed Smarak” in Lucknow and a memorandum was sent to the Governor.
Thousands of para-teachers from all over the State, were brutally lathi-charged when they marched towards the State Assembly in Lucknow to demand regularisation and decent pay. Many including many women were seriously injured.  
The anti-repression day was also observed at 3 places in Chandauli district: Chakia, Naugarh and Chandauli, and Ahiraura and Jamalpur in Mirzapur district. In Allahabad a protest march was held. At Nichlaul in Maharajganj, CPI(ML) and RYA jointly held a demonstration. Anti-repression day was also observed in Deoria, Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Sonbhadra, Sitapur, Jalaun, Banda, Muradabad, Mau and Gonda among other places.

Cholera Epidemic in Odisha

Khitish Biswal

A CPI(ML) Fact-finding team comprising Odisha State Secretary and CCM Khitish Biswal, CCM Maleshwar Rao, Odisha SCMs Comrades Bidyadhar Patra, Madhav Rao, Brundaban Bidika as well as Comrades Pralaya Behera, Sarat Tripathy, Sashi Ben, and Upendra Sahoo visited some of the villages in Rayagada district that are worst-affected by an ongoing cholera epidemic. The epidemic has claimed 156 lives, mostly of tribals, and has affected 287 villages in 13 districts.
The team visited the tribal village of Gadaba in remote Bisam Cuttack block. Of the 16 affected people, 7 died without any medical help, and others were taken by an NGO on makeshift bamboo stretchers to a far-away medical centre, where only a pharmacist was available. There is no clean drinking water, scanty food, no schools or roads.
Next, the team visited Gayal Kana, another tribal village where 3 died recently for lack of any medical care. At Hadsikuli and Kurti villages too the situation was the same. At a health camp run by a pharmacist in Dandapada school of Bisam Cuttack, patients received saline drip and some minimum standard of medical care, but there was no doctor.
The team visited the villages of Tumbitaraoi, Balapai, Lekapai, Ramba, Tala Amlabadi, Upar Amlabadi in the K Singpur block, one of the worst-affected regions. CPI(ML) Liberation youth in these villages have worked to provide relief and carry patients to medical centres, and creating pressure on administration to send doctors to the camps. In the absence of medical care in the first 3-4 days, we lost 4 comrades to the epidemic. In Gayulu Kana village where a recent land struggle took place (Comrade Tirupati Gomango, jailed during this struggle, still remains in jail), 3 struggling comrades tragically died from the disease. The team held a condolence meeting there.
The Odisha Government headed by Naveen Patnaik is criminally responsible for the sheer neglect and denial of medical care and basic sanitation, water and food which have resulted in the epidemic. The Government remains callous to the plight of the victims of the fast-spreading epidemic.  

Report on the Exodus of Madigas from Budihalli

(In March 2010, Liberation had carried a fact-finding report on atrocities against Dalits in Budihalli, Karnataka. Months later, another team of women activists of PUCL-Karnataka, HRFDL, AIPWA, Samata and Stree Jagruti Samiti investigated reports that 35 Dalit families had fled Budihalli on 18 August 2010. The team (in which AIPWA was represented by Rati Rao, Poarkodi and Rachel) visited Venkateshwaranagar slum of Challakere taluk, Chitradurga district, on 5 September 2010 A summary of their findings is below – Ed/-) 

In Budihalli village, humiliation of Dalit Madigas by the dominant Nayakas and Gollas, especially harassment and exploitation of Madiga women, is common. On 22 December 2009, when Madiga people cleared the woods for cultivation in 4 acres of government grazing land (bagarhukum), the Nayakas and Gollas had attacked them and even attempted to rape a Madiga girl. Cases were registered in Parashurampura Police Station on 26 Dec 2009 (FIR No 0147) and a protest was held. In the meanwhile, Dalits were booked for rioting on the same issue and police was stationed in the village. Since then, the Madigas have been facing social boycott and public humiliation. The community members have been denied any kind of employment in the village. 
Recently, a married Nayak man managed to take Sumithra, a Class XII student, of Madiga community to Bangalore and marry her. After a fortnight he brought her back to Budihalli and deserted her. When Madigas sought justice by filing a case, counter cases were filed. Her mangalsutra was destroyed. They were forced to settle for a paltry sum of Rs. 25,000 as compensation.
In another incident, Lakshmamma, a Madiga woman, was brutally beaten up by Nagappa and his wife, belonging to the dominant community. When Lakshmamma filed a case, counter cases were filed on six of her brothers and a sister.
These two incidents were the trigger for the Madiga families to flee Budihalli in frustration. They began their exodus on the midnight of 17 August 2010, leaving their huts, lands, and belongings behind. About 35 families trudged nearly 30 km to reach the outskirts of Challakere town. There, with the help of activists of HRFDL nearly 25 families settled in three vacant huts in Venkateshwaranagar slum and the rest have occupied huts in the adjacent neighbourhoods.
Sexual Exploitation
Rape, sexual abuse and social boycott are the primary reasons for the families to flee the village. Madiga women of Budihalli have been victims of various forms of sexual exploitation. Dominant communities try to reinforce the sexual servitude of Madiga women, which were prevalent with the practice of bonded labour. When the women refuse to cooperate they are verbally abused, threatened with torching the huts or false implications in theft cases.
District officials have denied that the women were raped and sexually harassed and claim that no cases have been registered by women in this regard. Contrary to their claim, a case of attempted rape was lodged in December 2009 which was countered with another case on the victim’s mother. 
Apathy of District Administration
District-incharge Minister Karunakara Reddy, Deputy Commissioner Amlan Aditya Biswas and Superintendent of Police Labhu Ram have completely denied the charges of rape, sexual harassment and social boycott.  
A fact-finding committee constituted by the DC comprising Additional Deputy Commissioner, Assistant Commissioner, Tahshildar, District Social Welfare Officer and Circle Police Inspector visited Budihalli and submitted a 14-page report denying there was any exodus. The report claims 26 families voluntarily left the village at different intervals in search of better wages. Assistant Commissioner T Venkatesh has stated that a good number of them have leased out their lands. He then added that 9 families left Budihalli on the night of 17 Aug 2010 fearing arrest after a fight broke over a petty issue.
Right from the beginning, the district administration has been taking the side of the dominant community and issuing public statements at the behest of the Nayakas and Gollas. Even the minimum recommendation of opening gruel centres to prevent starvation made by the previous fact-finding team has not been fulfilled. Worse still, when the people approached the district administration they responded that there is no urgent need to open a gruel centre as no one has died. 
The district administration should start gruel centres immediately to prevent starvation.
Minimum of two acres of cultivable land from government surplus holdings must be provided free to every Madiga family, which has fled Budihalli.
Government should create sustainable livelihood for the community and provide basic amenities including, pucca houses, toilets, anganwadi, PHC and drinking water.
An independent body comprising community members, women’s organizations, dalit organizations and other human rights groups be formed for proper channelization of the sanctioned amount of Rs 63 lakh towards community development without any corruption.
Stringent legal action should be taken against the perpetrators of sexual crimes.
The Deputy Commissioner should be dismissed for miserably failing to conduct an impartial enquiry, not providing any rehabilitation and making statements that is unbecoming of his office.