The Akhil Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Sabha initiated a Jan Sunwai on the TADA cases imposed on landless and poor agrarian labourers and peasants in Bihar . This ‘People's Tribunal' was held at Ravindra Bhawan, Patna on 12 August 2004 . In a hall packed with renowned citizens, political and social activists, jurists and intellectuals, the proceedings went on for four hours, at the end of which the Jury held these TADA cases to be completely fake, driven by the intent of crushing the awakening and political assertion of agrarian labourers and poor peasants.
A solidarity message was sent to Jan Sunwai held in Patna in the form of a resolution adopted at a discussion organised by Paschim Banga Gana Sanskritik Parishad and Revolutionary Youth Association on 5 August 2004 in Kolkata. The discussion was held in memory of revolutionary leader Saroj Datta. The resolution demanding release of the arrested and convicted leaders and activists of peasant movement under TADA in Arwal was signed by prominent civil libertarians, writers and other intellectuals including Sujata Bhadra, Raghab Bannerjee, Amalendu Dey, Azizul Haq, Nilanjan Datta, Amal Roy, Partha Ghosh, Panchu Roy, Sandip Bannerjee, Suranjan Pramanik, Sharadindu Saha, Swapan Sen, Uttam Purkait, Bhabani Shankar Chakravarty, Anishchoy Chakrabarty, Anupam Kanjilal, Achintya Santra, Barun Das, Sadhan Chatterjee, Nirmalya Bannerjee, Ashok Bhattacharya and others.
The Jury of the Jan Sunwai demanded complete withdrawal of all the cases under TADA and release of all political activists arrested under this law, and also release of all 18 activists convicted for life in Bhadasi Case of Arwal. Members of the Jury met the Chief Minister of Bihar , Rabri Devi, and submitted a letter with the demand that the TADA cases be withdrawn immediately.
Members of the Jury included senior journalist Anand Swaroop Verma, General Secretary of All India Khet Mazdoor Union, Nagendra Nath Ojha, Prof. Bharati S. Kumar, History Dept., Patna University , dramatist Javed Akhtar Khan and Secretary of PUCL ( Bihar ), Kishori Das.
State president of All India Khet Mazdoor Sabha Comrade Satyadev Ram presented the cases under TADA before the Jury, saying that people's court is above all courts or governments, and the democratic conscience of the people of the country has always protested against all the attempts to strangulate democracy.
Excerpts from depositions at the Jan Sunwai
Undertrials in the 2 TADA cases of Mehandia and Maniyanva in Jehanabad, as well as family members of those convicted in the Arwal TADA case, deposed before the jury in the People's Tribunal at Patna . We reproduce excerpts from statements of two of the undertrials.
The Maniyanva (Kako) TADA case in Jehanabad dates back to 1989, when police fired on a meeting of landless labourers, on the pretext that they had “stolen mangoes”. In the clash that followed, two policemen were killed, following which police unleashed a reign of terror, burning up hutments and shooting people. Ramvriksh Mochi, one of the undertrials in this case, speaks:
“I've never got to speak on a platform before. We're landless labourers, we were holding a meeting about our wages, when the police came all of a sudden and began firing ( ham garib bhumihin mazdoori ke vishay mein, kamae-khae ke vishay mein meeting kar rahli hal, pulis na maloom ki kaise ail, a goli chalana shuru kar delas ). There was a fight, and police got killed. Everyone ran away. All this happened at night. At 7-8 in the day, a poor Pasi was tapping toddy on a palm tree, and the police came and shot him dead. One Jagdish Yadav's son was coming along, they killed him too. But no case could be filed against them. But we've been trapped in this case. We have to keep appearing before the court. We're poor people who work for a living – our whole families and children are all impoverished. Are we guilty? Don't we have a right to demand fair wages? So, don't those who labour have a right to form an organisation? ( ...ham doshi hain? Ke majdoori mange ke adhikar hamra nahi hai? To majdoori ja kari ham sangathan na bana sakahi? ). We're daily wage labourers, going to court daily means we can't earn. I have nobody, just my wife who is stricken by paralysis. For the past 15 years, I haven't been able to work uninterruptedly for a week, because of the hearings. What can I say? If everyone here decides I'm guilty, then please hang me, but if I'm innocent, free me. That's all.”
Statement of Lakhan Paswan, undertrial in the Belsar (Mehandia) TADA case: “During Congress rule itself, the courts had accepted that minimum wage should be paid. We poor landless labourers had gathered to tell the landlords that we'll do your work only if we're paid minimum wages. If not, you get your work done when and by whom you please, and we'll work where we please. After this, in 1989, mukhiya Vijaynarain's cow died, and they planted it in my backyard. We had an argument. They fired at us, but the mukhiya wrapped a bandage around his hand and got a Bhumihar doctor to say he had been shot. The SP also came and said the mukhiya was badly injured.
We had cases filed against us, and spent two months in jail. ...
Even today, Vijaynarain continues to threaten us. He's evil like the rakshas Ravan. But we tell him we can't retreat now. One of our comrades in this TADA case, Nivas ji, was surrounded in his house and threated with death to prevent him from coming to Patna to attend a meeting. Young villagers saved him.In this same case, we got an acquittal in Aurangabad , but this one continues.”
At the Jan Sunwai, victims and their relatives deposed before the jury. These included close relatives of Ramvriksh Mochi, accused in Maniyanwa TADA case, Lakhan Paswan and Gupta Mishra implicated in the Belsar TADA case, Jamila Khatoon, wife of Comrade Shah Chand, Suneeta Bharati, wife of Arun Bharati and Suresh Chaudary, brother of Mahendra Chaudhary, all convicted in the Bhadasi TADA case.
Addressing the hearing, CPI(ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya said that it is a period of repression by the ruling classes. In the coming days the movement of agrarian labourers will intensify, the struggle for democracy will intensify and only then will the period of repression end. He called upon all the forces fighting for democracy to unite.
He said that the Laloo government that claims to be a government of social justice, born out of '74 movement, is holding on to power through repression, using all means including lapsed black acts like TADA. The repression on agrarian labourers breaks any illusions of social justice created by the Bihar Govt. in the days to come, the unity of agrarian labourers, poor peasants and democratic people will carry forward the struggle for democracy.
CPI(ML) General Secretary said that the people have taken to the streets in Manipur against a black law that was promulgated during British rule to crush freedom struggle, and in Bihar against TADA. These movements bring to fore the fact that black acts have been forged not to enforce peace and rule of law, but for repression of the poor by the ruling classes. As TADA continues to be used despite its lapse, similarly the government is trying hard to keep POTA alive. He called to intensify struggle against all black laws.
He said that the month of August is the month of independence and on 9 August, the Quit India movement was launched against the white Englishmen. Bhagat Singh had warned, rightly, that even after white Englishmen quit, if black Englishmen get power, the country will not have a democratic system, and independence will not reach the people who require it most.
He said that agrarian labourers are the crucial force in the struggle to establish people's democracy, usher in socialism and build a better India . This struggle, launched by them against TADA, enriches the struggle for democracy with a new strength and orientation.
Comrade Ram Naresh Ram, leader of the Legislature Party and President of All India Khet Mazdoor Sabha said that the Laloo-Rabri regime served the interests of feudal and criminal forces.
Among others who addressed the Tribunal were Arjun Singh of AIPRF, RSP State Secretary Tarakant Prakash, MCPI State Secretary Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, Jan Mukti Sangharsh Vahini leader Priyadarshi and senior advocates of Patna High Court Ratneshwari Prasad Singh and Naval Kishore Singh.
Pronouncing judgment on behalf of the 5-member Jury, senior journalist Anand Swaroop Verma said that TADA was being used to crush the just struggle of the fighting poor and oppressed people. He said the Jury had noted how activists and even children had been declared terrorists, private armies like Ranveer Sena went free. He said that in Jehanabad, the State Govt. by withdrawing 13 out of 16 TADA cases, and pursuing just these three; had revealed its intention of selective political victimization. If people struggling for their this rights are branded terrorists, he said, soon the whole of the people will fall in the category of terrorists.