Mamata’s men enforce ‘unwritten blockade’ on 12 Bengal villages to crush protests
Residents of Bhangar say Trinamool Congress goons attacking them to choke their movement against a government-backed power projectindia Updated: May 25, 2017 18:07 IST
Fatima Bibi woke up on Tuesday worried about her family fast-depleting rations. But a few hours into the morning, the 35-year-old had a bigger concern.
Around 10am, several men had surrounded her village of Machhibhanga and started firing indiscriminately. Bullets flew everywhere – one even hit Fatima. Her neighbours said the goons abducted an elderly neighbour.
Residents in a cluster of 12 villages in Bhangar, just 30 kilometres from Kolkata, allege this was the latest in a string of violence inflicted on them by goons hired by the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Villgers say the apparent objective of the unwritten blockade is to crush protests against a government-backed power project. Most of the residents are farmers who earn from selling their produce– and say the goons have cut off this source of income by attacking anyone showing up at one of two local markets.
The government and local police deny all allegations. “They are telling lies. The agitators are regularly attacking our supporters. They have a huge cache of arms but they are playing with fire,” said controversial Trinamool Congress leader Arabul Islam.
But locals say the goons are meant to crush the the Jomi, Jibika, Poribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee (JJPOBR) (Committee to protect land, livelihood, environment and ecosystem) that has opposed the project.
Retired Supreme Court judge Ashok Ganguly told HT that when he was going to Bhangar after reports of Tuesday’s firing, he saw people carrying firearms guarding the main road. “They had their faces covered. We were trailing a car carrying members of the committee. The toughs stopped that car and thrashed those people. We had to return,” he said.
The area, comprising mostly of dirt roads, thatched-roof houses and acres upon acres of paddy fields, first grabbed headlines last year after violent protests broke out against the power project over health concerns.
Locals drove the police and Trinamool leaders out of the villages in a major embarrassment for chief minister Mamata Banerjee who herself swept to power in 2011 on the back of land agitations.
Such blockades have a long history in West Bengal. Social boycotts, extending even to things such as haircuts, were often used by the Left front to bully opponents into submission.
They had their faces covered. We were trailing a car carrying members of the committee. The toughs stopped that car and thrashed those people. We had to return
On May 12, when Kismat Ali Laskar, one of the organisers of the movement, went to Polerhat market to sell mangoes, he was thrashed and handed over to the police. He was beaten up so badly that he had to be admitted to the jail hospital.
On the same day, when Golam Mostafa went to Notunhat market, toughs took him to a ruling party office where he was apparently brutally thrashed and confined till the next day. On May 23, Arabul Mallick ventured out to Lauhati market and was picked up, again allegedly by goons.
“I bought vegetables and fish about seven days ago. Now the stock is depleted but I can’t go to the market as I am old and infirm. If my two sons venture to the market, they will be thrashed,” said Khosdil Mollah, 73, a resident of Machhibhanga village in Bhangar.
“If things go this way, we’ll soon run out of items of our daily needs,” said Mujibar Mollah, 69.
The villagers allege they can’t lodge complaints with the police because of the fear of arrest.
“Remember that in an FIR (31/17) in Kashipur police station, there is an entry of 1,500 ‘unknown others’. It’s a convenient tool to get back at the land agitators,” said Alik Chakraborty, a politburo member of the small Naxalite outfit CPI(ML)((Red Star), the main force behind the villagers’ protests. Chakraborty, who has been evading police since January, met this correspondent at an undisclosed location.
Police, however, blames the CPI (ML) (Red Star) for obstructing the authorities. “Murderous assaults have been launched on police parties whenever they have tried to enter those villages. ...JJPOBR have not got any judicial order to stop work on the power grid site but are doing that by force. ...so we have initiated necessary legal action against them,” said Baruipur police super Arijit Sinha