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Freedom fighters starving

Descendants of those who died fighting during the Tebhaga movement are now a forgotten lot. Saptarshi Banerjee reports.

kolkata Updated: Apr 10, 2011 15:04 IST
Saptarshi Banerjee

His mother Jashoda Rani Sarkar was one of the leaders of the Tebhaga movement and a martyr. His father Nil Madhab Sarkar was a political prisoner of the Raj and even Debendra Sarkar was jailed for eight months in Rajshahi (Bangladesh).

Now 84, Debendra is a resident of Khanpur in South Dinajpur. The freedom fighter and a former Left Front supporter is sunk in poverty and nearly starving. “I expected government help. Now, I have no such expectations,” he said, sitting on the verandah of his dilapidated mud house, a stone’s throw away from the Shahid Bedi where names of all 22 martyrs are inscribed.

Jashoda Rani was killed in a protest rally, a victim of police firing. “The police fired and my mother was death within minutes,” Debendra said.

Like many others in his time, Debendra joined the CPI and after the split chose CPI(M) in 1964. He played an active role in Operation Barga and served the party loyally. Though he is poor, he has no BPL card and gets no pension from either the state or the Central government befitting his status of a freedom fighter. A train pass also has eluded him.

Now, Debendra is disillusioned and feels that CPI(M) is a party for people with vested interests. “You see the house that is located behind the Shahid Bedi. The owner of that fine house has a BPL card while people like us who do not get two square meals a day are deprived,” said the former Marxist, who now supports Trinamool Congress. “How did the rich manage BPL cards?”

“The leaders of the CPI(M) are doing fine. Can anyone tell me how people who have come from Bangladesh after 1971 have got ration cards and citizenships. I can take you around the village and show you many such people who came to India after the Bangladesh war and got ration cards, citizenships and even jobs. Now they have bought cars too,” he said.

Similar is the situation of Naren Sarkar, his younger brother. The Khanpur village has electricity but there is no such luck for the brothers. The elder has only one bigha of land and farms the long with the help of his son Ranjit Sarkar.

“I do not have anything to say. There is nothing to talk about,” said Debendra. “I always spoke my mind and this is why I never rose in the party. Since I protested against all misdeeds of various leaders in the party they have filed various cases against me in the last 10 years.”

Great Left leaders in the past used to be regular visitors at his place but today’s leaders ignore him.

Ranjit Sarkar said, “We have been identified with the Left and nobody believes that we have stopped supporting them. We have even voted for the Opposition but nothing will change for us. The very fact you see the Trinamool candidate’s name on the wall of our house shows our allegiance.”

Chandan Ghatak, a resident of the village, said, “This man played a very important role while government was vesting land. He vested 60 bighas of our family’s land but today nobody is bothered.”

Similar is the situation of Hira Kole Kamar, a resident of the same village and the grandson of Kaushalya Kole Kamari, a Tebhaga martyr. His wife and daughter work as agricultural labourers to make ends meet. But even thatis not enough to feed five mouths daily. “I have two daughters, one was married but her husband left her. She, along with her little child, stay with us now. We have more people to feed but we have accepted it as our destiny,” Hira said.

The Tebhaga movement has been highlighted particularly by the Left parties but precious little has been done for the families of the martyrs.

“I heard about my grandmother's struggle and her bravery from my father. She was pregnant when the police fired at the peasants. The child she was carrying died with her.”