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Posts Tagged ‘sankrail’

Chhattisgarh has reached West Bengal. The forces, the rapes, the resistance, and the State response: it’s an eerie replay

Posted by ajadhind on July 26, 2010

BY TUSHA MITTAL, tehelka

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Wary A village woman peeps at patrolling security forces in conflict-ridden Lalgarh, West Bengal

Photo: AFP

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Pover Wars

IF MAYA had been born in a city, you would have heard her name by now. You would have heard a quivering voice describing how she was flung onto a bed by a jawan sent to protect her. You would have seen a delicate old woman holding up trembling fingers to her forehead — a description of how she was raped at gunpoint.

But Maya has lived in the forests of West Bengal for 50 years, in a village called Sonamukhi. That has turned her into a different kind of citizen, invisible, easily ignored. Perhaps that is why she will never stir a nation’s collective consciousness — the same nation that was outraged over accusations of an IG raping a schoolgirl, Ruchika, in urban Chandigarh. Perhaps that is why it has been left to another group to take up her cause — PCAPA (People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities), that began as a movement against state repression, but which the West Bengal government claims is now a front for the CPI (Maoist). And that is why — whether PCAPA is what the State thinks it to be — the group has secured Maya’s firm support.

One year since Operation Lalgarh began, it seems the zone of conflict has shifted, moving from Lalgarh towards Jhargram subdivision. Jhargram first came to the fore when the Maoists attacked a police station in Sankrail. Some months ago, Jhargram was declared a new police district, given a new SP, and additional troops were sent in. Jhargram could now be on its way to becoming the new Lalgarh.

TESTIMONIAL
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MAYA*, 50
On June 30, I returned from grazing the cows. A jawan dragged me into my house and pushed me onto the bed. He put a gun to my head and said he would shoot if I screamed for help. He raped me. My husband was in a room above, but I was too scared to yell for him

The village of Sonamukhi too is part of this new battle ground. Until two months ago, the PCAPA had no presence in Sonamukhi. Nor had the joint-forces ever raided the village. Now, the PCAPA has already helped villagers build their own road here. The reason why Sonamukhi is significant is because it shows that then group continues to expand despite the State’s crackdown. The State’s strategy of rendering the committee headless has yielded little result. Its first president Lalmohan Tudu was killed in what TEHELKA reported was a fake encounter, and its secretary Chhattradhar Mahato has been in Midnapore Jail, booked under the draconian UAPA act since November 2009. Yet, the committee claims to have approximately 20,000 active members and have 80 percent of conflict zone Bengal as it base, stretching over the three worst affected districts — West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura. (Incidentally also Bengal’s poorest areas.)

The PCAPA runs a parallel government in the conflict zones with an astonishing ease. It is also fertile territory for the Maoists

This is further significant because PCAPA has been held responsible for the Gyaneshwari train derailment that killed atleast 120 people in West Bengal last month. The CBI has already arrested eight men including a mastermind named Bapi Mahato, a PCAPA member. It has named PCAPA spokesperson Asit Mahato and Central Committee member Umakanto Mahato as the other two most-wanted in this case. While investigators say that Bapi has confessed to his involvement in the incident, the PCAPA claims innocence. The Maoists have also denied involvement in this.

Last week, TEHELKA journeyed inside the PCAPA, visiting its strongholds and speaking to cadres. TEHELKA met PCAPA spokesperson Asit Mahato, 32, near his hideout in the forests of Jangalmahal. Before Mahato went underground, he was a supporter of the Jharkhand Party, which currently holds the Lalgarh assembly seat. Asit says his father was tortured by CPM goons in 1998 when he raised his voice against corruption by local CPM leader Anuj Pandey. That is what shaped Asit’s politics.

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Rebels all
CBI most wanted Asit Mahato (Top) and Manoj Mahato (Bottom)

GREETING US in a pair of sunglasses, brown pants and a striped collar shirt, Asit laughed at his status as CBI’s most-wanted. “The PCAPA is not involved in the Gyaneshwari incident. We had no knowledge of this,” he said. “This has been done by the CPM to defame us. Everyone who has been arrested is a former CPM worker. Bapi was a CPM mole. The CBI has no evidence against me. They have declared Rs 1 lakh reward for me, so we have declared our own reward – 1 lakh each for 9 absconding CPM netas – Sushanto Ghosh, Lakhan Ghosh, Anuj Pandey, Prashanto Das, etc. We will also reward villagers who can bring us the real planners and perpetrators of the Gyaneshwari derailment.”

In many ways, PCAPA is at a crossroads, desperate to prove it has no links with the CPI (Maoist). The committee was formed in 2008 after the police tortured a tribal woman called Chidamani, almost blinding her, during anti-Naxal raids in Salboni. “Our primary demand was an apology from the SP. If he had done that, the andolan might have ended there. But now the public at large hates the police and the CPM. People want to live with dignity, for that we are ready to fight,” said Ajit Mahato, a PCAPA member who, like most, had to flee underground when the joint-operation began in June 2009.

As the joint operation flared up in Lalgarh and the Maoists offered to support PCAPA, there were several internal debates. Chhatradhar Mahato and Lalmohan Tudu walked the middle ground, meeting the Chief Election Commissioner before the general election, negotiating the release of an Assistant Sub-Inspector the Maoists had abducted.

After Chhattradhar’s arrest by policemen posing as journalists, Asit declared the group to be an armed militia. But now, he denies any use of arms by PCAPA. “We only declared that if needed we will use arms in self-defence, but have not done so yet,” he said. That may be a false claim since there are men with arms wandering around PCAPA strongholds.

Sources say there are differing schools of thought within the PCAPA. Some are in touch with Chhattradhar Mahato, letters have been exchanged, and the idea of a political party has been discussed. “We believe in democracy. We are not ruling out the idea of a political party,” Asit Mahato said.

While the hard line faction of PCAPA is comfortable with use of arms, the soft liners would rather that Chhattradhar Mahato contest an election, even if from within jail. That such a thought exists in the party could be seen in two ways. At worst, it could be a strategic move that has the backing of CPI (Maoist) while attempting to distance the PCAPA from them on the surface. At best, it is an indication that the CPI (Maoist) may have influence, but does not remote control the ‘front’. It is possible that the majority of the CPI (Maoist) recruitment in West Bengal is done from within the PCAPA. Yet, the PCAPA is not a banned outfit. The irony is that by treating it as such, the State is only pushing it further underground. “We are ready for talks. The State is not allowing us to come overground,” Asit said.

Even if Asit is caught, there will be new faces ready to take his place. Already younger, more confident leaders are emerging. During TEHELKA’S interview with Asit Mahato, the spokesperson said very little. All along, 26-year-old Manoj Mahato, a Central Committee member, sat by his side, whispering into his ear. He was only distracted when he received a phone call from Midnapore town. “What is my shirt size? Double XL? Or XL?” he asked other cadres before turning to us. “My lahver,” he grinned. “We will get married soon.”

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Defiance
Residents of Sonamukhi village gather to protest the alleged rapes by security forces
TESTIMONIAL
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LOKHI*, 35

Two men pressed me down. They wanted to rape me but I held my knees together. I didn’t want to part them. I’m a married woman. I have selfrespect and dignity, which they stripped me of. They also stole Rs 1,500. I will identify those bastards. I want them hanged

IN THE distance, PCAPA’s new flag swayed in the wind. White represents peace, green for the forests, and a bow and arrow symbol represents the Adivasis. PCAPA is the first Maoist-backed outfit to have a flag. Walk around this PCAPA stronghold and it is easy to forget one is in a conflict zone. There is a PCAPA-run kitchen distributing hot rosogallas and jamun, a vast open field with cycles, motorbikes and cows, and a make-shift thatched roof dining area where all PCAPA workers eat together. Nearby, workers are busy building PCAPA’s first state of the art health center. It will have an operating room, an outpatient room, an office, and a room for the MBBS doctors and surgeons PCAPA plans to recruit. Already the PCAPA says it is providing basic health care in 26 health camps across Jangalmahal.

In Salboni block, it has built 50 small dams or water reservoirs from where canals can extend to irrigate fields. It has also built about 20 km road at the cost of Rs 47,000. In the village of Belasol, another PCAPA stronghold, Pradeep Mahato can now cultivate his five bigha plot three times a year. Earlier, he could only grow rice and harvest once. For 40 years, he depended on rain. “The land is so fertile, but there was no irrigation facility,” he says. PCAPA installed a water pump in the village at the cost of Rs 16,000, covered by collection Rs 100 from each the joint-forces. In a matter of minutes, villagers say about 500 armed men had surrounded the village.

The State pushed the PCAPA underground. Now, it can use justice to pull them out. It still has more tools than it chooses to use

Police sources said they raided the village because they had specific “human and technical intelligence” that CBI most-wanted Umakanto Mahato was hiding there. During the search operation, gun shots were heard from Kajol Mahato’s house. Police claim they were fired at by Maoists and PCAPA members hiding atop her house. They say the rebels escaped, but left two jawans severely injured. Locals contest this version and say the police entered the same house from two directions. Both search parties ended up firing at each other, injuring the jawans in the process.

While search operations proceeded through the day, villagers say the forces told the women to collect in the courtyard. “They separated the older women, asking us to wait at a different spot,” says Shayoni Mahato, 55. “Utho, Utho, bheetar chalo,” Shayoni says she saw the forces pointing to a few younger women. “When they began calling the married women into a room, I suddenly realised what their intention was,” she says.

TESTIMONIAL
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UMA*, 30

The forces halted outside my door. They asked me if anyone was at home. I said no. Three of them pushed me in. They laid down the charpai and flung me on it. After they began to tear my clothes, I lost consciousness. One of them pressed himself upon me and raped me

As the forces dragged the women in, Shayoni ran to her daughter-in-law Soma, encircled her and refused to leave. “They beat me with a stick and threw me to the ground,” Shayoni says. “It was only after I told them that Soma is 5 months pregnant that they let her go.” Maya was also dragged into the room, her cupboards opened, and belongings searched. She says a jawan pulled a cheek and stole Rs 10,000 from her drawer. Her husband, a contractor, sells Sal leaves in Orissa. He had just returned the previous night with the money. What saved her from being raped was perhaps a photograph of a police contingent that fell out from a notebook. The jawan let her go after realising that her brother-inlaw was a constable.

On June 6, the villagers of Sonamukhi – led by local PCAPA members — marched to the Jhargram SDO’s office, C. Murugan. They detailed the incident and asked him to order an inquiry. Murugan constituted a special medical board. The next day six women underwent a swab test at the Jhagram hospital. Hospital sources said the swab samples have been sent to the SDO office. Since the swabs were taken more than 24 hours after the incident, the medical board has recommended that they be sent to the FSL lab in Kolkata. However, no police case has yet been registered.

BUT A troubling revelation complicates this story of rape. In all, eight women in Sonamukhi allege rape. TEHELKA met five women, of which two said they had been beaten but not raped. Significantly, in hushed whispers one of them spoke of how villagers were insisting she had been raped. “I was taken to the fields, encircled by a group of men and beaten so hard, I can’t bend down to collect water. Maybe they had intentions to rape me, but they were called away. I’ve told the local PCAPA leaders that I have not been raped,” said Kajol Mahato. Yet, the PCAPA alleges otherwise. The local leaders took these women, Kajol included, to the SDO’s office. “We have no knowledge of such an exaggeration. This is the first we are hearing of this. We will look into it,” a PCAPA Central Committee member said when confronted.

While this could be read as mere propaganda from the PCAPA, it would be wise not to dismiss it as such. The villagers march into an SDO’s office is a window of opportunity for the State. If the government is able to order an independent inquiry into these rape allegations, it would strengthen those in the PCAPA who believe in democracy. If it doesn’t, it will give more ammunition to the hardliners. The State first pushed the PCAPA underground; it can now use justice and democracy to pull them out. A year into Operation Lalgarh, the State still has more tools than it chooses to use.

PHOTOS: PINTU PRADHAN

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Posted in CHHATISGARH, GREEN HUNT, IN NEWS, NAXALISM, WESTBENGAL | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Sankrail episode: The story of the arrested women

Posted by ajadhind on November 2, 2009

Posted by indianvanguard2010 on October 28, 2009

Subharani Baskey in tears outside Midnapore Central Jail. She said she had gone out to see what was happening when police picked her up. (Samir Mondal)

By Partho Sarathi Ray. Oct 27 2009, Sanhati

On 20th October, 2009, Maoists attacked a police station in Sankrail, West Midnapur, West Bengal, taking the O.C. Atindranath Dutta as a prisoner, and demanding the release of fourteen women from police custody. This was a media sensation – the debate centered around whether this defined a hostage situation in India’s heartland, whether this was a repeat of Kandahar, and whether the action is an example of violent turf expansion by the Maoists. Subsequently, the women were released and so was the O.C., who has become somewhat of a media celebrity and, much to the wrath of the Government, not condemnded the Maoists.

What is being hidden under all the media blitz is the story of the fourteen women whose release from police custody was ensured by the Maoists.

These women had all been arrested from in an around Teshabandh village on 3rd September after the 2rd September “encounter” between the combined forces and “Maoists” near Madhupur (there is a previous report on this in Sanhati). The PSBJC had claimed that the encounter was really a firing by the combined forces on a rally of adivasis protesting against the rape of a woman. It had also condemned the arrests of these women from Teshabandh, who were subsequently charged with waging war against the state, as being arrests of innocent people.

A Lalgarh woman who was released on bail in exchange for OC Atindranath Dutta’s freedom weeps on the shoulders of another outside Midnapore Central Jail.

Today their stand has been vindicated. The public prosecutor didn’t oppose their bail plea at the Midnapore court, although the charges against them, which include rioting with deadly weapons, attempt to murder, waging war against the state, raising funds to wage war against the state, sedition and carrying illegal arms, are all non-bailable ones. This is an effective withdrawal of charges.

Now, the media has access to the stories of the women and people know who these “dangerous” people are, whom the Maoists were so intent on getting released from police custody.

One of them is Subharani Baskey, a grandmother of 55-60 (this correspondent knows her personally – she once treated him to a “nona“, a fruit very similar to the custard-apple, just saltier, from her tree). What she has told to the media now is that she was at her home when she heard a commotion outside as the police were arresting the village women. When she went out to enquire, she was arrested for “waging war against the state” and dragged to the Kantapahari police camp.

You can hear the real story from these women, Padmamoni, a mother of two children, Pratima Patra, Sumi Mandi and the others, about what happened that day. When the police had raided their village, alleging that the “Maoists” had taken shelter there, they had stopped whatever chores they were doing and come out and surrounded the police, not letting them enter the village. They were not protecting Maoists, they were protecting themselves, as according to what Pratima Patra has said, the police entering the village means they would go door-to-door, beating up people indiscriminately, breaking furniture and looting household goods.

The Lalgarh women released from jail walk to a bus stop in Midnapore town. Picture by Samir Mondal

Even women from surrounding villages, such as Sumi Mandi, joined them when the news about the raid spread, as is the standard practice in Lalgarh. All these women were arrested, beaten up brutally and taken to the Kantapahari police station where there were charged with the above-mentioned crimes. On the way back to Kantapahari, the police also arrested Ramdulal Mandi, who was walking towards Kantapahari bazar, and charged him with the same crimes. He was also released yesterday. This constant arrests and charging with false cases is the daily reality which Chidambaram- Buddhadeb has imposed in Lalgarh, and now wants to impose on the rest of the adivasi-populated region.

The other thing that we should understand about the reality in Lalgarh is that the adivasis think that the Maoists are their last resort, when everything else fails to protect them from exploitation and oppression, the Maoists are there. This is repeated by hundreds of adivasis when you talk to them, who express their confidence on the “bon-er party“, the “party of the jungles”. This confidence has now been reinforced by this action of the Maoists, where they have ensured the release of these innocent women, rather than their own party cadre, in exchange of the captured O.C.

Moreover, the action of the state which has consistently refused to release these women, and other innocent people who have been arrested in Lalgarh over the past four months, inspite of peaceful protests and demonstrations by the PSBJC and the civil society in Kolkata, but has bowed to the armed might of the Maoists, will further reinforce the idea that it is only a certain language that the state understands, and takes heed of.

 

Posted in IN NEWS, WESTBENGAL | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
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