Evolving news: Today we have come out – Mass uprising of tribal people in West Bengal

By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati.

Nov 13, 2008

The events that have been happening during the last one week in the adivasi (tribal) belt of West Midnapur district in West Bengal are so unprecedented that the authorities do not know how to respond to them, and the media doesn’t understand their significance.

Even the political parties and civil society are at a loss trying to come to terms with what is happening. What had started off as protests against police brutalities have turned into a full scale uprising against state oppression and dispossession. Nothing like this has been witnessed in West Bengal in living memory.

The entire chain of events started after the 2nd November land mine explosion targeting the convoy of West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and union steel and mines minister Ram Vilas Paswan as they were returning from the inauguration of the Jindal Steel Works special economic zone (SEZ) in Salboni in West Midnapore district.

Around 5000 acres of land have been acquired for this project, of which 4500 acres have been handed over by the government and 500 acres have been purchased directly by Jindal from landowners. Reportedly, a large portion of this land was vested with the government for distribution amongst landless tribals as part of the land reforms program and also included tracts of forests. Moreover, although the land was originally acquired for a “usual” steel plant, last September Jindal got SEZ status for the project, with active help from the state government, which dispensed with the requirement for following most regulations for building and running the plant, including crucial requirements such as doing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The government was, and is, not bothered about the setting up of an SEZ having a polluting steel plant in the middle of a forested area, dispossessing tribals from their land and endangering their means of survival. Understandably, there were major grievances amongst the tribals against this, although the mainstream media had constantly portrayed a very rosy picture of the entire project.

The land mine explosion was blamed as usual on the Maoist insurgents allegedly active for a long time in Salboni and the adjacent Lalgarh area. According to press reports, the Maoist movement is active in twelve police station areas in the three adjoining districts of West Midnapur, Bankura and Purulia. Three junior-level policemen were suspended and show-cause notices were served on a few senior officers for negligence of duty.

Usually, the police harass and arrest tribal villagers after every Maoist attack; this time in order to hide their own failure in providing security to its political masters, and to save their skin from the wrath of the government, the police went on a rampage in the tribal villages. Having no clue about the real perpetrators of the land mine explosion, they started beating up and arresting people indiscriminately. Among the first to be arrested were three teenage students, Aben Murmu, Gautam Patra and Buddhadeb Patra, who were returning from a village festival during the night. They were charged with sundry charges including waging war against the state, conspiracy, attempt to murder, using dangerous weapons and obstructing justice. Then during the day on 4th November, an armed police party arrested Dipak Pratihar of Kantapahari village while he was buying medicine from a chemist’s shop in Lalgarh for his pregnant wife Lakshmi. In the process the police brutally beat up Lakshmi and threw her to the ground. She had to be subsequently hospitalized. Ten people were arrested during the police raids and beaten up, including a retired teacher Khsamananda Mahato and a civil contractor Shamsher Alam from Chotopeliya village, who was visiting the area for a day for some construction work. Although these two people were subsequently released, as the police could not formulate any charges against them, the rest were kept in police custody.

The police and CRPF, led by the officer in charge of Lalgarh police station, Sandeep Sinha Roy and the superintendent of police of West Midnapore district, Rajesh Singh, unleashed a reign of terror in 35 villages encompassing the entire tribal belt of Lalgarh. In raids throughout the night of November 6th, women were brutally kicked and beaten up with lathis and butts of guns. Among the injured, Chitamani Murmu, one of whose eyes was hit by a gun butt, and Panamani Hansda, who was kicked on her chest and suffered multiple fractures, had to hospitalized. Chitamani’s lost her eye because of the injury. Eight other women were badly wounded. These police brutalities soon reached a point where the adivasis had no other option but to rise up in revolt.

The adivasis of India are one of the most oppressed and downtrodden groups of people in the country. Police oppression is nothing new to the Santhal adivasis of the Bankura-Purulia-Midnapore area. But the unprecedented atrocities inflicted by the police in the past week, especially the wanton attack on women, wore out their patience. On the night of 6th November they assembled near the Lalgarh police station and surrounded it, effectively cutting it off, and the policemen inside, who had been rampaging in villages the previous night but had now locked themselves inside the police station, did not dare to venture out. Electricity to the police station was disconnected and all the lights were broken.

What began as rumblings of protest took the shape of a spontaneous mass uprising the next day. On 7th November, when the ruling CPI(Marxist) was “observing” the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution throughout West Bengal, ten thousand Santhal men and women, armed with traditional weapons, came out and obstructed the roads leading to Lalgarh, disconnecting it from Midnapur and Bankura. Roads were dug up and tree trunks were placed on the road to obstruct the entry of police vehicles, in the same way as it had been done in Nandigram.

The police jeep and the CPI(M) motorcycle have long been symbols of oppression and terror for villagers throughout West Bengal, so this digging up of roads, besides actually inhibiting the movements of these agents of oppression, have become a symbol of defiance and liberation. Towards the night of 7th November, the people also disconnected telephone and electricity lines, virtually converting a vast area into a liberated zone. The apex social organization of the Santhals, the Bharat Jakat Majhi Madwa Juan Gaonta took up the leadership of the struggle, although the leader of the organization, the “Disham Majhi” Nityananda Hembram has himself admitted that the organization has no control over the movement; rather the movement is controlling the organization.

Smaller organizations of the tribals, such as the Kherwal Jumit Gaonta, that have been playing active roles in the struggle have openly called for armed resistance, stating that there is no other way for the survival of the adivasis.

The demands of the adivasis were so “earthy” and original that the administration did not know how to respond. The demands were that the superintendent of police Rajesh Singh should publicly apologize by holding his ears and doing sit-ups, a traditional way of punishing errant youngsters, the guilty policemen should crawl on the streets of the villages where they had tortured people, rubbing their noses on the ground, again another traditional way of humiliating wrongdoers, and Rs 200,000 compensation for the injured and assaulted. The demands were marked by the total reliance of the adivasis on their traditional systems of dispensing justice, and not looking up to the formal judicial process which they have realized is by nature weighted against the poor and marginalized. Although these demands have since been modified to an unconditional oral apology from the police superintendent and punishment for the policemen involved in the raids, the administration has arrogantly refused to accept these demands, although they have said that the demand of compensation can be considered.

However, the adivasis have been in no mood to accept this “offer” and the upsurge has spread over an even wider area encompassing Dahijuri, Binpur, Jhargram and Bandowan.

The administration has virtually disappeared from these areas. On 10th November, adivasis led by the tribal social organizations set up new roadblocks in the Dahijuri area. When the police lathicharged the assembled people and arrested some of the leaders of the Gaontas, the situation turned explosive. The tribals surrounded the police officials present and a crowd of few thousand adivasis, armed with bows and arrows, axes and daggers, and led by women wielding broomsticks, chased the police for four kilometers along the road leading to Jhargram. The police were forced to retreat from the area and release all the leaders of the social organizations they had arrested.

The movement has been continually intensifying during the past week and spreading over a larger area.

The slogans emanating from the movement have also been changing and now the adivasis are demanding that the dispossession of tribals from their land, forests and water in the name of development and industrialization has to stop. The struggle against state oppression is turning into a bigger struggle against dispossession and marginalization.

The state has been helpless in front of this upsurge and has been trying to “negotiate” with the tribals. But what has been frustrating their efforts is the essentially democratic nature of this upsurge. Although the administration has been holding multiple all-party meetings with the dominant political parties, CPI(M), Trinamool Congress, Congress and the Jharkhand Party, the leaders of these parties have openly admitted to their inability to exert any influence on the adivasis.

The adivasis are not letting any political leaders access to the movement, including tribal leaders like Chunibala Hansda, the Jharkhand Party (Naren faction) MLA from Binpur. They are demanding that any negotiations be carried out in the open rather than behind closed doors. Even traditional leaders like the “Disham Majhi” Nityananda Hembram and other “majhis” are having to talk directly with the adivasis before talking to the administration. Villagers of the ten villages in Lalgarh have formed ten village committees with one coordinating committee to negotiate with the administration. This democratic nature of the upsurge have frustrated all attempts by the administration to “control” the movement till now, and have forced the political parties like the local Trinamool Congress to come out in support, although the state leadership of the party is strangely silent about it.

The state and the CPI(M) have not dared to respond with overt violence yet, although there are news that a motorbike-borne militia is being assembled nearby by Sushanta Ghosh, the notorious CPI(M) minister and Dipak Sarkar, the CPI(M) district secretary. The state has been forced to accede to the bail of the three teenage students arrested by the police and have also send Sandeep Sinha Roy, the notorious O.C of Lalgarh police station, on extended leave. There are also reports that, being unable to quell the resistance, the state government has requested the central government to send paramilitary forces to help in their efforts.

What we are witnessing in the tribal belt of West Bengal is of historical moment. A long oppressed people have risen up and are daring to confront their oppressors and question the logic of “development” that destroys their lives and livelihoods. It is interesting to observe that the nature of confrontation with the state, exceptional in scale and intensity, seems to be inspired by the popular resistance at Nandigram – thereby, providing some sort of continuity to the possibilty of an emerging people’s struggles against state repression.

The West Bengal government has been alleging that the movement is being organized and led by the Maoists, and that the Lalgarh area has become a “liberated zone” for them. These are common ploys used by the CPI(M), the government and its sympathisers to brand and delegitimize popular movements. The mainstream media, a faithful ally of the state in such matters, has been repeating the same allegations and lamenting that such acts, which are being dubbed anarchic in nature, has resulted in the breakdown of civil authority. In this manner, attempts are being made to dissociate the urban civil society and intelligentsia from the movement, who have not yet been able to formulate a response to the upsurge. Moreover, using such rhetoric, the state is perhaps also trying to legitimize whatever steps it wishes to adopt in overcoming the resistance.

It is quite expected that radical political forces would have been active among the adivasis as the latter have been the most downtrodden people in India and it is their land and resources which is being handed over for corporate plunder. However the presence and participation of the Maoists or similar forces in no way delegitimizes this seemingly spontaneous, and democratic, expression of people’s anger. This is amply expressed by what Arati Murmu, a woman who had been assaulted by the police, and who had gone to block the Lalgarh police station had to say:

“Whenever there is a Maoist attack the police raid our villages and torture our women and children. For how long will we suffer this oppression by the police? All of us are Maoists, let the police arrest us. Today we have come out.”


Nov 14, 2008

Yesterday the movement spread to Jhargram town in one direction and crossed over from the Jhargram subdivision, where the movement has been continuing for the past week, to the Midnapore sub division. Jhargram town has been disconnected from the rest of the state. On the other hand, roads have been dug up 4 km away from Midnapore town. Yesterday, leaders of the Bharat Majhi Madwa, Prabir Murmu and Munshiram Murmu, had been talking to the administration and at the end of the day they said that the movement would be withdrawn from Jhargram. But as soon as they went back to the protesters, the latter declined to withdraw the movement. Munshiram Murmu was reportedly roughed up by the protesters. As a result, they made a volte face and declared that the movement will continue.

The Bharat Majhi Madwa has again stated that they have no control over the movement. Yesterday, to complement the traditional show of force by the santhal villagers, the Santhal Students’ Association took out a motorbike rally in Jhargram town. Also, the latest news say that the centre has declined to send the CRPF because of the impending assembly election in 4 states. (Sanhati)


Gorkhaland activists start war of signboards

Siliguri (West Bengal), Oct 17 (IANS) Activists of Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), fighting for a separate state in northern part of West Bengal, Friday pasted ‘Gorkhaland’ on signboards of shops and business establishments in Darjeeling and Kurseong area.


The GJM, which had issued a diktat that ‘West Bengal’ should be replaced by ‘Gorkhaland’ on the signboards from Friday, held meetings across the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, exhorting the people to lend support to the latest form of protests.

In Darjeeling town, GJM activists took out a 10,000 strong procession which culminated in a meeting at Chowrasta. GJM president Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri, the party general secretary were the principal speakers.

‘We have started the signboard movement Friday. We will intensify it in the coming days. We are appealing to the people to remove ‘West Bengal’ from the signboards and instead write ‘Gorkhaland’. If some people do not heed to our request, our workers will do the needful,’ said GJM press and publicity secretary Benoy Tamang.

But fresh confrontation is brewing over the GJM’S order that all vehicles plying in the Darjeeling sub-division (comprising the hill areas of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong) would have to bear nameplates beginning with GL (Gorkhaland) instead of WB (West Bengal).

The Communist Party of India – Marxist’s (CPI-M)’s labour wing Centre for Trade Unions (CITU) has demanded that the Darjeeling district administration take appropriate action to thwart the GJM’s ‘evil designs’ within the next three days.

‘If the district administration fails to stop the GJM activists from replacing WB with GL, then we will not allow a single vehicle – be it bus, taxi, private car or truck – to move from the plains to the hills from Oct 22,’ said CITU Darjeeling district secretariat member Ajay Chakraborty.

The GJM had earlier asked people not to pay taxes to the government and telephone bills to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and electricity charges to West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB).

The total dues on these counts have already crossed Rs.150 million.

The GJM, besides spearheading the movement in the hills for a separate Gorkhaland state, is also opposing the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling district that offers greater autonomy to the hill governing body Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC).

A round of tripartite talks held in Delhi following the GJM’S demand, has been inconclusive.

The party had also organised an indefinite shutdown in the hills twice in June and July over its Gorkhaland demand, severely hitting industry and tourism – the bread and butter of the region.

Gorkhaland signs replace WB boards in Darjeeling (TOI):

DARJEELING: Fired by their separatist zeal, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) activists on Friday roamed the picturesque hills replacing signages saying


‘Government of West Bengal’ with ‘Government of Gorkhaland’.

All this while state government officials looked on helplessly – a throwback to early this year when Gorkhaland activists stopped people from paying their phone and electricity bills and made Gorkhaland number plates mandatory for all vehicles.

Among the important buildings in the hill district targeted were Darjeeling District Compensation Department, Deshbandhu Library and the office of the Nepali translation wing at the Mall. The Gorkhas are likely to step up their name-changing stir on Saturday. “On Friday, we were busy with a mass rally,” said a GJM supporter. All eyes are now on the district collectorate at Haridashatta.

“Until now, we’ve been requesting the state government with soft words. We have other options,” warned GJM supremo Bimal Gurung. Earlier, GJM had asked its supporters to drop ‘West Bengal’ from government signboards. Many shops had ‘Gorkhaland’ on their boards.

The current upsurge has raised the spectre of the hills turning bloody as they did when Subhash Ghising led the first separatist uprising in the 1980s. Ignored by the mandarins in Kolkata despite promises for decades and let down by an inept Hill Council administration led by Ghising’s men, the Gorkhas have this time allowed the more extremist Gurung to become their voice.

On Friday, GJM supporters kept vigil on vehicles entering the hill town from Siliguri to check whether they had ‘GL’ (Gorkhaland) number plates. They stopped some vehicles that did not sport the altered registration number.
Addressing a rally here, Gurung said: “Infiltrators, who carry out bomb blasts, enter the country from Bangladesh and Nepal. This will stop only when Gorkhaland is formed.”

He described Gorkhaland as a pillar between Sikkim and West Bengal. “This pillar alone can protect the country,” he added. In Kolkata, state home secretary Ashok Mohan Chakrabarty said: “It’s illegal to change government signboards and number plates of vehicles. One can’t change geography in this manner.”

8 cartridges recovered from Gurung’s house

DARJEELING, July 29: The police have recovered eight empty cartridges from the third floor of GNLF leader Mr Deepak Gurung’s residence following investigations after the firing that killed GJMM supporter Ms Pramila Sharma on 25 July.
According to the police, the cartridges found indicate that 9mm, .22 and .32 type of firearms had been used. Although the bullet that had struck the victim body and the firearm used in the offence have not been recovered, investigations are on. Mr Gurung, who was arrested from his residence along with 14 others from the GNLF party office at Dr Zakir Hussain Road, are lodged in the Darjeeling correctional home on murder charges. n SNS

Gorkhaland issue needs administrative action: Biman Bose

Kolkata, July 28 (IANS) West Bengal’s ruling Left Front chairman Biman Bose Monday said that the agitation for a separate Gorkhaland was affecting everyday life in the region and that administrative action was necessary to control the volatile situation in the Darjeeling hills. “The situation is becoming more and more critical in Darjeeling. The state administration should take action against the ongoing Gorkhaland protest there,” Bose told reporters here.

He said: “Civil life has been badly hit due to the continuous political turmoil in the hills. A section of people has also been isolated by the agitators. These people are facing lot of problems because of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM)-sponsored movement. This could lead to a violent fallout in other parts of the state.”

Asked if the Darjeeling issue was discussed in Monday’s Left Front meeting, Bose said the matter was not on the agenda.

“But if it’s necessary, we could discuss this issue in our next meeting,” he said.

The GJM, led by its president Bimal Gurung, has been spearheading a movement in the hills for a separate state, besides opposing the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling district that offers greater autonomy to the region’s governing Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC).

Earlier, the party organised an indefinite shutdown in the hills twice over its demand for a separate state.

Referring to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)’s demand that three West Bengal districts – Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore – be included in Jharkand, Bose said: “We should unitedly protest against this move and maintain the integrity of our state.” (Thaindia news)

Ghising shifted from Darjeeling to Siliguri

Kolkata: Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) chief Subhas Ghising has been shifted from his residence in Darjeeling to Siliguri on security grounds, after a spurt in violence during the ongoing struggle for ‘Gorkhaland’ mounted by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).

West Bengal Home Secretary Ashoke Mohan Chakraborty told reporters here on Saturday that the situation in Darjeeling was tense and Mr. Ghising was brought to Siliguri “for security reasons.”


GJM leader Bimal Gurung said although the Morcha had not opposed the GNLF leader’s return earlier, it could now no longer take responsibility for his security and he had to leave. “We have been trying to lead a democratic and non-violent movement, but we now see efforts to sabotage it and turn it into a violent one,” he said.

Mr. Ghising told journalists in Siliguri that he came to the town of his own accord. “I want peace to prevail.”

The hills witnessed turbulence yet again on Friday after a woman, stated to be a GJM activist, was shot. She died later. (Hindu)

No MPs, but Gorkhas want say on N-deal

KOLKATA: They might not have a single elected representative in any panchayat, forget parliament. Nevertheless the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) hopes to gain from the chaos over the Indo-US nuclear deal.


That is because the key to winning any seat in the hills lies with the Gorkha movement. Earlier, the Subhas Ghising-led Gorkha National Liberation Front’s support was crucial, now the GJM has usurped the role. Darjeeling sends one member to the Lok Sabha. It has seven assembly constituencies. GJM spokesman Roshan Giri said they were not concerned with the N-deal: “Our headache is Gorkhaland and whoever supports us is our friend.”

A GJM delegation recently warned Congress MP from Darjeeling, Dawa Narbula, that if he voted for the UPA without prior written commitment from the PM for Gorkhaland, he wouldn’t be able to enter the hills.
r_sumanta@dnaindia.net  (DNA)

GJMM to answer for NH~31A block

Statesman News Service
DARJEELING, July 11: The GJMM has received an order from the counsel of the West Bengal Government to reply in affidavit on the issue of the National Highway 31A blockade during its recent bandh.
The order is a follow-up of a case filed at the Supreme Court by the Sikkim state government against the GJMM, Aamra Bangali, Jana Jagaran and Jana Chetna Mancha.
The Supreme Court holds these organisations responsible for the disruption of movement over NH 31A. 
Treating it as an opportunity to also plead the demand of a separate state of Gorkhaland at the nation’s apex court, the GJMM central committee leader Mr Amar Lama today said: “We respect the verdict of the Supreme Court and take this opportunity to explain the rationality of the demand before it. We expect our pleas to be heard and serious steps to be taken on the issues.”
The case is under interim observation by the Supreme Court, which has vested the West Bengal government to ensure free movement on the highway. “On earlier occasions verdicts against bandhs and demonstrations by the judiciary have been flouted.
But our demonstrations are not for trivial issues because we are demanding the right to self-determination,” Mr Lama said.
The Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha today also condemned the move by Sikkim’s Mr OP Bhandari to stoke up the NH 31 blockade issue during the GJMM’s indefinite bandh to generate anti-Gorkhaland sentiments among the people of Sikkim. 
“Mr Bhandari is trying to create differences between Sikkim and Darjeeling under the pretext of the NH 31A closure during the bandh. 
The hidden agenda is to slow down the democratic movement for Gorkhaland by anti-Gorkhaland elements. We appeal to all parties, intellectuals and the general public not to pay heed to such activities,” said Mr Roshan Giri, party general-secretary.
Acknowledging that the bandh had disrupted passage of vehicles to and from Sikkim, the GJMM proposed that the permanent solution to avert future disruptions would be for the Centre and state government to concede to the demand of Gorkhaland.