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Celebrating Human Rights Day, West Bengal Way

On the Human Rights Day, the WB Govt evicted about 25000
bustee-dwellers living on the sides of Beliaghata Canal in East Calcutta to implement an ADB sponsored project by force. There were massive protests and the police made several lathicharges. Bull dozers and pay-loaders were used to remove the shanties and at one staze police along with ruling party hoodlums set fire to the shanties resulting in a huge fire.

Sujato Bhadra, Dilip Das, Sachin Mitra and other APDR leaders Saktiman Ghosh,Hawkers Union leader were among many arrested from the place, for organising protests against the forceful eviction, without making any alternative arrangements. They were however released in the late evening, after APDR took
out a procession protesting the eviction and arrests. On that day APDR submitted a memorandum to the speaker of the West Bengal Assembly. ( See Annexure I.)

Annexure I

The Hon’ble Speaker and Legislators,
West Bengal Legislative Assembly,

Re: Concern over arrest, torture and repression of political activists, common citizens and APDR activists and gross human rights violations in West Bengal


With deep concern, we come here today, the World Human Rights Day and place this memorandum before you to draw the attention of the members of, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly and seek their intervention.

Perhaps you are aware of the fact that a large number of
activists, reportedly belonging to various political organisations, have been languishing in the jails of West Bengal.

APDR has case details of 402 radical activists arrested over the
last two years and there are indications that there are at least 300 more. Besides, 1,000 Kamtapuris and 47 alleged SIMI activists were held merely on suspicion. Even 22 activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Nepali Ekta Samaj, who support the demand for end of monarchy and establishment of democracy in Nepal, have been slapped with a case of conspiracy against the state in Siliguri.

Of late, because of public opinion and media coverage, the
government had to declare its no-objection in respect of bail petitions of some of them including Prof. Kaushik Ganguly, Sm. Mithu Roy and Sm Sampa Dasgupta. Though some of the detained political workers, whose names were highlighted in the media because of their social status and who could afford
the expenses of stringent bail conditions, could come out on bail, a large number of political workers and many common citizens, mainly poor villagers, are rotting in jails, we are constrained to say, because of the blatantly discriminatory policy pursued by the government. Many of the villagers were arrested on mere suspicion that they were providing food and shelter to the
workers of various political groups, whose ideology and activities are not liked by the party in power. We have also learnt that the government has decided not to release quite a good number of them on the purported ground that they are ‘hard-core’.Though there is no legally sustainable allegation against most of them, they are being implicated in one false case after another to keep them behind bars. Further, we do not know what are the
criteria to identify a political activist as hard-core and this policy is
leading to the use of government power in a most arbitrary and discriminatory manner to deprive citizens of their constitutionally guaranteed right to carry on political activities and to excercise freedom of expression and of association.

We demand:

A. All police atrocities on political opposition must stop forthwith.

B. All persons arrested for political activities be released immediately and

C. All false cases registered against political activists be withdrawn

2. Though legislation of the West Bengal Prevention of Organised
Crime Act (POCA) is shelved for the time being, the respite is only temporary as it was declared that the Act would be promulgated at an opportune moment. Instead of encouraging an open debate and examining public opinion on the proposed Act, the government was trying to enact the legislation surreptitiously. The attempt was foiled as APDR could procure a copy of the
proposed Act and could organise a strong public information campaign on the attempt and many eminent social personalities and some of Left Front constituents voiced their opposition. The public debate, though not thorough,could establish quite emphatically that the proposed Act was nothing but a successor and version of black laws such as the British Rowlatt Act,
Rajiv Gandhi’s TADA and Vajpayee-Advani’s POTA.

We demand:

D. All attempts to enact POCA or any similar laws infringing on human rights and civil liberties be scrapped forthwith.

E. WB Electricity Bill, which subverts normal legal process and provides for arbitrary punishment without trial, and the court fees ordinance which seek to take away the little opportunity of knocking at the doors of justice poor people have by unduly hiking all sorts of court fees, be withdrawn immediately.

F. The practice of promulgating ordinances bypassing the legislature must be stopped forthwith.

3. APDR has learnt that the detained political activists are not
being recognised as political prisoners. We hold that this is in clear violation of clauses 24(vi), Chapter BII of the West Bengal Correctional Services Bill, 1992, which provides for classification of political prisoners. The Left Front government came to power 25 years ago riding at the crest of a civil liberties movement, one of the main demands of which was appropriate status for political prisoners. Needless to say, this demand was also raised
throughout the national struggle and during the post-1947 Congress regime. Even the British rulers and Congress governments of the 1950s had to concede this demand partially. It is deplorable that in spite of clear legal provisions, the present government chose to deprive political opposition workers of their rights even when in detention.

We demand:

F. All persons detained for their political activities must be awarded the status of political prisoners, whatever might be the charge against them and whatever might be the sections under which they are booked. Such prisoners should be provided with fecilities so that they can carry on their study and other activities permissible under the jail code.

4. It is also a matter of great concern that the police are
following systematically a policy of keeping a person detained without trial by registering new cases one after another. Many of them have been booked in six or seven cases. Fresh cases are being added even when the person concerned is in jail custody and the prisoner is again taken into police custody. As
soon as one comes out of the jail gate or court after obtaining bail in one case, one is rearrested and tagged with another case. Instances are there aplenty. One of the latest is that of Babulal Ahir. Sri Ahir is a poor peasant of Belpahari, Jhargram sub-division, West Midnapore district. He was granted bail by the court concerned in all the five cases registered against him. With
much difficulty, his family could arrange the expenses and security for the bail. When he was coming out of the Jhargram sub-jail on 8.11.02 afternoon, plainclothes policemen took him away manhandling his lawyer and son, without assigning any reason. He was detained illegally in the Jhargram PS overnight, even whose OC could not cite any reason for his detention when contacted by APDR. He was booked under a criminal case the next day in Bankura district. This is in effect a policy of indefinite detention and enforcing the provisions of POCA or POTA without enacting them. This is in clear violation of Supreme Court directive and observation regarding rearrest and bail, which

“...if after the order of bail passed by us, the authorities of the state considered it fit to arrest any of the petitioners for any other offences, it was bounden duty to apprise this court before taking these persons in custody, especially when no disclosure was made to us when we passed the order of bail that any case or cases were under investigation against any of the petitioners. We regard that this elementary courtesy to this court was not
shown. We would like to reiterate that the petitioners shall be treated as free citizens in spite of the fact that they have been subsequently arrested, which arrests are clearly contrary to the order of bail passed by this court.”
[Uday Chand and others vs. Sheikh Md. Abdullah, chief Minister, J&K, 1983, SCC
(Cri) 529]

We demand:

G. This policy of indefinite detention and enforcing the provisions of POCA or POTA through the back door without enacting them must be stopped immediately.

5. We have evidences to show that most of the arrested political
activists including Sudip Chongdar, Kaushik Ganguly, Tinku Ghosh, Parashar Bhattacharya and others were tortured brutally in police custody under the supervision and direct participation of the SP and ASP of West Midnapore district. Mithu Roy and Sampa Dasgupta have been abused and tortured mentally.
They are still suffering from trauma. It is also evident from the newspaper and television reports. There has not been any proper medical treatment for the injuries sustained by Sudip Chongdar during torture and his health is rapidly deteriorating. The victims also complained of such brutalities in the courts, but the government seems bent on giving a licence to the police to
continue such brutalities. Some of the methods of torture in the police lock-ups as described by the victims to APDR teams are : slapping uninterruptedly, beating with lathis, applying electric shocks in ears and fingers, spitting and coughing inside the prisoner’s mouth, beating after blindfolding and tying hands and legs, kicking in the chest with boots and beating with rifle butts, bending fingers backwards and breaking them, continuous beating on the sole with lathis, kicking in the scrotum, beating on
the genitals with lathis, pouring ice-cold water on the prisoner in freezing winter nights and making him sit below a fan, making the
prisoner stand in front of a gun and threatening to shoot, placing a
pistol/revolver close to the ear firing rapidly, inserting pins and nails into the toes, making a prisoner lie while four/five persons stand on his feet, kicking in the face, and so on. In addition there are mental tortures with filthy abuses and night-long interrogations. Many prisoners in various jails bear testimony to such tortures. The government had a set up an administrative
committee to investigate into the allegations of torture on Kaushik Ganguly, Tinku Ghosh and Parashar Bhattacharya. Its report has not been made public even after five months. We apprehend that even this executive report will meet the same fate as that of the previous inquiry reports on custodial death and violence, if its findings go against the police and the government.

We demand :

H. Police personnel responsible for torturing arrested persons and not following legal provisions while conducting arrests, raiding premises and interrogating and detaining persons be punished according to law.

I. All affected persons of police torture and atrocities be compensated adequately and financial liabilities of such compensation shall have to be borne by the police personnel concerned.

J. The report of the administrative committee set up to investigate into the allegations of torture on Kaushik Ganguly, Tinku Ghosh and Parashar Bhattacharya be made public and all allegations of torture be investigated by an impartial, non-government agency and the government act upon their findings.

5. We would like to draw your attention to the consequences of
systematic police action (SPA, as termed by the police) in the villages of West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Birbhum, parts of Hooghly, South and North 24-Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad and the Operation Kamtapuri I & II and Operation Shadow in the North Bengal districts. Several fact-findings by APDR as well as media reports have confirmed that these operations have been disastrous for the life and properties of the villagers, as well as for the social
and economic fabric of the communities. Torture and destruction of the means of livelihood have been rampant. Almost all the villagers of a small village Bamundanga (Salboni PS) were arrested. Among them were six women agricultural labourers. Sm. Archana Mahato, wife of Anjan Mahato, of the adjoining
Paluiboni village, was taken into custody after snatching and throwing away her two-year-old child from her lap.

Tribal village women at Banshpahari, Belpahari and other places have been systematically stripped and sexually abused in order to humiliate them into subjugation. There are numerous incidents of taking wives into custody in lieu of the husbands, arresting fathers not finding the sons and vice-versa, or detaining someone when his brother is not available. These are locally known as ‘badli (substitute) arrests’ -— meaning detaining someome in lieu of
another. The police arrested Sm. Sulekha Soren, the pregnant wife of Jaleswar Soren of Kochutua village (PS Belpahari), when they did not find her husband. She gave birth to a child in jail and is still languishing there.

Those who were told that they would be released if their relatives wanted by the police surrender, are still behind bars even after their wanted relatives surrendered. There are many instances of entire families being detained. Women like Sulekha Soren of Lalgarh, West Midnapore and Malati Roy of Dinajpur are
being forced to rot in jail with their babies in their lap. The police burnt down the house of Bijoy Singh of Majugorah (PS Belpahari). There are many allegations of breaking open villagers’ homes and looting their cash and valuables by the police. Special forces are being deployed in the name of curbing Naxalites. One of these forces is particularly targeting the women. The name of the Combat force has become synonymous with terror in south Bengal as well as north Bengal villages. In addition, an India Reserve Battalion is being raised, West Bengal Police units are being trained by the notorious Greyhound of Andhra Pradesh and the murderous CRPF is being brought back in the state, resurrecting the spector of the 1970s.

We demand:

K. Immediate end to the policies of systematic police action (SPA) and badli (substitute) arrests and compensation to the victims of these policies.

6.The undertrials are not produced in court on the dates of the
case, nor are they allowed to contact their lawyers. Defence counsels and the human rights workers are being intimidated. The Midnapore district secretary of APDR has been implicated in a false case. The house of a senior professor and vice-president of Midnapore APDR was raided 23.6.02 midnight. Four members of an APDR fact-finding team were detained illegaly on their way back by the Midnapore police on 3.11.02 for several hours. Three other APDR activists of Midnapore were arrested on 26.10.02, ostensibly to prevent them from attending an open rally called by the Struggling Forum for People’s Resistance in
Kolkata. It appears that the goverment wants to create an atmosphere of terror and deprive the arrested persons from any legal assistance and keep them incommunicado.

We demand:

L. Such terrorisation and harassment must stop and the state government must adhere to the UN Declaration on Rights of Human Rights Defenders to which India is a signatory.

7. After the September 2001 militant raid on the WTC and Pentagon in the USA, a new wave of worldwide aggressive attacks led by the USA is trampling all established principles of human rights, democracy, sovereignty and individual liberty. This is done to safeguard American interests in the name of fight against terrorism. This environment is being utilised by the
central government to implement its anti-democratic and anti-minority policies. The West Bengal government is treading the path so faithfully, that the central home minister and law minister have advised other states to follow its example. A large number of minority community members were arrested and a tirade of wild allegations against Muslim religious and educational institutions was started by the chief minister himself, leading to sporadic
violence against minority community members. As a result, there was communal flare-up at various places in the aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom.

We demand:

M. Such attacks, branding and harassing Muslims as ISI agents and Muslim religious and educational institutions as centers of anti-national activities, be stopped. No one should be arrested merely on suspicion of being associated with an organisation. We are against banning an organisation for its political or other activities.

8.The disastrous policies pursued by the state in areas such as
education, health, industry, agriculture and governance throughout its last 25 years’ regime, particularly by faithful implementation of the WB-WTO-IMF-dictated programmes of globalisation and liberalisation during the last decade have already found expression as cancerous growths in all aspects of public life in this silver jubilee year of the Left Front regime. After 25 years of zero-deficit budgets, the people of the state learned for the first
time that they are endowed with a whopping Rs 75,000-crore debt -– even every newborn in the state has external and internal debts to the tune of Rs 8,000!

The ‘improved’ Left Front rulers made it emphatically clear that everything from education to healthcare are market commodities and available only to those who have enough money to purchase them. From Tolly’s Nullah and Beliaghata canal to Rajarhat, from the Chandmoni tea garden to the city streets -– everywhere people are being evicted from their occupation and dwelling by World Bank-funded bulldozers in the name of developement. Poor people -– slum dwellers, marginal farmers, street hawkers — are made to realise that developement does not mean to include them.

We demand:

N. Eviction of people from their occupation and dwelling in the name of developement without making any alternative arrangements must stop.

O. Violation of rights in the name of globalisation and liberalisation should not be allowed.

9. The police is behaving literally like a gang of uniformed
hoodlums while dealing with peoples resentment, burning, looting and destroying property at will, beating and arresting people indiscriminately, misbehaving with women and using filthiest of abuses. Beldanga in Murshidabad, Purbasthali in Burdwan, Chanditala and Rabindranagar in Hooghly, Purulia witnessed such police vandalism. A little of the incidents found a place in
the press, but the magnitude and intensity of the police barbarism is to be seen to be believed. APDR made a videography of the aftermath of police vandalism in Rabindranagar in Chinsura PS, which shows how the police which was acting in collussion with all sorts of antisocials, destroyed properties worth several lakhs of rupees out of sheer revenge. In such a situation the government is arming the police with sophisticated assault weapons–signalling
a further step towards militarisation of police. we are further concerned that the Govt is inviting ill-famed CRPF and getting its personnel trained by Chandrababu Naidu’s fake-encounter specialist Greyhound to carry on its stride towards a police state

We demand:

P. The government must take effective steps to stop such police vandalism and lawlessness. Complaints of police vandalism from citizen and APDR, which are lying with the Govt. should be properly investigated , the guilty police personnel should be punished and victims be compensated.

Q. Militarisation of police forces must stop. Police be rather trained to use minimum force when dealing with peaceful demonostration.

Lastly, we want to emphasise that searching for the roots of
injustice, for an alternate way and protesting against the prevailing situation is inborn to human nature, all rulers seek to silence the voices of protest, to stick to power by might and to aquire still newer weapons of repression. As the objective is to retain and achieve power, the justifiability of methods adopted had never been a concern for the powers that be. Democratic principles demand that political opposition must be faced
politically and not by terrorisation and repression. We are at pains to say that the 25 years of the Left Front rule in the state have gone the opposite way. APDR in its 30 years of existence is relentlessly striving with its small might to develop a democratic polity commensurate with a civil society.

In this 26th year of Left Front rule and 31st year of APDR’s
fight for rights, we are submitting this memorandum to you, hoping that you will share the concerns expressed here and take appropriate measures in the interest of such cherished values as democracy, pluralism, civil liberties and human rights.

Thanking you,


General Secretary, APDR