Eviction of Slum Dwellers and Repression of Anti-Eviction Demonstrators in West Bengal

Friday 13 April 2012

Aditya Nigam

It is the same story once again. Cleaning up and beautification of cities in the clamour for urban space for consumption and the luxury of the rich. And as we have seen, it makes little difference whether the government/s are Leftist or Rightist, whether they claim to represent the oppressed poor or not. Thus, on 30th March, 2012 the TMC government forcefully evicted around 300 poor families from the Nonadanga slum area in South 24-Parganas, in the name of ‘development’ and ‘beautification’ of Kolkata. Their shanties were razed to ground by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority. The homeless slum-dwellers have been staying in an open field and are facing constant police harassment. Despite these harsh conditions, they have refused to depart and are presently on hunger strike. Their demand has to date failed to draw any favourable attention from the government. This neglect comes on the heels of the Planning Commission agreeing to annual Bengal plan around 16 per cent more than last year’s.

But the neglect is not only economic : the state government has intensified its repressive tactics. On 4th April, 2012, the Kolkata police and a gang of ruffians who viciously lathi-charged the dispossessed as they organized a protest march to draw attention to their wretched condition. A large police force attacked the protesters including women and infants; there was not a single female constable in the posse. Rita Patra, a pregnant woman, was seriously injured in the lathi-charge. Ten persons, including a baby boy and two girls in their early twenties, were severely injured. To protest this police brutality, slum demolition and forcible eviction, a day long sit-in demonstration was scheduled at Ruby Crossing, E M Bypass of Kolkata, on 8th April, 2012.
Sit-in by evictees
But this peaceful demonstration was broken by the Kolkata police, who alleged the assembly as ‘illegal’ despite having granted prior permission for the same. 69 protesters of ‘Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee’ (Anti-eviction Committee of Nonadanga) were arrested and transported to Lalbazar police station. A nine-year-old girl child, Manika Kumari, daughter of Dilip Shaw, was in the lock-up for nine hours; Manika Kumari’s detention violated the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, which starkly reminds us of Payel Bagh’s case during the Singur unrest. The police deliberately did not, moreover, issue any Memos of Arrest—another violation of legal procedures.

Continuing with the high-handedness, cases under section 151 of the IPC were slapped on the detainees. During the evening of April 8, all the arrested persons were released on PR bond in the presence of members of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) and other activists through the rear gate of Lalbazar police station. However, seven democratic rights activists were not released and remained in confinement, i.e., Debolina Chakraborty, Shamik Chakraborty, Manas Chatterjee , Debjani Ghosh, Siddhartha Gupta, Partho Sarathi Ray and Abhijnan Sarkar. They have been falsely charged with a number of non-bailable criminal cases. When the released activists and others assembled at Lalbazar became agitated at this unexpected development, all were forced to flee by a huge contingent of aggressive police. APDR members proceeded to the central gate of Lalbazar to speak to the officer in charge and lodged a protest. According to the officers on duty, the seven activists had been charged under various sections including 353, 332, 141, 143, 148 and 149 of the IPC and were to be produced at the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (ACJM) court, Alipore, on 9 April, 2012. Continue reading