West Bengal's Diary

Justice for Tapasi

On 18 December 2006, the badly burnt body of 18-year-old Tapasi Malik (an activist of the movement against land grab) was found at the Nano site in Singur – a site where ‘night guards’ of the CPI(M) warded off protestors at night. CPI(M) cadre were suspected of having killed her, possibly after having raped her, but the CPI(M) spread canards claiming that she had been killed by a lover or had committed suicide due to a tiff with a lover. After much protest, the Chief Minister announced a CBI enquiry into the killing.

Now, based on CBI’s investigation, the Chandannagore Court has found Debu Malik, a powerful local CPI(M) activist, and Suhrid Datta, the Singur Zonal Committee Secretary of the CPI(M), guilty of the rape and murder of Tapasi Malik, and has sentenced them to life imprisonment.

The CPI(M) is now claiming that the CBI probe is a ‘conspiracy’ to malign the party, hinting that the CBI is politically biased. But the CPI(M) had great faith in the CBI’s neutrality as long as Tapasi’s father and brother were being interrogated; it is only when its own leaders were found guilty that the CPI(M) conveniently branded the CBI as biased!

Take a look at what CPI(M) organ PD, 6 May 2007 had to say about the CBI investigation:

“New and definitive light has been shed on the murder of a young woman named Tapasi Malik. Tapasi was done away brutally nearly five months ago one early morning on December 8 and her remains stuffed in a hole within the limits of the automobile factory that is coming up at Singur. Her body was set on fire and was partially burnt. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probing the case now believes that the young woman’s father and brother might have had something to do with her murder.... In all probability, the duo will be subjected to sophisticated probing techniques as narco-analysis, brain-mapping and DNA testing. ...The father-and-son may also be subjected to a ‘lie-detector’ or ‘polygraph’ test.”

Sudhanva Deshpande and Vijay Prashad, both intellectuals defending CPI(M), wrote in Counterpunch, May 23, 2007:

“Stories were blown out of context, and allegations flew around (sexual assaults, murders) that have since been shown to be false. The most sensational was the murder of a young woman, Tapasi Malik, who had been a leader in the Singur struggle against the land acquisition. The blogs and the capitalist media blamed this death on the CPM. The Central Bureau of Investigation is now of the view that she was killed by her father and brother.”

A year after Tapasi’s murder, CPI(M)’s CC Member Benoy Konar insulted Tapasi and her family, displaying his trademark sexist bias as well as class bias, saying “Earlier, Tapasi’s father would sell fish at a market in Chinsurah. He had no agricultural plots. Tapasi was a burden on him because she was unmarried. But now he is touring several places in the country. It seems money can buy even conscience and ethics.”

The CPI(M) has the blood of Tapasi Malik on its hands. We cannot forget or forgive this heinous crime, nor the shameful lies and sexist canards that the CPI(M) heaped on her memory to hide its crimes. 


AIPWA Demands Justice for Tapasi

The West Bengal unit of AIPWA demonstrated before the Chandannagar court in Hoogli district when the Tapasi murder case was being heard. After the verdict was pronounced, it brought out a militant procession in Kolkata on 18 November demanding that the Chief Minister of West Bengal should resign owning moral responsibility for the heinous crime committed by his party-men whom his government had all along been trying to protest. The procession culminated in a street meeting on Chowringhee Road which was addressed by comrades Gita Das, Mina Pal, Chaitali Sen and others.

Gouripore Jute Mill:

Workers fight for their legal PF dues

The indefinite hunger strike and dharna of the workers of Gouripore Jute Mills, in front of the Provident Fund Office, Titagarh, North 24 Parganas, which started on 10.11.2008 was temporarily deferred on the 3rd consecutive day i.e. 12.11.2008 after the PF Dept. gave some specific assurances and initiated steps for disbursement of the PF/Pensionary dues to the workers of the said mill.

Gouripore Jute Mills was closed for good in the year 1997, rendering nearly 5,000 workers jobless. None of the workers of this closed mill have received their PF/Pension benefits and gratuity till date. The workers approached all the concerned officials: their PF Board of Trustee Members (BOT) who owed allegiance to BMS, local CPI(M) MLA, and leaders of other unions for disbursal of their hard earned PF/Pension funds. Barring BCMF (AICCTU), all the other union leaders refused to cooperate with the workers on the pretext that PF/Pension benefits are not disbursed to the workers of the closed mills. CPI(ML) leaders of North 24 Parganas and BCMF started organising these workers, stood firmly by them. The Gouripore Mazdoor Baachao Manch (GMBM) was floated, and workers cutting across all the Trade Unions joined in thousands. All the other unions soon lost all their relevance, and this forum gradually emerged as the real fighting platform, which reflected their aspirations. BCMF and GMBM worked in tandem organised numerous programmes in different forms with their single demand of PF/Pension disbursal forthwith. The Sub-regional office of the PF dept. Barrckpore informed our leaders that the mill was an exempted establishment, which means that the PF funds, and all official records are managed by BOT under Employees’ Provident Funds & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, and the BOT is liable to disburse the fund to all the eligible workers.

The BOT took no initiative for payment of dues; the PF department remained a silent spectator; demonstrations and meetings with PF officials bore no fruit. BCMF pressurised the PF department to initiate the process for cancellation of the Exemption granted as per the PF laws, and after a couple of months, with active intervention from the AICCTU, the Central PF Dept. issued order for cancellation of the exemption category on 12 May 2008 and sent it to the appropriate authority, Govt. of West Bengal to issue a notification on this regard.

The hollowness of the ‘Do it now’ slogan raised by the CM of West Bengal couple of years back, to initiate work culture within the Govt. officials, stands totally exposed when it took a few months by the Labour Dept. of the West Bengal just to issue a cancellation notification. On 7 August 2008, finally, the Labour Dept. issued the Govt. notification of cancellation of the BOT of Gouripore.

The workers then demanded that after cancellation of exemption, the BOT stands null & void, and the onus lies upon the PF dept. to immediately disburse the workers’ PF/Pension dues. The leadership of the BCMF were told that as the fund and all necessary documents still lie with the BOT, they are not in a position to disburse the same. Some casual actions taken from the PF dept. to recover the fund and documents was in vain, and the BOT in active collusion with the local CPI(M) MLA openly challenged the PF dept. and refused to submit. An unholy nexus between a section of PF officials-CPI(M) MLA-BOT members-local goons was the biggest hindrance for PF dues recovery.

An astonishing fact was revealed, after pressurizing the PF dept., that the PF dept. does not possess any documents of the workers of this closed mill! The workers went for and indefinite hunger strike and dharna from 10.11.2008 onwards. Thousands of workers with red flags & banners, posters assembled in front of the PF office, Titagarh, raising slogans demanding their legitimate dues. Seven retired workers, namely, Chotelal Sau (age 70), Basudev Burman (66), Subol Burman (73), Badri Ram (85), Shivalak Ram (65), Gouranga Das (66) and Ramji Sau (66) started their indefinite hunger strike, accompanied by 37 workers on relay hunger strike. The next day, a considerable section of women and their family members joined them. Massive propaganda was organised in the adjacent areas inhabited by the jute workers. Trade Union leaders of RSP and SUCI had attended and expressed their solidarity.

On that day, in the evening, agitating women blocked and gheraoed the PF office without warning. The entire police force was taken aback and stood helpless. The leadership gave an ultimatum that if the highest PF authority fails to convene a meeting and start a meaningful dialogue by 12 noon on 12.11.2008, the PF office would be gheraoed and shut down for an indefinite period.

At this stage, on 12.11.2008, the Additional PF Commissioner, Eastern Zone convened a meeting with the leadership. The Regional Commissioner–II of the SRO, Barrackpore was severely criticised and censured for the SRO’s criminal negligence and casual attitude; a section of the corrupt PF staff were suspended summarily; all the power henceforth vested with the SRO-Barrackpore was seized and a high power committee, comprising a number of PF Officials, under the direct supervision of APFC was formed, and in a few cases, legal action was initiated. Workers agreed to this resolution and the struggle ended with victorious slogans.

The APFC again convened a meeting with the leaders on 19.11.2008 and informed that their dept. have in the meantime recovered the fund of Rs. 10 crores. Some legal action have been expedited, and the workers are hopeful to get their PF/pension soon.

Atanu Chakravarty

Adivasis Up in Arms Against State Repression in W Bengal

(Lalgarh in W Bengal seems to be another Nandigram in the making, with adivasis in revolt against state repression and land grab. On 2 November, a land mine explosion targeted West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Ram Vilas Paswan as they were returning from the inauguration of the Jindal Steel Works SEZ in Salboni in West Midnapore district. This was followed by a spate of police brutalities in the name of combing operations to locate Maoists, who were blamed for the blast.

The Jindal project in Salboni was initially meant to be a steel plant, but was ‘upgraded’ to SEZ status last September. Nearly 5,000 acres of land have been acquired for this project, of which 4,500 acres were acquired by the state government and 500 acres have been purchased directly by Jindal from landowners. It seems that much of this land was vested with the government for distribution amongst landless tribals as part of the land reforms program and also included forest land.

Moreover, the adivasis in this region have already been the receiving end of state repression in the name of curbing Maoists. The intensification of the repression after 2 November spurred the advasis into revolt. Among those arrested and charged with a host of false cases, by the police were three school boys, Aben Murmu, Gautam Patra and Buddhadeb Patra, on their way back from a festival at night. Several others were arrested and subjected to custodial beatings, including one pregnant woman. In raids on November 6, 35 villages, women were subjected to brutal beatings. One woman lost an eye due to the injury.

On November 7, thousands of Santhal adivasis of the entire Lalgarh region came out on the streets. The Nandigram effect would be seen in the way they dug up the roads and blocked them with trees to block the entry of the police. They also cut off phone and electricity lines. The adivasis have been demanding that the police officers who led the attack acknowledge their crime and beg pardon by holding ears and doing sit-ups in public, and are also demanding compensation for the injured.

A report by a team of students led by AISA which visited the area in solidarity with the adivasis’ struggle follows. Ed/-)

Report of the AISA Team’s Visit

Lalgarh is 49 kms away from Midnapore town. From Bhadutola crossing, the road leads straight into the forests, the last range of Chota Nagpur plateau. From Bhimpur onwards the roads are blocked by felled trees, from where Lalgarh Bazaar is still 10 kms away. However it is possible to circumvent the logs on motorcycle and advance towards Lalgarh. Our 15-member fact-finding team riding five motorcycles managed to reach Lalgarh Bazaar without any hassles. As we stood at a tea stall opposite the CPI(M) local committee office, a small group of curious people gathered around us. Shopkeepers in the bazaar, clearly sympathetic to the rebellion of the rural poor, showed us the way to the village.

Khamananda Mahato of Boropelia is a retired school teacher. He was picked up by the police at midnight from his house after the land mine explosion targeting the convoy of Buddhadeb and Ramvilas. Mahato, who is the Bloc vice-president of Trinamool Congress and was the BJP candidate for the 2001 Assembly elections, was released the next day. But a poor cowherd from the same locality, Sushil Mahato, who was picked up by the police six months ago, was subjected to physical torture for three months. After being slapped with many cases, he came back to find that his father had expired during his absence of hunger. We sat at Khamananda Mahato’s courtyard and talked. The women standing around us said indignantly, “Irrespective of whether there are bears, tigers or Maoists in the forest, we have to go there for the sake of our livelihood.”

At Banshber village, school students of 7 and 8 grades were arrested by the police when they were returning home from a Baul performance at Kantapahari. The mother of Buddha Patra, a class 7 student, lamented that the police did not return his torch light when he was released. She invited us to sit and spoke about poverty and police highhandedness. The midnight atrocities of the police at Chotopelia was the spark that ignited the fire of rebellion. A middle-aged woman almost lost an eye when she was hit with the butt of a gun. The doctors of Midnapore had said that she may never regain her vision. Rifle blows broke the hip of another woman. A girl was molested in front of her parents. Shamser Rehman, an aged farmer, came from Khirpai on some work. The police took him to the police-station, stripped him, and then said, “How else are we supposed to know that you are a Muslim?”

Anger had been accumulating for many years now. False cases are being pursued against countless young men in the name of countering Maoist activities. We met many young men who were tired of regular attendance at police-stations. This time, everybody has united against police atrocities.

When we returned to Boropelia, some movement leaders were there waiting for us. They served us tea. We told them that there are many people in Kolkata who want to visit and show solidarity with their struggle. All over the state, students and intellectuals are taking to the streets in their support. They handed over to us the charter of demands of the “Committee Against Police Terror”. The ongoing agitation is a spontaneous mass movement which is not led by any particular political party. So claims by the West Bengal government that the Maoists are creating unrest are totally baseless. If indeed the Maoists are participating in the agitation, it is a welcome change from their militarist practice into a mass-based practice. A deeper analysis will reveal that the root of the crisis of the adivasi community lies in agricultural crisis and land grab. Thus the agitations of Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh are tied by a common thread. The CPI(M), meanwhile is trying to create a rift between Bengalis and tribals by suggesting that the movement is a conspiracy of the Shibu Soren-led JMM in order to realize its dream of creating a Greater Jharkhand.

AICCTU takes up cudgels for tramway workers

The Calcutta Tramways Company Bus Drivers-O- Karmachari Samiti (CTCBDKS), the newest union (an affiliate of AICCTU) in the Calcutta Tramways Company (1978) Ltd, an undertaking under the Government of West Bengal, has created ripples among the staff and workers in the CTCL. This is yet another expression of rapid erosion of confidence-level of CITU, AITUC and INTUC unions among tram workers.

For over a decade, over 200 bus drivers in CTC were kept as casual/contract workers. But for the emergence and activism of CTCBDKS, 69 of them would not have been in substantive employment. They now get Rs 10,000 a month (excluding PF and other statutory receivables) as they are now on the permanent roll.

Casual bus drivers used to get Rs 60 a day (on days of work only). Sustained agitation by the CTCBDKS caused a raise of Rs 10 (effective from 10 months back, although arrear payment is yet to be disbursed). Ever since these bus drivers were recruited, they have been victims of calculated repression: deprived of casual and earned leave, even leave due to illness or medical grounds. Normal benefits like PF, gratuity, ESI and uniform allowance or annual allocation of free uniforms are all denied.

The tendency to deprive CTC workers – not bus drivers alone – is not new, although CTC chairman Rajdeo Goala is a national working committee member of CITU and a member of Kolkata district secretariat of CPI(M). He is also the president of CITU-affiliate in CTC. Last year, bus drivers were paid ex-gratia of Rs 1000. The CTCBDKS leadership “moved the Labour Commissioner of West Bengal and drew the attention of the latter of the rules in vogue to compel the reluctant CTC management to pay Rs 3500 as bonus to every CTC staff/worker”, said CTCBDKS president Dibakar Bhattacharya. “We have demanded that the management pay Rs 2500 for the previous year”, he added.

Bus drivers previously were denied of casual leave. Now they get eight days’ CL every year with full pay.

In ditching CTC workers – not bus drivers alone- the company stops no where, a CPI(M) senior leader at the helm notwithstanding. Some of the gross violations of workers’ rights include: ESI dues of about Rs 70 lakhs; keeping PF money which is but workers’ money at the CTC, instead of depositing the same to the Regional PF Commissioner (workers not apprised of where and how much of PF money is invested); CTC authorities remaining aloof when bus drivers have to incur the cost of legal expenses and attending courts for violation of traffic laws, and get victimised by traffic police; treating drivers injured in accidents as laid-off workmen during the period on convalescence; and leaving them to bear the cost of treatment.

Nonetheless, Comrade Dibakar warns against any complacency about instances of success. “We have achieved some but the volume of unachieved is mammoth. We have to wage struggle demanding criminal prosecution by the PF and ESI authorities for deceiving workers. CTC chairman and directors as also concerned executives ought to be issued non-bailable arrest warrants as per rules and practices. Another deliberately vindictive decision by the Left Front government is promulgation of an ordinance, if a person is run over by the CTC, CSTC or government-run transport bus, the police will lodge a case against the concerned driver under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code. This is highly unethical. Culpable homicide doesn’t mean murder. There are many such burning issues which we have to take on.”

Nityananda Ghosh

Liberation Archive