22 July 2014

Civic Police Face Harassment, Badu Collective Raided

A series of raids, arrests, dismissals and lathi-charges have greeted the leaders and supporters of the West Bengal Civic Police Association after their successful demonstration on July 10, 2014.

After the large gathering of about 35,000 civic police on July 10, 2014, the State Government, sensing the unrest amongst these young men and women came out with a notification within four days (Government Order No. 1940-PL/PB/3P-31/12 dated 14.7.2014) . The notification sanctioned 120 days of work at Rs.141.82 for the “Civic Police Volunteer Force” during July 2014 to December 2014. This is a victory for the movement initiated by the West Bengal Civic Police Association.

On the other hand, the State Government has also initiated repressive measures against the Association. On July 16, 2014, the President of the Association Sanjay Poria was missing for about six hours. No one knew of his whereabouts and his mobile phone was also unreachable. He was last known to have gone to the Keshpur police station where the Officer in Charge (OC) of the Police Station (PS) had called him. Finally, he was traced to the office of the Superintendent of Police, Paschim Midnapore, where he was interrogated repeatedly till about 12.30 midnight by the S.P. and a number of other senior officers.

On the same day, at Khatra police station in Bankura district, the OC threatened not to hire the leadership of the Association. This led to an altercation with all the young men who were on the rolls there, with the police ultimately resorting to a lathi-charge. Police cases were instituted against two of the leaders who had to take bail the next day.

Similar reports of OCs saying that they had been ordered to not hire the leadership of the Association were received from police stations in Bankura, Paschim Midnapore, Purba Midnapore, Jalpaiguri, Burdwan, Coochbehar, Purulia and other districts.  Verbally the young men were told that they were being punished for organising their fellow workers and for leading the movement and the demonstration on the July 10. They were told that video recordings had been made of their participation in the demonstration on that day and that the police’s Intelligence Branch had collected the names of the leaders. For example , in Sankrail PS of Paschim Midnapore, four youth were asked to not come back to work. In Daspur in the same district on the other hand all the 200 youth protested that they would not work if their leader was not hired, leading to the OC backing down.

The issue was taken to its extreme in Malda district where, on July 19, we heard that the Superintendent of the district was reported to have declared that all 4,800 civic police in the district would be replaced with fresh recruits. This was despite the clear declaration in the Government Order that the old 1,30,000 civic police would be taken for work and no new names would be entertained. This led to massive protests in many police stations. In Harishchandrapur Police Station protesting civic police were lathi-charged and then 12 of them were detained till midnight. They were finally let off without any criminal charges, after intervention by the local Member of Parliament.

In a parallel bizarre developments, on July 17, 2014, the Badu Collective, a commune where 12 families live together, a premises used by many activists for overnight stay and to hold informal meetings, was invaded first by the Intelligence Branch and then by a massive police force . The police force led by the Subdivisional Police Officer came in with teargas shells and prison vans to break up a meeting of the civic police that they had heard was to take place on the premises. The peaceful community, which has children and old people, was taken by surprise as they had no information of such a meeting. The police kept them surrounded the whole day, and in a clearly illegal invasion, trespassed on their land and houses without any rhyme or reason and without any warrants.

Equally bizarre was a newspaper report by a leading Bengali daily that claimed that the Chief Minister had allocated Rs.65 lakhs for an intelligence operation to find out who was “behind” the Civic Police Association. As the West Bengal Civic Police Association and its supporters have all been functioning openly – asking for and receiving police permission to hold a mass meeting, holding press conferences, meeting the Labour Minister, corresponding with the Government, bringing out and circulating widely reports of activities etc., the attempt at mystifying “who is behind this association” can only be ill-intentioned.

It should be noted that freedom of association is a constitutional right of all Indian citizens and the formation of an association, as well as peaceful protest, are well accepted methods for workers to focus public and employer attention on their working conditions. Why then is the Government behaving schizophrenically? It gives permission for the Association to hold a public meeting in Kolkata, its Labour Minister meets their delegation; at the same time, it sacks the leadership of the association and launches an intelligence operation to find out who is “behind” the Association. We would urge the Government to refrain from such undemocratic action and to instead concentrate its scarce resources and energy on improving the working conditions of the civic police who receive a paltry salary of just Rs.141.82 today, without any security or legal safeguards in the risky work they do.  

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