20 August 2011

NO to Contract Work! Reinstate and regularise the 60 illegally terminated workers at the Haldia Dock Complex

The New Trade Union Initiative stands in solidarity with the Haldia Dock Complex Contractors' Shramik Union in its fight against the contract labour system and the illegal termination on 1 July 2011 of 60 workers of the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) employed at the Berth No. 10 Rubber Tyred Yard Gantry Cranes under the control of the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT).

We congratulate the 2,000 workers at the HDC led by the Haldia Dock Complex Contractors’ Shramik Union for the success of the 4 hour tool-down industrial action held on 3 August 2011 which brought the port operations to a stand-still as the loading and unloading of containers from eight ships were suspended. The 60 workers who were illegally terminated have been continuously employed in the container yard for loading and unloading of containers for the last 5 years, despite two changes of contractors. This clearly indicates the sham and bogus nature of the contract arrangement. The NTUI demands that the KoPT immediately reinstate the illegally terminated workers and regularise their employment.

The company contracted by the HDC to take over on 1 July 2011 the Operation & Maintenance of four Rubber Tyred Yard Gantry Cranes, at the Container Parking Yard of Haldia Dock Complex, Mumbai based Land-Marine Equipment Services Private Limited, has ignored both the Additional Labour Commissioner’s advice to reinstate workers within 7 days, and the tripartite agreement reached on 18 July 2011 wherein they agreed to take back all the workers. The NTUI condemns the Land-Marine Equipment Services management’s blatant violation of the law of the land and visible lack of willingness to engage in negotiations in good faith for a resolution of the issue. The management of KoPT, as the principal employer has also failed in ensuring the implementation of the Additional Labour Commissioner’s advice.

This is not the first time that the contract workers of the HDC have had to fight for fair working conditions and security of tenure of employment. Over the years, HDC has gradually changed its workforce composition and created a small core of permanent employees and a growing body of workforce under temporary contract who are employed under precarious working conditions. This weakens the bargaining power of the workers.

The total workforce strength at HDC is 6700, of which 3200 are permanent workers and 3500 are contract workers. There are 600 contract workers in regular and stable jobs in different divisions who receive wages between Rs 165 to 270 per day, with limited benefits of ESI and PF, far below the earnings of permanent workers engaged in the same work. It is deplorable that these workers are kept outside the category of regular employment and exploited. The NTUI denounces the complicity of the principal employer KoPT in allowing for the contractualisation of the workforce and discrimination of contract workers in the facilities under its control. We condemn KoPT management’s use of this discriminatory practice as a tool to divide workers and marginalise contract workers and the unequal treatment given to contract workers. The NTUI upholds the right of equal pay for equal work and right to security of tenure as regular workers.

The struggle of the Haldia Dock Complex Contractors’ Shramik Union is a part of our common struggle and NTUI is committed to ensure the success of this struggle.

The NTUI demands that the Kolkata Port Trust and the Land-Marine Equipment Services management:
· Reinstate all the dismissed workers immediately
· Absorb contract workers employed in jobs that are perennial in nature into the KoPT workforce
· Stop engaging in unfair labour practice and stop violating labour laws
The NTUI calls upon the Regional Labour Commissioner and the Chief Minister of West Bengal to defend the rights of the most vulnerable workers, the contract workers, and ensure that both KoPT and the Land Marine Equipment Services management follow the due process of law.

For more information, contact:
Anuradha Talwar, Convener-NTUI West Bengal State Committee and Secretary, NTUI
Pradip Roy, Co-convener-NTUI West Bengal State Committee 
[PBKMS is affiliated to the NTUI]

Tea Workers' Struggle A Just Cause

The New Trade Union Initiative supports the continuing united industrial action by 32 unions represented by the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers supported by the Defense Committee for Plantation Workers Rights and other unions for an increase in wages from the present Rs. 67.50 to Rs. 165 and a re-introduction of Variable Dearness Allowance (VDA).

The tripartite negotiation, that began with the lapse of the previous industry wage agreement on 31 March 2011, entered a deadlock after 6 rounds of negotiation when the Consultative Committee of Plantation Association (CCPA), refused to accept the demand of theCoordination Committee for an increase in daily wages from Rs.67 to Rs.165. Thegovernment then made an informal proposal to the unions to accept an increase in wage to Rs130 at par with the MGNREGA wage. The CCPA offer for wage increase stands at Rs 24spread over three years at Rs. 8 each year to Rs. 91 in three years time. This means that the employers are offering a wage increase, even with the additional component of wage in kind,that would keep wages below the national floor wage and also below the state agricultural minimum wage.

The West Bengal state government along with the employers has come down heavily against this united action of the trade unions in the region. The employers, on one hand, have resorted to wage cuts in several gardens and have even declared illegal lockouts. On 4 August, the management of Bharnobari Tea Estate (a garden, employing 2,034 workers, that remained closed for a period of over two years between 29 December 2005 till 27 April 2008 and experienced 28 starvation deaths during this period) began to deduct wages of workers for participating in the hour long gate meetings that were being organised by all trade unions in every garden calling for a resolution of the present deadlock. When workers protested the illegal wage cut, the garden manager threatened to declare a lockout in the garden. Hundreds of workers led by women activists of the Paschim Banga Cha Bagan Shramik Karmachari Union gheraoed the manager and the 6 assistant managers and walked them 2 km to the Hashimara Police Station and filed a complaint of harassment. The management has sinceabandoned the garden. Similarly, in the Debpara Tea Estate, employing 1108 workers, the management announced a ‘suspension of work’ following protests by workers.

On the other hand, the newly formed state government has adopted a dual strategy to break the unity of the workers. In response to the strike call by the tea unions, the Chief Minister of West Bengal said “... The politics of strike cannot be allowed to go on... Numerous tea gardens have remained shut. There can be problems, but strikes cannot be used as a tool to deprive people of their rights.” She also added that if necessary her government would legislate to ban strikes. This is in blatant violation of the right to strike of workers. The political right to strike is organically linked to the fundamental right to association and collective bargaining of workers as enshrined in our constitution and is an inalienable part of trade union response in times of dire crisis. This is also in violation of the ILO Conventions 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise and 98 on Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining. Even the United Nation's Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights enshrines the right to strike.

The government has also begun parallel wage negotiations with the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union (PTWU) which is not even a member of the Coordination Committee that represents 32 unions in the industry and, along with the Defense Committee, is the bargaining agent for workers in the tripartite negotiation. The PTWU had initially demanded a daily wage of Rs 250 against the demand of Rs. 165 plus VDA made by the Coordination Committee. When the CCPA turned down this proposal, the PTWU also decided to support the strike called by the Coordination Committee on 7 August 2011 and supported by the Defense Committee as well as many other unions, including the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and the union affiliated to the Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress (INTTUC.

But, following a bilateral meeting on 10 August 2011 with the State Industries Minister,Partha Chatterjee, Development Minister, Gautam Deb, and the Labour Minister, Purnendu Bose, the PTWU announced that they would go on strike on 17-18 August if the wage for plantation workers is not increased to a minimum of Rs 90. This is not just diluting the wage demand of the Coordination Committee but also breaking the existing united movement of tea workers. The union on 14 August has also withdrawn its proposed two-day tea strike from 17 August after a meeting with north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb. This parallel negotiation process is also undermining the ongoing tripartite negotiation and driving a wedge in the unity of workers in the industry.

NTUI welcomes the coordinated effort of the unions in the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers and stand in solidarity with the continuing struggle for a wage agreement in the tea industry in Bengal. Further, NTUI strongly condemns the state government’s threat to ban strikes and its efforts to circumvent the tripartite negotiation. We call upon the Government of West Bengal to respect the:

1. Right of the bargaining agent for workers - the Coordination and the Defence Committees - in the tripartite negotiation on tea
2. Framework of tripartite negotiation in industry wage agreement
3. Right to Association and Collective Bargaining of workers
4. Principles of a just minimum wage for all workers

Ashim Roy, General Secretary, NTUI
[PBKMS is affiliated to the NTUI]

17 August 2011

Last Rites For Haripur N-Plant

The West Bengal Power Minister hammered the final nail in the coffin of the nuclear power plant at Haripur, telling the State Assembly that  “the state government has decided to scrap the proposal for a nuclear power plant at Haripur". He also said "the present government has no plans to set up nuclear power plants in any other parts of the state." 

We welcome this statement by the Power Minister and see it as a victory of the Haripur Parmanu Chulli Birodhi Jeevan Jeevika O Bheete Bachao Committee's (Committee Against Nuclear Plant and to Save Homes, Life and Livelihood) movement and that of other people's organisations in Haripur and other parts of the state. Especially welcome is the statement against life-threatening and dangerous nuclear power in general, which says that no plants will be set up anywhere in the state.

Related Posts: http://khetmajoorsamity.blogspot.com/search/label/Haripur
                    Economic Times report  
                    Ten thousand people on fast in Tamil Nadu

Anna Hazare's Arrest Restricts Dissent And Democratic Space

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity condemns the arbitrary and undemocratic arrest of 1,300 activists in Delhi. This arrest is one more step in shrinking the space for democratic, peaceful dissent in our country. The everyday experience of our members (who are mainly rural workers), with the administration is that whenever they fight for their entitlements they meet with, at best, apathy and, at worst, repression.

Questioning corruption and demanding entitlements is dangerous at the grassroots level, where our members often face violent attacks when they raise such issues. The local police and administration actively collude or are passive bystanders when these attacks take place. In the arrest of Anna Hazare and that of 1,300 others, we see only an echo of our own micro, grassroots experiences.

In addition, we have seen both in Kolkata and in Delhi, a shrinking of the public spaces where protests are “allowed”. While the Jantar Mantar in Delhi is no longer freely available, with staying at night prohibited, in Kolkata, popular places of protests like Sealdah Station are no longer available. The latest attack has been on the Metro Channel, where the space for gatherings has been highly restricted. There have even been statements by important political figures in Bengal threatening to ban strikes and bandhs.
We condemn all such attacks on the right to peaceful protest by Governments in power and call upon all citizens to join us in our protest.

11 August 2011

'Green Terror' In West Bengal's Khangardihi Village

Place of incident: Village Khangardihi, 7 No Bonpura GP, PS Midnapore Sadar, Paschim Midnapore

Names of victims: Neelkamal Singha, Parbati Singha (Neelkamal’s mother), Rampada Singha,(Neelkamal’s brother), Arati Singha (Rampada Singha’s wife), Shefali Singha (Neelkamal’s sister-in-law), Nikhil Pandit aged 16 and studying in Class Xl (Neelkamal’s nephew),  and  three daughters of Rampada Singha aged 10 years ,5 years and 2 years, Mukti Dului, Chandana and two sons and a daughter aged 10 years,7 years and 5 years.

 Names of accused: Befal Bhuinya, Khudiram, Ranjan Singha, Gopal Bordoloi,Jyoti Bar, Tarapada Karak, Alok Ghosh and Ganesh Singh.


PBKMS first came in touch with the people of Khangardihi village in February-March 2010 while doing a study on implementation of Supreme Court orders on Right To Food. Later, Neelkamal Singha and others got in touch with us because their people (about 100 families from the low caste Bagdi community), who had formed themselves into the Tapshili Jati Bagdi Jana Kalyan Samity, were being tortured by the rest of the village. Caste was a major issue with the village upper caste people, supported by the Muslims, banning the Bagdis from entering their temple, taking drinking water etc. This matter was brought to the notice of the local police and district authorities and, with their intervention, the matter was settled.

Many of the members of the Bagdi Jana Kalyan Samity became PBKMS members. PBKMS thus had about 200 members in the village. These members of our union began taking up issues of NREGS implementation, MDMS implementation etc.  This led to conflict once again in December when village leaders owing allegiance to both Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPM – combined to attack the Bagdis. They broke down a board commemorating Dr. Ambedkar, as well as burned down a shed that the Bagdis used as a meeting place. Neelkamal and some others were also beaten up. The police came in and at the insistence of the village people of the Bagdi para stayed the night to protect them. Their departure however led to a resumption of threats of being shot at. This made the people very reluctant to file police complaints. A PBKMS team went to the village the next day and talked to all leaders and helped to restore peace. After a long process, later on March 14, on Dr Ambedkar’s birth anniversary and in the presence of those who had earlier opposed the Bagdis, an Ambedkar board was again put up.

After the declaration of Assembly election results, those affiliated to the TMC insisted that all others must “surrender” and must now say that they would listen to the TMC local leaders. Those who were most insistent about this were recent converts to the TMC from the CPM. We began to get reports of force being used and of beatings, threats, fines and coercion. We therefore called up Dalim a village-level TMC leader, but found that though he was well intentioned no one would listen to him. We then contacted Mrigen Maity, MLA, and complained to him, but the intimidation did not stop. We then asked Neelkamal to stay out of the village for some time till things cooled down.

However, when he returned after a few weeks, things again flared up where he was asked to “surrender” and to pull down the Ambedkar board. Neelkamal felt this was undemocratic and protested. He reported the matter to the police on 9 June 2011, who came and threatened him instead of protecting him. The police said “The entire village is with the TMC so why can’t you also listen to them? Who do you think you are?” After they left, Neelkamal was brutally beaten up in the village and an attempt was made to murder him, when he refused to pull down the Ambedkar board.

Another person, Satish Dului, was also beaten up and both were admitted to hospital on June 10, 2011.  Satish Dului did not file a police complaint fearing that he would not be allowed back to the village if he did so. However, Neelkamal did file one. Since then, Neelkamal has not been able to enter his village. His entire family (brother, mother, sisters-in-law etc) have also fled the village. The person who took him to the hospital, Mukti Dului, and then filed the complaint, has been forced to also flee with his family. Thus, today, 15 people are out of their homes.      

Action Taken:

PBKMS has helped the victims file a police complaint. However the police has not given an FIR number. We have also informed the ASP HQ, Mr Sukesh Jain, about the matter.  No effective action has been taken. The police, in fact, seem to be supporting the accused. Till now, no action have been taken against the accused, failing which families of Neelkamal and others have not been able to return back to their village.

PBKMS also heard at one point about the possible kidnapping of one of their members, Khokan, and panicked and informed Shri Mukul Roy, AITMC General Secretary.  While Khokan’s whereabouts were known within 15 minutes of this call, he has since stopped maintaining any contact with us.

At Mr Mukul Roy’s suggestion, we have also been in touch with Mr Prodyut Ghosh and Mr Dinen Rai, district leaders of the TMC. However, this has also not reduced tensions in the village. While it has been suggested to us by the police and by the district leadership of the TMC that they can send the 14 people back with a police escort, there is no assurance that there will be no further intimidation in the village. The present atmosphere in the village is also not very reassuring. For example, Neelkamal’s mother went back to the village after her niece died to attend the funeral, but found that no one talked to her. Similarly, Mukti’s brother has tried to prepare rice seedlings for Mukti, but has been threatened and has been asked to stop this immediately.

On July 1 we informed the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Partha Chatterjee, in writing. We then heard that a police team had been to the village. However, we have been told it has had an adverse impact: all the accused are supposed to have taken bail in court and the witness to the case, Gautam Dului has been forced to withdraw his name as witness. It is now rumoured that Mukti, the complainant, who is hiding in his relative’s house in a nearby village will be visited by the Khangardihi leaders and asked to withdraw the police report.

It is reported that others have also faced physical violence and intimidation. These include Gautam Dului, Sushmita Dului, Bhanu, Kalpana Dului,Satish, Khokhan Singha,, Bimal Singha and Gopal Bagh.

There are other frightening reports from the village. It is said that a team checks mobile phones regularly to ensure that no phone calls are made outside. People have been threatened against informing anyone outside about what happens in the village. The land of the fleeing families is likely to be taken over.

We suggest that the accused be arrested immediately and that a meeting be organized in the village with the TMC district leadership and the PBKMS along with the villagers to ensure that the victims can live there peacefully.

Related Posts: Update    Letter to Mamata            Fact-Finding Mission

Update on Khangardihi Violence

After July 11, when our last report was written, two more families of Khangardihi village have reported intimidation and threats. Bhakti Dului’s wife reports that she has been asked not to farm her land till her husband returns. Srikanta Dului and his family also fled the village, as Srikanta was being threatened with violence because he avoided attending the kangaroo court being organized by village level Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders.

On July 30, after a great deal of persuasion of the district-level TMC leadership and the police, a meeting was organised in the presence of the Inspector in charge of the Midnapore Sadar police station. A written agreement was signed by PBKMS leaders, district-level and local leaders of the TMC, stating that the families would return; that they would be allowed to farm their land and, as a peace gesture, PBKMS would organise a medical camp in the village. On the evening of the medical camp, another meeting would be held to sort out problems.

PBKMS activists were invited by village-level TMC leaders to a meeting to discuss the modalities of the medical camp slated for a few days later. They were instead heckled and threatened. Later, the TMC village leaders made the excuse that as Ramzan had started they would rather not hold the camp.

In the meantime, the families that have returned have been told not to plant paddy on their land. They have been ostracized - other villagers have been told not to give them plough animals or tractors. No agricultural worker is allowed to work on their land. Villagers have been told not to talk to them.

The four families tried to farm their land on their own. PBKMS members from nearby villages had assured them that they would arrange workers and plough their land. PBKMS members also organised the medical camp in a nearby village on the agreed date defying the TMC village bullies. However, on August 6, Mukti Dului was again badly beaten up. His ‘crime’ was that he had dared to talk to some of his neighbours. The families are too frightened to complain to the police or to speak to anyone, as they fear that the police cannot protect them.

Life in rural Bengal thus continues as it has always done – with intimidation, threats, fines and physical violence of the “rulers”, who have taken the law in their own hands.

Related Posts: Green terror in Khangardihi 
                     Letter to Mamata 
                     Fact-Finding Mission 

10 August 2011

Who Is The Owner? What Is The Project At Kulpi?

Developments at Kulpi have confirmed that benami transactions that avoid the land ceiling on agricultural land are taking place.  A meeting on July 27, 2011, at the Block Development Officer’s (BDO) office in the presence of the BDO, the Block Land and Land Reforms Officer, the Officer in Charge (OC) of Kulpi police station, the MLA and the Panchayat Samity Sabhapati. PBKMS members and Debjit Dutta from the National Alliance of People’s Movements insisted that they would like to talk to the land owners rather than the middlemen or “arrangers”. A letter was then produced by the OC and the MLA from a law firm, R.N. Ghosh and Associates, on behalf of an unnamed client, which mentioned that their client was planning a maritime manufacturing business at the “project site” in Tangrachar and Rangaphala.

“Who is the client?” we asked. No details were forthcoming. “What is the project?” asked the local people. No answer was given.

The background to this meeting is as follows: when the land sharks or “arrangers” (as the middlemen are known in Kulpi) began fencing off the land on July 22, the village women objected to it. There was a tussle between the women and the “arrangers”, forcing the police to call a meeting to resolve the problem. On July 27, when about 50 women and a few men from the PBKMS arrived at the Kulpi BDO’s office for this meeting, they found themselves outnumbered. A drunken mob of about 300-400 people with placards saying “We Want Industry” had surrounded the BDO. The plan was to intimidate the complainants, in which they did not succeed.

At the meeting, it was decided that the PBKMS would have to put in specific complaints, which would then be examined by the administration. Subsequently, PBKMS has helped 11 individuals file complaints. Five of them - Jabdali Peyada, Alauddin Jamader,Aipan Beowa, Badal Sarder and Sabur Ali Jamader- are bargadars or sharecroppers. They are not being allowed to farm their land, as the landowner has sold it to the mysterious new landowners. The law, however, says that the landowner may change but the bargadars’ rights to till the land remain. Four sisters - Ayesha Bibi, Firuja Bibi, Chokina Bibi and Khodeja Bibi - have also complained, saying that their land had been sold by co-heirs without their consent. Nabeen Sapui has complained that he had taken land on a registered lease for 10 years but the leasee-owner has sold off the land before the end of the lease period. And, the crowning glory is Jaharul Mollah, who says his land has exchanged hands without his knowledge!

Fish workers have also complained that their access to the river is being denied and that they fear that the new project will pollute the water leading to loss of occupation for them.

Despite these pending complaints, we found much to our surprise that the police again began helping the “arrangers” fence off the land. This August 5, the local people gathered once again to stop fencing. Strong protests over the phone to the administration at all levels led to the withdrawal of police protection for the illegal fencers. This has turned out to be a mixed blessing for now the “arrangers” are using country-made guns to protect themselves and to prevent protests while fencing continues.

This August 8, the individual complainants filed in court for injunctions. We have also brought the matter to the notice of the Ministers of Land and Land Reforms (who also happens to be the Chief Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee) and the Minister for Industries and Commerce, Mr Partha Chatterjee, on the same day.
Street-corner meetings, village meetings, putting up posters and distribution of leaflets were conducted on August 8 and 9 to create awareness among the public on the issue. 

                    Letter to District Magistrate

07 August 2011

Letter To Mamata On Khangardihi

Smt Mamata Banerjee,
Honorable Chief Minister,
Government of West Bengal,
Writers’ Building ,

Date: 11 July 2011

Dear Mamatadi,
An essential part of the change that you sought in West Bengal was a change in the political culture which would allow for the peaceful co-existence of different political views. We had supported this from our Samity fully. However, events in Midnapore Kotwali PS have shown that even after the elections, such a change in political culture has not taken place. Members of our union, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, have been subject to various forms of torture only because they have said that they have the right to hold an independent political view.

To put the matter briefly, about 200 villagers from Khangardihi village in Midnapore Kotwali PS, all of them from the low caste Bagdi caste, had formed their own organisation and had later joined our union in mid 2010. As you know well and as is usual for us, we took up issues like NREGS implementation, problems in the midday meal scheme, local corruption etc. in the village. The independent functioning of lower caste people seems to have hurt the egos of the dominant village leadership. Most of these were with the CPI(M) initially and later switched to the TMC.  On at least two occasions before the elections, the PBKMS members were attacked for raising issues of corruption and injustice. With the administration and our intervention we managed to restore peace.
After the elections, a “cleansing” operation began in the village, with all being told that they must join the TMC and “surrender’. Some of our members protested and were beaten up. 15 people have now been forced to flee the village. An FIR has been filed, but witnesses are being intimidated. Many others have been beaten up, but have not dared to file complaints, after receiving threats of further torture. In a village where we had 200 members, now not even one person is allowed to phone or contact us or even their relatives who have fled from the village. An old woman, one of those who had fled from the village, returned to the village for the funeral of her niece, but found that even her own relatives were too scared to speak to her.

The police have taken no action and in fact the local PS seems to be helping the accused. We have informed the ASP and have been told that he could arrange for a police escort for the people to return, an impractical suggestion because there is no security for those who return after the police leaves. We have requested various people within the TMC hierarchy, starting from the district (Shri Prodyut Ghosh, Shri Dinen Rai and Shri Mrigen Maity) to the state level leadership (Shri Mukul Roy and Shri Partha Chatterjee) to take steps to ensure that the families outside can go back and live in peace in the village, but there has been very little progress, with village level leaders turning a deaf ear to their seniors in the TMC leadership.

We would request you to take action on the matter to ensure that the families can go back to their homes and so that dissent is not treated as a crime , and people can live together peacefully.

A detailed note of the events  prepared by the Samity is attached for your information and action. We are also sending a note from a team consisiting of members of NAPM, APDR , Midnapore Suraksha Samity and Janaswasthya Adhikar Manch that independently enquired into the matter.

Thanking you,
Yours sincerely,

Anuradha Talwar
Swapan Ganguly

Related Posts: Green Terror at Khangardihi
                     Update on Khangardihi  
                     Fact-Finding Mission

06 August 2011

Fact-Finding Mission At Khangardihi

[Human rights activist, Debjit Dutta’s report on violence at Khangardihi]

A three-member team, with activists from three different organizations that had actively participated in the people’s movement preceding the all-important ‘parivartan’ (change in West Bengal with the electoral defeat of the CPIM), visited Khangardihi village of Medinipur Sadar, Block-I on June 14, 2011. This was because of a report that Neelkamal Singh, a member of the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) as well as an enterprising, conscious and reasonably educated youth who also happened to be one of the founders of Bagdi Janakalyan Samity, an organisation to safeguard the rights of the Bagdis (SC), was forced to leave his village along with some of his relatives and neighbours.

A continuing series of threats, boycotts, acts of extortion, intimidation etc. over the years before the Assembly elections, when almost the entire village was a stronghold of the CPI(M), culminated in a virtual eviction of Neelkamal  and others after the sweeping victory of the present ruling party, as reported. The team tried to find out the facts independently, irrespective of any pre-or post-election bias.
While the team approached the residence of Neelkamal (Neelu) and the locality at Khangardihi on the scorching afternoon of June 14, 2011, only one elderly lady, out of at least ten households, dared to offer some water to drink, that too on the condition that she should not be asked any questions – a familiar feature in most villages during the party-cracy. In no time, she fled - or was made to flee- by people who could not be seen. Not a single person was willing to speak – a disheartening fact in the present political scenario.  Without entering into details, it can be said that the team was made unwelcome by Neelu’s neighbours not by choice but out compulsion, threats and a sense of insecurity. The watchful eyes of the neighbourhood did not go unnoticed by the team.

It was an entirely different story, however, when the team had to interact with those willing and eager to talk - the village Trinamool Congress (TMC) supporters, who are said to be mostly ‘convert TMCs’ and who apparently sympathized with the actions of PBKMS but were not willing to accept Neelu’s ‘arrogance’ as he would not function in the way they wanted him to do. Ranjan Singh, one of Neelu’s relatives, was the most vocal against himalthough Dalim Mallik, another TMC leader, seemed more tolerant in his approach. None of them, however, admitted that Neelkamal was beaten up by Ganesh Singh and others on June 9, after which he had to leave the village. On the contrary, they were furious that a complaint was lodged with the police in Medinipur police station against Ganesh and a few others. They had a lot to say against Neelu but no one was willing to accept the fact that Neelu along with his relatives, friends and neighbours were terrorized – a fact that was clearly evident when we visited their locality earlier.

The members of the fact-finding team held long discussions with all sides and tried to convince them that the situation in the village was undesirable and detrimental to their well-being, more so after the much-awaited change in the political scenario. They tried to impress upon the villagers that the disputes could only be resolved through discussions among themselves. The same suggestions were made by the team members to Pradyot Ghosh, Dinen Roy and other senior TMC leaders in the same evening with an appeal to arrange for an immediate meeting. Such appeals were made on behalf of PBKMS earlier too. The villagers and the senior leaders seemed to have understood the importance of holding such a meeting and agreed to do it soon. All of them apparently admitted that the team members were justified in their approach to resolve the ongoing problem and bring about an end to the atmosphere of violence. However, till date no such initiative has been taken.

On a subsequent meeting with Neelkamal, his elder brother Ram, Mukti Dalui and others at Badu, Barasat - their refuge after fleeing the village - two of the team members learnt of some shocking facts which are stated below:

The very next morning after the declaration of results of the Assembly elections, TMC leader Nurul threatened Neelu along with others and asked them to “surrender”. The CPI(M) supporters obliged but Neelu and his associates refused to do so.

Two days after the poll results, Bifal Bhuiyan threatened Neelu and others and said, “Ekhon theke ja bolbo toder tai shunte habey” (From now on you will have to listen to what I tell you). Some TMC leaders tried to force them to sign an undertaking that they would not be involved with any activities of their organization. Under the supervision of Gafur, almost the entire village was made to “surrender” except 13 villagers, including Neelu, for whom a separate list was prepared.

Later, when the police arrived, one of them asked Neelu, “Shamasta gram TMC korchhe, tumi sangathan korbe? Khub lej gajiye giyechhe?” (You will stick to your organization when the whole village is with the TMC – flashing your tail, are you)  

Related Posts: Letter to Mamata
                     Green Terror at Khangardihi 
                     Update on Khangardihi