01 September 2011

When Protest Works: Women Force Police To Act

Shramajivi Mahila Samity (Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity’s sister organisation) organised a gherao of Kakdwip police station (South 24 Parganas) on September 2 from 12 noon in protest against an attack on a Samity activist for her anti-trafficking work.The background is as follows.  
Five-and-a-half years ago, Zarina Khatun resident of Village Char Number Aadimahal of Surjanagar gram panchayat in the Kakdwip police station area was trafficked to Kashmir. After a great deal of effort, the Shramajivi Mahila Samity rescued her about a year ago. A case was also filed against the traffickers and they fled the area fearing arrest. Their relatives and others in the trafficking ring (including local political leaders) then began pressuring Zarina to withdraw the case and to come to a settlement with the traffickers. When she refused, she and her family were subject to an economic boycott. They were prevented from plucking and packing their betel leaves in their village. Zarina and her family were in great distress. Joynur Biwi, our activist then offered the Samity’s office at Bhutomollah Pul in the Kakdwip police station area, which serves as a residence for her and other Samity workers, to package their betel leaves.
Soon after this, the owner of the Samity’s house, Daulat Sheikh began pressuring Joynur to leave, saying that he did not want his premises to be used to help “women of bad character”. Joynur asked for six months to search for a new place. On the morning of August 29, Joynur was assaulted by the house owner and four others while leaving the Samity office. The house owner, Daulat Sheikh and four others, namely Nur Hossain Mollah, Qutub Sardar, Nurhossain Mollah and Motahoraul Mollah, who were later joined by about 10-12 others, beat her up. When they tried to attack her with chains, other people who had crowded around by then rescued her. She went first to the local police camp, only to be told that she deserved the beating because she had misbehaved by not vacating the premises. She reached the police station soon after. An FIR was filed after much pressure on the officer in charge (OC) in the evening (Case number 354 dated 29.8.11 under sections 341,323,354,379, and 506). Later, at about 7 p.m., a party of three policemen went in with other Samity organisers to open the house, as Joynur’s clothes and all other possessions were inside. The policemen were surrounded by the house owner and several others. Much to their surprise, the Samity workers found the police negotiating with the owner and the assailants. The next day, on August 30, the Samity organised a protest at the police station. The OC of the police station finally agreed to arrest the assailants within 48 hours and to have the office opened. So far the police have not taken any action. We have been told that instead of arresting the attackers, the police have told them to get anticipatory bail. 

On September 2, about a hundred angry women from the Samity surrounded the police station. This time, the protest bore fruit. At 5 p.m., the police gave in to the Samity’s demands. They provided a police escort and transport to about 50 protesting women to go to the Samity office, which is about 15 km away from the police station, to break open the house owner’s lock and to re-open the  office. Four policemen were posted at the Samity office for the security of the  activists. The police are looking for the five attackers, who have now fled their homes. A written complaint is also being submitted by the Officer in Charge to the Police Superintendent, so that action is taken against the three policemen who tried to negotiate with the attackers.

Zarina and her family have also been promised police protection in case of any harassment 

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