Slum-dwellers who were forcibly evicted from their hutment colony in Nonadanga continue to face brutal attacks, lathicharge and arrests at the hands of West Bengal police
In a bid to turn Kolkata into London, the state Government of West Bengal headed by Mamata Banerjee, has rendered hundreds of families homeless. Hutments belonging to nearly 200 families living in Nonadanga in east Kolkata were bulldozed by Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) last month. Some huts were set on fire. According to a 2003 UN Habitat report, one-third of Kolkata lives in slums.
The hutment colony is on a 2.4 hectare prime real estate plot in east Kolkata. Activists allege that this is yet another ploy by the ruling government to give away land to big corporations at the expense of India’s urban poor’s right to live. Various news reports suggest that the KMDA is planning to lease out the land for 99 years to some private developer.
As the state Government refuses compensation, the displaced slum-dwellers have started an indefinite resistance movement supported by human rights and civil rights organisations in West Bengal. Last Saturday ( April 28 ) morning witnessed KMDA authorities blocking both entry and exit roads at Nonadanga. When the slum-dwellers who have been living in makeshift shanties, protested, a violent battle ensued between a heavy police force and a few slum dwellers. The fight ended with the police arresting 14 persons, including seven women and a one-year-old. They were booked for assaulting cops and illegal assembly.
On 8thApril, a nine-year-old girl had spent 9 hours locked up with her mother at the Lalbazar police HQ after the police attacked and arrested protestors.
Here is the statement released by Sanhati Collective condemning the police attacks in Nonadanga and the continued detention of two democratic rights activists:
The evicted residents of Nonadanga slums are under continual assault. TMC musclemen, the law enforcement agencies, property speculators, and KMDA have joined hands to ensure that the residents can’t resume their normal lives. Even as the residents, after their heroic resistance to the earlier phase of eviction, have started reconstructing their dwellings, the KMDA has moved in to fence off the plot of land.
On April 28, when the KMDA attempted to further close off the entry and exit points of the wall that they had constructed around the plot, the people resisted this inhuman move. Then the police attacked them viciously, beat up and manhandled the evictees and arrested five women and six male residents of Nonadanga slums and slapped them with a host of charges, three of which are non-bailable, under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. The arrested persons are: Pratima Baidya, Minati Sardar, Saraswati Dasi, Ranjita Baidya, Pratima Baij, Bapi Mandal, Manindra Mandal, Purna Mandal, Ujjwal Saha, Sona Bar and Rabin Haldar. In fact, during the initial arrests, a woman with an infant was also detained, but was later released and thereafter slapped with some charges.
We condemn the brutal police attack and lathicharge on the evicted residents in Nonadanga on April 28 and demand that the arrested persons be immediately released. The double standards of the West Bengal government is becoming increasingly clear through such actions. While the Chief Minister made claims to the press on Friday that she was pro-poor and anti-eviction, the police and TMC goons came charging on Saturday morning to Nonadanga.
We demand that the ongoing State policy of harassment, intimidation and slow attrition to evict and punish the residents of Nonadanga be immediately stopped. Moreover, we demand that the residents be suitably rehabilitated and compensated for being forcibly evicted from their homes. We also reaffirm our solidarity with the heroic struggle of these vulnerable and destitute residents.
Meanwhile, we welcome the granting of bail, albeit in a staggered manner, to all the seven activists, Debolina Chakroborty, Samik Chakrobarty, Manas Chatterjee, Debjani Ghosh, Siddhartha Gupta, Partho Sarathi Ray, and Abhijnan Sarkar, who had been detained following the mass arrests during a peaceful protest against the evictions at Nonadanga. However, the fabricated cases slapped against these activists are still in place and we demand that the charges be withdrawn immediately to bring an end to this harassment of dissenting voices.
Despite the bail related to the Nonadanga case, two of the activists – Debolina Chakraborty and Abhijnan Sarkar – continue to remain in judicial custody, having been tagged to old cases, including one under the draconian UAPA. We feel that the government has taken advantage of the mass arrests to capture Debolina Chakraborty who is a dedicated grassroots activist and mass organizer and someone whom the security setup has been attempting to put behind bars since the days of the Left Front government, but had been hesitating to do so due to constant public pressure. It also seems that the police has used this opportunity to continue their harassment of Abhijnan Sarkar, a media activist and a member of the Sanhati Collective and someone who has extensively participated in and reported about the people’s movements shaking up contemporary West Bengal. We urge all civil liberties organizations and other democratic voices to join us in demanding that both these activists be immediately released and the cases against them be withdrawn.
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