Protest over the arrest of Chhatradhar Mahato

Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader and spokesperson of the PCPA (People’s Committee against Police Atrocities)* was arrested along with eight others, by policemen impersonating as journalists on Saturday, 26 September, 2009 from Kantapahari charged with sedition and also charges under the stringent UAPA – Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

We know from The Times of India, dated 28.09.09:–

“Koushik Sinha and Prasanta Roy, counsels for the accused claimed that police had tortured Chhatradhar and eight others so badly that they were unable to walk properly. The prosecution however argued that they were injured when they “fell down while trying to escape.” Chhatradhar was charged under UAPA sections 16/B, 17, 18, 20, 38, 39 and 40, where he is accused of raising funds for a terror organization, attempting to murder security force members and conspiring against the state to create terror. He also faces charges under IPC sections 120B, 121, 121A and 307 – sedition, waging war against the state and attempt to murder.”

“Policemen impersonating as journalists to arrest Mahato came in for criticism from intellectuals and journalists on Sunday. Incensed with the impersonation, Press Club, Kolkata shot off letters to Union home minister P. Chidambaram, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, chief secretary Ashok Mohan Chakrabarti and home secretary Ardhendu Sen condemning the way Chhatradhar was arrested”.

* * *

Humanists’ Association & Science and Rationalists Association of India have strongly condemned the arrest and demanded immediate, unconditional release of Chhatradhar in a press release. The news was published in ‘Sambad’, ‘Akdin’ and some other papers.

We know that policemen have to be in uniform and not only disclose their own identity while arresting someone, but also inform the reason for arrest. According to the Indian constitution, Mahato had the right to know why he was being arrested. The whole methodology was illegal and unethical.

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* People’s Committee against Police Atrocities was formed on 7 November 2008, with 10 members from each of 98 villages in the tribal-inhabited Jangalmahal spread among the poorest and most neglected districts of West Bengal (Bankura-Purulia-Midnapur).

But why this PCPA — why was it necessary to unite?

On 2 November, 2008, a landmine exploded near the convoy of the W.Bengal chief minister in Jangalmahal. The next few days saw unheard of atrocities in the villages of Bankura and Purulia. Women were manhandled, old village teachers were shamed, stripped in front of students …

On 6 November, under the leadership of police superintendent of Lalgarh, policemen under the pretext of looking for the culprits (Maoists) intensified their search and misbehavior. The thin, dark-skinned, undernourished villagers were treated as something worse than animals. It is on this day that a tribal woman Chitamoni Murmu lost both her eyeballs with the sharp stroke of the butt of a policeman’s gun. The long neglect and poverty were bearable, but active misbehavior, torture and molestation were not to be borne by this peaceful and self-reliant people. They decided to protest. Yes, protest against ‘Police Atrocities’.

Mahato’s role as an able and upright leader among the poorest ethnic group in Bengal became clear soon. He spoke in all his public meetings about justice and led his men and women who gathered in thousands to peaceful demonstration. It was difficult to find anything unreasonable in all his speeches or demands. As Mahashweta Debi pointed out, he was the able leader of the most tenacious people’s movement of the era.

Now the cowardly arrest of Chhatradhar by disguised policemen and his torture, without any clear proof of his charges only make such bodies like PCPA more justifiable. It only makes it legitimate to unite against police atrocities – everywhere – all the more. Hundreds of young men and bread-earners of poor tribal village families were maimed and arrested without any proof of their involvement; women who went in peaceful processions demanding their release were mercilessly beaten up and ended in hospitals – in the last 3 months.

We have to agree with PCPA secretary Shidu Soren when he says – “If Maoists trigger a mine blast, how can he(Chhatradhar Mahato) be blamed for it? If CPM backed goons ransack and set fire to opposition party leaders’ houses, will Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee & Biman Bose be arrested?”


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1-2 October, 2009: Does the PCPA leader Chhatradhar Mahato, now in police custody really have a Rs 1 crore insurance policy as alleged by the police?

Sujato Bhadra of APDR said it was not feasible for Mahato to have such a life insurance.… “As far as my knowledge goes, it is absurd to have such a policy in his financial condition. It is unlikely for any insurance company to allow him… because it would want to know whether he has a stable income and how much he earns.” He added that the police’s claim was a deliberate step to malign him and the movement he was leading.

How can Mahato pay lakhs of rupees as premium? The class XII pass out is a dealer in saal leaves and has an ancestral property –a 15-bigha plot – in Lalgarh’s Amya village. His annual income could not be more than 2 lakhs.

Shaoli Mitra said – she was not interested about how much property Mahato had amassed. “Police had to admit they had tortured people in Lalgarh and almost blinded a woman. I had gone there to see the people’s suffering; we wanted a peaceful solution to the problem.”

Writer Mahasweta Devi, convenor of the Lalgarh Saghati Manch, said: “There are no hospitals, drinking water, schools and other infrastructure there. People are begging for a bowl of rice. Under such circumstances, how can someone have such a huge insurance policy?”

Sujato Bhadra said: “Statements made before the police are not admissible before the court of law. One does not even know if it was made under coercion…It is also not a crime to make donations to PCPA.”

State home secretary Ardhendu Sen said on Thursday that the Government permission for charging Mahato under the UAPA has still not been taken. “We will examine whether the police were right in charging him under UAPA and then give the clearance…”

—[Excerpts from Times News Network]

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