Unconditionally Release Chhatradhar and Other Leaders of Lalgarh Movement

28 May 2015
THE West Bengal State Committee of CPI(ML) Red Star has strongly condemned the conviction of the leader of the historic Lalgarh Movement, Chhatradhar Mahato, and other leading activists Sukhsanti Baske, Shambhu Soren, Sagun Murmu, Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee, by the Midnapore District Court, which awarded life sentences to all six on May 12. Apart from Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee, all the other four including Chhatradhar Mahato were convicted under the notorious Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), theirs being the first conviction in the state under UAPA. The Chief Minister of West Bengal – who on several occasions shared a stage with Mahato during the course of the Lalgarh Movement (she was then in the Opposition) – has responded by saying that it is a matter of the court and the law has taken its course! While the Chief Minister's proximity to Mahato and other leaders of the People's Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) during the Lalgarh Movement, which played such an important role in unseating the decades' old Left Front government and bringing her Trinamool Congress to power in the state, is certainly no secret and in fact well documented in the public media, her government has now sent the PCPA leaders to jail for life on charges of conspiracy against the state!

The West Bengal State Committee of CPIM (ML) Red Star has denounced the conviction of the six accused and demanded their unconditional release. Chhatradhar Mahato and the others had been arrested during the Left Front regime and Mamata Bandyopadhyay had then demanded their release! Her volte face after coming to power is another instance of the chicanery she is now famous for.

The Lalgarh Movement erupted in November 2008 after police went on a rampage in the tribal villages – Lalgarh and other adjacent villages– following a land mine explosion targeting the convoy of then West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan on November 2. The police and CRPF unleashed a reign of terror in 35 villages encompassing the entire tribal belt of Lalgarh. In raids throughout the night of November 6, women were brutally assaulted. The most seriously injured in the police attack were Chhidamani Murmu, an elderly woman whose eye was hit by the butt of a rifle, and Panamani Hansda, who was kicked on her chest and suffered multiple fractures. Both had to be hospitalized and Chhidamani Murmu became the symbol of the Lalgarh Movement. Police brutalities soon reached a point where the Adivasis of Lalgarh had no other option but to rise up in revolt. Initial protests soon took the shape of a spontaneous mass uprising as on November 7, thousands of Adivasi women and men, armed with traditional weapons, came out and obstructed the roads leading to Lalgarh, disconnecting it from Midnapur and Bankura. Roads were dug up and tree trunks placed on the road to obstruct the entry of police vehicles. The Adivasis demanded a public apology from the marauding police – they demanded that the superintendent of police Rajesh Singh publicly apologize by holding his ears and doing sit-ups and the guilty policemen crawl on the streets of the villages where they had tortured people, rubbing their noses on the ground. They also demanded compensation for the injured and assaulted. The Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janosadharoner Committee (People's Committee against Police Atrocities) was soon formed and led the movement. The administration and government arrogantly refused to accede to the simple demands of the Adivasisand the movement raged on, drawing large sections of democratic-minded people across the state to its fold. Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader of the PCPA, was arrested on September 28, 2009, and, subsequently, the movement was crushed by massive state repression. Although the Lalgarh Movement had taken several undesirable turns in its course, it remains and is remembered as a resilient battle against state atrocities and arrogance by an undaunted people.

The conviction of Chhatradhar Mahato and the other leaders of the Lalgarh Movement, in fact, criminalises mass movements and people's aspirations for democracy. It is not only Chhatradhar Mahato, the convener of PCPA who has been convicted for treason, the entire struggling population of Junglemahal and Lalgarh, the Adivasi population struggling for democratic rights and respect have also been convicted and sentenced by this judgment of the Midnapore Court.

It is time for all democratic sections of society to take to the streets against this judgment and demand the unconditional release of all political prisoners and scrapping of the draconian UAPA, the only aim of which is to terrorise and imprison all those who are fighting for an egalitarian society.
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The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.