Jute farmers at the janaja in Bechimara on Tuesday. Telegraph picture
Bechimari (Darrang), Oct. 11: The pile of jute sticks arranged cone-like and glistening in the sun stood tall over the congregation as they offered prayers at the janaja of Syed Ali.
It was around noon, the time Ali died yesterday, felled by a police bullet in the head.
He and other jute cultivators had gathered at the Bechimari weekly market like they did every Monday with their produce of jute fibre; fibre that is meticulously shorn of the piles of jute sticks that dot the skyline in the area during this time of the year, like the pile that stood almost guard-like over the congregation at Alis courtyard at Baruajhar, about 2km from Bechimari.
Ali and other jute growers like him had turned restive after buyers did not show up at the market because they were not willing to pay the price the cultivators were asking for.
First they resorted to a road blockade and then targeted vehicles stranded on National Highway 52, which eventually forced security personnel to open fire, killing four of them, including Ali.
Resentment ran high at the janaja despite fisheries minister Basanta Kumar Das handing over a cheque of Rs 3 lakh to Alis family.
| Security personnel on guard at Bechimari on Tuesday. Picture by UB Photos
In fact, handing over of the cheque did not seem to impress many. Can it bring him back among us? was the muted refrain.
They hunted us down yesterday, shooting at will, chasing down people and beating them up, said another villager, Ismail. Nur Islam, a jute farmer at Baruajhar, alleged a cartel of local buyers was pinning the price down by not allowing others to come in.
Our cost of production per quintal averages between Rs 1,500 and Rs 1,800, but we are offered a price of Rs 1,200 only. How can we accept such a price? he said.
According to him and some others, these buyers bring pressure to bear on them knowing if they did not sell they would not be able to pay their labourers. This has been going on for the past two years, he said.
Their woes are compounded by the low price offered by the Jute Corporation of India, which is Rs 1,690 per quintal.
Santosh Kumar Tasniwal, a buyer, said their offer of prices was generally more than that of the Jute Corporation of India, but it also varied depending on the market situation on a given day.
But we are ready to pay the price that the government may choose to fix, he said.
But then the government has a problem. It cannot fix the price. It is the Jute Corporation of India which determines the procurement price, agriculture minister Nilamoni Sen Deka told The Telegraph after a meeting with the buyers last night at Kharupetia.
But I have asked them to settle the matter amicably with the cultivators, he said.
Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity leader Akhil Gogoi, who visited Bechimari this afternoon, demanded that the government fix minimum support price for rice, mustard oil, jute, green leaf for small tea growers and sugarcane.
Today, Syed Ali, along with the other deceased, Billal Hussain, also of Baruajhar, and Moinul Haque and Akbar Ali of Bechimari were declared martyrs by the All Minority Students Union, which had also called a 12-hour bandh today to protest the police action.
The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti today also declared the Bechimari victims martyrs, one of whom was mentally disturbed and mute.
The minority student organisation also declared it would build a memorial to commemorate the sacrifice by the four cultivators a la Pathurughat where 140 farmers were gunned down in 1894 as they were protesting increased levy of land revenue.
Pathurughat is about 40km from Bechimari where the four were killed yesterday and 10 others injured.
Kulen Deka, grandson of Tarak Deka, who was one of those who had died at Pathurughat, however, did not want to compare yesterdays incident with Pathurughat.
That was against the British, but yesterdays was our internal matter. The farmers yesterday had expressed their grievance for not getting what they thought was their rightful due. The government must take steps to respect the farmers since they contribute greatly to the countrys economy... the government cannot neglect them the way it is doing now, he said.