The threat from Jogeswar Kurmi, central committee member of the Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) was ominous: “Should even one labourer be arrested in the Konapathar murder case, there would be agitations across the state.” The Telegraph spoke to Prahlad Goala, the ATTSA president on Friday, on his organisation’s stand on the violence at Konapathar tea estate on December 26.
The Telegraph: One of your people, in this case Jogeswar Kurmi, said to be a central committee member of ATTSA, has said there will be agitation across Assam should even one labourer be arrested in the Konapathar case. What do you say?
Prahlad Goala: Kurmi cannot speak on our behalf. He was thrown of the organisation maybe six months ago, maybe seven.
TT: So what is your stand on the incident?
PG: This was a public movement, not the act of an individual. Why should 600 or 700 people attack someone otherwise? This is a result of pent-up anger. Mridul Bhattacharjee had a bad track record. Look at what happened in Rani where he shot a young boy.
TT: But arrests? Are you against arrests in the Konapathar case?
PG: We are against any form of violence. Arrests can happen under law.
TT: Yours is the biggest tea community students’ association. Why haven’t you requested the workers of Konapathar to hand over the people who have done this to police?
PG: The police were there when the incident occurred. Why did they not prevent it? They could have used tear gas, lathi-charged or even fired in the air to control the mob.
TT: But a request from your side to hand over?
PG: That is all right but just now we also are looking into what happened. Besides the situation is not right for us to speak against the workers. Look at the recent case of Adilur Rahman, the owner of the Mahalakshmi tea estate near Tezpur. After he was killed, the workers left work and even observed his shraddh. The Konapathar case is not that simple.
TT: Are you trying to justify what happened in Konapathar?
PG: We are not justifying what happened. But at the same time why would 700 people go out against Mridul Bhattacharjee and his wife?
TT: The ATTSA is supposed to be a powerful organisation. And you speak of Mridul Bharracharjee’s track record as a person who was ruthless and that this was building up anger among the workers over a long period of time. How is it that the ATTSA never got to know about this?
PG: The place is very interior and even the police could not get to it on time. By the time our boys got to the place it was already too late. But we did know about the anger that was building up at Konapathar. However, we aren’t a law-enforcing agency. All we can do is request the authorities to do something about it.
TT: If you knew about the anger, did you bring it to the notice of the authorities?
TT: How many times did you do that?
PG: We don’t have records.
TT: If the police make arrests will you support them?
PG: Right now we are not saying anything about support or opposition.
TT: You could be protecting criminals?
PG: We are not. We will say what has to be said depending on the situation.
TT: Why hasn’t ATTSA condemned the incident?
PG: We have condemned it. But please understand that all this is a result of the labour department not enforcing the Labour Act. They are the ones who are actually at fault.