The eighth and final accused in the Kamduni rape and murder case was arrested recently. The arrest and the chief minister’s earlier promise of a speedy trial have led to speculations that the time is now ripe to call off the four-month-old agitation spearheaded by the people of Kamduni. But a closure at this juncture is likely to do a great disservice to the people’s movement. For the struggle here is not only about the pursuit of justice: it is also a rare example of a sustained and democratic campaign against the government’s attempts to first appropriate, and then scuttle, a localized, but spontaneous, resistance.
People’s movements, which manage to remain outside the contours of electoral politics, make elected dispensations nervous. The response, usually, is to scupper them, and there is ample evidence to suggest that the Mamata Banerjee government is doing exactly this in Kamduni. The wife of the chief witness — the latter died after allegedly being assaulted by the police during a demonstration — was offered a government job. A member of the victim’s family — one of the two brothers — has accepted government employment as well. After receiving government assistance, the members of the victim’s family made public a letter in which they levelled charges of embezzlement against two members of the Kamduni Pratibadi Mancha, the platform at the forefront of the protest. First information reports were subsequently filed against the alleged perpetrators, and the family, having pledged to dissociate itself from the movement, left Kamduni. The Kamduni Shantiraksha Committee, which enjoys the support of the Trinamul Congress, was also floated to counter the Pratibadi Mancha.
The government’s attempt to drive a wedge between the victim’s family and the supporters of the movement has escaped censure because, atypically, the government adopted a conciliatory approach. The TMC’s decision to shun violence was undoubtedly influenced by the successive electoral reversals suffered by the Left Front that had chosen to confront dissension with brute force not only in recent times — in Nandigram, Singur and Jangal Mahal — but even earlier — for instance, in Marichjhanpi in the Sundarbans.
But the government’s decision to take on Kamduni’s Pratibadi Mancha ‘peacefully’ does not make its strategy either moral or democratic. It is immoral, because the government chose to exploit the victim’s family’s impoverishment and helplessness by offering incentives on the condition that it smear a people’s campaign by bringing charges of financial irregularity. The government’s decision to wean away the victim’s family from the dissenters also shows, once again, that universal rights — jobs and justice, for instance — are projected as privileges that can only be obtained by citizens in return for unconditional support. It is undemocratic too, because as the party in power, the Trinamul Congress has, characteristically, decided against ceding space to a movement that has remained decidedly apolitical.
Significantly, the criticism directed towards the government’s tactics in Kamduni has been muted. This is because the decades-old legacy of violent retribution nurtured by the Left Front remains fresh in collective memory. Consequently, less brutal, but equally sinister, strategies to thwart expressions of dissent remain acceptable to a large section of the electorate.
The cracks notwithstanding, it will be unwise to label the agitation in Kamduni, or those in Sutiya and Barasat, as failures. They reveal the urgent need to create a loose confederation of civil platforms, which should include the media and the intelligentsia, to fight those battles that the government is unwilling to wage for the sake of citizens on the margins.