The banner put up by the civic police personnel at the Jhargram fair ground. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Jhargram, Jan. 8: A banner of protest could have cast a shadow on the feel-good atmosphere at the Jhargram stadium where Mamata Banerjee led in celebrating the Jungle Mahal Chetana utsav to commemorate the 151st birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.
An alert group of policemen standing between the dais and the barricaded zone where the wannabe protestors were seated didn’t allow the huge banner to be raised till the chief minister's convoy had rolled out of the venue.
“We are also the police but we are being treated differently,” said Tapan Mahato, from Salboni.
The 40-odd protestors had come from Salboni, around 24 kms from Jhargram, to have the banner seen or their voices heard by the chief minister. The motley group took their seats on the ground early in the day so that they could have the vantage point of being as far as possible to be nearer the chief minister when she took her seat on the dais.
“Every time we tried to raise the banner, the police would stop us,” said Gour Mahato, a resident of Pirakata.
From the dais the chief minister rolled out her wish to recruit more from the area.
“We have recruited 15,000 in the police and another 21,000 in civic police. We will recruit more people in teaching and healthcare,” she said.
A volunteer said the chief minister left unsaid that the civic police volunteers were not getting work on a regular basis.
The civic police volunteers were engaged after Mamata announced her decision to include 5,000 youths from the villages of Jungle Mahal.
Acting on the instructions, the volunteers were engaged on no work-no-pay basis with a daily wage of Rs 141. The volunteers are demanding higher wages, work for 30 days, uniforms, training and parity with national volunteer force members and home guards.
“The volunteers had applied in the police stations and then got selected. They are given work as and when required,” said a senior police officer.
One such day when the civic police got work was yesterday when the civic police volunteers clad in spotless white T-shirts were lined on both sides of the road from Belpahari to Amlasole.
The group sat on the ground with the huge banner kept folded on the ground hoping they could raise it undetected by the policemen on guard as Mamata got into celebratory mood in the presence of more than 30, 000 youths and celebrated ex-footballers from Calcutta Maidan. In the 90 minutes that she spent at the venue, the group did not get one opportunity.
"I want the girls and boys in the villages to stay well through sports. There should be no obstacles in their studies," said Mamata at the packed stadium.
Mamata handed out prizes to the winners and runners-up, announced financial assistance to the 1734 clubs which had participated in the Jungle Mahal tournament competing in football, archery, kabaddi and Chhau dance.
"We wanted the chief minister to at least hear what we have to say… We are demanding more work and more pay. The government is doing so much for the poor, why can't it listen to our demands," said a volunteer not wishing to be named.
The Salboni group could count itself unlucky for failing to raise the banner. Another group from Silda had managed to raise placards to draw the attention of the chief minister when she came to address a public rally in the area last September.