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A leafy monument to Paul
- Under the banyan tree, the legend of ‘Tapastala’

The banyan tree at Choumaha, Nadia, under which Tapas Paul delivered the speech. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Choumaha (Nadia), July 30: Bodh Gaya got its name because Siddhartha sat cross-legged under a peepal tree and achieved enlightenment to become Gautam Buddha.

Battala “lost” its name because Trinamul MP Tapas Paul stood on a plastic chair under a young banyan tree, delivered the “rape-and-shoot” speech and achieved national “fame”.

Battala is now known as Tapastala — a rare honour that not many public figures other than Nelson Mandela have been accorded during their lifetime. In New Delhi, Nelson Mandela Marg was named so when the anti-apartheid legend was alive.

History has repeated itself — as farce and by default.

“Our village did not have a banyan tree. We had planted the tree four years ago in front of the primary school so that children can find some shade in the summer. After the MP’s speech, now everyone is identifying the place as Tapastala,” said Lalmohan Sheikh, a resident of Choumaha, 145km from Calcutta.

Sheikh was speaking while a division bench of Calcutta High Court was hearing appeals by the government and Paul against a single-bench order for a CID probe into the speech. The division bench of Justices Girish Gupta and Tapobrata Chakrabarty has stayed Justice Dipankar Dutta’s order till 2pm on Thursday. ( )

A 4km drive through a narrow road off NH34 leads to Choumaha, lush with green paddy fields and ponds, where over 90 per cent of the 500-odd families depend on farming for a living.

The villagers are aware that the speech has achieved nationwide notoriety and a legal battle is going on in the high court. “We discuss among ourselves that the MP has made Choumaha famous,” Sheikh said and laughed, standing near the banyan tree.

“After the MP’s speech, some youngsters started referring to Battala as Tapastala in jest…. Soon, others also picked it up and now a lot of people are referring to it as Tapastala,” Sheikh added.

Battala means the ground around the banyan tree and is the rural equivalent of a town square where people meet for chit-chat. As Battala was the point of convergence, it was the natural choice of venue for Paul to deliver his speech. Consensus eludes the date of the speech with the MP claiming it was delivered during the Lok Sabha elections while many villagers mentioned June 14 — almost a month after the polls were over.

A stunning element in the footage is the round of applause that Paul’s speech had triggered. Justice Dutta, who viewed the footage in court, said in the interim order: “What is most painful and distressing is the clapping by the followers of Mr. Paul present at the venue of the speech, upon hearing their leader boast of what he is capable of and his use of expletives for exterminating his opponents.”

Some villagers like Zoyra Bibi insisted that they did not clap. “He (Paul) came to the village with some of his supporters and they were clapping after every sentence,” Zoyra Bibi said.

The homemaker said she had left her domestic chores and run out of her house for a glimpse of Paul, whom she had seen only in films. “We had welcomed him with a garland. But we didn’t know that he would start hurling abuses…. I could not bear it when he started threatening that his boys would rape women. I came home running from Battala,” the middle-aged lady said.

Nafisa Bibi, another homemaker, echoed Zoyra and pointed out that policemen — standing at an audible distance — remained spectators.

The police do not appear to have upgraded their spectator status since then. A source in the local police station said that after receiving a complaint, it had asked Paul for his response but had not received any reply until early this week.

The interim court order that asked the police to draw up and FIR and the CID to launch an investigation appears to have had a ripple effect in the village.

Azimuddin Mallick, a villager, said that some outsiders on motorbikes had accosted him while he was returning from the paddy field this afternoon. “They stopped me and asked whether I had heard what the MP had said on that day. I told them that I had heard his full speech…. They asked me to be silent if the CID officers come to Choumaha and ask what the MP had said that day,” said Mallick.

“This made me a bit scared, but I think I will tell the police the truth if they ever come to me…. I also think that most of those who were present during the MP’s speech would do the same thing,” he added.


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