The battle for the banks of Beleghata’s circular canal took a tragic turn on Monday morning, with barely 24 hours to go before the bulldozers roll in.
Dulal Das, a cart-puller who lived in a shanty opposite Maniktala police station, on Canal West Road, committed suicide early on Monday.
The 50-year-old, who was struggling to keep the family going, was “shattered” by eviction threats from the police and the uncertainty that lay ahead, wife Lakshmi later said.
“He was very depressed when he came back home last night… He told me that there was no place for us to go after the eviction,” she recounted.
“Now, we don’t know what will happen to us,” lamented Nirmala Das, Dulal’s mother.
Dulal’s family members alleged that the police had been threatening them to vacate the shanty before Tuesday morning. The police, however, refused to link the suicide to the eviction drive. “He (Dulal) was an unemployed alcoholic. He committed suicide for reasons that have nothing to do with Tuesday’s eviction,” said Sivaji Ghosh, deputy commissioner of police (headquarters).
State urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, too, said Dulal’s death was not linked to the eviction. “He had family problems,” announced Bhattacharya.
The anti-eviction organisations have, however, been quick to blame the authorities for Dulal’s death. “The police have been inflicting mental torture on the canal-side dwellers to vacate their shanties. This is what drove Dulal to his death,” the Janabasti Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee said in a statement on Monday.
The suicide has sparked anger among the settlers, who have renewed their resolve to stay put and resist the eviction machinery. “We will not go from here,” said Arabinda Das, a daily wage-earner.
The first phase of eviction, steered jointly by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority and the state irrigation department, starts from 8 am on Tuesday.
According to officials, both banks of the canal in Beleghata and Narkeldanga will be targeted first. More than 200 police personnel, accompanied by Rapid Action Force (RAF) men and officials from the irrigation department, will be present.
While many among the 4,500-odd families have pulled down their shanties and moved out, large numbers have decided to stay on. Police claimed the settlers have started vacating the site and taking away coupons that entitle them to Rs 2,000 from the government. Some settlers alleged that the police were “forcing” them to accept the coupons, “that bear no official stamp”.