Pangs of Shiladitya's Trinamul family

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  • Published 13.08.12

Binpur, Aug. 12: Shiladitya Chowdhury’s family can’t fathom why he was arrested — they have been Trinamul supporters for over a decade, walked in party rallies, celebrated the coming of poribartan.

“We took part in Trinamul rallies and shouted slogans against the CPM. We were in favour of change in Bengal. My brother was unhappy with the new government’s performance in the past 13 months. So he had asked the chief minister some questions at the Belpahari rally (on August 8). But we never thought he would have to pay such a heavy price for this,” Shiladitya’s brother Tilak said today.

Farmer Shiladitya had accused Mamata Banerjee of making false promises to Jungle Mahal’s poor. He was arrested immediately on Mamata’s instructions but released later because police had apparently failed to establish any Maoist link, as hinted by the chief minister.

The police picked him up a second time on Friday night and slapped non-bailable charges on him. They claimed he had fled during interrogation after his arrest the first time.

The arrest of 43-year-old Shiladitya, who has no criminal charges against his name according to records available with the West Midnapore police, has cast a shadow of uncertainty on the future of the Chowdhury family of Nayagram village.

“When will he be released? What will happen to us? Will the police arrest us as well?” his mother Sandhya, 68, asked. “My son was arrested when he was tilling his land.”

Shiladitya, who has been sent to 14 days’ jail custody, is the sole bread winner of his family of four. Sandhya lives with Tilak, who gives tuitions, in an adjoining house. The one-bigha plot that Shiladitya tills sustains his family. He had to quit his bus conductor’s job because of health reasons.

“Everyone in the village is saying he was arrested for asking the chief minister questions. Can someone be arrested for asking questions?” said Sandhya, a widow.

Shiladitya’s wife Khukumoni was not in a position to speak. She has been crying since her husband’s arrest, her two children by her side. Sushoma, 6, and son Santanu, 4, don’t go to school because the family can’t afford such a “luxury”. They keep asking their mother about their father but she has no answer.

The farmer, who had asked Mamata why fertiliser prices were increasing, has been charged with voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from doing his duty, assaulting a government employee and criminal trespass. The first two charges are yet to be established as the police are yet to come up with a medical report to buttress the claim, police sources said.

District agriculture department officials said Shiladitya’s questions were relevant. West Midnapore is a rain-deficient district with limited irrigation facilities. Most farmers like Shiladitya can produce only one crop — primarily paddy — a year.

A district agriculture department official said the produce from a one-bigha plot can sustain a family of four for five months at the most. “The family has to buy rice for the rest of the year,” he said.

“I think the questions he asked were relevant for any farmer in the district. There has been a 100 per cent rise in the price of fertilisers and a 50 per cent hike in the price of pesticides in the past one year. This has hit farmers hard,” the official said.

Price realisation has, however, not increased, officials in the Binpur-II block office who assist in the procurement of rice from farmers said. The farmers have got Rs 1,080 for every quintal of rice, the same rate as last year.

The Chowdhurys said the family did not sell any rice to the government because of the poor price realisation and the cost to transport it to nearby rice mills.

“That’s the condition of everyone in this village. We are poor and we don’t get any help from the government in terms of cheap fertiliser and proper price for our produce,” Tilak said.

The village has over 2,000 residents, more than 70 per cent of whom depend on farming.

Nayagram resident Laltu Mohanta said Shiladitya had merely voiced the concerns of farmers.

“He dared to speak openly on the issues hurting thousands of farmers in the district. He was happy with the poribartan in the state and had told us several times that our sufferings would end as the Trinamul-led government had come to power. We are not happy with the government’s decision of putting an innocent poor farmer in jail,” Mohanta said.