Various organisations representing students, teachers and farmers and democratic and social outfits across the country on Wednesday condemned the arrests of nine persons who had taken part in a march on Sunday against the proposed Deocha-Pachami coal mine project.
The arrested included seven activists and they all face stringent charges. The outfits have issued warnings of a larger movement if “wrongful actions” by the police are not halted.
Among the protesting organisations are the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, which spearheaded the farmers’ movement on the fringes of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) and the Teachers Against the Climate Crisis (TACC). Organisations like the Bangla Sanskriti Mancha on Wednesday wrote to Birbhum district magistrate Bidhan Roy, imploring him to halt “police atrocities” against tribal residents of the area.
The Sanskriti Mancha also demanded the release of the arrested activists.
“We condemn such action by police, in which several activists from Calcutta, along with local people, have been tagged in false criminal cases merely for putting up a rally against the land grab. The people fighting for their rights are marginal farmers and most of them are from tribal communities. We urge the chief minister to instruct local police and the administration to immediately stop the repression and the arrest of villagers and activists,” said Avik Saha, secretary of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee.
On February 20, a rally by local residents in the presence of several activists, including Left-leaning economist Prasenjit Bose, had been organised at Dewanganj village. After the meeting, tensions erupted over alleged confinement of a local Trinamul Congress leader. The police then started two criminal cases and slapped charges, including “attempt to murder” on the activists. Bose and six other activists from Calcutta have been in judicial custody for four days whereas two local residents were sent to police remand.
Sources said several organisations had criticised the government’s role in arresting the Calcutta-based activists.
“We don’t want such police action against local tribal people and activists from Calcutta. We have written to the district magistrate to free all arrested persons unconditionally. If such does not happen, we will start a larger movement,” said Mohammed Ashraful Amin, a member of the Bangla Sanskriti Mancha.
Sources said certain top government officials were reportedly against the arrests and the police action as they were in favour of the local residents’ wishes. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has already come out publicly in this regard, and has clarified her government's stance as being opposed to forceful land-grabbing.