Monday, June 9, 2008

KOLKATA: Nerves were on the edge at Palbazar, a locality close to Jadavpur University, on Saturday, when police laid siege to a rented house in the area where five woman students, who are part of an anti-CPM Maoist front, live. The cops were, however, forced to beat a retreat four hours after they arrived when students and teachers from the university and rights activists prevented them from taking away the girls who had locked themselves in. There was high drama, with police trying to force their way in and the girls resisting. All of them — Debolina Chakrabarty, Jayati Das, Roopa Basu, Somdatta Mukherjee and Annesha Sarkar — are members of Matangini Mahila Samity, an outfit that has been working against land acquisition in Nandigram, Singur and other places in Bengal. Debolina, an ex-student of JU's political science department, had worked among Nandigram villagers before the carnage on March 14, 2007 that led to an uprising against chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's land acquisition campaign. However, unlike in other states, Maoist outfits and organizations having links with them are not banned in Bengal. But that did not stop the police from accosting the girls without any search warrants. Initially, two police officers arrived, acting on a tip-off apparently from local CPM supporters who had seen the girls putting up Maoist posters and carrying the Bengali version of People's March, an extreme Left magazine. They asked the girls to open the door for "security reasons", but didn't mention any specific complaints. The girls had no specific complaints of cognizable offence against them in the locality. When the students refused to open the door, the policemen started questioning them about their whereabouts. Within minutes, a huge police force cordoned off the locality. The trapped students frantically rang up their friends in the university. As the news spread, students, rights activists and two university teachers — Bhaskar Gupta and Anup Bandyopadhyay — reached the spot. "We could not reach the place easily. We had to make our way through a huge crowd comprising policemen and local CPM leaders, who wouldn't allow us in. I told them we wanted to talk to our students. The police didn't respond. Others waiting in the crowd flexed their muscles and jostled with us. My colleague Anup fell to the ground," said Gupta. Several members of Association for Protection of Democratic Rights also reached the locality. Sensing the mood, the men in uniform left the spot in a huff amid protests and slogans against them. Jayati Das recounted how the women were held captive inside their room for hours. "It was a well-planned conspiracy by a section of CPM leaders in connivance with a few police officers. They thought we were soft targets. They would have put us behind the bars had our teachers and fellow students not put up resistance," she said. Jayati admitted that she had taken part in many anti-CPM movements in Nandigram and Singur. In March, the police had arrested five girls for putting up Maoist posters in the Baghajatin Station area, and the informers in that case, too, were local CPM members. The girls are still in judicial custody. Earlier Mithu Ghosh, a tutor from Jhargram, was arrested by state CID sleuths for his alleged Maoist connections. Police said Ghosh had led an arms training camp in Nandigram. This is despite, Sramik Sangram Committee, a trade union, claiming Ghosh as their member and denying any connection with Maoists. Ghosh was released on bail after months behind bars when police failed to prove their claims against him. And last December, two trainee journalists were detained by members of Nandigram's CPM unit for being 'Maoists' and handed over to the police. Investigations revealed no Maoist links; they had just gone to Nandigram with Medha Patkar's team

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