Sleepless night at Bhangar

Sleepless nights are back again for the villagers of Bhangar. Ruling party hooligans raided the village of Khamarait in the core area of the movement in the morning of 23 May. They fired and hurled bombs at random. Given a chase, they retreated but remained camped at the nearby village of Natunhat. On their way out, they set a haystack on fire. Two children and a woman lay injured in the attacked village but could not be taken to hospital as the way to the high road was still under siege. A villager named Ketab Mallik was reportedly abducted by the raiders. Another, Arabul Mallik, was picked up by the police when he had gone to a market area outside. The attack was probably meant to disrupt a public meeting called by the struggle committee scheduled to take place during the day. The meeting could not take place. Instead, the villagers spent the night awake on a mass vigil.

‘Sunrise’ moment in Bhangar?

May 12, 2017

As this report is being written, Bhangar is encircled by hoards of armed hooligans and police. The villagers are holding a night vigil. They have put up a blockade on the main approach road and are keeping a close check on the entry points. Tension is palpable.

Early on 12 May, Kismat Laskar from Swarupnagar village had set out for the market at Polerhat with some mangoes to sell. As we have reported in the previous update, the people living in the movement zone are finding it increasingly difficult to carry out their usual economic activities. So, Laskar had to take the risk of venturing out. But he did not return. The police picked him up and later produced him at the Baruipur court. He was tagged in one of the numerous cases registered against the agitators and remanded in police custody for 11 days.

The news enraged the villagers who rapidly took to the street. As they started putting up roadblocks, a more than 200-strong armed mob attacked them from outside. They hurled country-made bombs and abducted two villagers – Akbar Mollah of Bakdubi and Golam Mostafa of Machhibhanga. They were later said to have been handed over to the police, though the latter did not admit having them in custody. The bombing and blockade continued through the night.

The previous day, activists accused in case No. 50/2017 of Kashipur PS were refused bail at Baruipur court, although the same court had granted bail on 5 May to those implicated in a similar case (No. 46/2017). CPI(ML)-Red Star state secretary Pradip Singh Thakur was brought to the court from jail but kept in the lock-up the whole day. The septuagenarian leader was taken back in a prison van even before the magistrate gave his order.

The encirclement of Bhangar reminds many of the last-ditch attempt by the CPI(M) to regain control of Nandigram in October 2007, codenamed ‘Operation Sunrise’. It had left about 150 houses burnt forcing more than 1,000 people to flee and take shelter in temporary relief camps. Many were wounded and several women complained of rape and molestation.

The brutalities shocked the civil society of Kolkata to action and pour out in the historic march on 14 November, which marked the beginning of the end of the Left Front regime.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, however, reiterated at an administrative meeting in Howrah during the day that power grids were absolutely necessary for correcting the low-voltage problem in the districts, which was hindering the state’s industrialisation. She advised the police and administration to deal firmly with those who were “creating mischief” by opposing the project.