by Nisha Biswas
On July 9, 2009 Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the Chief Minister of West Bengal assured his colleagues in State Assembly that the government would see that Unlawful Activity Prevention Act (UAPA) is not misused. He also informed the assembly that from the day of banning of Communist Party of India (Maoist) by the Centre and the imposition of UAPA in West Bengal (June 22, 2009) till that date, only 39 persons have been arrested by invoking this Act, out of which thirty were from West Midnapore, five from Bankura and four from Purulia. However, as his habit is, he did forget (intentionally?) to mention the first arrest of Gour Chakroborty, spokesperson of CPI(Maoist) on the day the Maoist party was banned by the Government of India, without giving him a chance to clarify his stand.
The exact number of persons arrested so far under this Act is not known but the estimate is that it is not less than a couple of hundreds. However, an RTI inquiry by APDR reveals that, till March 2010, only 30 persons have been arrested from West Midnapore under UAPA. The list begins with unbanned CPI(Maoist) party Spokesperson Gaur Chakroborty, activists Raja Sorkhel, Prasun Chatterjee, Bangla People’s March editor Swapan Dasgupta (who died in custody), PCPA spokesperson Chhtaradhar Mahato, treasurer Sukhashanti Baskey, and other high profile persons, including activists of democratic movement to people like Satyarupa Jana of Pankhai, Khejuri of East Medinipur.
Satyarupa belongs to the region, which happened to be the ruling party stronghold during Nandigram protest. She is such a politically naïve person that she never bothered to find out what is happening on the other side of Taikhali Bridge. Even today, she is at loss in explaining why so many from Nandigram were murdered. Her life of 48 years has been a struggle to make both ends meet – she has tried to educate her three sons and is proud of the fact that they are doing well and that one of her daughter-in-law is a para-teacher and the other one is doing her graduation. Hers is a normal conventional life of a little ambitious and industrious person who has taken risks and has almost never missed any opportunity of an extra earning. Satyarupa says that she did hear gun shots and the noise of bomb hurling, but has always tried to keep her family and self away from all these political chaos.
Today the same Satyarupa Jana is languishing in Midnapore Central jail since 24th May of this year and is accused of various offenses including waging and conspiring war against the state, collecting and keeping arms, sedition. Her “seizure list” includes a bag of arms used for killing the Trinamool Congrss Panchayat leader Nishikanta Mondal at Nandigram on September 22, 2009. She is booked under Sections 121/121A/122/123/124A/120B of Indian Penal Code, Sec 25/27 of Arms Act and also under section 20 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. In Khejuri PS Case no. 65/10 dtd 14.05.2010 she is termed as a hard core Maoist; such a hard core Maoist who before her arrests had not heard the name of Mao or his ism.
Satyarupa is a perfect example of the misuse of a draconian Act to meet the agendas of political parties and their associates. So who is Satyarupa? Satyarupa is one who has never missed any chance of earning money for a better life. She has vended vegetables, fish, sold sarees in the weekly bazars. But she has always treaded the lawful and truthful ways and was never ever lured by illegal means. It was four or five years back when she first heard the name of Self – Help Groups and how it can improve one’s economic status. Being industrious, she was among the first few who took the training and made her own group naming it Ma Durga Self Help Group. Among the few groups that she formed one was named after revolutionary freedom fighter Matangini Hazra, who had been assassinated in front of Tamluk Police Station. Her group includes ex-panchayat President of CPI(M) and wife of ex-panchayat member belonging of Trinmool Congress. Including all colours, she had skillfully tried to avoid any political confrontation.
Problem started with the government instruction that the Supervisor of NREGA work will be amongst the presidents of the Self-Help Groups functioning in the locality. And there too we find that Satyarupa has already taken seven-day training in BDO office around March end. Therefore the work of renovation of B M School pond at Pankhai, Khejuri costing more than two Lakhs goes to her. Satyarupa, even today in Midnapore jail believes that truth prevails and that as long as her accounts are clear and that she is honest and sincere, she has nothing to be afraid off. She never felt the need to give any commission to any political group or person. This raised a huge discontent amongst the local leaders and their accomplices. They, therefore, tried to stop her work under NREGA and instructed local village people not to work in her projects. But, who can stop Satyarupa? She was growing big to bigger without any political patron. She recruited people from Bartala, a neighbouring village. Work started at 11am of May13, 2010 and the commotion started within three hours, i.e. around 2pm while she was going home for lunch. She was beaten up by the vested interests and was brought to Khejuri PS. She was interrogated there and when in the night, Lutfar Rehman and Somen Mondal of the same village, on the instruction of OC Atanu Santra went to the PS for her release, they too were arrested.
She and the other two were produced in Court on 15th May and police took them in custody for further investigation for ten days. In these ten days Satyarupa witnessed severe beating of Lutfar and Somen and was taken to Nandigram once. According to police in these ten days she helped them in locating a bag of arms used for killing Nishikant Mondal. She denies knowledge of any such bag and remembers the threat of OC Atanu Santra of Khejuri PS that they are going to put her in jail to rot for the rest of her life.
I met her in the only Female Ward of Midnapore Central Jail, where I too had to spend 43 days for waging and conspiring war against the State and sedition. Bengali writer Manik Mondal, school teacher Sri Kanishka Chowdhury and myself were arrested from Rameswarpur of Lalgarh on June15, 2010. All through the 43 days of my stay with her, I did not find her interested in politics, she never read newspaper and always asked me who are Maoists and who am I. She does not understand an iota of politics and her only worry is when will she be back with her family and the losses that she is incurring because of her detention. In Jail we were termed Maoists, I used to enjoy the special status and privileges associated with this word, whereas Satyarupa used to get very angry and had repeatedly complained to jail authorities and warned other inmates that if they do not stop calling her Maoist, she too will start calling them by their crimes for which they are arrested or convicted.