I have never met you Chhatradhar. I was in jail on sedition charges during the turbulent time of Lalgarh movement. The police had arrested you on UAPA before I was released. We were incarcerated in separate prisons. There was no opportunity to get acquainted. Yet a sadness came over me when I heard of the life sentence awarded to you, your friends and comrades. Is this because of the fraternal feeling between people who are waging a common battle?
This is a curious coincidence. On the one hand, there is Salman Khan who did not have to go to jail after he run over five people. He was out on bail when the trial dragged on, which declared him guilty after thirteen years. Jayaa Amma was declared free of corruption charges. On the other hand, you and your friends are waiting to spend life terms in dark dungeons. The government of Paribartan (change) has completed the circle of false cases initiated by the Left Front government. The fact of the matter is, it is the British penal codes under which you stand convicted. This, in spite of the several hostile witnesses. Many a time the judges have changed. The judge did not care a damn for the various interpretations and amendments made by the Supreme Court, post-British rule.
You carry the legacy of Sidhu Kanhu and Birsa Munda. I am sure you are aware that this Brahminist State does not accede to demands raised by the Adivasi people. They are in fact taught an unforgettable lesson. An ominous example is set. So that the future generations of the Adivasi Mulvasis fall in line. So, perhaps you were anticipating a punishment of this magnitude all this while.
What have been the reactions to your sentence in this state? The ruling party has maintained a tactical silence. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had his trip of smug self-validation. The media looked the other way. Pro-Paribartan intellectuals pretended dumbness. Rights activists brought out strident processions. All this is setting my heart astir. A thousand questions are coming to my mind.
In the recent past, the impact of the movements of Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh brought the curtains down on Left Front rule. Just like the palatial house of Anuj Pande, the 34 years old iron fort of Left Front was demolished by the people. Another ruling party, the Trinamul Congress, rode to power piggybacking on the movement by the people. Right from the day of assuming office, right from the time of their victory rally, they tried to construct and propagate an idea: that this Paribartan is owed to their supreme leader. This was the beginning of an attempt to wipe out the name of the people from the pages of history, to replace it with that of their leader. Perhaps the blue print to rot you in jail was drawn on that very day?
After you were arrested, the police chief informed us of your property worth crores of rupees, of your palatial mansions. There is no mention of these in your seizure list, though. Today, yours and your comrades’ close relative, wives, mothers, children live in penury. Who cares for them? Not for once does the democratic conscience of West Bengal demand that the truth of the police chief’s statement be brought out! I want to know, those intellectuals, the keepers of people’s conscience, who went to Lalgarh to meet you, why are they maintaining golden silence?
Lalgarh was not just one of the radical earthshaking peoples’ movements which changed the government of West Bengal. It was perhaps the most unique of them all. You and yours convicted comrades were the face of that movement. The irony is that now the Paribartan government want to rot you all in jail! Did the ruling class saw something dangerous behind your movement? It cannot be denied that in the history of peoples’ movement Lalgarh movement was unprecedented. For eight months boycott of the police continued, and the movement went on peacefully during the period. The movement made all other political parties redundant. In the words of Tagore, it was as if Z was trying to get ahead of A. Every so called mainstream politics was rendered a sideshow by the politics of the marginal people.
How many other movements are there in the history of this country which went on for so long? And how many other movements saw such high percentage of participation by women? Most important of all, instead of supplicating the government you started walking on your own path of alternative development. You tried to live differently, you wanted to seek your own meaning of life. Was this your crime? Is this why you were judged as the enemies of the State?
You dug irrigation canals. You built hospitals. You made granaries. You constructed schools. This alternative vision of development which is self-sufficient was not taken kindly by the ruling classes of this country. As a result, right from the beginning of the launch of joint operations by the state police and central forces, those schools and hospitals which you were running on your own were demolished. The new stream of development was dubbed ‘anti-development’. No room was given for debate, discussion on this matter. As a matter of fact, this alternative model of development was the most dangerous message to the vendors of development which globalization has to offer. Which is why you were rewarded with measly prison meals, and pigeon-coop like cells inside high jailwalls.
In fact, these days, if anyone dares to stand in the diametrical opposite point of globalized development and walk on the path of alternative development, which is a path of self-dependence – an alternative to dependence on foreign capital, it is customary to brand him as an enemy of the State. If anyone protests, she is slapped with seditious acts, TADA, POCA, MOCA, UAPA etc. You protested. Moreover, you dared to go on an alternative development route. It is hardly surprising that you were declared anti-State by the ruling classes of all hues of this country. But although you are the enemy of the State, we are not the enemy of the country: State and country are not the same thing. A country is not a State, or its political leaders or its administration. A country is…its people, the people of the country. The unvanquished people, whose sweat and blood made this civilization. The people, whose energy light up of this civilization but who live in darkness. The people, who go without two square meals a day. Who are the first to be sacrificed on the altar of development. Those who become the first batch of refugees when big dams, power plants, chemical hubs are constructed are the primary, foundational people of this country. Their development is country’s development. Love for them is love for the country. So, enemy of the State and enemy of the country are often opposite words. It was not for any personal gain, but to protect the dignity and rights of the primary people that you and your comrades are on jail term. In no way are you traitors. The courts of the State can punish you. But can anyone take your place in the hearts of the people, especially in the hearts of the people of Lalgarh and Jangalmahal?
There are times when a movement ebbs. These are the times when the real face of the tyrant ruler exposes itself from the carefully-maintained mask. Perhaps today is such a time. It is an unfortunate time when the protesting voices are not being heard. A strange darkness is enveloping all. Artists, poets, writers are busy accepting awards. Intellectuals are silent. Civil society dares not speak openly. Perhaps it is hesitant, too. But I know that there is no night which does not herald a dawn. Perhaps the strident rallies of rights activists demanding your unconditional release are a signal of that dawn.