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#SundayReading- Curious Case Of Chhatradhar Mahato

By Nisha Biswas

Mamata with PCAPA’s Chhatradhar Mahato in Lalgarh, Feb 4, ’09 Photo Courtesy: Outlook India 

If memory is not too short, we all remember the circumstances under which Chhatradhar Mahato, spokesperson of Police Santras Birodhi Jansadharaner Committee (People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA)) was arrested. He was arrested while giving interview to a policeman-posing as journalist on September26, 2009 from Pirka near Lalgarh. The incident was reported in all newspapers and television channels. The journalists criticized impersonation of policemen as journalists and intellectuals to the extent that Press Club, Kolkata condemned the manner of his arrest by sending protest letter to the then Union Home Minister, Chief Minister and Chief Secretary and Home Secretary to the government of West Bengal.

However the legal case S.T. Case no XLVI/March/2010 of Lalgarh P.S. Case no. 161/09 dt. 26.09.2009 accusing him and five other (Sambhu Soren, Sagun Murmu, Suksanti Baskey, Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee) of offences against the state that includes waging war against the state, criminal conspiracy and sedition (U/secs 121 to 124A of IPC) and attempt to murder along with the provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (UAPA) dealing with banned terrorist organizations, its members and supporters (U/secs 18, 38(2), 39(2) & 40(2)). Chhhatradhar Mahato along with Sambu Soren, Sagun Murmu, Suksanti Baskey were also accused of terrorist activity, raising funds and being member of terrorist gang (U/secs 16(1)(b), 17 & 20 of UAPA). Sambhu Soren and Sagun Mahato were further accused of causing explosion and thus endangering lives U/Sec3 of Explosive Substance Act, 1908; Suksanti Baskey for possessing explosive matter U/Sec 4(b) of the same Act. Furthermore, Chhatradhar Mahato was accused of possessing explosive and illegal arms and ammunitions (Sec 25(1)(a) of the Arms Act, 1959), and are being prosecuted with multiple life sentences speaks otherwise.

The story of their arrest goes like this: That around noon of Sept. 26, 2009 one SI Prasant Kumar Pathak received information from IC Lalgarh PS that some activists of CPI(Maoists) and PCAPA are holding meeting in Kantapahari area of Lalgarh PS. After putting it as GDE no 923 in Lalgarh PS he proceed with joint forces. While crossing Dalilpur village, they heard an explosion. They immediately cordoned the area and took positions with their arms. On searching they found remains of explosive and an electric wire stretching near a bush. Following the wire they found four persons including Sambhu Soren, Ranjit Murmu and Sagun Murmu were hiding behind the tree. They could arrest the above three while the fourth escaped. From the interrogation of above three Mr Pathak learned that the explosion was caused at the order of Chhatradhar Mahato and Kisenji and that they along with Bikash, and others were holding a meeting at Birkar village. First two persons were left in charge of CRPF personnels and Sagun Murmu accompanied the forces to show the way. Around 2.25pm they found 6/7 persons engaged in low voice conversation under the coverage of hedges at Birkar village. Police party rushed to the place and arrested Chhatradhar Mahato while the rest escaped.

The fiction of arrest is similar to the stories usually narrated in FIRs of arresting people accused of terrorist activities all over India. There is always an un-named reliable source and then police party cordoning the area and arresting the accused while other accomplice able to escape. The search will surely find some arm, some incriminatory literature, few posters and leaflets and weapons, which can be a Tangi, axe or a lone arrow in possession. The story has been repeatedly narrated to arrest hundreds of poor villagers for waging war against the state, conspiracy and sedition.

According to police, interrogation in police custody of above four culminated into arrest of Sukshanti Baskey on 02.10.09 and Prasun Chatterjee and Raja Sarkhel on 06.10.09 after the case was transferred to CID, WB and Dy SP Midnapore Sri Ranjit Chakroborty took up the investigation. Case though was initiated against eleven persons, seven in custody and four absconding. Ranjit Murmu died in judicial custody for want of treatment, where instead of providing him care he was chained and tortured. Four absconding Sido Soren, Lalmohan tudu and Kisanji were killed in false encounter.

Out of 39 witnesses 2 remained untraceable and 10 went hostile. So the prosecution depended upon only 27 witnesses. Prosecution against Sambhu Soren and Sagun Murmu failed under Explosive Act, as the material that police exhibit were absolutely new, wires and the tin canisters – fresh from the market. The process of trial was all through biased and depended upon the assumptions of investigating officer that he jotted in FIR. That PCAPA is the frontal organization of banned CPI (Maoist) party and that ‘their activities and circumstances prove that the accused were engaged in conspiracy for abetting waging war against the Government of India and State Government of West Bengal and to overawe the Government by show of criminal force and they, by means of hatching criminal conspiracy amongst the activists of banned CPI (Maoist) and PCAPA have brought and attempted to bring hatred, contempt, excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, creating enmity and disloyalty among the masses by visible representation, signs and words by holding meetings, processions, distributing leaflets of banned organizations with the intention to remove the Government by adopting illegal means.’ It is important to remember that CPI (Maoist) party was banned in the state on June22, 2009, but PCAPA said to be its frontal organization was never banned. Chhatradhar Mahato’s statement U/s 313 CrPC that ‘PCAPA was initiated in the year 2008, but it was not at all any type of Maoist organization and a number of meetings were held with political leaders like Sudip Bandopadhyay, Partha and Mamta and there Mamta herself declared that if in order to obtain the rights of thousands of people some body is called a Maoist then she agreed to be called as a Maoist and she will even move to Delhi to claim the minimum rights of the people.’ According to the judgment this proves that Chhatradhar Maoist and hence rationalizes the judgment. Then in the 11 CDs/ DVDs it is found that pictures of Carl Marks, Lenin, Stalin, Charu Mazumdar on the stage are clear evidence of Maoist meeting. Prasun Chatterjee is photographed delivering speech in a public meeting. Though content of speech is not there it is assumed that he is instigating public to wage war and is inciting hatred against the state. Raja Sarkhel too is shown in the photographs. The two witnesses claimed to sign under police pressure and that they did not know him. Even the investigating officer (IO) claimed to do under the instructions of his superiors. But does not matter, their being members of Gan Pratirodh Manch (GPM), though is not banned but said to be Maoist frontal organization by the prosecution was sufficient to held them guilty. Photographs with Sido Soren and other members of PCAPA further proved their guilt.

History of Lalgarh movement goes back to Nov6, 2008; when while searching the culprits responsible for land mine blast of Nov2, 2008 at the convoy of chief minister police went to Lalgarh, 45Km away from the place of blast, and subjected the people to beating and molestation and false cases. Lalgarh police station was long been torturing and subjecting them to beating and arrest on a smallest pretext. On Nov4, 2008 evening, three boys all studying in high school standards 8 and 10, were going to their homes in Bashber Village on foot. They were returning from Katapahari, where a program of Baul Song was going on. On the way back home, Lalgarh police picked them for being suspected Maoists. Police party entered the village Baro Pelia in night and beat men and women. Chintamani Murmu was blinded. The villagers were enraged at the incident and surrounded the Lalgarh police station and blockades were made on several roads by felling trees and digging the roads. Later they formed a committee named Police Santras Birodhi Janosadharan Committee (People’s Committee against Police Atrocities), putting thirteen demands and put up posters to publicize the same. The major demands include the Superintendent of Police of Paschim Medinipur district has to ask for forgiveness by holding ears and release of those illegally arrested and cases has to be dropped against them. The cases against children arrested were dropped. In turn the Committee removed some of the blockades, though police were not allowed to patrol the area. Lalgarh movement was peaceful and for demand of basic democratic rights and development such as proper prices for forest produce like tendu leaves and babui grass, and an end to harassment in the hands of forest officials, timber mafia etc. that drew the ire of the state on them. Which give us a sense of déjà vu with set up of the Police Santras Birodhi Janosadharaner Committee (PCAPA). State claimed that the movement had direct support of Maoists and to clear them with the help of central government five companies of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and two companies of Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) forces who are specially trained to combat with the Maoist arrived at Midnapore on June17, 2009 and war was declared on its own people who wanted the state to stop oppression and response to their just democratic demands.

The life imprisonment of above six is based on a fabricated story. Court did not bother to look at this angle because then all six would have been acquitted. If police posing journalist has arrested Chhatradhar, then story of the arrest of Sambhu Soren, Sagun Murmu and Ranjit Murmu (died in jail) fails and arrest Of Prasun and Raja too is not justified. Even the admission of Sri Ashok Mukherjee, senior police officer, who was all along present in Lalgarh police camp, that as per Memo of arrest Chhatradhar Mahato was brought under arrest at 14.35 hours on 26.09.2009 at Birkah, Sambhu Soren was brought under arrest at 15.35 hours, Ranjit Murmu at 15.40 hours and Sagun Murmu at 15.30 hours, all on 26.09.2009 from a place near dallipur was ignored. The court went otherwise. It over looked discrepancies in the two GD registers kept in Lalgarh PS, but appreciated them for keeping two registers as per rulebook. It also over looked overwriting on seizure list, interpolating nil in one long barrel gun, the place of recovery remained inconclusive, and the fact that IO himself did not deposit the seized articles in PS malkhana, as well as mismatch in description of the seized articles exhibits shown in the court. It justified the discrepancies in statements, not being able to identify other witness on the pretext of failing memory as a show of genuine and not tutored. It relied on the statement of BDO Binpur-I who claimed that 25 to 30 members of PCAPA came to his office and sought ransom, though he could not provide any material evidence. Moreover, it went over board to discuss social impact of the movement on life and livelihood. This refreshes Parliament attack case and the manner Mohammed Afzal Guru was awarded capital punishment to “satisfy collective conscience”.

The judgment of May12, 2015 of Midnapore session court is a travesty of justice and an attempt by the state to send a clear message to the people’s movement across West Bengal and India that any dissent against the state and the ruling classes will be answered in a ruthless manner.

Nisha Biswas is an activist based in Kolkata. She was arrested in Lalgarh in 2010.

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