WSS Team Urges Government to Initiate Dialogue and Take Action Against Atrocities in Bhangar Immediately
- Team Finds Undue Police Repression in Response to Legitimate Demands
- Mass atrocities by Police and goons uncovered – including murder, sexual violence, and destruction of shops and homes
- Demands Withdrawal of false FIRs and an End to Maligning of the Movement
- Says That After Singur and Nandigram, this was not expected of the Mamta Government
WSS (Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression) is a nationwide platform of various women’s organizations and individuals, whose member Sharmishtha Chowdhury is currently in jail for supporting the peasant movement against a power grid in the villages of Bhangar. Over the past three days, a 12 member team of WSS has visited the affected villagers and concerned officials to understand the origins and the impetus behind the movement, and the response of the civil society and government functionaries to it.
Inquiries by the WSS team have revealed that since 2013, the peasant families of Bhangar have been repeatedly seeking basic information about the power grid and transmission line project that deeply impacts their lives and livelihoods, but have received no information or have been deliberately misinformed at every step. They have tried to meet every statutory, legislative and constitutional authority in the area to register their concerns, but no one agreed to meet with them, and when they have demanded talks and dialogue with the administration to resolve their concerns, they have instead faced police encampments, arrests and bullets.
Such an irresponsible and insensitive response from the government, has only heightened the tensions in the area and increased apprehensions about the project. This is the sole reason behind the situation today, where the villagers have lost all trust in the government and its intentions towards their well-being, and entire families, including women and children are resisting it despite the enormous hardship and violence they are continuously facing. This was definitely not expected of the current government that came to power on the back of people’s mass movements against large projects, and had thus won the confidence of the very people who are now so vehemently protesting.
Acquisition of Land Irregular, Illegal and Arbitrary
The Bhangar movement started around 2013, when around 13 acres of land were sought to be acquired by the government in the village Khamarait. The WSS team learned that the acquisition happened in a completely arbitrary and illegal manner, and that all processes of acquisition were handled by one person, Arabul Islam of the ruling party. He not only arbitrarily decided how much compensation was to be handed out to whom, but also took a cut from all these compensations. While a case against this forcible acquisition is still pending before the High Court, and 11 people have not yet taken the compensation, the construction of the grid proceeded at full place and was completed within one year. The Award has still not been shown to the villagers.
Not only was the acquisition procedures completely opaque to the villagers, they were even kept in the dark about the purpose of the acquisition – first it was meant for government flats, then for a power sub-station and only after the structure was half-completed, did the villagers learn from a board in front of the construction site that it was actually for a power grid. And it was not until the last quarter of 2016, when giant transmission towers arrived in their village on the beds of the monstrous trucks did they realize that this project will impact the farms and lands outside of the 13-acre plot as well.
When the villagers of Bhangar started asking questions about the impact of these High Voltage Transmission Lines on their lives, livelihoods, health and environment, the government dispatched police to the village on 3 Nov 2016, who beat up people including many women and terrorized them by arresting 6 people, and occupied the village for 18 days. Since then, the police have been regularly harassing the local populations to the extent that several families have left their houses and are living with their relatives out of fear of the police.
The situation further worsened on 16 January 2017, when the police entered the villages, beat up people and arrested villagers. The next morning, the police assaulted people going to work, destroyed homes, picked up more people, ransacked shops, attacked the women who had come to assist the shopkeeper, including the elderly Mayur Jan Bibi whose hand was fractured in three places Those arrested were badly beaten up and the hand and finger of one juvenile Zahir Husain, was broken and remained untreated for 6 days. Manwara Bibi was sexually assaulted and her disabled husband was beaten up
In response, the villagers protested and blockaded the roads, demanding the authorities should conduct a dialogue with the people, release the detained villagers, and withdraw the police encampments from the area. Eventually, after an extended stand-off, the DM and the SP sent separate messages through the SDO and the DSP agreeing to a meeting within two days, promising not to oppose the bail of arrested persons and remove the police. The organizers used the microphones in the masjid to inform the agitated villagers of this, and requested them to safeguard the safety of the retreating police. But even as the crowd of villagers parted to let the police vehicles go back, the police randomly fired bullets in all directions, killing two villagers, Alamgir and Mofizul Khan, and injuring Akbar. The villagers recounted to the team how, after Alarmgir fell after being hit with a bullet, the police kicked him repeatedly , and shot him at close quarters in cold-blooded murder. Maufizul Khan was killed when he was walking home from work. Akbar was shot in the back.
The WSS team witnessed first-hand the continuing violence that the affected villagers have to live with every day, when they were caught in Khamarait on 4 March. While the team was still in the village, a raucous and a loud rally organized by TMC members tried to terrorize the people by going pastthe village, bursting bombs, firing bullets in the air and throwing stones. One young boy, Saiful Molla, was badly injured when a brick hit him on his head.
Police Response Lethargic and Incompetent
The WSS team also visited PS Kashipur in order to hear the police version of this violence, however, the ASP and DSP present at the thanarefused to discuss these incidents. It is notable that till date no one has been held responsible for the murders of two young men, and the numerous complaints of physical violence by the villagers against the police have gone completely unheeded. Moreover, instead of initiating dialogue as promised on 17th January, on the 25th the police arrested Sharmishta Chaudhary, Pradip Singh Thakur and a young villager, on very flimsy grounds as shown by the FIR.– . Later charges under UAPA were slapped on the accused though they are neither members of banned organiations and nor were they shown to be indulging in any terrorist activity.
Unanswered Questions and Concerns
The government has yet to answer basic questions of the villagers as to what are the health impacts of the heightened Electromagnetic Field that permeates the dwellings, the constant loud high frequency humming that emanates from the wires, the static charge build up near the towers that can light a bulb without a power source. How do these impact the fertility of their soil, the long term health of the residents, their cattle and their fisheries? More importantly, the towers are being placed without the consent of the land owners, and the one time compensation for their use of land and the right to access is being compensated in a highly opaque and arbitrary manner, at a fraction of the economic hit being forced upon the villagers.
These are valid and genuine concerns and any government accountable to its citizens would rush to allay their fears and enter into dialogue about the costs and benefits of such a project. The fact that the government is rushing police battalions into the area, instead of trying to win over the confidence of the people by addressing their concerns highlights its complete contempt towards local populations.
The WSS demands that the authorities de-escalate the situation by holding immediate and unconditional talks with the protesting villagers and their leaders, and undertake confidence building measures to gain back the trust of the villages. This is in the best interests of a functioning and healthy democracy. The FIRs under which people have been imprisoned include dozens of other names, including those of many WSS members (Nisha Bishwas, Swapna Bannerjee, Anuradha Talwar, Krishna Bandopadhyay), and 500-1500 others who are unnamed, which has given the police a virtual license to arrest and harass a large number of villagers. Confidence building measures should include the quashing of such vindictive FIRs. Immediate action must be taken against police personnel and goons involved in the violence. Attempts to paint the legitimate and peaceful protest as unconstitutional or “terrorist” must stop.
Members of the WSS team –
- Madhuri Krishnaswamy (M.P.)
- Shalini Gera (Chhatisgarh)
- Promila (Odisha)
- Swapna Bannerjee (West Bengal)
- Urmila (MP)
- Fatima Bibi (West Bengal)
- Sanchita Mukherji (West Bengal)
- Indrani Sen (West Bengal)
- Shashwati Ghosh (West Bengal)
- Sukanti (Odisha)
- Deepa (Chhatisgarh)
- Rajkali (M.P)
For more information – Please contact Madhuri Krishnaswamy at Phone – 917973640 or Shalini Gera at 9993378384, email – [email protected]