Mamata Banerjee,
Chief Minister,
Government of West Bengal,
Writers Building,
India-700 001

We are deeply concerned by your government’s arrest of seven democratic rights activists and its earlier detention of residents of the Nonadanga slum on April 8, 2012 at Ruby junction. These activists were engaged in a peaceful sit-in demonstration attended by a broad spectrum of left organisations and individuals of good conscience, demanding rehabilitation of hundreds of residents evicted from the Nonadanga slum of Kolkata on March 30, 2012. The peaceful character of their protest is a matter of public record, documented by various media reports. Accordingly, we are shocked and dismayed at the response of your police forces to these democratic protests.

In this matter, the actions of your police forces have been systematically repressive and appear to be progressively sinister while sending a very dangerous and anti-democratic signal. On April 4th, your police lathi-charged a peaceful rally and beat a pregnant woman in her third trimester. Your police forces proceeded, on April 8th, to attack a peaceful sit-in demonstration and arrest 69 people, victimising children under the age of ten. Seven activists were kept in custody by slapping non-bailable charges, i.e., Debolina Chakroborty, Samik Chakrobarty, Manas Chatterjee, Debjani Ghosh, Siddhartha Gupta, Partho Sarathi Ray, and Abhijnan Sarkar. Yet this was not enough. On April 9th, your police attacked yet another peaceful rally of the anti-eviction movement in Kolkata and arrested more than 50 participants.

In addition, your advocates insisted on pressing quite incredible charges against the seven detained activists. State counsel has essentially argued that any peaceful democratic dissent constitutes a conspiracy to hatch a subversive plot against the government. Furthermore, this argument revealed the aim of the State to interrogate those remanded in order to recover “information” about “possible stockpiling of arms and explosives”. This daft and tired accusation is patently a euphemism serving to disguise the government’s aim to torture the detainees. We are quite apprehensive of false evidences being foisted and concerned with this attempt by your government to throttle democratic dissent and protest in such a sinister manner.

This turn of events reminds us of the infamous case of Dr Binayak Sen and various attempts by police and security personnel to manufacture false cases against intellectuals and activists in order to harass, malign and silence them. We demand in the strongest possible terms the immediate release of the seven democratic rights activists and immediate annulment of this bizarre set of charges. Furthermore, we demand that all the evicted persons from the Nonadanga colony be suitably rehabilitated and proper compensation be arranged for them. We also demand that you prosecute police personnel responsible for the brutal lathicharge on women and minors on April 4th. Instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the urban poor, who have been mercilessly evicted from their homes, your government has cracked down on conscientious intellectuals and activists who stood by the people. This is rather shameful behaviour for a purportedly pro-poor government. The Trinamool Congress promised “Pariborton” to the citizens of West Bengal. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Let it deliver or go the way of its predecessor.

Please refer to the following reports from the Times of India for a chronology of these events.

5 April 2012 : Lathicharge on protesters, including a pregnant woman and and infant;
6 April 2012 : Firhad Hakim, West Bengal Urban Development Minister, asks for the list of evictees in Nonadanga;
9 April 2012 : A peaceful protest meeting and demonstration at Ruby junction is broken up by the police, and demonstrators arrested; 7 activists are detained;
10 April 2012 : Arrest of people in College Square demonstration against Nonadanga eviction, persons detained earlier remanded to further custody, intellectuals come out against police brutality and arrest.

Yours sincerely,