Bhangar movement: an update

Altogether 36 activists of the Bhangar movement got bail in three cases from the Baruipur ACJM court on 5 May. Among them were Kushal Debnath of Mazdoor Kranti Parishad and Sankar Das of CPI(ML)-Red Star, the former joint convenors of the Bhangar Movement Solidarity Committee. The others were villagers of Bhangar in South 24-Parganas district of West Bengal where people are resisting forcible land acquisition for a central government sponsored power grid project.

There are, however, scores of cases against each of them and some, including Kushal and Sankar, are still in custody with charges under various laws, even the draconian UAPA, pending against them. For example, Abdul Ahad Mollah, a poor rickshaw-van driver, has 25 cases. He was brought to the court on the day, but did not get bail in any of those. There are still proceedings pending against several women and two minors bailed out earlier. The families are facing a hard time with their economic activities almost coming to a halt and it is becoming increasingly difficult to arrange for the financial sureties needed for the bail bonds.

The prisoners who were brought to the court were in no mood to give up though. They raised slogans and called upon evryone to make the march to the governor house on 8 May a grand success. The slogans were responded by a large number of assembled villagers and millworkers.

The arrested activists of the Bhangar movement, along with other political and non-political prisoners, have observed May Day this year at the Alipore Central jail.

Solidarity organisations in Delhi announced during the day that they would demonstrate in front of the West Bengal government’s establishment in the capital, Banga Bhavan, simultaneously with the rally in Kolkata on 8 May.

The day before, prominent intellectuals from Bengal including poet Sankha Ghosh, writer Nabaneeta Devsen, historians Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar, economist Amit Bhaduri and dramatists Rudraprasad Sengupta, Bibhas Chakraborty and Kaushik Sen issued a statement calling for the withdrawal of all cases against the Bhangar activists and civil liberties workers, reappraisal of the power grid project and dialogue with the protesters. Though they had taken a similar stand during the Singur and Nandigram movements which the present ruling party, Trinamool Congress, had supported, chief minister Mamata Banerjee made it clear at a public meeting in Nadia on Friday that she was not considering heeding their advice this time. There would be no power grid in Bhangar if the local people did not want it and “preferred to remain in darkness”, she asserted. But she added that her administration would take stern action against the “outsiders” instigating them. Incidentally, Bhangar has no shortage of electricity and the grid will have no bearing on its power scenario.


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