Violence in Bengal after Left activist dies of injuries suffered during police action against protesters on February 11

Published : February 15, 2021 21:03 IST

Maidul Islam Midya after the assault on him allegedly by the police during the protest march in Kolkata by the Left on February 11. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

After battling for his life for four days, 31-year-old Maidul Islam Midya, a Left activist, died on February 15 of injuries sustained in the clash with the police during the Nabanna Abhijan (March to Nabanna, the State secretariat) organised by the Left student and youth organisations on February 11. According to the Left, hundreds of activists had to be hospitalised after the police cracked down on the protest march with brutality. The doctors who were treating Maidul said there was little doubt that he died of the injuries sustained in the alleged police attack.

The eminent Kolkata-based physician and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Fuad Halim, who treated Maidul, said, “He developed acute kidney failure following excessive assault on the muscles. The injury to the muscles released proteins in the muscles, which, mixing with the bloodstream, blocked the functioning of the kidneys, resulting in acute renal failure. There is no doubt this is because of the beating he received on February 11. He was a 31-year-old young man with no prior history of kidney problems.... He sustained massive muscle injury.”

Maidul’s comrade who was walking alongside him recalled the incident. “Maidul Islam Midya was walking next to me, when the police launched a terrible attack on him. He fell to the ground and raised both his arms to protect himself, but still the police did not spare him,” he said. A video footage showed Maidul crying out “I won’t live”, even as other protesters were trying to revive him. A poor auto driver from Bankura district, Maidul had come to Kolkata to take part in the Nabanna Abhijan demanding employment for the youth and “an end of the rampant corruption”. He was the sole earning member in his family, and is survived by his aged mother, his wife and two small daughters.

Surjya Kanta Mishra, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) and State secretary of the West Bengal unit of the party, told Frontline, “We will stand by his family and extend full support to them. We will unite the Left secular forces and stand in solidarity with the movement that is being chalked out by the students and youth organisations in protest against the killing of an innocent, poor man.” Mishra has demanded that Maidul’s post-mortem be recorded on video and those police personnel responsible for his death be identified and punished.

On February 11, thousands of representatives belonging to 10 youth and student organiations of the Left, including the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), had hit the streets of Kolkata in the Nabanna Abhijan in protest against the misrule of the Trinamool Congress government. The Abhijan soon turned violent as protesters clashed with the police, who resorted to a lathi charge and tear gassing. The Left parties have alleged that theirs was a peaceful march which was set upon by the police “in a manner similar to what happened at Jallianwala Bagh”. Srijan Bhattacharya of the SFI alleged the possibility of the presence of Trinamool goons among the police. “Goondas not wearing any police uniform were seen abusing the students in foul language and threatening to beat them up further. We suspect goons from Trinamool were also present among the police… The fact that we were not exaggerating about the police atrocities is now evident with the death of our comrade,” said Srijan.

The death of Maidul led to fresh outbreak of violence in parts of Bengal on February 15, with Left activists and students clashing with the police again. Angry protesters blocked highways, roads and railway tracks and took out rallies and processions. State Education Minister and general secretary of the Trinamool Congress Partha Chatterjee condemned the violence saying, “… I strongly condemn the way they are blocking roads and causing inconvenience to people; and the manner in which they are attacking policemen. I do not think this is a democratic way of acting. Simply because they have no support of the masses and the youth are not with them they have embarked on this path of violence. It is not acceptable.”

The Trinamool leadership, while acknowledging that the death was unfortunate, said more investigation needed to be done before putting the blame on the police. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, “How he has died will be known after the post-mortem report. No complaint was made to the police. His family members were not informed till two days ago. The police is looking into this. I do not support any death. It is unfortunate…. It may be that he had problems in his kidney from beforehand. We are there to extend any help to his family if they need any.”

Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said, “Maidul Islam Midya’s death is extremely unfortunate, but there are certain things that need to be considered here. First, it was seen that the police were being attacked with stones, and suddenly roads were being blocked by the protesters. In this situation, it is the job of the police to clear the roads. In that tussle he may have gotten injured. There is no scope of labelling it a political attack. The second point is that it has to be seen which nursing home he was treated in, what kind of treatment he underwent and whether he had any prior illnesses.”

With the Assembly election round the corner, another death of a member of an opposition party allegedly at the hands of the police is not doing any good to the image of the government or the Trinamool. For long the ruling party has had to face allegations of intolerance towards its political opponents and the lack of democracy in the political process in the State. Maidul’s death is the second time in three months that a member of an opposition party has been killed in alleged police action. On December 7, 2020, Ulen Roy, a resident of Jalpaiguri in north Bengal, was killed allegedly by the police when violence broke out during the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Uttarkanya Abhijan (March to Uttarkanya, the administrative headquarters of north Bengal).

Political observers feel that the latest incident of death as a result of police violence may have far-reaching consequences ahead of the election. According to Psephologist and political commentator, Biswanath Chakraborty, “an uncontrolled police can do anything, particularly because its political masters are totally dependent on it. This dependence has led to it becoming almost an autonomous power. Moreover, with people getting killed in protest movements, the public is being reminded of what has been happening in the Trinamool regime for the past 10 years, including the violence in the 2018 Panchayat elections. This is certainly not going to help the Trinamool in the coming election.”