West Bengal: Bandh supporters face attacks

Print edition : March 22, 2013

A deserted taxi stand at the Howrah station in Kolkata on the first day of the two-day nationwide general strike called by trade unions on February 20 and 21. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

A PANCHAYAT official in West Bengal had to pay too heavy a price for not attending office on the first day of the two-day nation-wide strike called by 11 trade unions on February 20 and 21. Hazrat Omar, an officer in the Debipur gram panchayat in Murshidabad district, had a part of his left ear sliced off as a punishment by alleged Trinamool activists for defying Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s directive not to participate in the bandh. According to Omar, a group of armed Trinamool Congress supporters confronted him in his office the following day, demanding the reason for his absence.

“They physically attacked me. One of them tried to hack me in the neck with a knife; I ducked and my ear got cut off,” Omar told journalists. This incident, which Minister of State for Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury called an act of “medieval barbarism” was not a stray one. All over the State, vigilante groups took it upon themselves to take to task those individuals who dared to disregard Mamata Banerjee’s orders to foil the bandh.

A labourer in a brick kiln in Kulpi, South 24 Paraganas, was brutally thrashed, resulting in a severe injury to one of his eyes, as a punishment for supporting the bandh. Such retributive attacks took place across the State for days following the strike. In Dhupguri town in Jalpaiguri district, Utpal Mahanta, a supporter of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and his family were attacked by alleged Trinamool activists for taking part in a procession supporting the strike. Educational institutions too, were not spared. In Hariharpur in Murshidabad district, the headmaster of a local school was reportedly made to sit in the sun until he fell unconscious; he had kept his school closed on the day of the bandh. Another headmaster, in North 24 Paraganas, was thrashed in front of his students for responding to the requests of some parents to take their children home before school hours had ended.

Surya Kanta Mishra, Leader of the Opposition and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, likened the Trinamool’s attacks to the activities of the fascist Black Shirts of Italy and the Storm Troopers of Nazi Germany. “The Chief Minister has unleashed an atmosphere of terror in the State in her effort to foil the strike,” he said.

Government employees had been directed to attend office on pain of losing a day’s salary and the forfeiture of seniority for those days. Mamata Banerjee claimed that most government departments registered an attendance of more than 90 per cent. She pulled no punches to ensure the failure of the bandh and even went around Kolkata to survey the success of her measures. She even suggested that the Election Commission should consider banning political parties that call for strikes and bandhs. Her comment elicited criticism from different corners of the political spectrum. “Had the right of strike been taken away, Trinamool Congress itself could not have come into existence,” said West Bengal Pradesh Congress general secretary Om Prakash Mishra.

However, in spite of all Mamata Banerjee’s efforts the streets of Kolkata told a different story. They wore a deserted look, with stray cars plying and with most private shops and schools remaining closed.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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