NEW DELHI/ KOLKATA: On April 19, about one thousand people held a protest rally in Kolkata demanding the release of four leaders, scrapping of false charges including UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and against violence by local goons and police in Bhangar and other parts of West Bengal during Panchayat Election Nomination process. The villagers in Bhangar are opposing a power grid project since 2016, and Wednesday’s violence saw the issue come to a boiling point as bombs were hurled and bullets fired.

Residents say that locals supported by the ruling Trinamool Congress launched an attack on the villages opposing the project.

Along with students, activists, and villagers social activist Miratun Nahar walked with the main banner, “Protobaad Michhil” (Protest Rally). “Arabul-bahini’r gunda ra prokasse sontrash chalachhe r police tader ke e modod dichhe.Ulte jaara grambasider aandoloner er paase daarate jachhen tader kei mithye mamlaay tule niye Jail e pure dichhe (Hooligans of Arabul are terrorizing villagers in daylight and the police is arresting the activists and charging them with false cases)” said Bandana Mondal, a regular supporter of the Bhangar Movement and one of the participants of the rally.

Talking to The Citizen, Mosaref Hossain, joint secretary of the “Jomi, Jeevika, Baastutantra o porivesh rakkha komiti” (Committee for Protection of Land, Livelihood and Environment), said, “We have been fighting against the forceful land acquisition for last one and half years. Arabul Islam (a local TMC leader) along with his gundas have created an environment of terror, our children can’t go to school, often the villagers are being beaten and police instead of taking any action against them they are harassing us. The family of Abul Hossain nearly survived when a rifle bullet penetrated the chaal (thatched roof).”

He further adds, “We decided to contest the panchayat elections on behalf of our committee and went to file nominations on April 6. Police stopped us in midway and took our candidate and proposer to the Block District Office. On reaching there we found that a huge group of goons with covered faces were already there. They beat us badly in presence of police. One of our women candidates got seriously injured. We couldn’t file the nomination. On the following day when we questioned the role of police and the status of our nomination filing, they simply denied any responsibility. We along with our supporters from Kolkata went to Bhangar Police station and reached the election commission office to file nomination. On returning, the Arabul-bahini again started bombing, firing to terrorize us. The exams in our children’s school have been postponed. The EFR (Eastern Frontier Rifles) forces are deployed at powergrid area but they do nothing to the Arabul-bahini.” There is no normal life for the villagers. He further adds, “ We regularly inform SP of Baruipur about all these incidents but yet to receive any support. We live under continuous fear.”

On April 8, police arrested Ratul Banerjee, a vocal supporter of Bhangar people’s struggle and health care activist, and charged with several acts including UAPA. On April 6, police arrested Shankar Das, Biswajit Hazra and Amitava Bhattacharya (convenor of Bhangar Solidarity Committee and members of committee for protection of Land, Livelihood and Environment of Bhangar). They have accompanied the villagers to file the nomination in the upcoming panchayat elections.

The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), Kolkata has been vocal on this issue. Members of APDR have also joined the protest rally on Thursday. A member of the association, Swapna, said, “ The people of Bhangar are fighting for their right to live with dignity. They have been fighting this state-police liaison and setting an example. Their fertile land can not be snatched away like this. A significant portion of vegetables, fish and perishable goods come from these villages of Bhangar. The urban people of Kolkata should keep this in mind. Power Grid Corporation of India Limited and the ruling party in the state should stop this forceful land grab immediately and let the villagers of Bhangar live in peace.”

On January 17, 2017 on ‘police firing’ 2 villagers was killed leaving a many injured.. As per the press release issued by the committee on April 14, a case has been filed and the hearing is due on May 16, 2018.