Saturday, June 20, 2009


Arrest & Right to Information
Bhavana HRD Centre of NCMB Memorial Trust.
CG 22, Sector II, Salt Lake City,

All citizens of India, irrespective of position, status, religion, caste or creed are subservient to the Constitution of India. In the democratic system of India, the Constitution of India is supreme. Each Indian has to recognize the supremacy of the constitution.
The Indian Constitution has laid down specific provisions to protect citizens from abridgements of human rights and rule of law. Notwithstanding the protection provided by the Constitution of India, reports of violation of fundamental rights and basic human rights are regularly reported in the media. Those who have been given the responsibility of protection of human rights are often found to be the violators. Custodial violence strikes at the roots of the rule of law.
I. Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees protection to life and liberty: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
1. When a person is arrested, his personal liberty is denied. An arrest must be strictly according to the Constitution and laws. Denial of constitutional and legal rights under detention is a serious violation. “Custodial death is, “one of the worst crimes in a civilized society, governed by the rule of law.” [D.K.Basu vs. State of West Bengal, AIR 1997 SC 610, paragraph 36: (1997) I SCC 416]
2. Handcuffing a person under arrest can be done only in exceptional circumstances. [Sunil vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, (1990) 2 SCC 409]
3. An illegally detained person may be compensated, Merra vs. State of Tamil Nadu, [1991 Cri L J 2395(Mad)].
4. The court has the jurisdiction to compensate a victim of police atrocities, Nilabati vs. State of Orissa, (1993) 2 SCC 746.
5. Right to life also means right to live with dignity. No one can deny individual dignity. (Francis Coralie Mullin vs. Administrator, Union territory of Delhi, AIR 1981 SC 746). A person under arrest enjoys the right to dignity.
II. Article 22 lays down protection against arrest.
1. “No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.”
2. Every person shall be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest excluding the time required for the journey from the place of arrest to the court of the magistrate.
3. These rights are not available to the person under arrest if the person is detained under Preventive Detention acts.
III. Notwithstanding these rights of a person in custody, the public, particularly the socially challenged communities who are often arrested than others, continue to be ignorant of these rights. In D.K.Basu vs. State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court of India, issued specific directions, which ‘flowed from Article 21 and 22(a) of the Constitution’ of India, regarding the rights of a person under arrest. (Appendix-1)
Section 50 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, gives a person the right to be informed of the grounds of arrest and right to bail by police. In 2005, it was amended and a new section, 50A, was added. The new section, in brief, codifies the directions of the apex court and mentions the obligation of a person making the arrest to inform about the arrest.
5. “(1) Every police officer or other person making any arrest under this Code shall forthwith give information regarding such arrest and place where the arrested person is being held to any of his friends, relatives or such other persons as may be disclosed or nominated by the arrested person for the purpose of giving such information.
(2) The police officer shall inform the arrested person of his rights under sub-section (1) as soon as he brought to the police station.
(3) An entry of the fact as to who has been informed of the arrest of such person shall be made in a book to be kept in the police station in such form as may be prescribed in this behalf by the State Government.
(4) It shall be the duty of the Magistrate before whom such arrested person is produced, to satisfy himself that the requirements of sub-section (2) and sub-section (3) have been complied with in respect of such arrested person.”

In D.K. Basu Versus .State of West Bengal with Writ Petition (Crl.) No.592 of 1987 Ashok K. Johri vs. State of U.P. the Supreme Court of India held that transparency and accountability are two important safeguards against abuse of police power and issued the following orders for strict compliance:-
“ 35. We, therefore, consider it appropriate to issue the following requirements to be followed in all cases of arrest or detention till legal provisions are made in the behalf as preventive measures:
(1) The police personnel carrying out the arrest and handling the interrogation of the arrestee should bear accurate, visible and clear identification and name tags with their designation. The particulars of all such police personnel who handle interrogation of the arrestee must be recorded in a register.
(2) That the police officer carrying out the arrest of the arrestee shall prepare a memo of arrest at the time of arrest and such memo shall be attested by at least one witness, who may either be a member of the family of the arrestee or a respectable person of the locality from where the arrest is made. It shall also be countersigned by the arrestee and shall contain the time and date of arrest.
(3) A person who has been arrested or detained and is being held in custody in a police station or interrogation centre or other lock-up, shall be entitled to have one friend or relative or other person known to him or having interest in his welfare being informed, as soon as practicable, that he has been arrested and is being detained at the particular place, unless the attesting witness of the memo of arrest is himself such a friend or a relative of the arrestee.
(4) The time, place of arrest and venue of custody of an arrestee must be notified by the police where the next friend or relative of the arrestee lives outside the district or town through the Legal Aid Organisation in the District and the police station of the area concerned telegraphically within a period of 8 to 12 hours after the arrest.
(5) The person arrested must be made aware of this right to have someone informed of his arrest or detention as soon as he is put under arrest or is detained.
(6) An entry must be made in the diary at the place of detention regarding the arrest of the person which shall also disclose the name of the next friend of the person who has been informed of the arrest and the names and particulars of the police officials in whose custody the arrestee is.
(7) The arrestee should, where he so requests, be also examined at the time of his arrest and major and minor injuries, if any present on his/her body, must be recorded at that time. The “Inspection Memo” must be signed both by the arrestee and the police officer effecting the arrest and its copy provided to the arrestee.
(8) The arrestee should be subjected to medical examination by a trained doctor every 48 hours during his detention in custody by a doctor on the panel of approved doctors appointed by Director, Health Services of the State or Union Territory concerned. Director, Health Services should prepare such a panel for all tehsils and districts as well.
(9) Copies of all the documents including the memo of arrest, referred to above, should be sent to the Illaqa Magistrate for his record.
(10) The arrestee may be permitted to meet his lawyer during interrogation, though not throughout the interrogation.
(11) A police control room should be provided at all district and State headquarters, where information regarding the arrest and the place of custody of the arrestee shall be communicated by the officer causing the arrest, within 12 hours of effecting the arrest and at the police control room it ,should be displayed on a conspicuous notice board.
36. Failure to comply with the requirements hereinabove mentioned shall apart from rendering the official concerned liable for departmental action, also render him liable to be punished for contempt of court and the proceedings for contempt of court may be instituted in any High Court of the country, having territorial jurisdiction over the matter.
37. The requirements, referred to above flow from Articles 21 and 22(1) of the Constitution and need to be strictly followed. These would apply with equal force to the other governmental agencies also to which a reference has been made earlier.
38. These requirements are in addition to the constitutional and statutory safeguards and do not detract from various other directions given by the courts from time to time in connection with the safeguarding of the rights and dignity of the arrestee.
39. The requirements mentioned above shall be forwarded to the Director General of Police and the Home Secretary of every State/Union Territory and it shall be their obligation to) circulate the same to every police station under their charge and get the same notified at every police station at a conspicuous place. It would also be useful and serve larger interest to broadcast the requirements on All India Radio besides being shown on the National Network of Doordarshan and by publishing and distributing pamphlets in the local language containing these requirements for information of the general public. Creating awareness about the rights of the arrestee would in our opinion be a step in the right direction to combat the evil of custodial crime and bring in transparency and accountability. It is hoped that these requirements would help to curb, if not totally eliminate, the use of questionable methods during interrogation and investigation leading to custodial commission of crimes.” [D.K.BASU vs. STATE OF W.B. (1997)1 Supreme Court Cases 416, Paragraphs, 35-39].

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Marichjhapir udbastu?
Ora chotolok
Jale dubeye merechi
Jale sab muche jaye.
Rakta jal haye jai
Sabash! Sabash! Sabash!
Oder Nari?
Dharsan karechi
Ora asprichya.
Asprishya ramanir dharsane jat jai na!
Dharsaner kono jat nai.
Sabash! Sabash! Sabash!
Oder badha kutir!
Rater andhakare
Rajar shantri ar amader gunda dal niye
Akaraman kare Jaliye diyechi.
Ekhan okhane kara?
Bideshi guptacharer adda.
Bagher ki holo!
Manchitra khule dekho
Konodin marichjhapi byaghra prakalpa chilona.
Sabash! Sabash! Sabash!
Okhane prokanda prokanda briksha!
Ke baleche?
O balte hai
Marichgacher mato jhop
Sai holo Marichjhapi
Marichjhapi jalabhumi.
Laban hrad! Rajarhat!
Okhane kono jalabhumi chilona, nai, thakbena.
Bhumihin Krisak Mastyajibi?
Ora ekhan computer chalache
Sabai ciber bigyani.
Sabash! Sabash! Sabash!
19 December 2006
Salt Water Lake
East Calcutta Wetland. India.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


A Presentation by Dr.U.N.Biswas,
Director, Bhavana, NCMB Memorial Trust., India, 20,November 2007.
All citizens of India, irrespective of position, status, religion, caste or creed are subservient to the Constitution of India. In the democratic system of India, the Constitution of India is supreme. Each Indian has to recognize the supremacy of the constitution.
Indian Constitution has laid down specific provisions to protect citizens from abridgements of human rights and rule of law. Notwithanstanding the protection by the constitution of India, reports of violation of fundamental rights and basic human rights are regularly reported in the media. Those who have been given the responsibility of protection of human rights are often found to be the violators. Custodial violence strikes at the roots of the rule of law.
In D.K. Basu Versus .State of West Bengal
With Writ Petition (Crl.) No.592 of 1987
Ashok K. Johri versus State of U.P. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that transparency and accountability are two important safeguards against abuse of police power and issued the following orders for strict compliance:-

“ 35. We, therefore, consider it appropriate to issue the following requirements to be followed in all cases of arrest or detention till legal provisions are made in the behalf as preventive measures:
(1) The police personnel carrying out the arrest and handling the interrogation of the arrestee should bear accurate, visible and clear identification and name tags with their designation. The particulars of all such police personnel who handle interrogation of the arrestee must be recorded in a register.
(2) That the police officer carrying out the arrest of the arrestee shall prepare a memo of arrest at the time of arrest and such memo shall be attested by at least one witness, who may either be a member of the family of the arrestee or a respectable person of the locality from where the arrest is made. It shall also be countersigned by the arrestee and shall contain the time and date of arrest.
(3) A person who has been arrested or detained and is being held in custody in a police station or interrogation centre or other lock-up, shall be entitled to have one friend or relative or other person known to him or having interest in his welfare being informed, as soon as practicable, that he has been arrested and is being detained at the particular place, unless the attesting witness of the memo of arrest is himself such a friend or a relative of the arrestee.
(4) The time, place of arrest and venue of custody of an arrestee must be notified by the police where the next friend or relative of the arrestee lives outside the district or town through the Legal Aid Organisation in the District and the police station of the area concerned telegraphically within a period of 8 to 12 hours after the arrest.
(5) The person arrested must be made aware of this right to have someone informed of his arrest or detention as soon as he is put under arrest or is detained.
(6) An entry must be made in the diary at the place of detention regarding the arrest of the person which shall also disclose the name of the next friend of the person who has been informed of the arrest and the names and particulars of the police officials in whose custody the arrestee is.
(7) The arrestee should, where he so requests, be also examined at the time of his arrest and major and minor injuries, if any present on his/her body, must be recorded at that time. The "Inspection Memo" must be signed both by the arrestee and the police officer effecting the arrest and its copy provided to the arrestee.
(8) The arrestee should be subjected to medical examination by a trained doctor every 48 hours during his detention in custody by a doctor on the panel of approved doctors appointed by Director, Health Services of the State or Union Territory concerned. Director, Health Services should prepare such a panel for all tehsils and districts as well.
(9) Copies of all the documents including the memo of arrest, referred to above, should be sent to the Illaqa Magistrate for his record.
(10) The arrestee may be permitted to meet his lawyer during interrogation, though not throughout the interrogation.
(11) A police control room should be provided at all district and State headquarters, where information regarding the arrest and the place of custody of the arrestee shall be communicated by the officer causing the arrest, within 12 hours of effecting the arrest and at the police control room it ,should be displayed on a conspicuous notice board.
36. Failure to comply with the requirements hereinabove mentioned shall apart from rendering the official concerned liable for departmental action, also render him liable to be punished for contempt of court and the proceedings for contempt of court may be instituted in any High Court of the country, having territorial jurisdiction over the matter.
37. The requirements, referred to above flow from Articles 21 and 22(1) of the Constitution and need to be strictly followed. These would apply with equal force to the other governmental agencies also to which a reference has been made earlier.
38. These requirements are in addition to the constitutional and statutory safeguards and do not detract from various other directions given by the courts from time to time in connection with the safeguarding of the rights and dignity of the arrestee.
39. The requirements mentioned above shall be forwarded to the Director General of Police and the Home Secretary of every State/Union Territory and it shall be their obligation to) circulate the same to every police station under their charge and get the same notified at every police station at a conspicuous place. It would also be useful and serve larger interest to broadcast the requirements on All India Radio besides being shown on the National Network of Doordarshan and by publishing and distributing pamphlets in the local language containing these requirements for information of the general public. Creating awareness about the rights of the arrestee would in our opinion be a step in the right direction to combat the evil of custodial crime and bring in transparency and accountability. It is hoped that these requirements would help to curb, if not totally eliminate, the use of questionable methods during interrogation and investigation leading to custodial commission of crimes.” ( D.K.BASU Versus STATE OF W.B. ( 1997)1 Supreme Court Cases 416, Paragraphs,35-39.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

The 'General Strike, of 1873

The ancestors of the victims of Marichjhanpi carnage resorted to a 'General Strike' in 1873 for dignity and equality before law. Following are some of the reports which narrate the struggle for human rights of the most numerous indigenous people of the Gangetic Delta.

Appendix - I

No. 66 Dated Camp Bhanga, the 18th March 1873
From - W L Owen, Esq. Dist Superintendent of Police
To - The Magistrate of Furreedpore,

Inquire into the following points:-
1. How far the strike among the Chandals has gone?
2. What is the meaning of it?
3. How it started or arose?
4. By whom?
5. Why?
6. What the Chundals ask?
7. What the Chundals determine?
8. Have they anything to complain of?
9. What are their grievances?
10. How to be remedied?
11. Will the strike affect the rice sowings much?
12. With whom the Chundals are at feud?

With reference to your orders as above, I have the honor to state that on the 16th and 17th March I proceeded to Futteyjungpore and Kolegram village, situated in the bheels of this district and around which Chundal villages are located: on both these days I held intercourse with above one hundred headmen of that caste from Poesoor, Hatiara, Botbari, Maliadah, Jolipar, Foolkomree, Baniar Chur and Koligram villages, all of which are within the limits of the Muxoodpore police station of this district.
2. From the result of my intercourse with these people, I discovered that their existed a kind of strike among them, but that the combination had no political object in view at present though, if not cheeked in time, if it might be attended with considerable mischief in future, hence the movement requires to be very cautiously dealt with and handled with much discretion, otherwise any overt hasty measures are likely to involve the Chundals and the rest of the community into collision, which it would be difficult to suppress hereafter.
3. it is well known that the bulk of the inhabitants of the bheel or swamp country of both Furreedpore and Backergunge which adjoin, consist of Chundals who are considered by every one to be the lowest caste of Hindus; at the same time it is admitted that they are a very hard working, strong and industrious race, living, in localities studiously avoided by all other castes and through and by them the greater portion of the bheels have been reclaimed and fitted for cultivation; Chundals therefore are not only agriculturists, but they are also boatmen, porters, carpenters, ironsmiths, potters and fishermen; on them accordingly devolve all the occupations and trades practised by other castes in more settled tracts. The women of the poorer Chundals likewise attend hauts and bazars for buying and selling purposes, on which account they have been despired by Hindus of the higher caste, who consider them only little better than beasts; the touch of a Chundal being defilement, renders it necessary for the man touched to wash away the contamination by bathing. The word Chundal is also used as an abuse and when applied to any one, expresses the degree of contempt and scorn in which he is held.
4. From my inquiries I have learnt that the strike in question at present only meditates an attempt on their parts of rise in social status; their industry, prudence and general demand as agriculturists having placed them in competent circumstances and several of them even in a state of affluence and an effort in being made to remove the stigma of reproach from their caste.
5. Last year one Choron Sapah, a rich Chundal of Amgram village in Backegunge, gave a feast, to which all castes were invited - among them Brahmins, Kayasts of several orders, Sudras, & c.; all these at the instigation of the Kayasts refused to accept the invitation, couching their refusal with taunts and reproaches reflecting on the Chundals, the words used being to this effect - “Eat with men who permit their women to go to market and who are employed as mehters in jails for removing filth and every thing unclean? What next!”
6. A meeting accordingly of all heads of village was called and the matter was hotly discussed, leading eventually to the adoption of the following resolutions among the entire body of Chundals in this part of the country: (1) Women must not in future visit hauts and bazars; (2) service of no kind whatever be taken with other castes; (3) food prepared by all other castes of Hindus than Brahmins not to be partaken of.
7. The first two resolutions, if persisted in, will of course in some measure derange the existing order of things in these parts; on account of the first the poorer Chundals are likely to suffer, but as a safeguard it was decided that their relatives should support them, but in case of there being no relatives, the village community were to do so. If this condition were acted up in it integrity, no harm certainly would result.
8. As regards the second resolution, it is to be feared that if literally carried out much injury will be sustained by other castes living in the swamp country. At present fields belonging to Mahomedans and other castes are cultivated by Chundals, who for their trouble take half the produce; these would remain untilled. Boats are built and manned by Chundals; these belonging to other castes would cease to play an trade paralysed. Agricultural and domestic tools of iron would not be repaired; in fact all the relations of life between the Chundals and other castes would be completely deranged, enmity would spring up between them and eventuate in breaches of the peace. Arson and not unlikely murders an dacoity as retaliatory measures.
9. The Chundals appear to be an unlimited body all over these parts, though doubtless there are many of their number who are averse to join in the general strike, being yet prevented by fear from an open dissent from their influential fellow caste-men, last they should be laid under interdiet, marriage, social intercourse and the rites of cremation denied them. In all or any one of these measures the sufferers will be able to obtain no redress from criminal law, they not being overt acts of illegality punishable by it.
10. more open demonstrations of hostility are likely to be resorted to against recalcitrants, such as snatching away by force the salable articles taken by women to the markets as heretofore. In such cases the criminal law might advantageously be brought into force against offenders and one or two examples made here and there would certainly act as a deterrent.
11. The other shape in which the hostility will be active, is that when attempts will be made to prevent service being taken by the poorer Chandals from other castes. In such cases sections 505 and 506 of the Penal Code will be able to prevent recurrences. Unfortunately offences under these are not cognizable directly by the police, so that the aggrieved must refer to a Magistrate before the police can interfere; this proceeding involves delay and extensive mischief might ensure before action is taken. Under these circumstances, as I am informed that extensive tracts of land belonging to other castes remain at present fallow without any prospect of their being ploughed on account of the Chundal strike, I would take the liberty of suggesting that a Deputy Magistrate be deputed to Muxoodpore to take up at once all complaints of the above nature.
12. As it is, the five Mahomedans named in the margin, residents of Tetulia Village, Complained to me yesterday that before them, on the 5th or 6th Falgoon, Ray Chand Mundle and Nilmoni Biswas, rich Chundals of Dout Koora and Sibu Dhali, Ram Chand Bugsha and Bhojon Bala, rich Chudnals of Poorsoor, had proclaimed by beat of drum at Ghonapara Haut that government had recently issued orders that no Chundals women should attend the market and that no Chundals should take any kind of service with men of other castes and that no Chundals should eat food prepared by any other castes.
1. Mufzadone Mollor
2. Doolo Sukdar
3. Summudeen Sukdar
4. Modhoo Sukdar
5. Sheik Shadoo
13. If the above statements be true, it is high time for interference, inasmuch as the castes whose lands are now follow with no prospect of cultivation, will assuredly after a little time take aggressive action against those Chundals who used to till for them before and breaches of the peace will supervene, but not till them will the police be able to take any direct action in the matter. I have meanwhile instructed the Inspector to report the substance of the complaint of the above five Mussulmans to me for submission for the orders of the Magistrate, meanwhile the matter is referred to also in this report, it being punishable by section 505 of the Penal Code, though not primarily cognizable by the police.
14. I have posted the Inspector of this division at Ghonapara Haut the centre of the strike, ordering him to watch proceedings, to act in those complaints in which he is competent to take direct action and to report promptly all those in which he cannot legally do so without orders. I have selected this officer, as I consider him possessing tact, judgement and intelligence and it a magisterial officer, as before recommended, is sent out also, it will greatly simplify proceedings.
15. In the communication held with the village of the Chundals above mentioned, they referred particularly to the grievances they suffered from the Hindus, more especially from the Kayests, whose treatment of them was intolerable. They said that hey professed themselves to be higher in case than the Chundals, which was not supported by their common Shasters. Inasmuch as the Chundals were, on the death of a relative, like Brahmins, ceremonially unclean for only eleven days, whereas the Kayastas were for no less than thirty days: this difference clearly showed that the Chundals were higher in caste. They also referred to the manufacture of choora, which was expressly prepared by them alone, which all castes eat without demur or hesitation; for the Kayasts therefore to despise them was absurd; but they admitted they were justly taunted about their women being allowed to by and sell at the hauts and bazar, on which account they had decided in future on keeping them in seclusion, like other castes, for which they could not be blamed. With all this I gave them to understand I could not interfere, as they were private matters, at the same time it would be illegal for them to prevent by force any women who chose as hitherto to go to the hauts and bazars.
16. One other point on which they felt themselves greatly aggrieved was, that the government, on the representation of other Hindus, compelled members of their castes, when in jail, to work as sweepers, to clean out premises, and to remove all unclean matter; this they declared was not only a hardship, but very unjust inasmuch as government professed to treat all castes on terms of equality. How did it happen then that in their case the rule was disregarded? Otherwise why were not criminals o all castes, punished for similar offences as Chundals, made to perform the same kind of work? Why were Brahmins, Kayasts, Sudras and Mussulmans, exempted from doing the dirty work of the jails; that Chundals in private life never served as mehters or took service as such of their own accord. So that if government did not depress them, all other Hindus would not dare to do so; had the invidious distinction made by government between them and other castes of Hindus worked all the mischief in regard to them. On this I told the Chundals that their best plan would be to petition the government on the subject of this grievance and no doubt every consideration would be given to it.
17. Having now detailed the measures taken by me to allay the ferment at present prevailing among the Chundals in there tracts, I shall endeavor to answer succinctly the several points at the head of this report:-
1st - The strike among the Chundals has extended to all that tract of swamp country situated in the police stations of Muxoodpore and Gopalgunge.
2nd - It has no political significance at present, but is an effort made by them to raise themselves in the social scale among the Hindus.
3RD - It started last year at Amgram in Backergunge on account of Hindus of all castes refusing the invitation to a feast given by Choron Tapah, a rich and influential Chundal.
4th - By the heads of all the Chundals villages in the swamp country south of Furreedpore and north-west of Backergunge.
5th - (?) Answered under Head 3
6th-Equality in the treatment in jails between Chundals criminals and criminals of other castes.
7th-To hold no communication with men of other castes.
8th and 9th - Contemptuous treatment of Chundals by other castes, especially by Kayasts, and their being forced by government to remove filth, &C, in jails, while criminals of other castes are exempted.
10th-The contemptuous treatment of Chundals by other castes being a social question cannot be remedied but by themselves, but their being forced to remove the filth, &C, of jails might be effected by a respectful representation to government.
11th- The strike will to some extent effect the rice sowings in the swamp country considering that they have before this tilled lands belonging to other castes, dividing the produce between them and they have now determined to relinquish them, the people of other castes not being sufficient to supply their places.
12th - The Chundals are at feud with Mahommedans and all castes of Hindus, especially the Kayasts.

No. 272 dated Ferreedpore, the 19th March 1873
From - W. S. Wells, Esq. Magistrate of Ferreedpore
To - the Commissioner of the Dacca Division

I have the honor to submit for your information copy of a vernacular report, dated 25th ultimo, received by we in camp in the north of the district at Haranbaria and of the orders I passed on it, dated 7th instant, together with copy of a repot the District superintendent, dated Camp Bhanga, the 18th instant.
2. There is no officer here with full powers besides myself, except Mr. Fraser, whom I will depute at once to take up all cases that may arise from the state of things reported. It is necessary that a European officer should go, as naturally the opposite factions being natives of all persuasions, there will be more confidence felt by all parties in the disposal of any question that may arise if the matter comes before one officer in no way allied by feelings, interests and religion to any of the concerned. Mr. Fraser, however, should be vasted with powers under section 223 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in order to deal summarily with minor matters which may come before him, as it is probable that he will have a good deal of criminal work if the Chundals persist in their present resolutions.
3. I beg you will take early measures to depute some covenanted or European officer of experience, possessing full powers, to take charge of the several officers at head-quarters during my absence, as it may become imperative that I too should move about my district.
4. I have issued in demi-official letters instructions to the District Superintendent to send his best police officer to see that the peace is not broken or any criminal intimidation used; at the same time to be most careful to avoid unnecessary interference, and to act entirely without a shadow of bias, leaving matters to settle themselves if possible.
5. Mr Owen has ordered the Inspector of that division, Mahomed Nazir, on this duty. My Court Inspector, Baboo Anundo Chunder Dass, is a much older, more experienced and steady officer, in whom I have considerable confidence; I have therefore deputed him to watch the progress of this Chundal movement in the place of Mahomed Nazir.
6. I need not observe that it is a decided hardship to force Chundals in jail to do duty as mehters and sweepers for which their position in society and caste in no way renders them liable and I have referred to this matters in my last reports on census. The Chundals, as I have before stated in several reports, are an industrious and honest class and are very seldom in the criminal courts; perhaps because they know too well the consequence of going to jail, and they are doubtless an appressed and ill-used people.
7. Mr. Willon, the Assistant Magistrate, has been depulid to Koosh tea, and no officer sent in his place, I beg therefore you will let me have a covenanted officer as above requested as soon as convenient. I think, too, that I should be permitted, without further reference, to increase the strength of the police force at the thannahs and outposts in the affected tracts, as I may deem necessary. The force allowed for this district has been so seriously reduced as to be barely able to cope with the ordinary word. I need hardly say that I shall be careful in taking advantage of such authority, but it may happen that men will be wanted at the large hauts and market places. I should send the new recruits to the north and use my best men in the south of the district.
8. It will be necessary for Mr. Fraser to hire or build a house and it is not likely that there will be one to let fit for an officer to live in at this season, when river storms are of frequent occurrence, and to send out my tents would probably result in their total destruction, the loss thereby entailed to Govt. would be more than what I propose to build a house for Mr. Fraser can of course find temporary shelter in the thannah, but if this ferment among the Chundals assumes a more serious form, or continues for any length of time, Rs. 1,000.00 should be sanctioned for the erection of a house at Muxoodpore, where at present I propose to fix his head-quarters. After seeing the country I may alter the location; a fair sub-division might be formed out of Deorah (north) (for I have proposed to make over the southern portion to Madaripore, if that sub-division is transferred to this district.) Muxoodpore and Gopalgunge thannahs and I have ordered and empowered Mr. Fraser to take up all cases which may arise in these three police sub-divisions.
9. You will perceive that his movement has originated with some rich members of the Chundal community in Amgram, a village in the neighbouring district of Backergunge from where it has spread all through the very large tract of country to the south of Furreedpore and north of Backergunge occupied by this caste. They have always been united and this movement may become very serious. On the other hand, if the richer Chundals prevent the women of the poorer class from marketing a division may ensure and the whole movement terminated. Under any circumstances, as this is the season for ploughing and the Chundal ryots refuse to work for any but their own people, some scarcity may follow. This will not however, I hope be of long duration, as the tract lies in the direct road of grain transit from the country south of Naraingunge to Calcutta.
10. I should myself go without delay to the south, but unfortunately the 21st is appointed for collectorate sales here under Act XI of 1859 and Saturday, the 22nd I must ride into Goalundo, as that day is fixed for the purchase of land under Act X of 1870 Awaiting early instructions.

File No. 152

Government of Bengal 1873
Judicial Department
Judicial Branch

A Proceeding for March 1873

No. 38 Dated Dacca, The 22nd March 1873
From - A Abercrombie, Esq. Officiating Commissioner of Dacca
To- The Secretary to the Govt. of Bengal Judicial Department

I have the honor to transmit copy of a letter from the Magistrate of Furreedpore and report by his District Superintendent of Police, reporting a novel state of affairs which has broken out in the southern part of Ferreedpore district.
2. I have requested the Magistrate to proceed as soon as be can to Muxoodpore himself and report on the prospects of the country after satisfying himself by personal inquiry as to the facts. If it probable that it will be necessary to locate an officer for any length if time in that quarter, application will be made to give Mr. Fraser Prowers to try summarily the cases mentioned I section 222 I the thannahs of Muxoodpore and Gopalgunge.
3. In the meantime I have ordered 15 men of he Dacca reserve to be sent to Furreedpore to day and trust that this measure will be approved.

No. 1713
From - L C ABBOTT, Esq., Officiating Under-Secretary to the Govt. of Bengal
To - The Officiating Commissioner of Dacca,
Calcutta , the 29th March 1873

Judicial Dept.


I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your letter no. 38, dated 22nd instant, with its enclosures and in reply to say that the Lieutenant-Governor approves of the action taken by you in connection with the movement among the Chandals and awaits a further report on the subject

I have he honor to be sir,
Your most obedient servant,
L C Abbott,
Officiating Under-Secretary to the Govt. of Bengal

K. W. Progs for March 1873, Nos. 174-81
Strike among Chandals
This is a curious case. It appears that last year a wealthy Chandals of Amgram, in Backergunge, invited Hindus of all classes to a feast. They of course refused taunting the host with belonging to a class whose women went to market and who were employed in jail as sweepers. This resulted in a combination which has gradually been increasing; the Chandals have determined to prevent their women from going to market, from eating all food not cooked by Brahmins and have proclaimed that no man of the caste shall work for any member of another castes. As the Chandal are chiefly employed in tilling and all manual labour, their persistence in this course is looked on with apprehension and the usual intimidation of unions during strikes is anticipated. The Magistrate of Furreedpore suggests that. Mr. Fraser his deputy should be sent to the village (and a house built for him) so as to be able to try the cases at once and on the spot. The Commissioner recommends that he should be given summary powers for the purpose. However Mr. Wells has been told to go and investigate maters himself and before measures are taken, we may await his repot. ……… …. We may ask for its speedy submission. If he thinks more police are absolutely necessary he should say how many.

24.3.73 L C ABBOTT

…. The note is not quite accurate.
The Commissioner at present only asks approval to his having sent fifteen men from the Dacca reserve to Furreedpore. He indicates what may have to be done, but says he has sent Magistrate to enquire and report.
…………We may approve his action and wait further report. …… (I remember just such a movement among the Doradhs of Shahabad.)

26.3.73 A M

Approve and wait for report as proposed, but question as to employment of Chandals in jails should be noticed; send extracts on that point to Inspector-General and call for report.

27.3.73 G C
No. 1712
From - L C ABBOTT, ESQ. Officiating Under-Secretary to the Govt. of Bengal,
To - The Inspector - General of Jails
Calcutta - the 29th March, 1873
Judicial Dept,

I am directed to forward the accompanying extract (Paragraph 16) from a memorandum by the District Superintendent of Police, Furreedpore, to the Magistrate, 18th instant, relative to a complaint made by the Chandals that they are compelled, when prisoners in jail, to work as mehters and to request that you will favour the lieutenant-governor with a report on the subject.
I have the honor to be sir,
Your most obedient servant,
Officiating Under-Secretary to the Govt. of Bengal

No. 106 dated Fureedpore, the 19th April 1873
From - BOSE, ESQ., M. D. , Superintendent of the Alipore Jail,
To W. S. WILLS, ESQ. Magistrate of Fureedpore.
WITH reference to letter No. 1712 from L. C. Aboot, Esq. Officiating Under-Secretary to the Government of Bengal, to the address of the Inspector-General of Jails, dated Calcutta the 29th March 1873, and its enclosure, forwarded with your endorsement No. 343, dated the 12th instant, for report, as to how when and why Chundals come to be treated as mehters when prisoners in jail, I have the honor to inform you that I am unable, from the records of my office, to trace the origin of the practice in this jail; the practice has, however, existed for long time, and is still in force. The reason of Chundals having been so singled out in the first instance was, I presume, that they have always been treated in the social polity of the country as a prescribed race, or as a sort of pariahs whose very touch is considered pollution itself and as such, it was perhaps thought that no work, however mean or degrading in another, could possibly tend to humiliate a Chundal more, or make his position worse than it already is. Of course it is of very great advantage of Government to so employ them, as Hindus and Mohomedans are exempted, and were it not for these Chundals, the Government would be forced to employ hired labour at considerable expense. The custom, therefore, still prevails in the jail. I may, however, here remark that the Chundals, when a prisoner, never object to the work, and therefore it cannot be said in any sense, that compulsion in any form is used or required. All that is done is simply to tell him off to the work, and the Chundal at once takes to it without the slightest hesitation or demur. Moreover, I have never known or heard of a single instance in which a Chundal mehters prisoner, when released, has been treated harshly or in any way punished by his relatives and friends because of his having performed this service, and on his return home he is, to my knowledge, readmitted into caste among his fellows. The fact is, a Chundal has no recognized statues in native society, and consequently he can lose none, whereas others similarly employed would forfeit whatever position they may affect or possess, and permanent degradation and excommunication would inevitably follow.
When I say that a Chundal has not much to lose, and other classes incur a heavy penalty by performing such duties, it should be clearly understood that I am not thereby advocating one line of treatment for one class of prisoner and another for other criminals; on the contrary, I think the work is I every sense a filthy one, and that as such, no human being, whatever his circumstances, should, if possible, be ever made to do it, unless he or she volunteers for the work, or all alike should be called upon to take their share equally.
As regards the Chundal criminal, however, I think I can safely say this much, that if certain indulgences were permitted to him, such as, for instance, a half time service, a great many of his class, will then, I believe, be found only too glad to enlist for the conservancy service in our jails, notwithstanding all the assertions of cruelty and injustice complained of as attached to their present lot, by their self-constituted spokesmen and leaders in the strike now going on. The enclosures of your memorandum are herewith returned.

No. 414, dated Furreedpore, the 22nd April 1873.
From - W. S. WELLS, ESQ., Magistrate of Furradpore,
To - The Inspector-General of Jails, Lower Province.

WITH reference to your endorsement No. 3210, dated the 10th instant, I have the honor to submit, herewith, in original, a report by Dr. Bose, M. D., Superintendent of the Jail, to whom I referred the papers, considering that his length of residence - 15 years and upwards - in Furreedpore, and his intimate intercourse with the natives, would give him information which the records of none of our offices, I regret to say, are able to furnish.
2. The Chandals, as far a I can ascertain, when first ex-communicated , were a large body of Hindus of different classes, in which all castes were represented, inhabiting a tract of country in the north. Suffering under this curse they naturally sought to efface its effects in exile, and emigrated to the Bheel tracts lying to the south of Furreedpore, which at that period was a dreary waste, or very sparsely populated. The tale is to be found in the Mohabharat.
3.They have still their Brahmins - who are held in some little respect by other Hindus-and every caste, or at all event every handicrafts man, operative, the fisherman and the cultivator, are represented among them. as boat builders, carpenters, fishermen and watermen generally, and in all trades they excel, being strong, able bodied, patient an painstaking.
4. I suppose at the present time there are about 1,00,000 who inhabit the lower portion of Muxoodpore, parts of Dearah, all Gopalgunj in these district, and Kotwalipara in Backergunge. They are also scattered all over Eastern Bengal, and are to be met with in Jessore, Nuddea and Dacca as labourers and ryots.
5. During our rule, their patience and perseverance has been rewarded by some obtaining no little wealth and the position it brings.
6. It has always been the policy of Hindus or Mahomedans who live among them, to force this people as low as they can in order that the Chandal may be satisfied when he receives anything at all. And naturally when jails were established, and conservancy necessitated, this unfortunate race, generally dispised, a hard working, patient, uncomplaining people, was found ready to hand, with none to say a good word for them, and had they not been classed as mehters, Government could only have looked to volunteers among the prisoners with little chance of finding one, or in fairness have obliged all, by lot or by rule, to have shared the work, unless it was prepared to obtain at a very large outlay, free labour for the purpose.
7. The officer in charge of the jail says that those incarcerated do not complain. But this, I take it, is attributable to knowing that any complaint they may make will be of no use or advantage. The work is comparatively light and over early in the cool of the morning, so the berth is not a bad one if only the stigma is removed, and in their case the stigma has for a long time been patiently accepted.
8. Considering the large number of Chundals in the district, and the very few who enter the jail, I think the chance of having this work to do has a very to do have a very salutary effect.
9. Although quite-a non-mover may be peculiarly applicable to the present case- I still am of opinion that Government should in justice and fairness, require all men to take their share in this unpleasant and degrading duty; under some general rule, such as that any man sentenced to upwards of 4 or 5 years imprisonment should be liable - thus to limit the persons considered loss of caste and a disgrace among ourselves and every other nation, and I cannot but think that we ponder unreasonably to false assumption when we permit men in this land, whose condition of society is founded upon what birth may give them, to return unscathed to their friends after a conviction of the most damning crimes, simply because it is known that Brahmin cooks are provided and every speciality of caste recognized and uninfringed; and outward observance is all their confreres demand to readmit them into their companionship. The sting of incarceration is lost, and the criminal law, founded as much upon the example placed before men’s eyes as upon mere vindictive satisfaction, loses much of its moral strength; for the good see the bad restored, uninjured, to the position they previously possessed - the peculiar institutions of the country and its religions admitting such results.
10. The officer in charge of the jail is hardly fair in speaking of “self constituted spokesmen.” The men who speak are those who, after honest labour and struggles of the severest kind, under the most depressing circumstances and influences, have been able to obtain a position of some kind, but find themselves hopelessly struggling to be free; by Government damning their whole caste in condemning them, as a race, to be the mehters of the country.
11. They speak, therefore, honestly considering their own future which is at stake as well as that of the poor of their own race whose interests they advocate.
12. It is a most humiliating reproach which should be at once removed if it is possible to do so. Under our law men are equal, but Chundals have no such equality if they alone, as a class, are obliged to perform the most degrading duties.
13. I too, as already reported, have heard the complaint of the Chundals and cannot but think it reasonable. While quite concurring with Dr. Bose in his statement that they suffer nothing by being sweepers, I still hold that to brand a class by subjecting it alone to this work; is to sink them immeasurably in the eyes of all the country, and the natural consequence is the word Chundal is a word of bitter reproach, and to a Hindu would be worse than calling him a mehter.
14. And a considerable complication will shortly arise. Already there are between 3,000 and 4,000 Chundal converted to Christianity in Cutwaliparah, and some 500 to 600 in Kilogram and neighbouring villages in Muxooodpore thannahs. The question must come whether native Christians too, because they have no caste to lose, are to suffer this humiliation in jail in preference to Hindus and Mohomedans, only because the later are to be restored unblemished to a position each man ought honestly to have forfeited.

K. W. PROGS. FOR JUNE 1873, NOS. 84-87

THE District Superintendent of Furreedpore reported that one of the complaints of the Chundals was that they were made to work in jails as sweeper. Inspector-General of Jails was told to report on this, He now sends us letters from the Magistrate and Civil Surgeon (Dr. Bose). The result is, as Mr. Heeley puts it, that it appears the prisoner Chundals never complained of this in jail, did the work when told off for it and lose nothing on their return to their homes.
Both Mr. Wells’ letter and Dr. Bose’s are interesting, and might be read by His Honor. Mr. Wells raises the general question of caste distinction in jail but this is quite unnecessary, and Mr. Heeley is right in not going on it.
We may adopt his (Inspector-General of Jails’) proposal that the Chundls should not in future be forced to this work, but that any of them who choose to do it when its comparatively easy nature is pointed out, may be allowed to do it.
4-6-73 A.M.
Yes; and say I understand that in some Mahomedan districts of Bengal three is so little caste that Mahomedans are found to do this work willingly for the sake of the ease and advantages; the same rule may be applied to all expect professional sweepers, who may be compelled to do the work.
5-6-73 G.C.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Ross Mallick on Marichjhanpi

Refugee Resettlement in Forest Reserves: West Bengal Policy Reversal and the Marichjhapi Massacre
While boating down the Ganges delta on a visit to the Reserve Forest Tiger Sanctuary, I noticed on the bank some idols overlooking the river. When I asked about their significance, it was explained that a tiger had killed and carried off a girl; these idols were meant to ward off future attacks. Since I was on tour with a West Bengal government Secretary who had police bodyguards to protect him against pirates and tigers, we had none of the apprehensions locals experienced. As the launch continued downstream, the conversation among the government officials took an unexpected turn. They talked of a massacre in the area of Untouchable refugees who had illegally settled in the protected forest reserve: the killings were said to number in the thousands of families.
Seeing the area of the massacre and realizing it was also a tourist attraction brought home the conflict between environmental preservation and development. In these natural surroundings tourists would never guess what it had cost to preserve the environment for their pleasure. Whether the sacrifice is worth making is something environmentalists will increasingly have to confront as human settlement encroaches on diminishing nature preserves.Learning that no investigation had been undertaken, I sought to find out who was responsible. As the investigation led in a political direction, the Marichjhapi massacre raised questions of secular institutional failures and how Untouchables and other marginalized peoples were being presented in Indian studies by those claiming to represent them.

Ross Mallick is a development consultant presently living in Kanata, Ontario.

The Untouchable Refugees
The events leading up to the refugee massacre revealed a trail of communal and class conflict that had its roots many centuries earlier. The Muslims were largely Untouchables and lower castes who had converted to the more emancipatory beliefs of Islam while retaining their Bengali culture. The gap between the Muslim and Untouchable tenants was therefore arguably not as great as that between the Untouchables and upper-caste landlords, and in the colonial period Untouchables and Muslims were political allies in opposition to the Hindu-landlord-dominated Bengal Congress Party. In the colonial period the East Bengal Namasudra movement had been one of the most powerful and politically mobilized Untouchable movements in India and in alliance with the more numerous Muslims had kept the Bengal Congress Party in opposition from the 1920s. The exclusion of high-caste Hindus from power led to the Hindu elite and eventually the Congress Party pressing for partition of the province at independence, so that at least the western half would return to their control (Bandyopadhyay 1997; Chatterji 1994). Partition, however, meant that the Untouchables lost their bargaining power as a swing-vote bloc between high-caste Hindus and Muslims, and then became politically marginalized minorities in both countries. With the partition of India it was the upper-caste landed elite who were the most threatened by their tenants and who had the wherewithal in education and assets to migrate to India. Even those not as well off had the connections to make a fairly rapid adjustment in India. The first wave of refugees were traditional upper-caste elite. Of the 1.1 million who had arrived by June 1948, 350,000 were urban middle class, 550,000 were rural middle class, a little over 100,000 were agriculturalists, and under 100,000 were artisans (Chakrabarti 1990, 1). Those who lacked town houses and property in India squatted on public and private land in Calcutta and other areas, and resisted all attempts to evict them. The failure of the Congress government to grant them squatters’ ownership and its attempts at eviction provided the Communist opposition with a ready following among the refugees, who gradually came to be organized by Communist-front organizations. Faced with this resistance and the public sympathy they generated among their relatives and caste members, the Congress government acquiesced in the illegal occupations.
Back in East Pakistan the near-total departure of the Hindu upper-caste landed elite and urban middle classes meant that communal agitation had to be directed against the Hindu Untouchables who remained. Later refugees therefore came from the lower classes, who lacked the means to survive on their own and became dependent on government relief. Lacking the family and caste connections of the previous middle-class refugees, they had to accept the government policy of dispersing them to other states, on the claim that there was insufficient vacant land available in West Bengal. By doing so the Congress government effectively broke up the Namasudra movement and scattered the caste in refugee colonies outside Bengal, thereby enhancing the dominance of the traditional Bengali tricaste elite. However, the land the Untouchable refugees were settled on in other states were forests in the traditional territory of tribal peoples, who resented this occupation. The crops and agricultural works of the refugees were periodically destroyed or harvested by tribal peoples. “The soil is poor and there is no irrigation. Our crops are looted by the local Adivasis [tribals], whom we cannot fight because they shoot with bows and arrows, but even more so because they get protection from the police, which is anti-refugee” (Khanna 1978). Little integration took place, and the Untouchable refugees were often given inadequate relief supplies, when these were not misappropriated by corrupt government officials. Prior to their resettlement, refugees often spent many years in prison camp conditions under capricious and corrupt camp administrators. Protests were often met with killings by police or with imprisonment. “Very few among the intelligentsia are aware that out of the 42,000 families who had been dragged and deported there, already nearly 27,030 families have perished; and only now 15,000 families somehow linger on below sub-human level!” (Biswas 1982, 18). There is virtually unanimous agreement that the conditions in many resettlement camps were deplorable, as numerous inquiries and official documents attest.
In this period the left-dominated opposition took up the case of the refugees and demanded the government settle them within their native Bengal rather than scatter them across India on the lands of other peoples. The Communist Party leader, Jyoti Basu, in prophetic words stated that it would not be “an easy, administrative affair to get rid of the refugees from their colonies” in West Bengal, and a “united movement would make it impossible for the government to carry out the bill’s [eviction] provisions” (Chatterjee 1992, 279). The sites mentioned in West Bengal for resettlement were either the Sundarbans area of the Ganges delta or vacant land scattered in various places throughout the state. In 1976 there were 578,000 acres of vacant land in West Bengal, of which 247,000 could be readily reclaimed for agriculture. With 136,000 agriculturalist refugee families up to that time, the reclaimable land could have provided more than the 0.321 acres per capita land:person ratio then used by agriculturalists (Chatterjee 1992, 185). However, as it was dispersed it would have required a greater administrative effort to relocate the refugees on surveyed vacant plots than to put them together in large encampments. While the creation of refugee colonies provided jobs for the rehabilitation department (which would have quickly disappeared had refugees been settled on vacant local land), the creation of colonies enabled the resettlement to go on for decades without resolution. In other states, for over twenty years the cost of the Dandakaranya Project alone has been 100 crores (U.S. $30 million), of which 23 crores has gone to administrative costs (Biswas 1982, 18). Thus, while the creation of new colonies was good for government contractors and administrative personnel, providing them with a vested interest in non rehabilitation, real solutions would have soon eliminated their careers and contracts.
While the upper-caste squatters were getting their colonies legalized and services provided, the Untouchables became exiled to other states where they faced often hostile local populations. Even the affirmative action programs for which, as Untouchables, they would have been eligible in West Bengal, were not recognized in the states in which they were settled, as their castes were not native to those states. The Leftist opposition could play on these grievances to obtain a political base among both the exiled refugees and caste members resident within West Bengal.
These grievances led to the organization of refugees within the resettlement colonies. The movement began in the Mana group of camps, where the refugees had been held for twelve years as virtual “prisoners of war” and “serfs” under military officers. The top officials were embroiled in a labor conflict with the lower administrative staff, who were more sympathetic to the refugees. In 1970 the top official encouraged the refugees to form their own organization, the Udbastu Unnayanshil Samiti (UUS), as a way of undermining the demands of the lower administrative staff. The organization instead supported the staff against the official, but the person who replaced him proved to be even worse. The UUS, however, continued to press the refugee demands for increased rations, the right to work outside the camp to supplement rations, and the right to be consulted before being dumped in new sites. They led a thirteen-day hunger strike that resulted in increased dole but no say in resettlement, which continued to place refugees in dry and unviable locations. A second boycott in 1974 against refugee dispersal led to deaths from police firings. The following year the organization decided to launch a national movement for resettlement in the Sundarbans area of West Bengal. According to a handbill the organizers put out,
In May, representatives of the Mana Udbastu Unnayanshil Samiti went by launch from Hasnabad to Marichjhapi in Gosaba police station. Opposite this 125 square mile sand bank rising out of the sea is a 100 year-old village. The people of the village told them that the tide did not rise above 5 feet. If we could have erected dykes 5 feet high to hold out the salt water and lived here for 100 years, why can’t you? There is great potential for fishing. It would be possible for 16,000 families from Mana to settle just on the island, and nearby at Dutta Pasur another 30,000.
(Chatterjee 1992, 376)
However, when the refugees started walking along the railway tracks to West Bengal they were arrested by the Congress government. When the leaders were released from jail after a year they found the Dandakaranya dispersal had been accelerated, but now the Left Front had taken power in West Bengal.
The Left Front Policy
In these new circumstances of accelerated dispersal and West Bengal Communist governance, it was decided to step up the campaign for resettlement in West Bengal. Contact was made with the Left Front and the Communist Party Marxist (CPM) front organization for refugees, the United Central Refugee Council. “The exploitative Congress government has fallen and a new popular government has come to power”(Chatterjee 1992, 377). The West Bengal Left Front Minister, Ram Chatterjee, visited the refugee camps and is widely reported to have encouraged them to settle in the Sundarbans, which had been a long-held Left opposition demand. However, what the refugees could not have known was that Ram Chatterjee, who belonged to a smaller party in the Left Front coalition, was speaking for current Left Front policies rather than the forthcoming policy reversal that the Left Front was about to implement now that it was in power. The Left Front was a coalition of smaller parties that included consistent supporters of refugee resettlement in the Sundarbans, and the dominant CPM which effectively decided all government policies. This made for some initially contradictory policy pronouncements on the refugee issue as the parties moved from opposition to governance.
Having sold their belongings to pay for the trip, 15,000 refugee families left Dandakaranya only to discover that Left Front policy had changed now that the coalition was in power, and many refugees were arrested and returned to the resettlement camps. The remaining refugees managed to slip through police cordons, reaching their objective of Marichjhapi island, where settlement began. By their own efforts they established a viable fishing industry, salt pans, a health center, and schools over the following year (Mehta, Pandey, Visharat 1979). [1]
The state government was not disposed to tolerate such settlement, stating that the refugees were "in unauthorised occupation of Marichjhapi which is a part of the Sundarbans Government Reserve Forest violating thereby the Forest Acts" (Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Department 1979). It is debatable whether the CPM placed primacy on ecology or merely feared this might be a precedent for an unmanageable refugee influx with consequent loss of political support. When persuasion failed to make the refugees abandon their settlement, the West Bengal government started on January 26, 1979, an economic blockade of the settlement with thirty police launches. The community was tear-gassed, huts were razed, and fisheries and tube wells were destroyed, in an attempt to deprive refugees of food and water.
Journalists were creating a problem for the government by reporting positively on the efforts of the refugees to rehabilitate themselves. The government therefore declared Marichjhapi out of bounds for journalists, a move which only served to alienate the press. An editorial in the Bengali daily Jugantar stated:
Again today, the leaders of the state made caustic remarks about journalists - the Marichjhapi problem is apparently the creation of a few reporters. But journalists are society’s eyes and ears, we are merely witnesses. A journalist has no ability to cause something to occur; s/he can only describe it. But sometimes events are such that an immaculately unbiased description sounds like strong censure.... The mouths of journalists can be stopped but not the flow of history.
(Chatterjee 1992, 312)
However, the Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu, convinced that the media was indulging in sensationalism and contributing to the refugees’ militancy and self-importance by reporting on their activities, suggested instead that the press should come out in support of their eviction in the national interest. This was accompanied by attempts at censorship and accusations against the “bourgeois” press for colluding with the refugees and opposition. There was no doubt the issue served to divide the Left Front coalition parties and could potentially alienate them from the 23 percent of the electorate who were Untouchables. However, these Untouchables were largely illiterate and since the radio and TV were government-owned, the resident Untouchable voters of other castes were less of a problem than might be supposed. In this respect the Untouchables refugees were very different from the upper-caste, middle-class urban refugees of the immediate post-independence period, who were educated, well-connected, and politically influential.
The Chief Minister correctly pointed out that political opponents would find the issue useful for attacking the government, which is precisely what he had done when he was in opposition. The refugee leaders became divided on the extent to which they should rely on the opposition to fight their cause and whether an attempt to solicit support within the Left Front should be continued. The squatters became split into two factions, with one group under Raiharan Barui opposing negotiations with the government in order to force it into recognizing the settlement, and the other group under Rangalal Goldar favoring talks with the Left to reach a compromise agreement. According to Goldar, “Raiharan antagonized the government by making inflammatory statements in the press, by getting mixed up in Opposition politics. When we invited people from the city to visit, he refused to let representatives of the Left set foot on the island. It was a terrible miscalculation. You cannot live in the water and make an enemy of the crocodile” (Chatterjee 1992, 378). Though we do not have Raiharan’s version of events, the polarization seems understandable given the circumstances the refugees faced.
It was unlikely that a centralized party like the CPM could have been dissuaded by argument even if a more conciliatory approach had been taken. To have allowed one settlement would have been an invitation for other refugees to attempt the same thing, or for more migrants to come over from Bangladesh, as the CPM leadership feared. The press generally agreed with this position, but objected to what it considered the excessive use of force. That the CPM and other left parties while in opposition had argued for settlement only to change policies once they were in power was not unusual for politicians, however disappointing it may have been for their refugee supporters. While previous refugees had been allowed to remain and even had gotten their squatter colonies legalized, this precedent was applied to influential upper castes of middle-class origin with plenty of relations and influence in the Bengali establishment. The Untouchable refugees had no such influence, despite the support of a few officials and intellectuals. Thus, while the traditional elites were accommodated in West Bengal, the much larger number of lower classes and castes which the government knew it could more easily evict would have been a greater imposition on the state.
The refugees were well aware of their inherent disadvantage as Untouchables, so they emphasized the common ethnic origins and refugee experiences that they shared with many elite families.
Every day countless non-Bengalis come to this state in search of work. The Left Front government does not put them on trains and return them to their own states. Thousands of people live unlawfully on the footpaths of Calcutta and the stations of West Bengal contributing to an unhealthy atmosphere. But the government does nothing about them. Is it because we are Bengalis that there is no place in this state for the refugees of Marichjhapi?... Marichjhapi is not the only squatter colony in the state. The Marichjhapi refugees did not ask for money from the government, nor did they squat on other people’s property, they had only wanted the government’s scrub and marshy waste lands. So I ask, what harm did the Marichjhapi refugees do to the Left Front government? Caste Hindus live in the other squatter colonies, and there were only Scheduled Castes [Untouchables] at Marichjhapi. Is that why there is no space for the people of Marichjhapi in this state? (Chatterjee 1992, 356)
The refugees also appealed to the national untouchable federation BAMCEF led by Kanshi Ram, but in those days it was not the powerful organization its offshoot the Bahujan Samaj Party subsequently became (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998). In commenting on the plight of the Namasudra refugees, Kanshi Ram observed the uniquely desperate situation this untouchable caste had been subjected to in the aftermath of partition.
Immediately after the exit of the British in 1947, there was a sharp and steep slump in the Namasudra Movement. The partition of India ruined many a people, but those harmed maximum were the Namasudra. Not only the people and the community were ruined, but also their movement was completely destroyed. Today the Namasudra are the rootless people. Divided in two countries, their roots are in Bangladesh and branches in India. Bangladesh government is always eager to uproot them, whereas the government of India and West Bengal are ever angry and hostile.
The massacre of Marichjhapi and the sad plight of those in Dandakaranya, Andaman, Nicobar and elsewhere tell its own tale. After all this if they are expecting some help or sympathy from the High Caste Hindus, they are hoping against hope....
Unfortunately the CPI(M) Government was unable to see ability in them. They say, they do not believe in caste considerations, they include people in the cabinet on the basis of their ability. And on this consideration, they had not included any Scheduled Caste in the Cabinet of West Bengal. But the Scheduled caste people still cling to C.P.I.(M), perhaps they are helpless and [have] nowhere to go.
(Ram 1982, 4) [2]
With no national party prepared to take up their cause, the Untouchables were indeed without powerful allies. Institutions of the central government such as the Scheduled Castes and Tribes Commission that had an obligation to defend the Untouchables’ human rights’ did not publicly intervene (Sikdar 1982, 22). The attempt to interest the media and some intellectuals proved partly successful. They were invited to a feast on the island at which refugees who barely managed one meal a day scraped together lavish meals for their influential guests to get their message across. Supporters raised funds and supplies, and some officials colluded in efforts to get these to the refugees. In order to ensure press coverage after the blockade, a refugee, Saphalananda Haldar, evaded police patrols and swam to the mainland where he informed the Calcutta press of police firing in Kumirmari. They published the story along with his name, which resulted in his arrest. Police shooting and killings of the refugees in various places were causing adverse comment in the press. The refugees were not without sympathizers in the outside intelligentsia and even in the government administration and Left Front cabinet itself. Within the ruling CPM there were members who felt the government should have been trying to rehabilitate the refugees in order to develop a party base, rather than resorting to force.
The press reported police tear-gassing of refugees, the sinking of their boats which they needed to obtain rice and drinking water, and arrests of people attempting to work on the mainland or sell firewood from the reserve forest. With starvation deaths occurring among the squatters the situation was taking a desperate turn. On January 27, 1979, the government prohibited all movement into and out of Marichjhapi under the Forest Preservation Act and also promulgated Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code, making it illegal for five or more persons to come together at any given time. However, the refugee supporters appealed to the Calcutta High Court, which ruled against interference in the refugees’ movements and in their access to food and water. The government then denied the refugees were subject to any blockade and continued the blockade in defiance of the High Court. Since the police union was under CPM control, the court system had been effectively bypassed in this instance. Though some of their number died of starvation and disease, the refugees would not give up. When police actions failed to persuade the refugees to leave, the State Government ordered the forcible evacuation of the refugees, which took place from May 14 to May 16, 1979. Muslim gangs were hired to assist the police, as it was thought Muslims would be less sympathetic to refugees from Muslim-ruled Bangladesh. [3] The men were first separated from the women. “Most of the young men were arrested and sent to the jails and the police began to rape the helpless young women at random” (Sikdar 1982, 23). At least several hundred men, women, and children were said to have been killed in the operation and their bodies dumped in the river. Photographs were published in the Ananda Bazaar Patrika, and the Opposition members in the State Assembly staged a walkout in protest. [4] However, no criminal charges were laid against any of those involved nor was any investigation undertaken. Prime Minister Desai, wishing to maintain the support of the Communists for his government, decided not to pursue the matter. [5] The central government's Scheduled Castes and Tribes Commission, which was aware of the massacre, said in its annual report that there were no atrocities against Untouchables in West Bengal, even though their Marichjhapi file contained newspaper clippings, petitions, and a list with the names and ages of 236 men, women, and children killed by police at Marichjhapi prior to the massacre, including some who drowned when their boats were sunk by police. [6] The refugees themselves complained to visiting Members of Parliament that 1,000 had died of disease and starvation during the occupation and blockade (Sikdar 1982, 23). "Out of the 14,388 families who deserted [for West Bengal], 10,260 families returned to their previous places ... and the remaining 4,128 families perished in transit, died of starvation, exhaustion, and many were killed in Kashipur, Kumirmari, and Marichjhapi by police firings" (Biswas 1982, 19).
The CPM congratulated its participant members on their successful operation at Marichjhapi and made their refugee policy reversal explicit stating that “there was no possibility of giving shelter to these large number of refugees under any circumstances in the State” (CPM West Bengal State Committee 1982, 14). Within the CPM there was some dissatisfaction with the way the party leadership had handled the question. Many CPM cadre felt the leadership had dealt with the problem in a "bureaucratic way" when it could have used the issue to develop a mass movement on behalf of the refugees. The Communists had large refugee organizations which could have organized the refugees and brought them to West Bengal. Instead of utilizing the situation to rehabilitate the refugees and in the process develop a solid Communist base among them, the CPM resorted only to force. The CPM cadre who were unhappy with the policy, however, could do nothing; no one on the CPM State Committee opposed the State Secretary, Promode Das Gupta, on this issue. However, not all Parties and Ministers in the Left Front coalition Cabinet favored the eviction, preferring to support the refugees instead. The Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), which had a political base in the Sundarbans and was in the Left Front government, opposed the decision, as did other Left Front supporters. The RSP Minister, Debabrata Bandyopadhyay, was not given a new portfolio after the subsequent election which “did not show the CPI(M) in a commendable light” (Bhattacharyya 1993, 134) His exclusion from the cabinet was attributed to his efforts to eradicate corruption in CPM-controlled village councils, though his opposition in cabinet to the eviction may have been a contributing factor. His successor, the number two CPM Minister, Benoy Chowdhury, years later was not renominated for a party seat after he complained about how corrupt his party had become (Nagchoudhury and Sengupta 1996, 89). After the CPM had come out in opposition to resettlement, the refugees were unlikely party supporters and the CPM leaders may have felt other leftist parties might take the opportunity to develop a base among the refugees in opposition to them.
Even if it is admitted that the refugees should not have left Dandakaranya in so sudden a manner after selling out everything they had, the Left Front Government should have shown some consideration for those whose total participation in the Left's struggle against the Establishment and whose kith and kin in West Bengal voting concertedly for the Left Front enabled it to hit the Writers' Buildings [take state power].
(Chakrabarti 1990, 434)
In a final twist to the episode, the CPM settled its own supporters in Marichjhapi, occupying and utilizing the facilities left by the evicted refugees. [7] The issues of the environment and the Forest Act were forgotten. A Professor of Medicine from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, who visited the refugees in Dandakaranya shortly after their return, told me that those who came back were now dispossessed, having sold their land and belongings to make the trip to West Bengal, while those who had remained behind were better off. An air of gloom hung over the refugee colonies and the people went about their lives in a mechanical way without enthusiasm. Though Indian Administrative Service Secretaries of the West Bengal government, who worked on a daily basis with the Left Front Ministers, revealed to me the killing and raping, the hiring of Muslim gangsters, the resettlement by CPM supporters, and divisions in the Cabinet over the eviction, they did not have the names of the gangsters and policemen who actually committed the atrocities. The failure of the government to investigate what happened meant that this information was never compiled. Had the Left Front government felt it was being unfairly maligned by the atrocity reports, it could have ordered an independent inquiry to exonerate itself. The accuracy of the allegations and the involvement through acts of commission and omission by the Chief Minister and Prime Minister Desai, among others, make such an investigation unlikely. A journalist of the Bengali daily Jugantar noted:
the refugees of Dandakaranya are ... mainly cultivators, fishermen, day-labourers, artisans, the exploited mass of the society. I am sorry to mention that they have no relation with the elite of society. If it is a matter of any body of the family of a Zamindar, doctor, lawyer or engineer, the stir is felt from Calcutta to Delhi, but in this classified and exploited society, we do not feel anything for the landless poor cultivators and fishermen. So long as the state machinery will remain in the hands of the upper class elite, the poor, the helpless, the beggar, the prostitutes and the refugees will continue [to be victimized].
(Sikdar 1982, 23)
The subsequent silence in the Bengali academic community about what so many knew happened at Marichjhapi is indicative of the intellectual dominance of certain perspectives and the acquiescence of this intellectual elite in the abuses. For the next thirteen years the only reference to the massacre in the academic literature was in a summary of the West Bengal human rights record by Sajal Basu (1982, 168).
Both the CPI(M) led left parties and Congress (I) prefer to continue in violence-prone activities, causing casualties and eviction of cadres from localities. As a ruling party, CPI(M) has forcefully evicted middle peasants belonging to non-CPI(M) groups. Police torture on CPI(M-L) [Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist] and SUC [Socialist Unity Center] cadres, violent eviction of Marichjhapi refugees, incidents at Panshila symbolise CPI(M)'s violent orientation. The Congress (I) too has its inner troubles being expressed in street fights, its affiliated mastans are again active in violent activities.
At the time of the killings the opposition made unfavorable comparisons with the British massacre at Jallianwallabagh. Their argument was that the Marichjhapi massacre may have exceeded in numbers the Jallianwallabagh massacre and the massacre of eighty Communists in West Bengal in 1958, but the refugees had no influential backers to publicize their cause in movies and history books. Jallianwallabagh was investigated by the Hunter Commission, but Marichjhapi was soon forgotten, except by the Untouchables themselves. The "crime was white-washed and most culprits went not only unpunished, but remained in service and ... in some cases were even rewarded" (Guha 1989, 279). Though M.K. Gandhi refers here to Jallianwallabagh, it could just as easily apply to CPM and Congress massacres. While the massacre of nationalists or communists elicits the reaction of powerful constituencies with an intellectual community to publicize their cause, in this case the refugees had virtually nothing. After the massacre of Communists by the Congress government, Jyoti Basu stated in the Assembly that there was nothing but dead bodies between him and the government benches. This incident has been commemorated ever since on "Martyr's Day." The Communists' own massacre created a much more muted reaction and was soon forgotten. When Congress faced a similar situation with refugees they cut off aid, but unlike the Left Front they did not resort to blockade, eviction, and police firing. In this comparable respect the CPM was more repressive. Whether this reflected a party ideological difference between self-avowed Gandhianism and Stalinism or simply the different personalities of the responsible leaders is difficult to determine. The CPM supported the Tiananmen Square massacre, which has some parallels with its own practice, but given the marginality and isolation of the refugees there was limited domestic and no international publicity.
In 1961 when Dr. Roy [West Bengal Congress Chief Minister] ordered the despatch of the camp refugees to Dandakaranya and when 10,000 of them refused to move he did not use force to transport them there although he suspended the payment of cash and dry doles and withdrew the amenities enjoyed by the camp refugees. He did not also force them out of the camps. The refugees continued to live at the ex-camp sites and to fend for themselves without any government help and finally got themselves integrated into the economy of the region. But the Marxist Government had no compunction in driving out precisely those refugees who, according to their own statistical evaluation of the amount of surplus land available in West Bengal, could have been absorbed in West Bengal." (Chakrabarti 1990, 434)
The CPM succeeded where the Congress Party failed because it was prepared to kill men, women, and children. Neither the Congress nor the CPM was a good practitioner of their respective idols' philosophy and practice, but ideology even in the context of Indian politics may make some difference. However, as the record indicates, police killings under Congress regimes were not uncommon, and the numbers who did die through the neglect of Congress regimes may well exceed those killed in the Marichjhapi eviction.
The lack of an investigation means that various estimates of the killings continue to circulate years after the event. While Atharobaki Biswas is very specific in stating that 4,128 families died in transit from starvation, exhaustion, and police firings, Nilanjana Chatterjee indirectly corroborates this figure. Dr. Chatterjee states that by the time the eviction was completed on May 17, 1979,
at least 3,000 refugees had secretly left Marichjhapi and scattered across West Bengal. ...At the end of July 1979, a spokesman for the Dandakaranya Development Authority announced that of the nearly 15,000 families who had “deserted”, around 5,000 families (approximately 20,000 refugees) had failed to return. The final deadline for them to re-register with the project was extended yet again to 31 August 1979 and the matter was considered officially closed.
(Chatterjee 1992, 300)
From these figures (20,000 - 3,000) it can be estimated that as many as 17,000 people died, and if based on her calculation of four per family, this represents 4,250 families, which is almost exactly the figure given by Atharobaki Biswas. Though these people are missing and presumed dead, no breakdown of how or where they died was ever undertaken. An IAS Secretary of the West Bengal Government who worked with the Ministers involved in the eviction decision said the bodies of the victims at Marichjhapi were dumped in the river to be washed out by the tide. This will make the exhumation of bodies as was undertaken in Bosnia and Cambodia impossible, and in this macabre sense the refugees selection of the Sundarbans was to prove not only unfortunate in their lives but in uncovering their deaths as well, since there were no human settlements downstream to observe the bodies.
The Marichjhapi massacre raises a number of disturbing ethical and legal questions. As a democratically elected government, the Left Front undoubtedly had the obligation to implement laws and enforce forest protection. As the refugees were not residents of their state, though Indian citizens, the state government was arguably less obligated to the refugees than to their own voters, who had prior demands on the state’s limited resources. However, in ignoring the Calcutta High Court ruling their right to evict might be questioned. It is unlikely anyone would put on paper an order to rape and kill the refugees; however, under the circumstances of West Bengal it was entirely predictable that this could result from an attempted eviction. Certainly the hiring of Muslim gangsters indicated a willingness to use extra-legal methods. As it is common knowledge that the police rape and torture people to death with de facto immunity from prosecution, and over 6,000 political murders have been calculated to have taken place under the Left Front, the likelihood of significant abuses was foreseeable (India Today, 31 August 1995, 31; Amnesty International, March 1992, 2). [8] The killings were already occurring and being reported in the press well before the main massacre; there was ample opportunity for the state leaders to stop further abuses had they so desired. As this was an eviction ordered by the CPM state committee and the Left Front cabinet, their failure to ensure proper supervision of the operation so that excess force would not be used makes them morally and perhaps legally culpable for rape and mass murder. [9] Their failure to investigate the abuses after the fact means that not only do the actual rapists and killers remain unpunished, but the cover-up that followed implicates those who ordered the eviction in the first place.
Environmental Priorities
The Chief Minister declared that the occupation of Marichjhapi was illegal encroachment on Reserve Forest land and on the state-and World Wildlife Fund-sponsored tiger protection project. Jyoti Basu stated that if the refugees did not stop cutting trees the government would take “strong action.” “Enough is enough. They have gone too far” (Chatterjee 1992, 298-99). The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other conservationist groups appear not to have taken any official positions on the subject, which was expedient given the controversy that might have arisen from foreign interference. The brutality of the illegal blockade as well as the self-avowed Stalinism of the ruling CPM (Stalin’s rather than Gorbachev’s portrait was displayed at their 1989 Congress) made any public declaration of support for the action unlikely.
There appears to be nothing on record indicating any pressure on the government for eviction from any environmental non governmental organizations (NGOs) or other non-state groups. No lobbying seems to have been necessary to make the government undertake the eviction on behalf of interests that included the environmental movement. While not involved in the eviction, the environmental movement nevertheless achieved a victory from the result, though the massacre was not something the environmentalists publicized. It was widely known that indigenous peoples were being evicted by conservation projects, but as this population was estimated at 600,000 (of whom two thirds were uncompensated), it was unrealistic to expect environmental NGOs to provide relief on this scale (Fernandes, Das, and Rao 1989, 78). The West Bengal government had asked the central government for funding to rehabilitate the refugees; the central government refused. Had funding been forthcoming alternate arrangements for the Marichjhapi refugees might have been undertaken. Since persuasion was unlikely to make the refugees leave, vacant land in the state would have been required to induce them, but such innovative solutions appear never to have been seriously considered, perhaps because of the administrative burden this dispersal would have entailed.
That schoolchildren in Britain, Belgium, Holland, and Germany were raising money for Project Tiger was already a matter of some Indian concern. A former Chief Conservator of Forests defended this practice of taking foreign aid for Project Tiger by downplaying its contribution in financial terms while arguing for its political importance. “The WWF’s money utilised in India so far is a mere 35 lakhs [U.S.$100,000]; five per cent of the Project’s budget. Even this pittance of 35 lakhs was accepted to enable the world community to have a sense of involvement in the campaign to protect a ‘World Heritage’” (Shahi 1978, 14). However, the Chief Conservator noted that the greatest sacrifices were being made by the forest dwellers themselves. “It was therefore laudable for European children to raise funds for saving tiger in another continent but equally praiseworthy, if not more, has been the silent and untrumpeted sacrifice of those who have shifted their century-old villages lock-stock-and-barrel and of the thousands of tribals who forsook their sources of livelihood” (Shahi 1978, 9). Dr. Karan Singh, Chairman of the Project Tiger steering committee, was criticized for putting the interests of tigers ahead of people, as were other supporters of indigenous peoples’ displacement. The prosecution of a villager who killed a tiger with an oar when it attacked his companions raised questions of the relative value of human life versus endangered species. That European children were raising money to preserve animals that ate poor Third World children probably escaped the notice of animal rights campaigners. “WWF literature started to blame the poor for being the ‘most direct threat to wildlife and wildlands’”(Chatterjee and Finger 1994, 70). “WWF founders originally chose the rhino because they did not want people to think of WWF as just a ‘save a cute animal’ organization. What they apparently quickly learned was that, although the principle may have been ecologically and ethically correct, it was not politically expedient. The panda - and, subsequently, the Bengal tiger, the gorilla, the elephant and many others - were necessary to rally attention, call for action, and, not least, support the organization” (Princen and Finger 1994, 150). Inevitably, such organizational imperatives necessitated downplaying and ignoring the human costs paid by poor people for environmental preservation. A typical example was the National Geographic Explorer television program, which did not allow the villagers to speak for themselves on this issue. Instead, a narrator states that the man-eating “tiger doesn’t just mean death, the tiger means life, because the tiger protects the forests which gives them food for their families. They know the tiger is necessary for the world to be whole, and the tiger is a price to be paid.” The fact of the matter is that the villagers would be better off if the tigers were nonexistent so that the villagers would be able to exploit the forests in safety. Tigers can only provide forest protection against defenceless people who have to go into the forest for their livelihood, regardless of the dangers. Tigers are no match against poachers or the forest contractors. For poor people there is no advantage to having tigers for it is they who pay the price with their lives, while the tourist operators and the politicians they finance reap the benefits. This is not something National Geographic is likely to say on television, so a folklore is invented to pretend there is a mutual dependency that makes the lives lost seem a necessary and accepted price to pay for conservation. It is the poor that pay the price and the rich who benefit, but this is not something that is palatable with western audiences, who like to think only about how much benefit they can provide by saving the tigers in a win-win situation.
Though Marichjhapi was covered in the Indian press, it apparently received no international coverage, and the only academic study came over a decade later in an unpublished doctoral thesis by Nilanjana Chatterjee. The World Wildlife Fund escaped association with the eviction, but the contradictions inherent in its policies subsequently came to international attention when it was found to be aiding Zimbabwean and Kenyan authorities to purchase helicopter gunships and assault weapons to enforce shoot-to-kill policies against poachers. “This case demonstrates that very different standards are proposed in the Third World to those that would be accepted in the NGOs’ northern homes. Again, when technical considerations are allowed to displace moral ones, some very contentious policies arise. WWF’s actions, once publicized, generated an outcry in Britain” (Yearley 1996, 217).
The practices of environmental organizations do not appear to have been changed by this experience. While “the Burmese army is razing entire Karen villages, killing, raping, enslaving, to make way for the biggest nature reserve of its kind in the world... to attract millions of tourists,” the deaths of thousands of villagers has not prevented environmental organizations from cooperating with the military dictatorship (Levy, Scott-Clark, and Harrison 1997, 5). In defending their work with the Burmese government, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society science director stated, “We do not sanction forced relocation, torture or killings. But we have no control over the government.” The Smithsonian Institution spokesman has said about their presence in Burma: “We are there to do important conservation work. We may disagree with a regime but it is not our place to challenge it.” A WWF director stated “Sometimes we have to deal with repulsive regimes....We have to weigh up whether the conservation benefit is worth the risk of being seen, directly or indirectly, to be supporting those regimes” (Levy, Scott-Clark, and Harrison 1997, 5). Since all aid supports a regime by providing foreign exchange or substituting for it in goods and services, these programs need to be very carefully considered to determine that the donor interests are not superseding the interests of the poor people most affected by it.
If conservation groups are currently willing to associate with a military dictatorship undertaking massacres and forced labor to create wildlife sanctuaries, it can be assumed that their attitude to the democratically elected government of West Bengal would not have been any different, though in Marichjhapi they managed to avoid international media coverage. As a Bengali newspaper observed, “The lives of the trees in Sundarban are certainly of value but surely the lives of these shelter-seekers are not without value” (Chatterjee 1992, 338-39). The settlers and their supporters questioned the bone fides of the government as a protector of the environment. Any attempt to develop the Sundarbans as a nature preserve and tourist attraction would lead to the usual bureaucratic corruption and inefficiency with “armies of experts, the squandering of World Bank funds and little to show for the effort except mountains of reports” (Chatterjee 1992, 340). Responding to complaints that the refugees were destroying the experimental coconut plantations on Marichjhapi, they called attention to the Forest Department’s “misuse of government funds.” In a few months, by contrast, they had by their own efforts created twelve settlements, laid out roads and drainage channels to prevent water logging, as well as built a school, dispensary, smithies, a pottery, cigarette workshops, a bakery, seven fisheries, boat building yards, 170 boats, four market places with 300 stalls, and the beginning of a major dike system to hold back the tide (Chatterjee 1992, 340-41). While this might appeal to those more inclined to development, there was no doubt that the state position was closer to an environmentalist agenda, even if in practice their system was inefficient and corrupted. This conflict between environmental preservation and peoples’ rights goes to the heart of the trade-offs between human rights and ecological preservation. There are costs from environmental preservation to people who are displaced as a result or who lose opportunities for life improvements through denial of land access. In the case of Marichjhapi it was the poorest people who paid with their lives, while the benefits went to the animals, tourists, and tourist operators. Tourism, in requiring pristine environments, creates an incentive for big business and the state to set aside areas that might otherwise be used by poor people for subsistence. While this may generate economic benefits they rarely are realized by the people being displaced and certainly not by the Marichjhapi inhabitants. Even this benefit may be debatable since the facilities left by the refugees were later inhabited by followers of the ruling CPM, which means the environmental improvement was not realized, even if a potentially more environmentally detrimental influx of refugees may have been prevented.
The environmentalists have not taken a position on the massacre and were not implicated in it, but on the other hand none are known to have opposed it or taken up the issue. The West Bengal government, which did the unpleasant work on behalf of environmental preservation, were alone in being blamed. That Congress had failed to use force to evict their predecessors may have encouraged the refugees to think the Left Front would be at least as tolerant. Without attractive alternate settlement arrangements as an inducement, only force could have succeeded in achieving the eviction. It is difficult to remove thousands of families who are prepared to risk death, even when they are unarmed. Such determination, which at one time would have been considered heroic and pioneering, had become antistate, subversive, and environmentally unfriendly. As resources diminish there are likely to be more struggles by poor peoples that will place them in conflict with environmentalists. Unless environmentalists are prepared to spread the costs of preservation so that the poorest people are not the only ones to pay the price, there will continue to be resistance to the imposition of alien values on these marginalized people. All too often the environmental movement uses its influence with Third World elites to obtain preservationist policies detrimental to the poorest people dependent on these natural resources. Unless prior arrangements for alternate livelihoods are made and compensation paid, the pursuit of a preservationist agenda will result in human tragedies.
As with Marichjhapi, human rights abuses can result from tourism and environmentalism without direct pressure by these interests on governments for eviction. By developing a business interest in preservation, ecotourism creates a lobby for government policies that place new value on these areas, which would otherwise be seen as wastelands suitable for settlement and more conventional forms of development. Once the West Bengal government recognized their value as a tourist attraction, this potential was certainly more attractive than another refugee influx. The state ultimately failed to realize the tourist potential through poor infrastructure development (Montgomery 1995, 27-28), but even without a significant tourist industry, as an idea for future development it could influence government policy without being implemented. The successful preservation could be seen as an unambiguous victory for environmentalism as long as the massacre was not exposed.
Much of the environmentalist literature portrays indigenous peoples in harmony with nature and resistant to encroachment by big business and government over their livelihoods. This portrayal offers poor people as potential allies for environmentalists against megaprojects. This indigenous eco-consciousness, however, is often more a technological constraint necessitated by poverty. Poor people who degrade the environment do not conform to the way environmentalists need to portray them, and therefore tend to be ignored in the literature. The Marichjhapi refugees were environmentally unfriendly and so offered no campaign opportunity for national or international conservation groups. The government by adhering to an environmental agenda did not have to face the opposition that came from movements such as that against the Narmada dam, which operated within dominant environmental paradigms and could make international environmental linkages (Baviskar 1995). In fact, the tribals to be displaced by the Narmada dam were just as environmentally destructive as the refugees, but the outsiders who organized them against the dam were able to falsely portray them to the outside world as environmentally conscious and therefore suitable allies and victims in the struggle against megaprojects. They were able to tap into an international environmental lobby that ended World Bank funding and whatever influence the Bank might have brought to bear on the Indian government to provide the tribals with adequate compensation. The refugees, despite a resistance that surpassed anything the environmentalist movements mustered, died unknown deaths because they did not conform to external perceptions and interests in Indian society or lobbies in the western world. What they were successfully undertaking in development was insufficient to overcome the stigma in the dominant society over environmental destruction. They were following the traditional path to development, which was no longer considered fashionable in frontier areas. Governments had drawn a border line around the forests and nothing more was to be converted to farmland. In these circumstances it is difficult to see how the refugees could have “packaged” their cause in terms that could have appealed to dominant domestic and international opinion.
Untouchable Representation
After visiting the Dandakaranya refugees in central India and seeing that they were in no position to make an international protest about the Marichjhapi massacre, I sought to put it on record. However, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva told me they were flooded with thousands of complaints, indicating nothing would be done. Amnesty International did not respond to my letters, and Human Rights Watch responded with form letters that gave no indication the material had been read. A visit to the Amnesty International headquarters in London resulted in advice to emulate the strategy of gay rights’ activists of enrolling members in the organization to boost its priority, an approach Untouchables and other marginalized Third World peoples are unable to follow. In Washington with the help of a contact I was able to receive a personalized response letter from Human Rights Watch, but still no indication the material was read or action taken. Submitting the case to academic journals did not result in any evaluations or attempts at refutation. The editor of one leading academic journal wrote me “that after all this time...we have yet to obtain one solid outside referee report on your manuscript. We have solicited several referees and some have even accepted the task, only to have the ms [manuscript] returned to us in a few weeks with a terse statement that they felt unable to provide the promised report.” After several years the direct approach of exposing the human rights abuse was deferred to placing it within a framework that might appeal to academics through three versions aimed at a range of academic journals. Without a receptive outlet for such material, I had suggested to a Harvard professor, who had researched Untouchable movements, that since Untouchables numbered 140 million people, representing nearly 3 percent of humanity, a journal on them might be started, but he rightly pointed out that even if funding could be obtained not enough people would write for it to be sustainable. Books offered the alternate venue but when I sent an Untouchable memoir to eight specialists in the field none were willing to facilitate publication. Since 68.6 percent of university press books are subsidized by subventions from outside sources, and the publication rate for unintroduced manuscripts is, according to two surveys, 0.38 and 0.57 percent, “to get a book published, recommendation through an informal circle or network is close to being an absolute necessity” (Powell 1985, 230, 169, 171-72). The obstacles to Untouchable human rights publication are considerable, while what is published by scholars on untouchability is often of little interest or use to Untouchables, raising questions of whether collaboration is worthwhile.
These failed attempts at representation are significant because it indicates the problems in presenting human rights abuses from the point of view of victims rather than of intellectuals. At the same time academic outlets are particularly important in the absence of other forums for redress. It is known that international agencies have been largely ineffective in preventing or punishing human rights abuses, but at least many abuses get put on the record and receive some degree of international publicity. For really marginalized groups such as the Untouchable refugees, without a significant western middle-class diaspora to take up their case, such attention is not forthcoming, even from groups specifically devoted to uncovering human rights abuses.
Scholars are constrained not to criticize regimes that provide them with research access. One scholar of West Bengal noted that his research in that state required not only an Indian government visa but permission from the ruling Communist Party as well. The Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute even warns academic grant applicants that “the Government of India does not permit research in strategic areas or on sensitive regional, political and social themes” (Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute 1998, 5). There is a history of some intellectuals ignoring the human rights abuses of “progressive” regimes, but in West Bengal press coverage of these abuses makes ignorance or omission less excusable. Rural Untouchable segregation and discrimination is hardly touched on in the Bengal literature. Land redistribution figures are given without mentioning how many beneficiaries subsequently lost their land. A West Bengal government sample survey found more beneficiaries were losing their land than being newly recorded, indicating that the land reform was a fiasco. Though this deficiency is too obvious not to have occurred to scholars, no such survey is undertaken, making their research useless for serious policy implementation purposes, however beneficial it may be for academic careers. If businesses only reported profits and never their losses they would lose credibility, but analogous land reform research using only cumulative redistribution is undertaken, perhaps because it will be inoffensive to the regime granting access. On the other hand, marginalized peoples have no equivalent influence over scholars since they cannot read their work, unlike the dominant intellectual elites. Frank assessments therefore require acceptance that it may not be possible to continue in the field, an approach many scholars having made a considerable investment in the subject will wish to avoid. Not a few say things privately that appear very differently in print, indicating research may have been compromised.
Human rights abuses may be tangential to academic interests, but without an awareness of these abuses, academic analysis can be untenable. For instance, as recently as 1996 a Princeton professor described the Left Front as providing “good governance” (Kohli 1996, 121). The London School of Economics political scientist, T.J. Nossiter, stated “If, and I believe it, Rajiv Gandhi, did say at his first meeting with Jyoti Basu after becoming prime minister that the chief minister was more fit for the role, the comment was not only a gracious courtesy but a proper tribute to Basu’s standing” (Nossiter 1988, 139). As long as abuses such as Marichjhapi cannot get into the academic literature, this may seem plausible. When justice institutions are largely nonfunctional, academic exposure of injustice is that much more important. With 230,000 cases pending in the Calcutta High Court alone, justice is virtually impossible, with the resulting increase in lynch mob killings (Banerjee 1995, 137). In the absence of interest in the human rights abuses, politicians get away with mass murder. The Marichjhapi massacre was not that much different from Bosnian massacres, but at least in Europe the politicians responsible got indicted and had to go into hiding. The West Bengal Chief Minister makes frequent trips to the West without a question being raised about the massacre in public meetings. In the absence of this issue, Jyoti Basu was able to make a bid for the Prime Ministership of India in May 1996, which was only prevented by his CPM central committee voting 35 to 20, in what he called a “historic blunder,” to refuse to lead a minority national government (Nagchoudhury 1997, 29). The CPM has since reportedly had second thoughts, and Jyoti Basu could become Prime Minister if another favourable conjuncture arises.
What eventually tarnished the Left Front image was not a massacre at the beginning of the regime but the corruptions that were perhaps inevitable in any long ruling government (Sen Gupta 1997, 905-17). The powerful middle and upper classes did not like to see their taxes misappropriated, and regime image changed more from elite corruption than human rights abuses against the lower classes. A veteran party leader and former Chief Minister of Tripura was expelled for criticizing the Chief Minister’s son’s business acquisitions in a pattern similar to the business activities of the families of Chinese Communist Party leaders. Press investigations found funds from a Rs 2,500 crore ($US 757 million) Personal Ledger Account had been appropriated by the Communist Party. Government-subsidized residential plots were illegally sold at a small fraction of market value to Calcutta High Court judges (Plot No. FD429, FD434, GD346, CL16), relatives of the Chief Minister (FD452), Ministers (IA29, FE145, AL210, BH97), and scholars supportive of the regime, including a coeditor of the subaltern series and son-in-law of the Advocate General (Plot. No. FE14), and the husband of Jyoti Basu’s authorized biographer (EE block, Sector 2, Plot 5) (Banerjee 1997, 22-23). Though these people cannot be expected to investigate their own illegal land occupation, given their subaltern class perspective they could have used their proven government influence to investigate or at least publicize the massacre of fellow illegal land occupants at Marichjhapi. That this elite gets away with what poor people are killed for discredits secular governments and institutions with the electorate and contributes to the rise of caste, regional, and religious parties which have come to dominate Indian politics. The post- independence years were marked by not only the dominance of the secular Congress Party in government but the secular Communist Party in opposition. This is no longer the case. The governance problem that corruption presents has been attacked by the Supreme Court and elements in the bureaucracy that have attempted to bring politicians to justice, and the fact that I could get information from senior administrators about the Marichjhapi massacre represents a part of this effort. However, any hopes they may have had that my efforts would result in the attention of international human rights organizations or academic publication having any effect are yet to be realized.
Though every politically informed intellectual in the state seemed to have heard about the massacre, it never appeared in the subaltern series or any other academic publication. Nossiter was informed about the massacre, but most foreign scholars probably never read the Indian press of the period, and local reticence to my questions on the subject indicated most foreigners might not have known. Their praise of the regime is therefore based on ignorance of what went on rather than deliberate deception. This would indicate that when it comes to human rights and governance the Indian press rather than academic literature is the more informative. The absence from the subaltern series of subaltern voices that expose human rights abuses by the regime indicates that despite a theoretical adherence to granting an autonomous subaltern voice free of intellectual substitutions, in practice only voices that conform to certain dominant intellectual norms are tolerated. The fact that a human rights abuse had to be put within the guise of issues that appeal to scholars is perhaps a fair compromise between subaltern victims and the need to reach intellectuals. Nevertheless, it is a significant shift in perspective that has to be noted. Representing marginalized peoples is fraught with the dangers of misrepresentation, but with human rights abuses these representations can be very clear. However, even the most straightforward example of exposing a massacre in the hope of obtaining justice for victims is no easy matter given the inadequate institutional avenues for redress and the inclinations of scholars with other priorities and perspectives. Academic outlets as publications of record can at most be only a first step to obtain redress, but without the inclusion of human rights abuses in them, much of social science and humanities analysis will misrepresent the societies they study. The virtual absence of reports on human rights violations in the academic literature shows gross misrepresentations of what goes on in the society and serves to discredit the academic community as marginalized peoples become aware of how they are being portrayed. As the All-Bengal Namasudra Association put it to the Simon Commission in 1929, “It has been seen in more than one case that British members of the Indian Civil Service, on account of their living in this country for a long time, and by coming into contact with only a section of the people, are mentally captured by the ideas of those few people who are in the position of social aristocrats” (Simon Commission [1929] 1998, 93-94). This distortion continues to influence the academic community, and those enamored of India have often presented a misleading representation of subaltern groups.
The Marichjhapi massacre was soon forgotten by nearly everyone except relatives of the victims. However, it did have an influence on Untouchable activists who developed an antipathy to the Communists resulting from their failure to desegregate rural areas, to implement successful land reform and educational programs, and their refusal to investigate human rights violations such as Marichjhapi (Mallick 1993, 1994, 1998). Despite much of the academic literature praising Left Front programs, a lot of people outside academic circles came to know better, and the absence of the massacre from the literature did not prevent Untouchable activists in other states from hearing about it. At the time of the massacre the CPM could calculate there would be no consequences from the eviction because no one could have predicted that those Untouchable activists who had most vociferously taken up the cause of the refugees would take power in India’s most politically important state of Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s. Though the Untouchable governments were short-lived, the movement retained a vote base that in fractured coalition politics was too important to ignore. The rise of Untouchable caste politics was being widely condemned, but without an understanding of how the secular parties had let down the Untouchables through human rights abuses and corruption, it is not possible to realize one of the reasons for the decline of secular politics in India. Just as other massacres before it were used to symbolize the oppression of colonial or Congress rulers, Marichjhapi was used as a political tool to show the abuses of the Communists and the failures of secular Indian government. A consciousness of the massacre continued among Untouchable activists and in publications which very few in the dominant intellectual elite were aware of, let alone read. That discussion of the massacre did not appear in academically respectable publications did not mean it never happened or was not to become noteworthy in the Untouchable politicization and rejection of secular parties. Untouchables were the most natural allies of secular parties, and the failure of these parties to provide justice contributed to the rise of caste politics. Until secular parties and institutions are willing to come to terms with their past treatment of Untouchables, they are unlikely to be able to make permanent inroads into the increasingly important and autonomous Untouchable electorate. Given the nature of India and Indian studies this sea change will have to await the Dalit occupation of state power, when state largesse will then be appropriated to further Untouchable objectives. As Kanshi Ram observed, “Those who worship dogs, cats, even stones will lose no time in worshipping social reformers like Periyar, once the Dalits come to power” (India Today , 15 October 1995, 11). This cynicism is a result of the treatment Untouchables have received at the hands of secular parties and governments, and by inference of the academic community. The democratization process currently underway in India will bring more of these antagonisms out in open. Until the state and society provide enhanced human rights and life opportunities for these marginalized groups, caste reconciliation cannot be successful. One small step in this process might include investigating the Marichjhapi massacre and sending those responsible for trial to the Supreme Court or International Criminal Court.

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[1] Mehta, Pandey, and Visharat were Members of Parliament appointed by Prime Minister Desai,

despite the objections of the West Bengal government, to visit and investigate Marichjhapi prior

to the eviction.
[2] Atul Kohli (1996) notes that the tiny tricaste Bengali elite increased its Cabinet

composition from 78 percent under the Congress (1952 -1962) to 90 percent under the

Communists (1977- 1982), indicating the weakness of caste as a salient political category.

However, Attwood and Baviskar (1995, 84) utilize the same information to state that though

Kohli “sees this ‘weakness of caste’ in a positive light, we are less sanguine about it. The major

political parties in West Bengal are led by members of a tiny, high-caste minority. The bhadralok

cannot hope to benefit from caste-based appeals to the rural electorate. In other words, caste is

“weak” in Bengal politics because the dominant minority requires other bases of electoral support

and because the majority so far lacks the ability to challenge the minority.”
[3] Interview, Indian Administrative Service (IAS) Secretary of the West Bengal Government.
[4] Interviews with Indian Administrative Service and West Bengal Civil Service officers.
[5] Interviews with Indian Civil Service (ICS) officers.
[6] Letter from All India Scheduled Castes/Tribes and Backward Classes Employees Co-

ordination Council to Bhola Paswan Shastri M.P., Chairman of the Commission for Scheduled

Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Subject: "Genocide Committed on the Scheduled Caste Refugees

of Marichjhapi Island."
[7] Interview with IAS Secretary of the West Bengal Government.
[8] The use of torture was indicated when a Communist Party - Marxist informant warned me that

attempts to obtain publications of Maoist insurgents could lead to my torture by police and being

a scholar would not save me. He had used his ruling party influence to keep Maoist friends out of

jail because even though they were killing each other, there might come a time when they would

be on the same side, as they would once have been in the old undivided Communist Party. As

photocopying the insurgent literature was considered too dangerous, he gave me his own

collection so I never found out if I was in the tortureable or untortureable category of society.

The Communist relationship with the police is interesting. They reinstated police mutineers who

had been dismissed by the Congress government after their mutiny was put down by the army.

When the second United Front government took power and Jyoti Basu was appointed Minister-

in-Charge of Police, one officer to advance his career handed over the names of police informers
in the Communist Parties, resulting in the deaths of about a hundred of them. Though an

investigation was conducted no action was taken and the officer subsequently became Calcutta

Police Commissioner and Inspector General of Police (Roy Choudhury 1977, 225). When the

Communists came to power in 1977 they retained the services of police torturers who continued

the practice, even though the Left Front government had evidence they had tortured other leftists.

I was offered an interview with one well-known police torturer who reputedly took special

pleasure in torturing women, but when an intermediary mentioned that the officer had proved

useful to the Chief Minister, who retained the Police portfolio till May 1996, I declined the

invitation since my research might not have been appreciated and he apparently had more

powerful connections than I had.
[9] I talked to one civil servant who told me he had taken leave rather than follow orders to take

part in the eviction. While this may have been the ethical thing to do, if some people could avoid

participating it may have led to those more ruthless and prejudiced taking part in the eviction.