State Violence, Civil Liberties and Politics
After the death of Ranjit
Gupta, a former Police Chief of
West Bengal, an admirer of him, who started his career as a police officer and finally became the governor of a frontier province, wrote in praise of the deceased that the latter taught the device of state terrorism as an antidote to Naxalite violence. The admirer, who reportedly killed a Naxalite young man in cold blood, while serving as a SDPO in the district of Birbhum in 1971—this incident was reported with concrete evidence in Bharatjyoti Raychaudhuri's book Satchallish Theke Sattar, Age O Pare (From Forty-seven to Seventy, Before and Alter, Punascha, Calcutta) did not explain what this state terror meant, because a proper explanation would let the cat out of the bag. The essence of this terror was cold-blooded killing of suspected Naxalite militants in utter disregard of the legal system and concocting tales of 'encounter' to justify such killings. When young men are arrested from their homes and killed by the police, such tales of encounter do not carry conviction with anybody. In the eyes of the law, such policemen were guiltier than the Naxalites, because, being custodians of law and order, they resorted to illegal violence consciously. Some persons try to defend such extra-judicial violence by the police by arguing that if policemen see their colleagues being killed, it is not unjust for them to resort to counter-killing. The apologists of police brutality are prone to think that the police are above these laws. But the policemen themselves know that if they confess their acts of killing openly, they are liable to be punished by law, and so they always concoct tales of 'encounter.'
Sometimes police officers, by referring to the widows of policemen, have tried to justify such killings, albeit indirectly. They conveniently hide the fact that these widows receive compensations, pensions and other benefits from the state, while the dear and near ones of those killed by the police in cold blood have only to blame their fate.
Numerous incidents testify to this hypocrisy of the police and their apologists. Saroj Datta, the well-known Naxalite intellectual who, before the Naxalbari uprising of 1967, had long associations with the CPI and the CPI(M), was arrested on 3 August and then disappeared. The then police commissioner of Kolkata, Mr Ranjit Gupta, and his colleagues understood that the tale of an encounter could not be made credible at all, and hence they took the wiser course of denying the event altogether. Thus one form of mendacity, concocted stories of 'encounter', was replaced by another, namely denial of the capture altogether. Some persons came out in protest, but well-known academics like Sukumar Sen, Nihar Ranjan Ray, Amlan Datta, Santosh Bhattacharya etc preferred not to incur the wrath of the government, and remained silent. It is interesting that most of those who tried to make the truth public belonged to the CPI, which was branded by Saroj Datta and his colleagues as a dirty revisionist outfit. Frontier boldly reported the incident, and Samar Sen, in an article published in a leading Bengali daily in 1977, referred to the incident of Saroj Datta's disappearance and commented that only the omniscient police force knew how he faced that last moment of his life. This article was a slap on the face of Ranjit Gupta-Debi Ray & Co, but they swallowed the insult and waited for the moment when they would be able to show themselves in public as respectable gentlemen. How they succeeded in it may be illustrated by one example. Ranjit Gupta was shouted down by a section of the audience when he was going to read a paper at an international conference of anthropologists, and had to leave the place. Again, he was invited to lecture at the department of anthropology at the University of Calcutta, but was forced to leave in the face of students' resistance. But this was the only 'punishment' he received, because the democratic environment of 1977-78 was not strong enough to force the newly installed Left Front Government to try him under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. A general consensus was built in favour of the release of political prisoners, most of whom were Naxalites, but no such consensus could be formed for the punishment of tyrannical police officers. This was due to the fact that the events of the early seventies had a depressing effect on the morale of the urban population, and many eye-witnesses of extra-judicial killings by the police were reluctant to give evidence publicly. The Left Front Government also did not show any serious willingness to punish the guilty police officers.
Another ghastly incident of state terror in the early seventies—the Trinamul Congress-led government has revived the memories of that period by initiating a probe into the Sainbari killing of March 1970—was the cold-blooded killing of five young men on 19 November in the Beleghata area of East Kolkata. The police raided a large number of flats of the CID housing scheme, arrested about 50 young men from their homes, and killed five of them in cold blood. One of them was Asok Basu, who, before being shot down by a hail of bullets, shouted 'Naxalbari Lal Selam' (Red Salute to Naxalbari), showing his courage of conviction. The fact of the matter was revealed by the investigation of a team of parliament members. The entire operation was led by Debi Ray, the then Deputy Commissioner of Calcutta Police, Detective Department. And at that time Ranjit Gupta was the Police Commissioner, Calcutta. Neither Ranjit Gupta nor Debi Ray admitted the incident of coldblooded murder, because they knew that such an admission would make them liable to be punished under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. But there was no serious clamour for the punishment of the guilty police officers, because the mainstream of the Naxalite movement was in the grip of an all-round left adventurism, which only succeeded in increasingly alienating it from the masses, and in uniting both the upper and the lower echelons of police forces against it. The leaders of this mainstream did not believe in mass movements, they only believed in retaliatory indiscriminate attacks on the police, which strengthened the hands of the upper-level police officers. The demand for a judicial probe into the death of Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji has been turned down, and a CID investigation has been ordered. All the non-government investigations have made it clear that he was captured, tortured and killed in cold blood. Mamata Banerjee, in order to hide this fact has made a number of self-contradictory statements, which has further revealed the true nature of the episode. But Mamata Banerjee's position is sure to influence the C1D investigation, and it is unlikely that the truth will be revealed. It is of course true that the activities of the Jangalmahal Maoists, namely reliance on injudicious killings instead of promoting the mass movement, largely isolated them from their support base and to that extent, the task of the joint forces was made easier. But that does not justify the mendacity of Mamata Banerjee's men and the police chiefs. Here too the same sort of cowardice is evident. Custodians of law and order, who regularly accept fat salaries and other prerogatives for doing their duty, resort to extra-judicial killings but do not have the courage to admit it. The case of Azad is another example. Azad was entrapped in the name of peace talks, and killed. Along with him, a journalist was also shot dead. And Mr P Chidambaram shamelessly declared that they attacked the police and were killed when the police returned the fire. Such sort of lies have few takers, but the state, after all, is equipped with superior armed and financial power, and has been able to influence the legal authority. Mamata Banerjee, less than one year before her victory at the assembly polls, raised the demand for an independent investigation at a mass meeting in Lalgarh. The Maoists of Jangalmahal and the prominent members of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities reportedly participated in the mobilization for that meeting. But Mamata Banerjee then decided not to pursue the issue, because she needed an alliance with the Congress and could not afford to lose the places of her party in the central cabinet. After her ascent to power, she made the joint forces deployed by Buddha Babu's government temporarily inactive, but did not do anything to redress the grievances of the victims of earlier state repression. The crimes of the joint forces, e.g. the cold-blooded killing of Sido Saren and Lalmohan Tudu, or the rape of women in some villages, went unpunished. Then, as she came to understand that the CPI(Maoist) was no longer of any use to her in the Jangalmahal region, she unleashed the joint forces against this outfit, which, in many areas, helped her party with their armed power for winning at the assembly polls.
The demand for a high-level impartial investigation into Azad's death spread widely, but it was not strong enough to force the government. This is perhaps one result of the left adventurist practices of the outfit named CPI(Maoist). Such practices, in the long run weaken the morale of the people, and helps the state in intensifying oppression.
The lesson that can be derived from the long history of state terrorism and civil rights movement is that no civil rights movement or for that matter no movement for the promotion of democracy can succeed if it cannot rally the people in its support. Again, how far this support can be garnered depends upon the extent to which the political representatives of the victims of state repression practise the mass line. The present state, in the final analysis, is controlled by powerful vested interests that can never be true representatives of the people. But to fight the state effectively even in matters of civil liberties, a judicious programme of mobilizing the masses is the indispensable need. If the struggle for the people against the state is dominated by left adventurism, which often fails to distinguish between friends and foes, and resorts to indiscriminate killings, sometimes even on suspicion, for the solution of the problems, the task of the civil liberties and human rights movements is rendered harder, and the tyrannical and corrupt policemen, and other tyrannical forces get away with impunity. Unless this trend is fought effectively, no civil liberties movement can succeed.
Vol. 45, No. 14 - 17, Oct 14 - Nov 10 2012
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