It was a pleasant late winter
evening of 2004 (2005?). Along with
one of my friends I was returning from Panchpota village to Gobordanga. Panchpota is a bordering village in Gaighata police station of North 24 parganas district, where my friend had been working as a teacher in a local School and some of his relatives also lived there. We enjoyed ourselves the whole day roaming across the village and rowing through the BAWOR (Horse shoe lake cut off from Ichhamati river). As our meet would continue that night at my friend's residence - we were in expansive mood. Our auto-rickshaw was running along the high-way piercing the darkness and mist and in the mid-way reached a small market place called Sutia Baazar. The name Sutia appeared to be known to me but I could not place it in proper perspective at that moment.
A passenger got down and a young man replaced him. My friend seemed to be happy to see the new co-passenger and said 'aare Barun, ki khobar?' (Barun, what's up?). For the rest of the journey they were talking about some trivial things. I realised that the young man was a teacher in Mitra Institution (Main), Kolkata and belonged to Sutia village.
When we reached Gobordanga, my friend told me that this young man was the main organizer of the 'mass uprising' of Sutia village and resisted the notorious goons and criminals who had been raping and torturing women of the village for years together. Most of the culprits were compelled to be put behind the bars by that time but some of the accomplices were still absconding. Immediately I could recollect the newspaper reports about the horrifying incident and the nouns like Sutia, and Barun Biswas dawned before my heart and mind with their full meaning and significance.
It is really very difficult for us who live at safe distance from the hot spots of the society to understand how difficult and perilous it had been for Barun and few others of Sutia village of Gaighata to resist the powerful rapists and anti-socials of that area. Prior to this lethal attack on Barun, two attempts were made to kill Sri Nani Gopal Poddar, the president of the people's committee. Even today the persons who took active parts in the movement do not feel safe.
For those who are not aware of the incident that took place in Sutia during 2000-2002,1 would like to quote from The Times of India, dated 15th July 2012 to give them a rough idea (published after his death): "It was a rainy July evening ten years ago. A motley group of villagers from Sutia gathered at the local market to protest the spate of rapes that had left the area terrorized. They were angry but terrified of reprisal. And they did not know if anyone would join the fight. Speaking in hushed tones, they distributed leaflets asking people to join the protest. Some took the leaflets hesitantly, cast a furtive glance, and threw them away. A hired microphone lay silent in a corner. Suddenly, a young man walked boldly through the anxious crowd and grabbed the microphone. He stood tall on a wooden stool and started speaking. "If we can't protect our daughters, sisters, wives and mothers, then we shouldn't be living in a civilized society. If we lack the courage to take on the rapists, we deserve more severe punishment than they do....
...In the two years running up to the meeting at Sutia market, the locality had been ravaged by a gang of rapists—led by Sushanta Choudhury—who used sexual torture as a weapon of dominance. Officially, there had been 33 rapes and a dozen murders but the actual number of rapes was many times more because victims were too terrified to complain. Anyone who even murmured in protest was gangraped for weeks. Worse, the gang sometimes raped every woman in the family, regardless of age, to teach a lesson. Apart from the half-a-dozen villages in the area, no one knew about the terror. And the police did not quite bother.
...Barun not only brought justice for the raped, he also rehabilitated them socially. Though it made him a hero in Sutia, his commitment never changed. He helped poor boys study, bought medicines for the elderly, coached job-seekers, and even campaigned for the dredging of a canal to prevent Sutia and nearby areas from flooding."
Let us return to the evening I was talking about. I was really surprised to see the man in person . How could this amiable, soft spoken, innocent looking young man (he was in his early 30s then) have aroused the dignity, courage, self-respect of the commoners of Sutia village who had been enduring such a heinous atrocity for so long? How could this man remain so calm and frugal in his words to narrate their remarkable movement?
We spent a few hours with Barun, went to the house of another teacher on Barun's request. Barun was walking all along holding his bicycle with both hands on which he would ride back home that night after meeting his friends.
Though I met him that evening itself I could not refrain myself from cautioning him about the imminent danger of his life. I had become so worried about him that I repeated my 'advice' a few occasions but it failed to create any impact in his mind. He just smiled and shifted the subject. Frankly speaking I was little annoyed and felt that the fearlessness of his was just recklessness and stupidity.
That was the first and the last time I met this remarkable man for whom I consider myself immensely lucky and blessed. I enquired about Barun's well being from my friends for some time but time rolled on to blur the memory of Barun and Sutia in my mind.
It is difficult to express how miserable I felt to read the news of Barun's murder one morning. The reports/stories that came out in following days and the anecdotes about the man I came to know from my friends who reside in the vicinity created a vigorous tumult in my mind and I got my answer for the bewildering fearlessness of his.
He was an ordinary man who did such extraordinary things throughout his life—remained fearless throughout his life—because he LOVED all. He had no enemies—He had presented "RAMAKRISHNA KATHAMRITA" to the convicts of the crime he fought against and requested them to read the book in captivity so that they could shed their aberrations and reborn as human beings. He donated Rs 20000 to a man who was one of the associates of the criminals for his daughter's marriage. As per the reports, that very man has repaid his debt by identifying Barun to his assailants. Does not this act remind us of Jesus Christ—the eternal lover of life and humanity? Or Sri Chaitanya who aroused the lower caste, downtrodden masses to revolt against the tyrannical social customs patronized by the Upper castes to establish a just society with the weapon of love? Maybe they could not eradicate all the evils but who could? They acted within their respective domain and did their best to save the sufferers. They did not attempt anything very big like establishing a world of 'no-oppression, no-hunger, no-class difference etc'. But their legacy inspired many people to render noble services for the cause of humanity.
I wondered why Barun opted to live at Sutia after the 'victory' and had been commuting 60 kilometers to reach his work place everyday when he could easily stay in Kolkata (It is learnt that his brother's family resides in Kolkata)? Now I think Barun knew the reality and understood the vulnerability of the masses. Like Dr Bernard Rieux of Camus's 'The Plague' he might have realized that continuous vigil and guard was required to thwart any further attack of "plague" which might break out in the society at any moment. The common people fail to fight out the menace at the outset for several reasons. He was very rightly aware of the importance of his presence at Sutia.
He was unmarried, it is learnt after his death that major part of his earning from his salary had been spent for the others—mainly for poor students and old and infirm ladies of that area. He had deep faith in divine justice. I was told that he had great reverence for a holy man of that area and used to follow his advice. According to some of his friends this deep spiritual inspiration was the secret of his inner strength. He was virtually fearless and never died before his death.
From the recent newspaper reports we came to know that a number of meetings, rallies have been held by the inhabitants of Sutia and adjoining areas where hundreds of men, women and children were assembled spontaneously to show their love and respect for their beloved Barun Biswas and to seek punishment of his killers. It is satisfying to note that this time the police administration took prompt action to nab the assailants and at present under the instruction of the Chief Minister of West Bengal, the CID is now investigating the conspiracy hatched from behind the scene to eliminate him. Proper punishment for the murderers is no doubt a very important thing but sanitisation of this criminal infested area of North 24 parganas is more important in order to champion the cause for which Barun had to sacrifice his life.
Vol. 45, No.9, Sep 9-15 2012