Bengal's Stasis

Rana Bose

Bengal and Bengalis, today, when they get agitated or very simply when their curiosity is perked, do not seem to be concerned about the juridical implications of their actions.  They must rush in with their feet, arms flailing, and of course screaming at the top of their lungs. Political intimidation governs and determines the legal process. The courts are not free. The policemen are shackled to the diktat of local toughs.

A police station gets ransacked, smack in the middle of the city. Police men cower under a bench holding the axiomatic file folders above their heads. These folders epitomize the inherited bureaucracy of colonial stasis and simultaneously have been the road block to so many life and death scenarios. The pink file folder protects the constable from a severe head bashing! The file folder that saves a police man could very well contain an FIR that had falsely implicated a perfectly innocent person, caught in a web of deceitful allegations. An almost made-in-Bengal Kafkaesque live action soap opera.

The Ministers, the MPs, the policemen, the DCs and the magistrates are all cut out of the same fabric as the rioters. There is no dignity; there is no contemplation about what is the net effect of their actions on the basic statutes of the legal and democratic process, or due process, as it is better known—and without exception ad-hocism prevails and takes over. From Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police to Magistrates, from Ministers to party hacks, there is a chaotic quality to the reactive behavioral process. Intimidation reigns supreme. Except for an occasional District Court Judge, no one seems to have the spleen to tell off a public prosecutor for shielding and diminishing the charges against a local tough, under pressure. There is no legal process, there is no warrant, and there is no directive from a magistrate that is followed. Instead, on the spot declarations are made by petty officers with a petty outlook and limited training in the legal process. The next day when the Commissioner is asked about the incident, he says, something so very earth-shattering like, "The matter is being investigated."

There is an accused who has attempted suicide in jail—Kunal Ghosh—a possible whistle-blower and former MP who has openly listed the names of everyone, from the top down, who were involved in a major scam—the Saradha chit fund scam. The entire leadership of the West Bengal government has its knickers in a knot and their fingers deep in the fecal mess that is the Saradha scam. Like in the sub-prime meltdown, thousands of people have lost their entire life's savings. But, this is now irrelevant. The Chief Minister of Bengal, Ms Banerjee, screws up her forehead and twists her lips and asks "Is his Blood pressure too low?"

The Policemen are not trained to PROTECT those who are under attack or whose privacy or personal safety is under duress. They invariably have no plans to escort out a prisoner, safely, from a rear door perhaps(?) or coordinate with ambulance personnel, so that the operation is carried out with some finesse. The Police have no ability to act independently. There is no planning, there is no strategy, and there is only an awkward and clumsy display of total incompetence all on live TV. There are constables, even female ones on standby at a distance, observing the breakdown of whatever semblance of order that prevails in an essentially pre-industrial, post-colonial theatre space. Or, they suddenly carry out a swift baton-charge without any basis and beat the crap out of everyone, reporters, camerapersons included, with no tolerance whatsoever for women. This was evident from the goon-vigilante quality of the police action during the recent Jadavpur University student agitation. As the whole world watches on live-TV (actually no one gives a damn for the histrionics that go on in Mamata's Bengal, except some six channels in India), this hapless suicide attempter is literally "changdolaed-out" (like when a dead beast is carried out on all fours) with an oxygen feed tube swinging down from his nose and IV needle flopping all over the place and he is pushed into a truck and trundled off back to Presidency Jail.

There is no concept of witness protection, nor is there any notion of innocent until proven guilty. The fundamental direction comes from a lumbering, dokta-chewing, bloated, Minister or local MLA (who is accompanied by his goons always) and the Police invariably rush to take direction from there.

An MLA or an MP HAS NO BUSINESS in the transfer of a prisoner from a critical care facility, especially after an alleged attempt at suicide. A police super has no instructions to take from a political leader or local thug for such an activity. A mob accompanies the process and the TV journalists, unfortunately, are incoherent, repetitive and have nothing significant to report, but must follow the "breaking news" cliched presentation, with a lot of swish-bang graphics and sound effects. The Police are never prepared, the mob is always ready and the process is always egged on by the feudal comicality of the media, inspired by the libelous ranting of self-important hucksters like Arnab Goswami.

This is the land, after all, that gave birth to Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra, Jagadish Bose, Nazrul, Subhash Bose, Satyen Bose, Michael Madhusudan, Samar Sen, Kalpana Dutta, Sukanta among many others and later on Ritwick Ghatack, Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray and even Mahsweta Devi, who until recently had made sound and dignified interventions. Their voice was at least the voice of reform, if not revolution. They discussed with firmness the boundaries of impropriety that the State should never cross, and they hinted at what a civil society must conform to, as well. They talked about science and society and freedom of the individual as well as collective emancipation. They set the tone for public indignation, despite the fact that many of them tended to compromise on a lot of issues. Irrespective, the tone of their indignation set the pattern for the mood of the public. Somehow, the dignity and clarity associated with indignation -the intellectual farsightedness that accompanies a statement of protest, has eluded Bengal today. In fact, there are no scribes or luminaries around to look up to, except perhaps for Sankha Ghosh. The poets and writers, the intellectuals and artists have all joined the ranks of the mobsters who have taken power. In fact, they are in their pay. Ludicrous as it may seem, these well-known artists are themselves involved in the Saradha scam. There is thus a hooligan quality to this pre-industrial post-colonial cultural theatre space.

Some learned left wing academics have suggested that 'we are going through a phase of subalternist assertion'. The folks from the "lower depths" have seized power. Their un-refinement and anti-elitism must be taken notice of. Such bunkum and twaddle needs some correction. In a province and a society, that has the highest incidence of child deaths in hospitals, where the largest export items are not machinery or manufactured goods—but shrimps, tea, dried flower products and leather goods and where the largest contribution to growth has come from   hotels, real estate, finance, insurance, transport, communications and other services, there is simply no chance in hell that the basis of discourse in the streets, in the courts, in the jails, in and outside police stations and in alleys and slums comes from a genuine subalternist perspective. Transplanted moffusil shysters and street smart hustlers who have switched from the CPM to TMC to BJP—are not the subjects who will provide the discourse of "otherness" in Bengal.

Vol. 47, No. 24, Dec 21 - 27, 2014