What was the purpose of your visit to Lalgarh?
We wanted to see the ground realities. Our main concern is for the poor villagers here.
And what did you find?
They are caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and police-paramilitary action. It is shocking how vulnerable they are.
Can you explain?
On the one hand, the villagers are afraid to speak out against the Maoists who are virtually holding them hostage for their own ends. On the other hand, there is police terror.
You’ve been very vocal against alleged police brutality here.
After the landmine blast in Salboni last November—the Maoist assassination attempt on the West Bengal CM—the police is supposed to have terrorised the locals in search of militants. They dragged women out, strip-searched them, beat them up.
In protest, the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) was formed. You met its leader Chhatradhar Mahato. But both are said to have links with the Maoists.
It’s important to make a distinction between the two. The PCAPA is a democratic protest movement. We appealed to Mahato to make a statement through the press distancing PCAPA from the Maoists.
But he said he was unable to do so.
We can go extract a statement and come back to our safe homes. But the locals have to live there under threat from armed militants.
The PCAPA’s movement is confused with the Maoists because for over seven months they kept the administration out of the area.
That’s why we appealed to the police and the administration to take their roles as protectors of the people seriously. Why should a condition arise where poor villagers would be so petrified of the police that they would want to keep them out by blocking roads?
Your group Swajan, formed after Nandigram, comprises intellectuals. Do thinking classes help in resolving conflicts such as this?
It is incumbent upon us to try to do so. We cannot turn our backs on the people. It is our collective responsibility to address their plight.
How does Swajan plan to extend support to the people?
Right now the focus is on the immediate crisis. However, we’re happy to invite people to join us to uphold human rights and dignity. The only criterion is that you cannot have any political affiliation.
According to the police, Section 144 was imposed in the area you visited. You’ve been charged with violation of the section.
We had informed the administration about our visit. We were not told about the imposition of Section 144.