United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 & observes December 10 as Human Rights Day. UDHR proclaims the inalienable rights which every human being on Earth is entitled to. Today, thus, is the best day to put brief accounts of a few incidents that relate to Human Rights in West Bengal. Article 19 of UDHR states—“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. Accounts given below would perhaps facilitate extrapolation of the ground reality of Human Rights in West Bengal.
On December 5, 2020, at Barabani, Asansol, row broke out as a political party took out a rally against illegal trafficking of coal from Asansol-Raniganj Coal belt of West Bengal. As the people were protesting against crime, injustice & hooliganism, hooligans started bombing & shooting in the rally that ended up making seven people injured with one being critical as he was shot at the chest. NIA & CBI is currently investigating the coal-belt crime in which State Police is allegedly creating hindrance to protect the key persons. As the right to live with dignity & without fear is a Human Right as per UDHR, safeguarding the accused hooligans, West Bengal Police deliberately violated Human Right of the people of coal belt.
The State observed grave violation of Human Rights, perhaps incomparable to any other, when Punam Kumari Das alias Guria, a minor Dalit girl was missing since June 10, 2017 (FIR No.132 dated 10/06/17 of Garden Reach PS under section 363 of IPC). After a discourse of 8 months, Kolkata Police confessed to Hon’ble Calcutta High Court on February 16, 2018, that they were incapable of rescuing Guria. They said they couldn’t raid Metiabruz. No proceedings ever started against Mintu Sheikh, son of Korban Ali who allegedly abducted Guria to his residence in Metiabruz. Metiabruz falls under the Assembly Constituency of Firhad Hakim who described Garden Reach as “Mini Pakistan” to a reporter of ‘DAWN’
Incident at Barabani is but a minor incident to what happened in Raniganj in April 2018. The dreadful communal riot broke out when a Ramnavami procession was passing by a specific locality of Raniganj. Hindu residences got vandalised, bombed repeatedly so that they had to come out on the open ground to feel safer. Children sat on roads with some ‘muri’ (puffed rice) on plates. Those visuals were strenuous on nerves. As per UDHR, “childhoods are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.” Keep aside ‘special care’, West Bengal Government didn’t deliver any protection to a set of children of coal-belt that day.
Three Hindus lost their lives namely Mahesh Mondal, Pratima Devi & another, while many moved away to a safer location. Member of Parliament (MP) of Asansol was prevented from entering the locality. As State Police remained inactive, the MP requested West Bengal Government to take help of CRPF which the government didn’t agree to. However, State policemen couldn’t shoot even a single armed goon. Nor did they arrest any criminal. The police chased them with ‘lathi’ which expectedly couldn’t intercept bombs & bullets. The locals complained that police came to no help. As Deputy Commissioner of Police, Arindam Datta Chowdhury, went to intervene on his own, he almost lost his arm due to bombing. While riot-hit families spent sleepless nights under the sky, the State took no action against the goons. Did West Bengal Government indirectly support the rioters? Did the State silently promote violence upon those people of Raniganj by remaining inactive? So be it, the government grossly supported the violation of a number of Human Rights of coal-belt-people that day.
In Panchayat Election, 2018, after West Bengal Chief Minister’s clarion call for VIRODHIHEEN Panchayats, her party men ran ruthless to stop other party candidates from filing their nominations. Right to participate in Governance either directly or through Representatives of choice is a prime human right. The Chief Minister herself issued imperative for violation of the same. Around 100 men, who canvassed against the ruling party, died as State Police remained inactive against goons.
The State observed grave violation of Human Rights, perhaps incomparable to any other, when Punam Kumari Das alias Guria, a minor Dalit girl was missing since June 10, 2017 (FIR No.132 dated 10/06/17 of Garden Reach PS under section 363 of IPC). Guria was the daughter of Vinod Das, a poor Conservancy Staff of Kolkata Corporation. After a discourse of 8 months, Kolkata Police confessed to Hon’ble Calcutta High Court on February 16, 2018, that they were incapable of rescuing Guria. They said they couldn’t raid Metiabruz. This incident showcased how a rogue legislature could make Judiciary toothless & turn Human Rights null and void. Guria got lost forever. No proceedings ever started against Mintu Sheikh, son of Korban Ali who allegedly abducted Guria to his residence in Metiabruz. Metiabruz falls under the Assembly Constituency of Firhad Hakim who described Garden Reach as “Mini Pakistan” to a reporter of ‘DAWN’ before West Bengal Assembly Election 2016. Social Media was in a fury against Police & Administration demanding immediate recovery of Guria from Metiabruz. Next incident of State-sponsored violation of Human Rights was showcased thereafter. Police immediately took steps to stop the voice of protest. On April 17, 2018, Praveen Tripathi, Joint Commissioner (Crime) tweeted “A false rumour being spread on social media about a missing minor girl held captive in a Metiabruz house and police being afraid of raiding house. Don’t believe in rumours being spread to create communal tension. All indulged in spreading rumour would be severely dealt with”. West Bengal Police has mastered the art of gagging people’s voice of protest. They arrest dissenters on Social Media & confiscate their cellphones & sim cards not to return. How many Articles of UDHR thus be violated by the State? No one ever counts.
As COVID pandemic broke out, Mamata Banerjee Government initially distributed raincoats to COVID Doctors of the State instead of proper Personal Protective Equipment. Dr Indranil Khan, an Oncologist, had raised his voice asking for proper PPE for healthcare professionals. He tweeted one after another showing that doctors wore Raincoats while nurses were made to wear waste plastic sheets in North Bengal Hospital. On March 29, he tweeted tagging West Bengal Chief Minister the report of a famous Bengali Daily from North Bengal, ‘Uttarbanga Sangbad’, that doctors needed the real PPE as raincoats were not enough to fight COVID-19. While Department of Health & Family Welfare of West Bengal replied back to him on March 29 evening & Dr Indranil Khan tweeted his satisfaction that the government had sincerely addressed his concern, the issue didn’t end there in reality. On March 29 itself, Dr Indranil Khan received a notice under CrPC section 41A from IC Zinzira Bajar under Maheshtala Police Station of Diamond Harbour Parliamentary Constituency which is represented in Indian Parliament by Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister. Dr Khan was detained in the PS & grilled enough so that the very next morning, March 30, Dr Khan tweeted an apology. Police seized his cellphone, sim card & lodged an FIR against him under IPC section 153A. The oncologist immediately moved to Calcutta High Court with a Writ Petition against the State & on March 30 itself; the Court gave interim relief to him asking police to return his cellphone & sim card. The Court observed State’s behaviour to be violating freedom of speech under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. Not that everyone who gets intimidated by GOWB can proceed to High Court & get his/her cellphone back. Isn’t snatching personal belongings a violation of Human Rights by the State?
The mother and wife of BJP karyakarta Pradip Mondal who was killed at Bangipara
Basirhat Riot is another incident which must be noted not only for its virulence but also for State’s inaction against rioters that compromised with Human Rights of thousands. Baduria, Basirhat and Swarupnagar observed mayhem that started on July 3. Hindu villages were looted one after another, their shops on both sides of Barasat Taki road were ransacked, looted and set ablaze. Role of West Bengal Police was that of mere spectators. As the State remained inactive, Keshari Nath Tripathi, the then Hon’ble Governor of West Bengal, arranged deployment of three companies of Central Forces on July 5 evening. That was the first-ever news Bengali media at all aired about the deadly riot that started on July 3.
Basirhat Riot is another incident which must be noted not only for its virulence but also for State’s inaction against rioters that compromised with Human Rights of thousands. Baduria, Basirhat and Swarupnagar observed mayhem that started on July 3. Hindu villages were looted one after another, their shops on both sides of Barasat Taki road were ransacked, looted and set ablaze. Role of West Bengal Police was that of mere spectators. They were present at the site with ‘lathi’ & without their service firearms. Innumerable Hindu girls were molested as local Hindus tried to fight deadly fundamentalists from their limited capacity. As the State remained inactive, Keshari Nath Tripathi, the then Hon’ble Governor of West Bengal, arranged deployment of three companies of Central Forces on July 5 evening. The situation started normalising after that which the State didn’t like. In an unprecedented public outburst on July 5, West Bengal Chief Minister lashed out at Governor Tripathi because he arranged for Central Forces. That was the first-ever news Bengali media at all aired about the deadly riot that started on July 3. Media remained silent. However, as they were committed to air CM’s voice, the real news came out as a by-product after almost three days of a continued riot. One very important information escaped the lips of Bengal Chief Minister in front of the Press. She said she tried her level best to convince some Muslim leaders to stop. This unambiguously implied that police remained inactive as Chief Minister was trying to sort the issue by discussing with fundamentalists. In other words, the riot was a State-sponsored one. Had the Chief Minister given a free hand to the police, lives, properties & chastity of innumerable Hindus could have been saved. Human Right is pretty costly in West Bengal & not freely available.
Sandeshkhali, located at Indo-Bangladesh border in North 24 Parganas District, is infested with cross-border crimes & steady infiltration of Bangladeshi immigrants including Rohingyas. June 8, 2019, Pradip Mondal & his brothers of Sandeshkhali, who canvassed against the ruling party in Loksabha Election 2019, were brutally murdered allegedly by one Sheikh Shahjahan of the ruling Trinamool Congress. Pradip Mondal’s eyes were gauged out & some dead bodies were packed in sacks & placed under the muddy beds of the local fishing lakes which got recovered much later. Mondal Family was devastated & refused even to see West Bengal CM. They cried helplessly in front of National Media & categorically accused Sheikh Shahjahan mentioning local police to be hand in gloves with him. Mondals claimed Shahjahan came to threaten them along with local policemen who didn’t want to record FIR against Shahjahan. However, after Social Media uproar following National Media intervention, FIR against Shahjahan could finally be lodged in Najat Police Station though Police couldn’t arrest him as he was reportedly ‘absconding’. Is Human Right appearing an alien thing in West Bengal?
As we are discussing state of Human Rights in West Bengal, one incident can’t remain uncovered though it was much worse than a spine-chilling nightmare. On June 11, 2020 a set of mutilated corpses from Nilratan Sircar MCH Morgue were taken for cremation to ADI GARIA MAHASHAMSHAN GHAT by Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s workmen. The way KMC men dragged the corpses one after another against the ground tying them along the neckline with a rope & pulling them with a tong, the sight took a toll upon the psyche of viewers. Questions haunted—how could corpses decompose to that extent & why weren’t they cremated much earlier? Didn’t they deserve their last rites to be performed with dignity? The trauma of the incident affected the entire humanity. As the videos went viral, police, instead of addressing the concern of civil society, warned them of ‘action’ for posting those videos in Social Media. Police marked video-posting as crime while Kolkata Municipal Corporation committed the real crime by blatantly hurting human senses. This incident would perhaps find its place amongst the worst-ever State-sponsored dereliction of Human Rights.
Incidents are uncountable; however, one last would precede conclusion. As per the report of National Crime Record Bureau 2016, the number of women trafficked out of West Bengal was 3579. The State stood FIRST in Women Trafficking in India. However, in 2017 NCRB report, the number slashed down straightway to 357. This impossible was made possible by the police not on the ground, but in papers. They manipulated the categorisation of cases at the time of FIR registration
Incidents are uncountable; however, one last would precede conclusion. As per the report of National Crime Record Bureau 2016, the number of women trafficked out of West Bengal was 3579. The State stood FIRST in Women Trafficking in India. However, in 2017 NCRB report, the number slashed down straightway to 357. This impossible was made possible by the police not on the ground, but in papers. They manipulated the categorisation of cases at the time of FIR registration. Volunteer organisations & women who got rescued from different places back to West Bengal were furious & accused that while taking up their FIRs, Police deliberately didn’t put IPC section 370 against the accused & registered FIRs only against KIDNAP. Thus, in black and white, the number of women trafficking drastically reduced in 1 year & West Bengal Government window-dressed the State’s crime record. State Police, in fact, defended women-trafficking agents in this way. Is this State-sponsored Human Right Violation? Or State-sponsored Criminal Right Protection?
West Bengal showcases the pathetic fate of Human Rights. Recommendations of State Legislature (represented de facto by a single person) violate Human Rights of common people & the State Bureaucrats implement them. A selected set of Bureaucrats work out methods of implementing illegal & unconstitutional recommendations manipulating the interpretations of Constitutional provisions. Legislature-Bureaucracy nexus thus choked Human Rights & got West Bengal converted into a rogue State. However, let hope prevail on International Human Rights Day—people may die, humanity must not.
(The writer is a columnist and political analyst)