December 14, 2014

JUSTICE FOR KORPAN: Massive Protest by Disabled Persons in Kolkata

Shampa Sengupta

AN unequal battle was fought on the streets of Kolkata on December 3, observed worldwide as the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. The battle was between disabled people of state and the Kolkata police. Braving a fully geared huge police contingent, thousands of disabled persons who had gathered from different parts of the state were there protesting and venting their anger. Breaking barricades and clashing with the police, the angry protesters rallying under the banner of the Paschim Banga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammilani an affiliate of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) were seeking justice for Korpan Shah. A person with psychosocial disability, Shah was allegedly lynched by a group of junior doctors, within the premises of the Nil Ratan Sarkar Medical College hostel on November 16. What provoked the protest was that instead of making efforts to identify and arrest the culprits, efforts were on to hush up the case. While initial reports suggested that Korpan Shah was beaten by the students after he was caught stealing mobile phones, subsequently it came to light that no such thing had occurred. How and why the zari worker had strayed into the compound may never be known. However, what is evident is that Korpan who became mentally ill subsequent to an accident, was tied to a pillar and subjected to brutal blows and inhuman torture, by a few students. That his penis was chopped off talks volumes of the venality of those who indulged in this dastardly crime. That such an incident took place within the premises of a premier institution is alarming to say the least. What is more worrisome is that the numbers of such gory incidents are on the increase in West Bengal. Though a fortnight had passed, no arrest was made or progress made in the case with the Bengal government treating it is a trivial incident. The Sammilani therefore decided that its volunteers will observe civil disobedience and court arrest. Immediately after the murder was reported, Sammelini general secretary Kanti Ganguly, wrote to the chief minister, who also happens to hold the portfolio of home & health, to the home secretary as well as chief commissioner of disabilities & his state counterpart demanding a judicial probe into the incident. It is only the state disability commissioner who bothered to send a reply, which asked us to produce Korpan’s disability certificate, as it is a requisite for the commissioner’s office to take action. Korpan did not have a certificate as do more than 60 percent of India’s disabled population. Korpan’s case therefore may not be taken up by the commissioner’s office. The protesters had come from far-off districts facing several odds of unfriendly terrain and inaccessible trains and buses before landing up in Kolkata to be part of the protest. The police force that was deployed to “counter” people who are “unable to walk or see” was definitely nervous as they were not trained to handle persons with disabilities. Under the leadership of Sailen Chowdhury, president of the organisation, who himself is visually impaired, the men and women charged on the police barricades and started moving towards Raj Bhavan. In the police action some of the wheel-chairs and tricycles were damaged and some of the visually impaired protesters were hurt. Many of them were arrested and released later. We are still searching for answers as to why Korpan’s murderers are still at large. Is it because Korpan came from a poor family, or is it because he was mentally disabled, or is it because the powers that be presume that there will be no one to fight for him? In the meanwhile the Sammelini has collected an amount of Rs 1,00,000 and handed over to Korpan’s family. It has also planned to file a writ in the Kolkata High Court.