WB: Arjuna Bibi & Denudement of a Ruthless Regime
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AT one level Arjuna Bibi is no one special. She is one of the countless poor who are being deprived of even the basic amenities, a hapless populace being pushed to the wall with all their human rights trampled upon. But considered from another angle she is different as she has chosen not to perpetually suffer in silence but to challenge the mighty, to rise and protest against injustice. Again, at one level what has happened to her is nothing special. It is one among the countless acts of horrifying police brutality against ‘disobedient’ civilian populations that occurs in Bengal every other day. But considered from another angle her case is different as her terrible humiliation and her trampled dignity shall haunt public memory, particularly in Bengal and also elsewhere in India, for a substantial period of time. Her case shall remain as another glaring example of the gross violation of human rights in Bengal of a citizen, a poor rural Muslim woman, an activist of the organised Left democratic mass movement, and more importantly of a human being.
AWAS YOJANA SCAM
With the rise of widespread mass demonstrations against the continuing unbridled corruption, a total lack of transparency in the implementation of government schemes and organised criminality in all spheres of public life, the Trinamool government in Bengal is increasingly adopting ruthless, inhuman, anti-democratic measures to contain or suppress people’s protests. For the past few weeks, Left-led protests have erupted across the state over the exclusion of genuinely poor and homeless from the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana list and the inclusion in the list of completely ineligible affluent pucca two-storied and even three-storied house owners in their stead on the basis of sheer nepotism. This is allegedly a corruption of about ten thousand crore rupees, starting from distribution of Awas Yojana application forms to the listing of the beneficiaries. The families of Trinamool representatives at different tiers of the panchayat system have even used pictures of ragged shelters of homeless families to register their own names as claimants.
Thus, Trinamool is doing dirty politics even on an essential issue like a roof over the heads of poor people. Many eligible recipients could not apply at the panchayat office or even if they did, their names were not nominated. The list prepared by the Trinamool party office has been approved by government officials. Through all this, it may be understood why so much money, muscle-power, bombs and guns are used and why so much bloodshed occurs in the panchayat elections to ensure opposition-free panchayat bodies. The panchayat system is a source of free loot for TMC! After verification, it appears that in the list that was first published, about 30 per cent per block lacked the initial eligibility to avail the housing scheme benefits. And many of them have family ties with block level Trinamool party leadership. In many cases, political allegiance has been considered as the main criteria for inclusion of names in the list without paying the least attention to socio-economic status.
Naturally, after the release of the preliminary list, protests have been happening in almost every district against this terrible corruption. People are asking the basic question why they need to grease the palms of Trinamool leaders to get the benefit of any government project implemented at the panchayat level. Panchayat members of the Trinamool are resigning in large numbers in many districts due to the pressure of public protest. Trinamool workers are being admitted to hospital after being beaten up for protesting against Trinamool leaders. To escape public anger, the local MLA is trying to show himself/herself innocent by pushing the responsibility of all the misdeeds on the shoulders of the local block development officer (BDO). Trinamool is making an excuse that housing corruption is worst in East Medinipur because the number one leader of Trinamool there has now defected to the BJP and become the leader of the opposition. While this may be substantially true, it cannot cover up the numerous cases of arbitrary manipulation of the lists by the conscious initiative of the Trinamool leaders in district after district. People are rising in protest in successive rallies.
Arjuna Bibi, a housewife from a poor brick kiln worker’s family, had come to attend one such protest rally held in Nandakumar in East Medinipur on December 30. Along with others she went to submit a deputation to the BDO demanding a transparent Awas Yojana list. Let's hear from her what happened after that:
“We were standing in front of the gate of BDO office. We demanded to see the Awas Yojana list. But the BDO did not meet us. On the other hand, as soon as daylight began to fade, the police pounced on us. A lady (read female police personnel) assaulted me. But she was not in a police uniform. When she started beating me, I tried to save myself.”
She was trying to save herself! That was precisely Arjuna Bibi’s crime. Why did she not silently digest the beating of the police force which has become a Trinamool accomplice? Where did she get the courage to fight back? This was the main grudge of the Nandakumar police station against her. In that outrage, she was dragged from the front of the BDO office by her hair, practically stripped, and taken to the police car.
In the words of Arjuna Bibi, “I was taken to the police station and asked, how much money did the party give, that you dared to raise your hands on madam? Do you know who she is?” While this was going on she was being slapped continuously inside the lockup. It is written somewhere in the codes that the police have no legal right to torture women in police custody. Arjuna Bibi now knows better than anyone that codes are written only to be broken.
According to Arjuna Bibi, the female police personnel called two other male police personnel into the lockup. Then they lifted her saree almost to her waist and started beating her with a bamboo stick. Arjuna Bibi’s throat felt parched and dry. The police personnel told her to drink piss when she asked for drinking water. There are also allegations against the police of throwing her on the floor of the police station lockup and 'rubbing' her neck with the boot.
At the end of the night's torture, 10 CPI (M) activists including Arjuna Bibi were 'challaned' to the court on the morning of December 31. Serious cases under sections like 307 (related to attempt to murder), 333 (inflicting grievous hurt to deter public servant from duty) of IPC were filed against these political workers who had participated in the democratic movement. They were remanded to judicial custody for three days and finally granted bail on January 3, 2023.
Arjuna Bibi said that the security guards of the jail were shocked to hear the details and see the pattern of torture. “They wondered, what did you do that made them beat you like this inside the police station?”
She could barely stand upright after leaving the jail. Marks of unspeakable torture in police custody were evident all over the body. The throat was catching up to speak a little. Her throat was choked up and her voice was trembling. Seeing her condition, CPI(M) leaders decided to admit her to a hospital.
The police did not stop at just assaulting and arresting Arjuna Bibi and other CPI(M) activists. The CPI(M) party office in Nandakumar was raided without warrant and its furniture destroyed. Party leaders including East Medinipur district secretary Niranjan Sihi were severely beaten up and arrested. During this raid everyone was hit with the intention of inflicting injury. Later Niranjan Sihi and some others were released, but Arjuna Bibi and others were kept in police custody overnight.
On release from jail, Arjuna Bibi along with 10 Left activists were welcomed by the district and state leadership of CPI(M). Party Central Committee member Sujan Chakraborty said, "A girl from a poor family who has no means was dragged along the street, taken into custody and ruthlessly beaten up by the police. It's hard to stay still after hearing the description of that torture. This incident is not only obscene but also brutal. One can hardly imagine that the police could torture an unarmed housewife in such a way. We arranged for her admission into a hospital. We will make those police who think that they can get away after doing all this, face the consequences. We have started the process of taking legal action against this whole thing.”
CPI(M) West Bengal state secretary and Polit Bureau member Md Salim said in a press conference, “The way a poor woman who complained that she did not get the government money for the house she deserved was brutally beaten by the police and pulled by her clothes in public, is never acceptable in a civilised country. In Bengal it was never like this before.
During the last panchayat elections when the Trinamool backed lumpens worked overtime to capture the panchayats by force, women were harassed like this, grabbed by the hair, pulled by the clothes. Now that the term of that panchayat is coming to an end, people are standing up against the loot, in the absence of the Trinamool-backed forces, the police are doing their job to maintain the rule of plunder. We shall not only protest on the streets but we will also take the police who did this to court,” Salim said.
How did the marginalised woman gather the 'courage' to question the ruling party? It was because of that ‘audacity’ that the East Medinipur district police stepped up to teach her a lesson. However, even in the face of unspeakable torture, Arjuna Bibi is strong and determined to return to the fighting arena under the red flag once again. After her medical treatment she would return to her tattered hut with the brick laid walls standing precariously and the tarpaulin sheet acting as a roof. Every year, the monsoons come down in torrents through the porous roof of their house flooding the rooms. In Mamata Banerjee's Bengal, it is considered an offence on the part of these poorest of the poor people to demand a concrete roof over their heads. But Arjuna Bibi is firm and resolute in her demand for a better tomorrow, come what may.
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