(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
October 23, 2011
Police Target Poor Farmers, Kill Four
THE brutalised police force under Congress dispensation in
RULERS HAVE CHANGED,
VICTIMS ARE THE SAME
Bechimari Bazar is hardly 50 km away from Patharughat in the same Darrang district where 140 farmers were gunned down during a historic clash between the British administration and peasants over a rise of land revenue in 1894. Almost 117 years later, the rulers’ side has changed, but not the victims’. Even after 64 years of independence, the toiling peasants are made to suffer and subjected to repression and police brutality. In 2009, too, farmers were baton-charged by the police and many of them were injured at Bechimari when they protested over low price of jute.
It was around noon at Bechimari on October 10, the ‘Black Monday.’ Several thousand small farmers and jute growers from various parts of the surrounding areas had gathered at the weekly Monday market to sell their produce. Tension started from the morning hours when the wholesale traders and syndicate of the middlemen refused to buy jute fibres from the cultivators. A tricky situation was created by the traders and middlemen for buying the jute at a throwaway price. Jute farmers, frustrated with traders' refusal to pay the expected rates, began gathering on the highway from 10 a m. Around noon, the jute growers turned restive after buyers did not show up at the market because they were not willing to pay the price the cultivators were asking for. At a later stage, an abnormally low price was offered for buying the jute. The price of 40 kg of jute ranged between Rs 700 and Rs 800 at the market last week. But on October 10, the traders refused to offer more than Rs 400 for the same quantity.
In fact, the cost of production per quintal averages between Rs 1,500 and Rs 1,800. But the traders offered a price of less than Rs 1,200. As a result, the resentment ran high and a protest was organised by the cultivators. The farmers blocked the highway demanding government intervention in regulating prices. The protest was spontaneous and by and large peaceful. It is noteworthy, the protest was not organised against the buyers or traders, but against the callous attitude of the administration.
However, tension mounted high and refused to dissipate when a large contingent of police personnel and security forces arrived on the spot. In their effort to clear the road, the police burst tear-gas shells, baton-charged the agitating farmers, chased them away and opened fire. Three farmers were fired upon and hunted down from a close range while the fourth was a mentally challenged bystander. The dead have been identified as Billal Hussain (35), Syed Ali (65), Moinul Haque (45) and Akbar Ali (50).
and mass organisations, including the CPI(M), AGP, BJP, AASU,
condemned the killings at Bechimari and organised protest
the state. While condemning the killing at Bechimari, the
A delegation of the CPI(M) state committee comprising of state secretariat members Ananta Deka, Monoranjan Talukdar, Rabin Tamuli and Isfaqur Rahman, along with Darrang district secretary Pran Krishna Das and local leaders, visited the spot and met the families of victims at Bechimari on October 13. the party's former MLA Ananta Deka also addressed a huge gathering at Bechimari Bazar and condemned the police brutality.
The CPI(M) delegation met the family of Syed Ali at Boruajhar who was killed at Bechimari Bazar at point blank range. His three sons --- Abdul Basek, Arab Ali and Sahor Ali --- were weeping. Syed Ali was a poor farmer, cultivating jute in one hectare area of land but had had to maintain a joint family of more then 25 members. On the fateful day, Syed Ali went to the weekly market for selling 60 kg of jute. He was struck by the police bullet in the skull.
Billal Husain of No 4 Boruajhar was a poor ‘thelawalla’ and also cultivated jute in an area of less then 0.5 acre of land. Billal had to maintain his mother, wife Tamzida and three sons --- Moidul (8), Azizul (5) and Sajidul (3). On October 10, Billal was hunted out and killed behind a hotel at Bechimari Bazar.
Another poor peasant --- Moinul Haque of Gasandi Habi near Bechimari Bazar --- went to sell the jute fibre. He was in the crying need of money for the marriage ceremony of his son that was scheduled for the next day. Poor Moinul was also killed from close range.
The trigger-happy police killed ‘Akbar Pagla’ who was an onlooker to the gory incident.
OF THE CRISIS
As a matter of fact, Assam is a major jute producing state and the Bechimari market is an important centre for jute sale. The traders and middlemen of neighbouring Kharupetia control the market at Bechimari. The traders dispatch the raw jute fibres to Kolkata from where the whole jute business is being controlled.
Police brutality apart, the Bechimari incident has another extremely disquieting aspect. The farming community continues to get a raw deal year after year in return for the hard toil they make in the field. Jute producing farmers remain a languishing lot as they hardly make any profit due to the presence of a thriving racket of middlemen which prevents them from having direct access to the market.
Such a depressing situation exposes that the much talked about government interventions are totally ineffective in addressing the concerns of the peasants. This is regrettable and condemnable that despite having a national level Jute Corporation, the farmers are compelled to sell their produce under duress with the big business houses and the middlemen dictating terms to their advantage.
“All this (Bechimari trouble) is because the Kharupetia-based JCI centre in the district is not taking appropriate steps to regulate the prices,” a farmer at Bechimari said.
The woes of the jute growers were compounded by the low price offered by the JCI, which is Rs 1,690 per quintal. The offer price of the traders is generally more than that of JCI, but it also varies, depending on the market situation on a given day.
The Assam agriculture minister Nilamoni Sen Deka said, “It is the JCI which determines the procurement price,” while the regional manager of the JCI, Guwahati has claimed that the JCI does not play any role in fixing the minimum support price (MSP) as there is a regulatory body that fixes it.
It would be far better if rather than suppressing the democratic dissent and protests, the state government makes the necessary interventions like ensuring market linkage and storage facilities, fixing a reasonable MSP etc for the farmers. The crises of the farming community of Assam, too, are being accentuated by the disastrous neo-liberal economic policies of the Manmohan Singh government at the centre.