Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lalgarh and the Police State

Press reports tell us that security forces are 'set to take control' of Lalgarh in a few hours. It seems that the various groups involved in the conflict include 'Maoists', 'CPM-supporters', 'Trinamool-supporters' and the 'police'. There are no 'people' left in this conflict. This moving video made by a fact-finding team in Lalgarh highlights the role that the police has played in the area. Villager after villager narrates tales of rape, torture and illegal detention by the police, which acted with complete impunity. Add to that a denial of access to even the meagre social security measures provided by the Indian state, and you have all ingredients for a rebellion. Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat are perhaps only extreme examples of the police state that India is, and a colonial system of governance that continues to thrive.

The rot is set too deep. The CPM government being routed in the next assembly elections will be well-deserved. Questions of land-ownership, industrialisation and land-acquisition will require political solutions. But an important part of the problem, as the video demonstrates, is not just what the state does but how it goes about doing it. While reasonable people may disagree on industrialisation, how can there be any disagreement on torture, rape and illegal detention? Will the Mamata Banerjee administration change this colonial system of policing and ensure structural police reforms in Bengal? Will her administration repeal impunity provisions, and ensure accountability for acts of torture? Given that most of these issues are covered by the concurrent list, why doesn't the centre act towards preventing more Lalgarh's rather than merely react to them with even more force?

Opinions on Lalgarh: Saubhik Chakrabarti in the Indian Express, Telegraph Editorial, another Telegraph editorial, Hindu editorial, Kumar Rana in Kafila, Aditya Nigam in Kafila.

Some of the above call for a swift security solution to the problem. Yes, violence by Maoists must be checked, but if all we get is a security response without accompanying structural reform of policing and governance, we can rest assured people in Lalgarhs all over the country will keep 'boycotting' the police.
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