By Ranjit Roy
A letter from West Bengal
The politics of Ek Bigha Zamin
Marxist government in West Bengal can explain starvation deaths through mathematics. Recently, six tribal villagers in Amlasol in west Midnapore have died due to starvation. Though such deaths are not an unusual incident in this Marxist-ruled state during the past 26 years, it stirred much hue and cry in political circles as well as in a section of the press. The unfortunate incident has put the CPI(M) party bosses and their government in an awkward position as they claim themselves as the poor man'sparty. Now it is revealed that the tribals living in the forest areas, both in south and north Bengal, have never received adequate attention regarding their poverty from the so-called government for the poor. Although more than 90 per cent of these people live below the poverty line, they are yet to receive health care and food assistance under various Central schemes. Marxist ministers and party bosses living a comfortable life in Kolkata metropolis do not find time to visit these tribal villages except during the time of elections.
This neglect gave rise to militancy among the tribal people and has turned the Bengal forests into dens of militant outfits like People'sWar Group (PWG), now active in west Midnapore, and Kamtapur Liberation Army (KLA) in north Bengal. The current crises in the media attracted the attention of the National Human Rights Commission which has planned a visit to the affected villages in the state. This has further embarrassed the state government, which is now trying its best to cover-up the deaths by claiming that too much drinking of liquor caused the deaths.
As there are no takers of the government'sarguments, the US-trained Marxist Finance Minister of the state, Dr Asim Dasgupta has placed a new interpretation based on his own arithmetic. He said on the floor of the state assembly on July 5, ?The government has identified 63 poverty-stricken families in Amlasol village. Of them, 43 have agricultural land. One bigha of land is enough to sustain a family round the year. Moreover, these people are free to earn their livelihood from forest resources. They can collect tendu leaves used for making bidis and earn a good profit.?
Dasgupta'sclaim that paddy produced in one bigha of land is enough to feed a family is based on wrong arithmetic. First, the soil in west Midnapore district is laterite in nature and needs ready supply of irrigation. The Marxist government has never thought it prudent to spend money on irrigation projects during its 26 years of regime. Secondly, tribal farmers of Amlasol have to grow two crops a year and that too without water to prove Dasgupta'sarithmetic sound. Finally, the tribal families should be small like the popular family planning slogan of the 80s, Hum Do, Hamara Ek. Sadly, family planning is still a distant dream in rural Bengal. When journalists approached Harvard-educated Finance Minister pointing out too many ifs and buts in his calculation of crop production in one bigha of land, he painted a rosy picture of the state'sagriculture scenario.
Dasgupta'sone bigha of land theory reminded many about Bimal Roy'saward winning film Do Bigha Zamin in the 50s. The story of the film was about a hapless farmer who came to Kolkata to earn money by pulling rickshaw to get back his two bighas of land from the clutches of a moneylender. The poor farmer could never realise his dream and died in poverty on the city street. After a little over two-and-a-half decades of Marxist rule in the state, one Leftist minister feels just one bigha of land, not do bigha zamin, is the true requirement of a farmer'sfamily.
The poor farmer could never fulfill his dream and died in poverty on the city street. After a little over two and a half decades of Marxist rule in the state one Leftist minister feels just one Bigha of land, not Do Bigha Zamin, is the true requirement of a farmer'sfamily.
Crime & Punishment
Intellectuals and human right activists in Kolkata are now engaged in a bitter verbal duel over civility of awarding death sentences for the crime of rape and murder. Controversy arose following the death sentences awarded by High Court and the Supreme Court to one Dhananjoy Chatterjee who had raped and murdered a teenage school girl Hetal Parekh in Kolkata 14 years ago. Chatterjee was a security staff of a private agency engaged to guard the posh apartment building, where the unfortunate victim lived with her family. After the gruesome crime, the Parekhs left the city quietly and have now settled in Mumbai'sSanta Cruz (east) area. The Parekhs watched sadly the legal hassles which prevented the government to enforce the orders of the courts to hang Chatterjee till he is dead during the past 14 years. However, the recent protest by a section of intellectuals, like the film personality Smt. Aparna Sen, writers Sunil Ganguly and Mahasweta Devi and the CPI(M) state party secretary, Anil Biswas along with hundreds of other human right activists against the death punishment awarded to Chatterjee, led to a decision of the President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to review Chatterjee'smercy petition earlier rejected by his predecessor, K.R. Narayanan. However, the President has little choice to pardon or commute the death sentences of Chatterjee as both the Union and the State Home Ministry strongly recommended against the clemency.
What surprises the people of the state is the sharp contradictions between the CPI(M) party bosses and the Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on the hanging of Chatterjee. The Chief Minister'swife, Mira Bhattacharjee defied the party whip on the issue and attended a public meeting in Kolkata to voice her demand to hang a person found guilty of raping and killing of a 16-year old school girl. She said, ?I am a mother of college-going girl. I feel the pain and agony of the Parekhs. I do not care what my husband'sparty says or some handful of so-called Left intellectuals say. He (Chatterjee) must be hanged to restore the faith in the judiciary?. Tears rolled down from her eyes when she described how brutally the teenage girl was killed by Chatterjee. Most TV channels covering Mrs Bhattacharjee'sspeech showed close-ups of her tears rolling down the cheeks. Interestingly, the Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee remained silent on the issue after his party secretary remarked against the death sentence on Chatterjee. He parried questions from reporters on the stand of his government on awarding capital punishment. But when his wife comes out with her views openly justifying capital punishment, the state Chief Minister has no other alternative than to tow the line of his brave wife. He immediately ordered the state home secretary, Amit Kiran Deb, to write to the Union Home Secretary expressing his government'ssupport to the hanging of Chatterjee. It seems that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee prefers peace on home front than to tow the party line.
Bengal Literati Under Fire
Bengal'sscholars are passing through bad times. For the first time in the history of Bengal, a retired Vice-Chancellor is arrested on criminal charges. He is Dr Dilip Sinha, former Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati University, founded by Rabindra Nath Tagore in Santiniketan. Sinha and a lady teacher, Mukti Deb, of the university are still under police custody. Visva-Bharati'spresent Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sujit Bose, is also having a nightmarish time since Tagore'sNoble Prize medal and some of his manuscripts and paintings were stolen from the university'scustody in March. So far, the police could neither recover the missing Noble Prize nor trace the culprits even after three months of the heist.
Things were complicated further when another former Vice-Chancellor, Pabitra Sarkar, admitted openly that he had never received doctorate degree from any university though he bagged the prestigious post of a Vice-Chancellor on the strength of non-existing Ph.D. Sarkar, a diehard Marxist teacher, was appointed a Vice-Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata a few years ago. Sarkar'sopen admission about his non-existing Ph.D was aired by a city-based Bengali TV news channel, during a live interview on July 6 afternoon. In the morning on the same day, the state Assembly witnessed a furore when Trinamul Congress MLAs alleged that Sarkar had misrepresented facts about his academic qualifications to become the Vice-Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University. Sarkar told the TV interviewer that the Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the CPI(M) party state secretary, Anil Biswas were aware that he had no Ph.D certificate and that they had promised their help to bail him out of the current predicament.
The story of Sarkar'srise as an academician during the regime of the Left Front in the state is interesting. Sarkar was a lecturer in Jadavpur University in 1975 when he went to USA to submit his thesis on ?Standard Colloquial Bengali? to the University of Chicago. However, after the submission of his thesis to the expert panel of the Chicago University, he returned to Kolkata and never bothered to enquire the fate of his doctoral thesis. This was mainly because of the fact that by then, (1977) the Left Front government had assumed power in the state. Sarkar received patronage of the CPI(M) party as well as the Jyoti Basu government and was promoted to the post of a professor in Jadavpur University. Sarkar did not deny that he had claimed in writing to the university authorities that he had obtained Ph.D from Chicago University. He told newspersons that he had information from his sources in the Chicago University that his thesis was accepted and the university had granted him Ph.D certificate. However, the fact remains that he never received the coveted degree from the US university during the past 29 years. After his retirement from the post of Vice-Chancellor in Rabindra Bharati University, the state government appointed him president of the Higher Education Council. Again after retirement from the council, the government nominated him as chairperson in all the state-run academic bodies. Presently, he is an unofficial adviser of the state government on educational matters and chief of the dictionary project run by the Asiatic Society in Kolkata.
Comparing Sarkar'scase to that of former Visva-Bharati VC, Dilip Sinha, it may be said that Sinha was arrested for attesting forged educational certificates of the lady teacher Mukti Deb from which he did not make financial gains. Sarkar received substantial pay hikes in Jadavpur University and later in Rabindra Bharati with the help of his false doctorate degree. The money was paid to him from the public exchequer. But in Marxist Bengal a party loyalist can do no wrong. So when Sarkar is proudly announcing in the TV channel that the Chief Minister and the CPI(M) party are with him to protect, a hapless non-party man Sinha is languishing in police custody for more than a week now.