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Preview: Kunal Deb

Kunal Deb

Kunal Deb -

Last Build Date: Tue, 13 May 2003 00:07:59 GMT



Tue, 13 May 2003 00:07:59 GMT

The charges against Kunal have not been dropped. A chargesheet has yet to be produced.

The good news is that he no longer has to travel to Suri twice a month to check in with the police.

Unfortunately, he is still forbidden contact with the villages with which Uthnau works. This has been a great source of grief to him.

Update: Apologies

Tue, 01 Apr 2003 20:16:34 GMT

My apologies for not updating sooner. The charges against Kunal have not been dropped. I will be updating information in the next couple of days.

Friends indeed!

Fri, 24 May 2002 20:08:08 GMT

These three days were the hottest days in a decade - over 44 degrees celsius at Suri, and we were visiting Suri DSP's office to comply with Kunal's bail condition. Kunal and I returned after our visit to the IO at Suri. Over these three days, the IO warned Kunal repeatedly that he must not visit Mollarpur or Goria (where Uthnau field office is located) in the near future. We were given to understand that Kunal might again be under arrest in the pretext of "disturbing peace" in the area if he were to visit Goria. "Remember that your bail is conditional", he said.This morning, after a shower and snacks at our Barackpore home, Kunal proceeded to hold a meeting organised by Jana Samhati Kendra (JSK) at Badu (about 15 km from Barrackpore). Anuradha Talwar, Swapan Ganguly and other friends wanted to discuss the modus operandi of Uthnau's work. Kunal is keen to talk to them, as they are the only friends who offered help with Uthnau's work in his absence from the villages during this critical period.Anuradha, Swapan and friends at JSK and Paschim Banga Khet Majur Samiti are in fact the only friends who are helping Uthnau in running its programs with their physical presence in situ and technical advice. **********I suppose I take this opportunity to mention other friends as well who have extended their valuable support and made us feel proud of their friendship. I cannot exhaust all these friends' names, so I confine myself to mentioning here only the people who gave or offered me the most indispensable services. Samantak Das, Reader of English at Viswa Bharati University, worked many a night to prepare the draft of the background information that is posted in this LJ. He undertook much trouble to take me to several places on his motor bike - not just to show his superb riding skill. He even drove his mo-bike all the way from Bolpur to Durgapur and back just to save my time and energy to visit the Inspector General of Police (Western Range) when I needed to see him. Sujata, his wife, gave us both her affectionate support, and gave me excellent hospitality whenever I raided their house at Santiniketan.Ms. Amrita Sengupta, a staff member with Pratichi Trust, was down with measles when Kunal was in jail. Despite her illness, she gave me excellent contacts to the electronic media, and soon after her recovery, spent much of her time in contacting people, and earned a bad name at her own organisation for neglecting her office duties.Ms. Anchita Ghatak of ActionAid India, Kolkata Office, spent hours giving me wise advice, encouraging me to take certain steps and contacting key people.Ms. Swati Sircar, a mathematics scholar of Washington University, Seattle, spent tens of dollars almost every night to ring me to know every detail of the progress of the litigation against Kunal. Apart from creating the On-line Petition (posted in this LJ) and communicating to a hundred people, she has tried her best to preach to me about my health by remote telephonic control, and mercilessly cut down my right to thank her.Kajal Majumdar, my old childhood friend, has been with me all the time, and has lent me his own mobile telephone, which I am still using. He has mooched his office several times, accompanied me to different places, and continues to give me profound emotional support.Dr. Mita Dutta has been by me in all my work and has been running all my errands in Kunal's connection. She has been silently carrying out all the work I have assigned her, and is also visiting the Uthnau medical camp two days a month. Her love and emotional support have sustained me in those painful days.Mr. Dilip Banerjee, appeared at the High Court hearings, and gave me much valuable advice as to legal matters. Ms. Sutapa Chakraborty of Human Rights Law Network gave me much time and kind advice regarding different legal steps for me to take - for instance, to take time before moving the High Court for Kunal's bail. Mr. Nabo Dutta of Nagarik Mancha has been my key mentor in all the legal measures and proceedings. He, a[...]

Update: Deputation

Sat, 18 May 2002 22:08:40 GMT

More news from Debal********************Yesterday, the deputation went well. About 250 tribal villagers participated; some with bows, arrows and belligerent slogans. One of the slogans was "Whose pocket are you in, the police?" The most frequent slogans were "Uthnau's work will never stop" and "Collusion of the police with the quarry mafia cannot stop Kunal". The demonstration seems to have scared the SP and district Land Revenue Officer away from their offices.Nevertheless, we succeeded in submitting all the deputations and demands to the DM and SP's offices. Our demands included having all charges against all social activists dropped, and the closing of all illegal quarries. Amiya Saha and I took Mohan and Shampa, two young villagers along with us at the deputation. (Mohan has been the most instrumental in organising villagers after Kunal's arrest; Shampa is the most articulate who gave a spirited speech at Kolkata Convention.) They told both the District Magistrate and the DSP: "We hear from the quarry owners that they had pocketed the DM and the police. How come they dare say that to us? Please tell us if they are telling the truth." The officials felt very uneasy. The DM said that it mattered little if the businessmen told anything, and that the work of the government officials would be the testimony to the truth or falsity of such claims. Mohan was quick to say that since none of the owners of illegal quarries and crushers had so far been arrested, that appeared to verify the statements made by the quarry and crusher-owners. To which the officials remained silent.The DSP, who received us in the absence of the SP (who disappeared an hour before our arrival at his office), tried to argue that the stone quarries were the only viable industry in the district, and therefore any attempt at closing them down would hamper the livelihood of the local people. I told hime that one cannot plead for the earnings of a few at the cost of the environment, health and cultural integrity of a whole community. When I pointed out that the "livelihood" in these quarry areas meant one third of the minimal wages for the tribal workers, and child labour, he pleaded innocence. Mohan gave a list of crushers and quarries where child labour was common, and Amiya affirmed the abysmal wage rates at most quarries and crushers. I pointed out that after 10 years or so, after the exhaustion of the quarries, there will be no livelihood option for the tribals, whose lands have been illegally transferred, at the connivance of the administration. I also pointed out that severe dust pollution has spoilt all productive land and caused illnesses to local people. The DSP answered that most of the quarries started operating only after the clearance of State Pollution Control Board had been obtained. The same point had also been touched by the DM, who pleaded inability to do anything to challenge the PCB certificate.We told the DSP that if he ever agreed to visit the quarries uniniformed and without prior notice, he will surely witness the wages and the working conditions of the quarries and crushers. The DSP asked if we and more especially, Kunal, had any leanings toward the ultra-leftist political organisations like MCC and PWG. He told that many people start with good work, but end up spreading terrorism in the villages. I answered that the police department was meant to do good things for the people, but many police officials end up doing extremely bad things for the people. And when the villagers see that the wrongs done to them are left unredressed, they are apt to lean toward anti-state activism. Then he asked what my personal view of MCC activities was. I said that if MCC activism meant pocket terrorism, that was no long term solution to any problem. But if MCC activism meant protesting against social injustices and against the misdeeds of some corrupt government officials, I was in support of that. This prolonged discussion over MCC gave me an indication that the polic[...]

Update: Kunal's release

Sat, 18 May 2002 21:58:17 GMT

News from Debal

Kunal was ordered to see the Investigating Officer (IO) "thrice a week".
The IO is Deputy Superintendent of Police (District Enforcement Branch), who sits at Suri. This means that Kunal must travel from Kolkata by train to Sainthia (4 hr), and then take a bus to Suri bus stand (40 min), and then walk (10 min) to the DSP’s office to report – thrice a week – until further order. (I was told that no petition for relief was permissible until after at least a month.)

Obtaining sureties for Rs. 20000 was the next problem, but my lawyer assured me he would get one, provided I was prepared to pay him a large proportion of the bail – a proposition to which I had no option but to agree. I was able to collect about Rs. 15000, thanks to my great
friend Roberto, and called up all friends who were prepared to accompany me to receive Kunal.

On Wednesday the 15th, contrary to my anticipation, the train was quite empty, and we (14 of us from Kolkata and Barrackpore) had a very comfortable ride. After we had arrived, about 60 tribal men and women from Mollarpur, Goria and Dholkata, gathered with Uthnau's banner, and as soon as K was out in late afternoon, they walked in a rally, shouting slogans, frightening the police and the Sub-Divisional Officer, and marched around the adminisrative block in rain for an hour.

The enthusiasm of the villagers as well their righteous wrath against the unjust arrest of Kunal was becoming increasingly vocal and the gathering was collecting more and more heat. It was reassuring to see how the villagers felt solidarity with Uthnau and Kunal. Then I requested them to call off the rally, had a small tea and snacks, and exchanged happy and
relieved words. After we boarded the train with Kunal to get back home, I began realizing how much tension I had stored up in my head all these days. We arrived in Barrackpore at about 11 pm, when a proud Pushpa Devi, our mother, received Kunal after 39 days absence from her home.

Update: 13th May, 2002 Bail granted!

Tue, 14 May 2002 19:01:53 GMT

Good news from Debal

Here is my report of the bail hearing today. It was a very joyful and utterly disappointing day for me. At today's hearing, Mr. Sekhar Basu, our advocate, pointed out to the judge that the IPS 164 (statement of complainant before the Sub-Divisional Judiciary Magistrate to confirm the FIR) was made AFTER the bail petitions had been repeatedly rejected.

He argued that this 164, which was appended to the Case Diary of the police, clearly revealed the motive of the police to ensure that Kunal remained in jail custody. Furthermore, if the complaint were true, it was pererogatory for the police to make the 164 even AFTER the High Court had rejected Kunal's bail.

The judge was convinced, and granted bail. I was only to collect the certified copy of the order, which I needed to show at the jail office to release Kunal. So much for the joyous part of the day.

I made frantic phone calls to everyone to spread the news, and soon contacted some 10 people who were eager to go to Rampurhat tomorrow to get Kunal out and take him back home. I reserved tickets for 6 of them in order to ensure that they get seats in the train to Rampurhat.....

And then, when I went to the High Court at 4:30 pm to colllect the certified copies of the bail order, I came to learn that the judge had not signed the order! I was told that that was almost a rule at the High Court that the judge signed a day or two after the order was passed...

So that means that I shall have to go to the High Court tomorrow again to collect the copy of the order.... And that
means that Kunal cannot get out of jail custody until the day after tomorrow.

This was, I felt, a case of violation of Kunal's constituional right to liberty. I had no other option but to call all the people I had previously called to inform them that Kunal was not getting released tomorrow.

Hope to give you more positive news tomorrow.


Update: 17th May Suri Convention

Tue, 14 May 2002 13:45:47 GMT

More news from Debal

Dear Friends,

With an exemplary travesty of justice, Kunal's bail has been refused once again. Kunal's next bail hearing will take place on Monday the 13th May at Kolkata High Court.

As was decided at the 3rd May Convention at Kolkata, a big convention will be held at Suri on Friday the 17th May. This
convention will take place at the DRDA Hall near DM's office from 12 noon to 3:30 pm.

After the convention, a team of representatives will visit the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police,
around 4 pm.

We have already printed all the handbills and posters demanding immediate release of Kunal and unconditional withdrawal of the false charges against him. We shall hand over these posters and handbills to you for distribution
at appropriate locations in your areas of work.

Most of the participants from Kolkata will return the same evening by the 5:30 train. Some (including myself) prefer to stay back 'til the next morning.

Participants are requested to gather at the Circuit House ground on the 17th morning - latest by 11 am. After tea and
snacks, we all will proceed to the DRDA Hall, near DM's Office, for the convention.

Earnestly expecting to see all of you and your colleagues at the Suri convention by 11 am at the DRDA Hall or the
Circuit House.

In solidarity,

Debal Deb

(On behalf of Citizens' Forum)

Update: 3rd May Convention to Protest against Kunal’s Arrest

Thu, 09 May 2002 21:27:46 GMT

More from Debal***************Keeping in mind that the possibility of Kunal’s release from jail custody has become more difficult after Kolkata High Court’s refusal of Kunal’s bail, a Convention was held at Mahabodhi Society auditorium on Friday the 3rd May at 4 pm. The Convention was attended by a large number of participants, including 35 tribal men and women from the Mollarpur area. After I gave a brief description of the background of Uthnau and the details of Kunal’s arrest, Shampa Karmakar, a woman from Goria village, described how agricultural lands were being usurped by the local quarry industry, and how the villagers are being terrorized by the police and what may be called the quarry mafia. Mongli, a teenage girl described a recent incident where the quarry owners trying to bribe her mother into yet another plot to implicate Uthnau members. This was followed by Ghasiram’s account of what exactly had happened at the trial of Hupni Kisku, the woman whose FIR has led to Kunal’s arrest. Mr. Nabo Dutta of Nagarik Mancha portrayed the various kinds of social injustice and environmental pollution from stone quarries and crushers, and explained that Kunal’s case is indicative of the impending risk of state-sponsored fascist oppression of all social movements, and that this particular case ought to be a cause for concern of all activists. Samar Bagchi, science activist and educator, expressed his concern for victimized activists like Kunal, and the fallout of such harassment to activists. Mr. Dilip Banerjee coordinated the discussion, and invited suggestions from the audience regarding concrete steps to ensure Kunal’s release and exoneration from the false allegations. Ms. Jaya Mitra, writer-activist, gave a general portraiture of the mine fields and quarries in western districts of Bengal, and said that she felt social and political activists in such areas are always likely to be victimized by the quarry-owners-police-administration clique. Prof. Subhendu Dasgupta of Calcutta University’s East and Southeast Asian Studies, analyzed the social and political forces in operation at the quarry areas. He felt that state oppression is being increasingly exacerbated by an increased empowerment of the police administration, which tends to be in collusion with industrialists, who are given a sanction for exploitation of the masses in this age of the free market. Prof. Meher Engineer of Bose Institute discussed how the decline of reason and social accountability of state authorities is causing the decline of democracy. He said that he was no specialist in law, but was eager to see an immediate release of Kunal. Sri Azizul Haq, himself a victim of custodial torture by the police under trial for 8 years, called for an active and united resistance to the reign of darkness. He warned that unless there is a sense of solidarity and an environment of commitment to fight darkness, more and more people would be prevented from doing meaningful work.The audience was keen to discuss possible next steps to ensure Kunal’s release. Dilip Banerjee invited proposals from everybody, and listed the suggestions received from the floor. These suggestions included: The Chief Minister will be approached in person and asked to exonerate Kunal from all false charges immediately; print and publish handbills and posters to build up public awareness; organize a convention at Suri, the Birbhum district headquarters and place a demand charter to the District Magistrate; assist Uthnau in going ahead with its work – especially the health center and educational programs – so that the quarry industry realizes that Kunal’s arrest won’t stop Uthnau’s activities; contribute money and assistance to help Debal meet all expenses. Dr. Engineer, Sri Samar Bagchi and Sri Nabo Dutta said they would try to contact influential people to get an appointme[...]

Useful links

Wed, 08 May 2002 17:23:49 GMT

The following URLS were kindly posted by Swati Sircar, who maintains the Mallarpur Uthnau website.

West Bengal Environmental Status Report

Newspaper articles about the Santals that Uthnau supports.

Update: Actions you can take

Mon, 06 May 2002 13:33:41 GMT

This is an updated list of actions you can take on Kunal's behalf.

1. Sign the on-line petition. Probably one of the easiest things to get other people to do.

2. "Post your opinion" on the The Times of India article Another easy thing to get others to do.

3. E-mail/write newspapers.

The Telegraph :
The Times of India:
The Statesman:

4. E-mail/write/call/fax the Chief Minister.

Sri Buddhadev Bhattacharya
Honorable Chief Minister
Writer's Buildings,
Kolkata 700 001

Phone: (+91)(-33) 214 5555 / 5588
Fax: (+91)(-33) 214 5480 / 240 4041 / 280 0631

5. Contact organisations

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (New York)

Human Rights Watch

Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, Delhi

Lawyers Without Borders

6. Write/fax/e-mail/call.

The Honorable Chief Justice,
The Calcutta High Court,
BBD Bag,
Kolkata 700 001

The Honorable Chief Justice
The Supreme Court
Greater Kailash-I
New Delhi 110 048

Tel. :- 6447191, 6425904, 3386371
Fax :- 91-11-3384002

Sri K.R. Narayanan,
The Honorable President of India
Rashtrapati Bhavan
New Delhi 110 001

A letter writing guide was posted on April 4th.

Public Hearing: 3rd May, 2002 Kolkata

Wed, 01 May 2002 19:48:25 GMT

Taken from today's press release.

Kunal Deb, a social worker, was arrested on the 2nd April 2002, based on some patently false charges. He has been refused bail, and is still held in jail custody at Rampurhat. We are convinced that he has been booked because his work in the tribal area of Mollarpur galvanized mass resistance to the different types of exploitation of local tribals - especially women and children workers - in the stone quarries and crushers in Mohammadbazar block of Birbhum. It is an irony that after having worked for years to stop the atrocities against tribals, Kunal himself has been booked under the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocitries) Act - for an alleged crime which the villagers vouch never took place.

We apprehend that such framing of false charges against activists in the State is prognosticative of a process of stifling of democracy, which must by opposed by all concerned citizens. To give voice to our concerns, and listen to the testimony of the eyewitnesses from the villages, we are calling a convention on Friday the 3rd May, 2002 at 4:15 pm at Mahabodhi Society Auditorium, Bankim Chatterjee Street, Kolkata.

Please come.

on behalf of:

Nagarik Mancha & Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies

Update: 30th April, 2002 - More news from Debal

Wed, 01 May 2002 19:32:05 GMT

1. I telephoned Mr. JR Bhagat, IG (Western Zone)
and told him of my suspicion that the CD had been changed. He tried to assure me that he had found the CD untampered and intact. From the tone of his answers to my question about his inquiry, I became suspicious of the content of his report. I remembered the wise comment of a powerful police official: “You cannot expect a police official to report against his colleagues.” So I have dropped the idea of seeing or using his report.

2. Mr. Nabo Dutta of Nagarik Mancha suggested that it’s time we go on the offensive. Now that nothing else could be expected from the police, we should begin condemning the police and the administration. Sujato Bhadra of APDR endorsed this view. So we decided that a large public seminar would be held in Kolkata on Friday the 3rd May 4 – 7 pm. Today we have reserved the auditorium, and asked some 50 tribals, including women, to arrive from their villages.

3. One of the rare police officers with some good sense and integrity advised me to appeal or press the Chief Minister to immediately withdraw the false case and free Kunal, failing which we ought to press him to order a CID inquiry. So we are looking for an influential celebrity to take us to the CM.

4. Mother and aunt are going tomorrow to see Kunal at Rampurhat jail (euphemised as Correction House!). I tried to dissuade them because I did not want them to have the trauma of seeing Kunal in bad condition, behind the bars. After yesterday's disappointment, however, they were desperate to see Kunal. I could only warn them not to ask Kunal anything about the food quality or the living conditions in jail custody.


Update: Bail denied again

Mon, 29 Apr 2002 22:06:08 GMT

Today's news from Debal*********************Dear friends,1. The bail hearing at Calcutta High Court was moved today, the 29th April. To our utter dismay and disappointment, the bail was refused again, because the judge chose to go by nothing but the Case Diary (CD) of the police.The first surprise came when the Public Prosecutor presented a CD that consisted of a report of police investigation that was in perfect conformity with the FIR. We had earlier surmised from the Assistant Public Prosecutorâ™s presentation at the Additional District Judgeâ™s court on the 20th April, that the CD had differed from the FIR: that there was no nude parade. In fact the APP proclaimed this discrepancy in the open court at the ADJ hearing. So we all had counted on the CD. However, the CD presented today appeared to be entirely different. Since none but the police keeps it, and since no record of the content of the CD is maintained by the court, it would be impossible to prove or disprove if the CD is tampered with by the police at any time.After adjusting himself to this initial shock, our advocate, Mr. Sekhar Basu, Bar at Law, argued that it is common knowledge how the police fabricate their CDs, and therefore go by the other existing evidence. He also appealed to common sense that if any dishonour had really happened to Hupni, it would have been natural for her husband, to lodge an FIR, because he would feel insulted as well. Besides, there was her lover Subhas Saha and so many villagers. Instead, Hupni lodged the FIR herself with her thumb impression, with an anonymous person writing her complaint on her behalf (whose name or signature are not on the FIR), and that 21 days after the alleged incident. Finally, if the nude parade had actually happened, why should the names of three Uthnau workers appear alone, and not any of the trial council which gave the punishment to Hupni? These things suffice to indicate that there was something fishy about the whole complaint. The judge did not budge, and the bail was rejected.Now there are three (mutually non-exclusive) options:a) Move a fresh petition at the High Court to reconsider the case;b) Appeal to the Chief Minister to institute a CID investigation against the police;c) Appeal to the Chief Minister to withdraw the case against Kunal altogether because the implications are all false.Mr. Sekhar Basu and Mr. Jaymalya Bagchi have decided to fight with greater resolve and acumen, now that they know that justice is being denied and that we can no longer hope on the police report.My mother and aunt (and myself too) showed signs of frustration and despair upon hearing the result of our pleading at the High Court. They â“ like many others â“ had in fact planned to visit and take Kunal back home tomorrow if the bail were granted. Todayâ™s strange verdict has stunned us all â“ including the advocates.2. Ms Amrita Sengupta, Kunal's friend and a staff member of Pratichi Trust, founded by Prof. Amartya Sen, visited Kunal today at Mollarpur. She rang up and gave me the following message.The Inspector General of Police in accompaniment of SDPO and SP, visited Kunal at Rampurhat jail. The SDPO told him that the police had arrest him in order to save him from getting killed. Kunal told them that the FIR had been lodged on the 13th March, and that he was arrested on the 2nd April. So, Kunal asked, which date do you think I would have been killed? Besides, why did the police arrest him, instead of men who were trying to kill him? The SDPO had no answer.Later on, the SP told Kunal that the statement he had given to the police was radically different from what he was recounting now. Kunal wanted the statement read aloud to him, and found that many of the incident[...]

Update: Bail Hearing Monday, 29th April

Mon, 29 Apr 2002 14:54:41 GMT

More news from Debal.

1. Some days ago, I spoke to Sri Binay Krishna Konar and Sri Biman Basu, elder leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) at the party headquarters in Kolkata. They gave me a patient hearing. Since then, local leaders of CPI(M) at Mollarpur have given public speeches against the local illegal quarry and crusher owners a few days ago. The current stance of the party's local committee is to oppose any illegal operation of quarries and crushers.

2. Two days ago, the Star News showed a short documentary on the illegal stone quarries and crushers in Mollarpur area - in the area of operation of Uthnau. The film interviwed tribal workers and a few government officials, and showed the government apathy toward the illegal tribal land transfer, continuing child labor and absolute negligence of health and environmental safety of workers in the crushers and quarries.

3. The Times of India has started publishing a four-part news feature on Uthnau's work and Kunal's arrest.

4. Yesterday, Mr. J R Bhagat, Inspector General of Police, Western Zone, visited Goria village, and spoke to villagers to record the truth. The villagers all told him that a trial had indeed been held, but no such incident as a nude humiliation had taken place, and that Kunal had not been present in the village during the trial. They insisted that Kunal was booked in a conspiracy by the quarry industry, and as a result the villagers were not receiving the medical treatment from the medical centre of Uthnau, nor could they send children to the free school run by Uthnau, as both are closed down. Mr. Bhagat was accompanied by the SDPO of Rampurhat.

5. At least two NGOs - Paschim Banga Khet Majur Samiti and Jana Samhati Kendra - tell me that they are willing to participate in carrying on Uthnau's work in collaboration with Uthnau's workers, until Kunal is exonerated from the charges and can get back to work with Uthnau.

6. Meanwhile, there are some people at Barrackpore, Kunal's and my town of residency (that is, when we are not out on field trips), who are on a whispering campaign that both of us brothers have loose morals in terms of multiple sexual relationships with women. A woman even showed up in the office of Association of Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) - a renowned civil rights NGO demanding Kunal's release - and told them stories of her sexploitation by me, asked them to withdraw support for Kunal. Some members of APDR did get swayed, and were considering whether they had made a mistake in signing the petition for Kunal's release. However, they have decided to continue support for us until they receive evidential information regarding her allegations.

7. Swati informs me that so far about 200 signatures have been collected with the on-line petition, and is going to send email to Buddhadev Bhattacharya, Chief Minister of West Bengal. She will also send a fax copy of the same, lest the email is not accessed by his office.

8. Tomorrow morning, Kunal's bail petition will be heard at Court #2 of Calcutta High Court at 10:30 am.

Article: Times of India

Fri, 26 Apr 2002 20:39:41 GMT

Santhal abuse in Birbhum quarries


KOLKATA: The arrest of an activist, Kunal Deb, last month has caused a ripple in the Bolpur region of Birbhum district. Read more...

Update: Next bail hearing Monday, 29th April

Fri, 26 Apr 2002 14:24:27 GMT

The latest news from Debal.

1. I signed the affidavit at the Calcutta High Court this morning (25th), and the petition for Kunal's bail has been submitted. The hearing will be held on Monday the 29th - despite all my wishes and efforts to make it tomorrow, the 26th.

2. Yesterday I met with the Inspectior General of Police, Western Zone, to give him some documents relating to Kunal's work and his letters to the administration informing them of the series of threats he had received from the stone quarry mafia. He mentioned that he heard from the local police that Kunal was a member of the Maoist Coordination Centre (MCC) of CPI(ML) - a banned ultra-left group. He said that some police officer stated that if Kunal were being detained in Bankura or Medinipur district, he would have been killed by the police by now. I felt it imperative to tell him that had Kunal actually been a MCC member, he wouldn't have been sitting in jail custody under false charges; instead, some quarry owners would have been killed long ago. The IG agreed. He assured me of a thorough investigation into the matter.

3. I have been unable to see Kunal since Saturday last (meetings with lawyers, the police officials, the press, party bureaucrats, and the court paraphernalia have kept me too occupied to visit Rampurhat all these days). So I asked Mita, my friend, to visit Kunal, which
she did today. And she reports that Kunal seems to have broken down a bit: he asked two times: "Will I get released on Monday, Mita-di?" And she says Kunal appears to have
lost some weight. Of course, her perception is tainted by her emotion.

4. Swati has collected 190 signatures on the online petition as of today. May I request that you please visit and sign the petition at URL:

Thanks for all your kind support,



On-line Petition for Kunal: Please sign

Tue, 23 Apr 2002 13:49:02 GMT

Swati Sircar created this petition on behalf of Kunal. This will be presented to the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Sri Buddhadev Bhattacharya. If you haven't yet had time to write a letter (April 4th and 5th posts), or e-mail (April 5th and 19th), then signing the on-line petition is a good stopgap, and a painless process.

Those who are far from Kolkata can use this ( to show your support. So far 67 signatures have been collected.


Mon, 22 Apr 2002 22:40:39 GMT

Considering that the amount of information about Kunal's case might be daunting for new readers, here is a summary.ARREST OF KUNAL DEB: FACTS AND DOCUMENTS1. After his completion of a post-graduate in economics from Calcutta University in 1995, Kunal Deb visited the stone quarry areas in Birbhum district with a view to identifying a prospective research problem and a field site for his Ph.D. degree. This visit gave Kunal a glimpse of the process of erosion of the local tribal culture and economy: illegal transfer of tribal land, conversion of agricultural land into stone quarries, exploitation of tribal women and children in the quarries and crushers, prevalence of respiratory diseases from the dust pollution, injuries to people from unlicensed dynamite blasting in quarries close to human habitation, and so on. 2.The exposure to this situation made Kunal abandon his academic pursuits for a life of activism in the Mohammadbazar block. He started his work as a fellow of CRY, an international agency concerned with childrenâ™s welfare in 1995. He established his own organization, UTHNAU (a Santali word, meaning uplift), which was registered in 1996. Later, his work received support from ActionAid, another renowned international development agency. 3.Uthnauâ™s work included running a primary education center and a free medical clinic in the village of Garia, where Uthnauâ™s field office is located. Kunal also identified a traditional craft as an alternative means of livelihood for the local tribals: beautiful ornaments made of wild seeds, leaves and grasses. This craft would conserve traditional cultural practices and forest biodiversity, in addition to generating income for tribal women. Kunalâ™s work has been reported widely in the media: The Statesman, Telegraph, Times of India, Sananda (Appendix 1). 4. Uthnau helped organize the local tribals to voice their protest against the illegal acquisition of their land by the quarry owners, and submit petitions to the local and district authorities (vide letter to DM; petitions to Panchayat, BDO and BLRO: Appendix 2). 5. In response to these petitions, Mohammadbazar Block LLRO agreed in his letter dtd. 16-3-2000 to institute an investigation into the situation. Subsequent investigations revealed several violations of state and national laws pertaining to tribal land, mine safety, labour and the environment. For example, the District Welfare Officer, in his 12-11-2001 notice, noted that several plots of tribal land were illegally occupied by a non-tribal quarry owner who runs a quarry without any permission from the authority (Appendix 3). 6. Uthnau also contacted and sought help from NGOs specializing in environmental issues, such as Nagarik Mancha (vide letter dtd. 16-9-2000), which had allied with Uthnau in its fight against the illegal stone quarries of Mollarpur area (vide Nagarik Manchaâ™s letter dtd. 05-5-2000 in Appendix 4). 7. An inevitable consequence of this movement was that quarry owners inveighed a war against Uthnau. They doled out serious threats to Kunal and his coworkers on various occasions since 1996, almost all of which were reported to the Superintendent of Police and District Magistrate (vide letters dtd. 24-12-1996 and 5-10-2001). Kunal also reported (vide letter dtd. 07-7-2000) an incident in which a quarry owner, in presence of the OC of Mollarpur police camp, offered him money as a bribe to withdraw his activism from the quarry area. (Appendix 5). The authorities seem to have shown little interest in responding to these letters, and the illegal quarry operations continue unabat[...]

Update: 22 April 2002 - Signature Campaign

Mon, 22 Apr 2002 22:16:42 GMT

On April 11th, Debal organised a signature campaign, and collected the signatures of about two dozen Kolkata celebrities - artists, film makers, writers, dramatists, scientists and educators.

They appealed to the State Chief Minister to take immediate steps to release Kunal from jail custody and drop the false charges made against him.

The signatories include:

Filmmakers: Mrinal Sen and Goutam Ghosh
Writers Mahasweta Devi, Shankha Ghosh, Srijan Sen, Nabarun Bhattacharya and Jaya Mitra
ScientistsDr. Asish Ghosh and Prof. Satyesh Chakraborty
Playwrights/DramatistsChandan Sen, Rudraprasad Sengupta and Saoli Mitra
EducatorsSamar Bagchi, Prof. Dhruba Gupta, Prof. Subhendu Dasgupta, and Prof. Parimal Ghosh
ActivistsSujato Bhadra, Nabo Dutta, Braja Ray.

The same day (11th), Mahasweta Devi wrote a personal letter to the Chief Minister, requesting him to institute an independent inquiry into the implications of the false case against Kunal, and his immediate release. "Unless we knew much about the level of culture, social commitment and environmental concern of Kunal and his associates, so many of us wouldn't have signed in the appeal", she wrote.

A story that changed tribal lives

Mon, 22 Apr 2002 21:05:42 GMT

This story was printed in the Times of India on the 10th of June, 2001.*****************************************************A story that changed tribal lives Mohua ChatterjeeThe sexually exploited Churki Soren, 20, a daily wage labourer at the quarries, became a full-time sex worker and is suffering from STD.School teacher Baburji Kisku's brother was crushed to death in a stone crusher. The family received no compensation.Babulal Tutu of Habra Pahari village died when a boulder fell on him after a blasting operation.NEW DELHI: In search of a story on child labour and exploitation of tribals as sex-workers, freelance journalist Kunal Deb reached Mallarpur, 50 km from Santiniketan, in 1993, soon after he got his MSc degree in economics from Calcutta University. It was also the time Deb had dissociated himself from extreme Left politics. Says he: ``The disenchantment created an ideological vacuum but my political orientation kept me from a government job. Then I saw the exploitation of tribal labourers, the health hazards they were facing and the ecological damage that was taking place in Mallarpur.'' Mallarpur is a Santhal-dominated area in West Bengal's Birbhum district, bordering Bihar. The area has over 350 stone quarries, half of which are unlicensed. ``They store enough dynamite to blow up the entire area and function by exploiting the tribals,'' says Deb. A few years and a monthly fellowship of Rs 2,500 from CRY for his work in Mallarpur saw Deb, along with a group of young like-minded people, form Uthanu in 1996. Uthanu is an NGO involved in checking environmental damage caused by quarries and in promoting sustainable development for the Santhals. ``Rs 2,500 wasn't enough, so I had to depend on family and friends,'' says Deb. According to the State government's environment status report, 1999, in the 305 stone quarries and 325 stone crusher units in the region, an average of 35 people including children are employed for 12-hour shifts over 240 days a year, without any weekly offs. Child workers at stone crushers earn Rs 20 a day and adults Rs 28. In the quarries, adults get Rs 40 a day.The units have no safe drinking water, toilet facilities or health checks. While no records are available, a high number of patients suffering from pneumonosis, tuberculosis, and bronchial asthma is reported from the communities. Blasting operations have proved to be hazardous to life and property. The SPM level was noted as very high and noise is much above the permitted level. During days of inspection, boots, helmets and dust masks are distributed only to be withdrawn later.``The operating units have come up from transfer of agricultural land, executed through doubtful transactions from the tribal owners leading to alienation of the tribals in the region,'' notes the report.In 1998, CRY offered project support to Uthnau but pulled out in 2000 without an official reason, ``ostensibly since the programme had assumed the status of a non-party political movement,'' says Deb adding, ``the Santhals had never before been so vocal. But now they've developed a sense of identity. Because of their agitation seven units have shut down in Mallarpur.''``Experimenting with the Santhali language using Bengali script has had a tremendous impact,'' adds Deb. The NGO is trying to promote sustainable modes of income for the tribals. "A ceramic unit", says Deb, "is underway, and they are already marketing garments and jewellery made by the tribals."[...]

Update: 20th April 2002 - Bail Denied Yet Again

Sat, 20 Apr 2002 22:18:04 GMT

The latest news from Debal

Dear Friends,

I placed too much of my hope on today's proceeding at the Addl. District Judge's court (the Sessions Court) at Rampurhat. The disappointment is proportionately great - frustrating, in one word. The experience of what happened today is enough to make one apt to lose all trust in the Indian judiciary system altogether.

The defense lawyers, Mr. Ashok Banerjee and Mr. Utpal Chatterjee made a forceful presentation of the case, with well-organised logic and evidence. They argued that (a) the incident as alleged in the FIR by Hupni Kisku - the
nude parade and photography - had never happened; and that (b) Kunal had been living in Barrackpore and Kolkata on the day of the alleged incident.

Evidence to the first includes (1) a statement signed by over 200 Santals from 3 villages, and (2) a statement presented by a Santal woman member of the local Panchayat. The evidence show that Hupni Kisku and Subhash were tried by the Panchayat on the 21st when the trial at the village court went inconclusive.

Evidence to the second is a set of printouts of a few emails from different people to Kunal's brother, in reaction to the news of Kunal's arrest. These people, including Professor Parimal Ghosh, vouch for the fact that they had spoken with Kunal on the 20th and the 21st February.

The judge remarked at this point that these letters may not be allowed because they constitute an interference into the judgement! Mr. Ashok Banerjee explained that the letters were not written to the judge nor the lawyers, but to Kunal's brother in a most natural reaction to the news these friends had heard. He pointed out that the letters were presented to
indicate the presence of so many witnesses to Kunal's presence in Kolkata and Barrackpore on the 20th and 21st February.

The Public Prosecutor presented the Case Diary (CD) containing the result of the police investigation into the case. He pointed out that both Hupni Kisku and Subhash Saha made statements that clearly contradicted what Hupni had
written in the FIR. Hupni and 7 others report in the investigation that no denuding of Hupni had happened. Thus, the charges are virtually fake, based on the CD.

Finally, Mr. Banerjee, advocate, added that the police had gone to the village on the same day after Hupni's indecisive trial. Had any such incident as alleged had occurred, the police must have reported that in their book. The absence of any police record of a nude parade and that of any compaint from the Panchayat indicate that the whole case was plotted
against Kunal. He indicated that this suspicion is strengthened by the fact that the FIR had been lodged 20 days after the incident.

Upon hearing the APP and the defense, the judge took over 3 hrs to issue the Order. In this order, he does not mention the defense nor the APP's valuable comments on the case, but writes that he understands that there is
evidence that the alleged incident had taken place and that Kunal was involved in the crime.

So Kunal's bail was rejected. Now all we can do is to move the Calcutta High Court.


Update: 19th April, 2002 - Request for help

Sat, 20 Apr 2002 20:06:01 GMT

Dear friends,

Kunal was refused bail on the 17th of April. Our next chance is tomorrow - Saturday the 20th at the Sessions Court at Rampurhat. May I request you and your friends to:

    (1) spread the news
    (2) write letters to editors of Indian newspapers (like the Statesman, the Telegraph and the Times of India), and
    (3) write to the Chief Minister, asking Kunal's release from the false case.

Thanks for your kind support.


E-mail addresses to write:

The Telegraph :

The Times of India:

The Statesman:

Update: 17th April, 2002 - Bail Refused Again

Sat, 20 Apr 2002 20:01:55 GMT

Today Kunal is presented before the court of SDJM, to whom the Case Diary (CD) has been submitted by the police. Kunal’s advocates argue, in continuation with the previous pleading, that no such incident as a nude parade took place in Bhabanipur, and that Kunal was not present in the district of Birbhum on the days of occurrence of the alleged incidents.

The advocates submit printouts of e-mail sent to Kunal’s brother by Calcutta University’s Professor Parimal Ghosh and Ms. Amrita Sengupta, who vouched in writing for the fact that Kunal had been in Barrackpore on the 20th and the 21st February. Prof. Ghosh emphasized, “I am quite prepared to stand by this to prove that Kunal was definitely in Barrackpore on that day.” Mr. Ashok Banerjee, advocate, also mentions that other evidence and witnesses exist in support of this claim.

Mr. Banerjee also points out that the allegation is false, because no such incident occurred, and that the false case has been lodged by the vested interest of the stone quarry mafia who feel insecure by Uthnau’s activism.

The Public Prosecutor insists that Kunal was present in the village at the time of Hupni’s trial. However, he does not oppose Banerjee’s claim that the alleged incident did not take place. Upon examination of the CD, the Magistrate maintains that the investigation is at a “primary stage”, and refuses to grant bail.

Now the only option remaining is to appeal to a higher court of justice to move for bail for Kunal. His brother decides to move the Additional District Judge’s court or the Sessions Court at Rampurhat once again, before moving the High Court in Kolkata.

The appeal will be filed on the 18th, and the hearing at the Sessions Court will be held on Saturday the 20th April.

Update: 17th April 2002 - Kolkata & Santiniketan

Sat, 20 Apr 2002 19:58:38 GMT

Three important pieces of information have surfaced.

First, a printed handbill, collected by Dr. Debal Deb a few days back, appears to shed new light on the case. This handbill is written in Santali, was distributed among the tribals in different villages, inviting them to gather on the 12th March 2002 at Goria village, to discuss problems of indigenous traditions and cultural practices. This meeting was convened by a local Santali youth club of Garia village, at Kunal’s initiation. Over 250 Santals gathered in the meeting, which alarmed the stone quarry owners, who mistook the gathering as a preparation for a movement to close down their quarries and crusher units, and identified Kunal as the key person in the movement. The very next day, the 13th March, they lodged an FIR against Kunal with Rampurhat PS.

Second, a local correspondent reports today in Aajkaal, a Bengali daily, that Hupni admits that she does not know Kunal personally. Asked why she named him in her FIR, she tells the reporter that she heard his name being called up by somebody during her trial at Bhabanipur. Hupni’s father, who was not present at the trial, reports that he is not sure if Kunal was present there, but that somebody told him of a bearded diku (non-tribal) present during the trial.

Third, Kunal’s mother discovers that Kunal withdrew money from a post office at Barrackpore on the 21st February. A preliminary inquiry at the post office confirms this, although the documents (in this case, the withdrawal slips bearing his signature) cannot be accessed prior to a judiciary order issued to the postmaster. Kunal holds “monthly income scheme” accounts jointly with his mother and aunt, and used to operate the accounts himself during his stay in his Barrackpore residence.


Sat, 20 Apr 2002 19:53:03 GMT

This was sent by Pete Benson in private correspondence, and is reprinted here with permission.

"A recent issue of Scientific American featured the story about slavery in modern society. It pointed out that although people tend to think that slavery died out in the 19th century, in fact it persists and is quite widespread throughout the world. They included a world map showing countries where it is most common, and India was among those countries. (Most of them are in tropical latitudes.)

Of course the line between slavery and not-quite-slavery is fuzzy, and it sounds as if the people in that village that Kunal and others have been trying to help have been trapped in something not quite slavery but not far removed, since the quarry bosses continually try to prevent the people from developing an escape mechanism, and viciously fight anyone else who tries to help them improve their lot.

I'm reminded too of the plight of blacks here in the U.S. Although slavery was abolished in the U.S. 130+ years ago, it was only after almost a century, in the 1960s, that segregation and discrimination ceased to be the official policy of our federal and state governments. I've had the honor of being able to participate in that struggle myself, in a small way, in 1960, when I was 20. At that time I joined my black friends in taking part in the lunch-counter sit-in demonstrations in Knoxville, TN, where I was living at the time and going to school. In time we were successful, but of course there was opposition from the racist establishment, and their tactics were essentially the same as what Kunal has been facing: Physical roughing up and worse, arrest and jail under trumped-up imaginary charges, general ostracism.

My experience then is why I said recently that the way to fight Kunal's oppressors is to shine light on the situation. Three years after the sit-ins, and just after I'd graduated from college, I attended a party thrown by a bunch of my college buddies, including several black and white organizers of the desegregation efforts. The party was in the home of 2 of the organizers. It was a rather dull party, actually, and I recall thinking that I might leave soon, because not much was going on.

But before I could do so, the police arrived and hauled us all off to jail on charges of "public drunkenness", "disturbing the peace", "lewdness" and such. I'm sure the nice folks who thought this up figured that we'd all quietly pay our fines to get the matter hushed up as quickly as possible. But no, every one of the 40 or so of us insisted on a court trial. That gave us the chance to cross-examine the cops who arrested us.

The cops (among other things) had claimed that they found people naked engaged in sex etc. When asked to describe what these people were wearing, one cop obligingly described what color shirts, pants, etc. And these people were alleged to be naked! It was as obvious to the judge as to everyone else that the cops were blatantly perjuring themselves, so all the charges were thrown out.

One major factor in the favor of those of us who shine light is that the powers of darkness tend to be rather stupid IME, and hence they underestimate those who they consider to be their enemies."

Pete Benson