Junglemahal tribals set to revive autonomy demand

Inspired by the newly-formed Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA), where  people of the Darjeeling hills are given more financial and administrative autonomy, the tribals of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore districts of West Bengal, are planning to launch a fresh agitation demanding autonomy.

“We’re preparing for a prolonged agitation. Our main demand will be autonomy for Jangalmahal along the lines of the GTA. Tribals will determine their destiny,” a tribal leader of this area, Ashok Jiban Ghosh, told Deccan Herald.  

In protest against the “unjust and torture of the police”, the tribals of these three districts of West Bengal, popularly known as ‘Junglemahal’, had launched a widespread movement known as the ‘Lalgarh Movement’, that  rocked the nation in 2008-09.

Under the banner of an apolitical organisation called the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), and backed by the Maoists, the tribals liberated Lalgarh which lies along the border of West Midnapore and Purulia for 117 days until the Centre and state governments on June 18, 2009, launched Operation Lalgarh to flush out the Maoists.

The operation expanded to 18 police stations in the three-Maoist affected districts.
 In a span of two years, top Maoists leaders like Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, Cherakuri Chandrasekhar alias Azad, Sasadhar Mahato were killed, and Somen, Kanchan and Chatrdhar Mahato were arrested.

Now, after a gap of three years, under the leadership of jailed PCAPA leader, Chatradhar Mahato, who recently earned the status of a political prisoner, the tribals are again preparing to launch another round of agitation.

Ghosh, who was once the secretary of the tribal umbrella organisation, Durniti O Samrajyabadi Agrashan Birodhi Ganatantrik Mancha, which even took part in the Assembly polls before it was banned by the government labelling it as a Maoist frontal organisation, said: We’ll also appeal to tribal political leaders, such as Chunibala Hansda-a tribal leader and MLA of the area and tribal intellectuals to join the movement.
But there’ll be no political flags. The movement will include the tribal belts of Birbhum, Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore.

“We’ll form bahinis (groups) that will work at the grassroot levels. The agitation will also work towards the release of a large number of people who have been jailed in ‘false’ cases, and withdrawal of the joint forces,” Ghosh said.

Meanwhile, police sources say that the Maoists are trying to regroup themselves, and fix a goal so that the movement gets a proper direction.   “The previous movement was a failure because people didn’t have a proper objective but now, the Maoists have realised that by only pressing for some subjective ideology, they aren’t going to achieve their goal.

So, they are trying to change the nature of the movement,” the source said.
“Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had promised to withdraw joint forces and release those who are in jail for having links with the Maoists. Unfortunately, she hasn’t kept her promise. Her government’s development programmes will not help the tribals,” Ghosh said.

Comments (+)