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Today's Hindustan Times tells yet another story in what appears to be a snowballing volume of tales of police harassment of politically active critics of the state's land acquisition and mining policies -- or Maoist sympathizers, in India's McCarthyist definition.
This time it's 23-year-old Abhijnan Sarkar, a student at Jadavpur University.
“I visited Nandigram and Singur as part of a students’ group during the anti-Left agitations," the paper quotes him as saying. "Maybe that gave the government ideas. Or possibly because I visited Lalgarh,” he said. “I am critical of certain policies. But a Maoist? No.” Then came the counter-question: “Is it a crime to have my own views on issues? Do I have to choose a side in a democracy?”
Two of the most volatile anti-government protests in recent years, the Nandigram and Singur movements fought against the West Bengal's acquisition of farmland through eminent domain for the construction of industrial plants by private companies -- including the Tata Group's Nano factory. Eventually, the protests drove the concerned industrialists from the state.
Many of the protesters now hold political office, presumably. And there have been rumors reported in the local press that the Maoists cooperated freely with members of the ruling Trinamool Congress (a local West Bengal party that was until recently the perennial opposition to the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which now favors free enterprise).
But for guys like Abhijnan, protesting has had a price.
According to the HT:
On February 12, Abhijnan and a friend boarded a Delhi-bound train to appear for a scholarship interview at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) office. At around 9.30 pm, the train stopped in Asansol. Seven men in civvies entered their coach and dragged both of them out, charging them with ‘robbery’. Their hands were tied, eyes blindfolded and they were pushed inside a waiting vehicle. As the car sped out of the station’s precincts, intense interrogation — “intimidation” in Abhijnan’s words — started.
The men in civvies told the two that they were from the Bihar Police and wanted information on the Maoists. The next few hours were dreadful: questions were asked about their friends, their political leanings and their past. Their email ids and passwords were taken and they were threatened that their families would be picked up if they did not cooperate. “They kept telling me that I would end up as an encounter victim and our bodies disposed of in a jungle,” said Abhijnan.
After a few hours, they were taken to a safe house and given bread and tea. Abhijnan was shown some photographs of students from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and asked about them. The policemen also advised them to shun “despicable anti-State politics” and return to “mainstream life”.
Twenty-two hours after being abducted, threatened and held captive with their eyes blindfolded and hands tied, two sheets of paper were shoved into their hands. Abhijnan and his friend were then suddenly pushed out of the vehicle. When they took off their blindfolds, they found themselves outside the Calcutta airport. The sheets of paper turned out to be two air tickets to Delhi that had been purchased in Calcutta.
Abhijnan is back in university among friends. But he dreads being picked up again. He has complained to the National Human Rights Commission but is yet to get a reply. But he is not the only one living in the shadow of fear.