Saturday, June 27, 2009

Guerrilla war brings LMGs to villages

28 Jun 2009, 0434 hrs IST, Nirmalya Banerjee, TNN

KOLKATA: Nagaland has witnessed it in the past, but in West Bengal, it is a new experience: the use of mortars and light machine guns in inhabited
areas. Unlike in Nagaland, however, in Bengal, the reaction of the civil society to such actions by security forces have so far been muted.

Though directed against armed groups, the use of such infantry weapons with a high rate of fire and a lethal killing zone leaves the possibility of civilian casualties, the reason why civil societies have reacted. Though security force officials argued that collateral damage was unavoidable in situations where armed groups were entrenched in civilian areas.

Surprisingly, there have not been many casualties in Lalgarh. According to eyewitnessnes, one reason could be that most of the villagers had fled from the area before police entered. Also, the firings were often made from too long a range. By contrast, seven people were killed in Mokokchong town in Nagaland in December 1994 in gun and mortar fire and eight in Kohima in March 1995.

The newly floated Lalgarh Mancha organized a dharna and a procession in Kolkata on Saturday in protest against operations by security forces in Nagaland. But the protests have been muted in comparison to the aftermath of the police action in Nandigram in March 2007.

Human rights activist Sujato Bhadra drew a distinction between Nandigram and Lalgarh. According to him, the involvement of Maoists in the movement launched by PCPA in Lalgarh could have prompted some civil rights activists to distance themselves from the protests. "After all, Maoists are also killing people and blasting landmines," he pointed out. The fact that an anti-terrorist act was in place could also be a reason why people were careful. But he felt the force used by the government in the Lalgarh operation had been wholly out of proportion in comparison with the firepower of the Maoists.

Writer Mahasweta Devi asserted that members of the civil society would put their acts together on July 4, when a number of organizations would assemble on the Lalgarh issue. She demanded the withdrawal of police and CRPF from Lalgarh. According to her, the Lalgarh movement was basically a resistance movement by common tribal people, spearheaded by PCPA.

The veteran writer, who had worked among the tribals of Midnapore for a long time, felt the real reason for the Lalgarh operation was to take possession of tribal land in the area, to hand it over to an industrial house for the construction of a special economic zone. Common tribals were, therefore, at the receiving end of the police operation, she said.

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