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 police was trying hard to find some ways to implicate Kunal in ultra-left terrorism.