ARREST OF KUNAL DEB: FACTS AND DOCUMENTS
1. 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 children’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.Uthnau’s work included running a primary education center and a free medical clinic in the village of Garia, where Uthnau’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. Kunal’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 Mancha’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 unabated.
8. In compliance with a message from SP, Suri sent to him, Kunal arrived in Rampurhat on the 2nd April 2002 and went to see SDPO at his bungalow, where he was arrested and sent to police custody, and his friend, Arun Ram was made to sign a document as witness. He was servied no warrant of arrest, nor were the charges explained; Kunal’s relatives received no information from the police about the arrest. Kunal was arrested based on a FIR filed on the 13th March 2002, which was produced at the court of SDJM, on the 3rd April.
9. This FIR No. 48/ 2002 dated 13-3-2002, lodged by one Hupni Kisku, alleges Kunal confined her on the 20th February and directed a nude parade in the village of Bhabanipur on the 21st February 2002 in a public court of trial of her extramarital affair. He is also alleged to have taken nude photographs of her in public. It is worthwhile to mention that the FIR carries Hupni’s thumb impression, but not the name of the person who wrote it on her behalf. Two other members of Uthnau are also alleged to have been involved in this crime (Appendix 6). One of them, Bhujuram Murmu was also arrested on the 3rd April evening. They were booked under IPS 342, 354 and Sec 3(1) of SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
10. On the 9th April, Bhujuram was granted bail, while Kunal was still remanded in judicial custody.
11. We draw your attention to the fact that no police investigation was made prior to Kunal’s arrest and to the absurdity of the claim that Kunal (an outsider with no political roots in the area), could have organized a nude parade in public in a tribal village, and yet could manage to remain unscathed over a period of 21 days after the incident until his day of arrest. We also emphasize that Kunal was living in his residence at Barrackpore from the 19th to 22nd April, during which period he attended meetings with ActionAid in Kolkata, with a drama team in Barrackpore, lunch in a friend’s house and a cultural program in Kolkata on Language Day. In addition to numerous responsible citizens who are prepared to stand by the fact of his presence in Kolkata and Barrackpore, there is sufficient documentary evidence of his presence in Barrackpore on these days.
12. On the 12th March 2002, a local Santali youth club of Garia village convened, at Kunal’s initiation, a mass meeting of Santal villagers to discuss the problems of tribal culture in modern times. A Santali handbill was distributed (Appendix 7), and over 250 Santals gathered in the meeting, which sent an alarm to the quarry owners, who mistook the gathering as a mass movement to close down their quarries and crusher units. The following day, the 13th March, they lodged an FIR against Kunal with Rampurhat PS, although Kunal had not been involved in the alleged incident in any manner.
13. The above description of the threats Kunal has periodically received from the quarry owners, and the documents attached hereto, suffice to indicate that Kunal has been victimized by a conspiracy of the quarry owners, who have always sought to eliminate him from the area of their illegal operations. Since April 4, two of the most notorious quarry owners have been moving about in Garia village, sometimes in the company of local policemen, asking for the whereabouts of people associated with Uthnau. They have taken down even the names of children who used to frequent Uthnau's field station, - and issued threats.
14. Kunal’s activism and keen interest in indigenous culture brought him into close acquaintance with a large number of celebrities like Mrinal Sen, Mahasweta Devi, Aparna Sen, Dr. Asish K Ghosh, Prof. Parimal Ghosh, Prof. Shubhendu Dasgupta and Prof. Dhruba Gupta, and many others, all of whom have appealed to the Chief Minister to extricate Kunal from this false case (Appendix 8).
15. A new rumour is now being spread in and around Mollarpur: that Kunal is either a member, or an associate, of ultra-leftist terrorist organizations like People’s War Group and Maoist Community Centre. There is reason to suspect that this new accusation is being framed against Kunal in order to inactivate Uthnau and to keep the tribal population of Mollarpur area in the dark pale of stone quarry mafiadom.