Civil society hit the streets in support of the Bharat Bandh in Siliguri today.
A significant feature for the day was the active participation of cultural activists, rights activists and academicians, who held marches and squatted on the roads, shouting slogans, while exhorting people to support the bandh.
Such demonstrations and squatting on the roads by civil society members painted a different picture as common people here are used to seeing such activities only from political parties or trade unions during bandh days.
Srijan and Fascibad Birodhi Nagarik Mancha, two apolitical forums, led the programmes here today. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) had called the Bharat Bandh, which evoked a mixed response in Siliguri.
“Today’s bandh is different from other shutdowns. Farmers–the `annadaatas’ (food givers) have been sitting at Delhi’s borders against the new farm laws for the past 10 months, while hundreds have been martyred during the movement. During the protracted movement, the farmers did not allow any political involvement.
We reserve our stand on supporting or opposing any bandh generally called by political parties, but this time is different. The three laws will rob the farmers of their land and livelihood and allow corporate to take over the agriculture sector and the system will hit the common people. Their peaceful movement has been an inspiration and drawn global admiration. Therefore, people from a cross-section of society directly supported this bandh,” said a theater activist, Partha Chowdhury.
Mr Chowdhury said it was the responsibility of the civil society to stand by the ongoing farmers’ movement. Another veteran theater personality, Palak Chakraborty, recalled an essential role played by the intelligentsia in anti-land acquisition protests in Bengal-Singur-Nandigram.
“Artistes, cultural activists and intellectuals had actively taken part in the movements then. The cultural resurgence had played a crucial role in the state. But the present farmers’ movement has spread across the country. The movement is not only restricted among the farmers, but people of a wide range of society, including the common people and labourers, consider them as their own demands,” Mr Chakraborty said.
A majority of intellectuals and the cultural community had lent ballast to the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul Congress for her policies on agriculture and industrialisation ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha and 2011 Assembly elections. SKM, which is an umbrella body of more than 40 farmers’ unions spearheading the anti-farm law protests, had called the bandh to protest the three contentious agricultural laws passed by the central government.
Meanwhile, shops and markets remained closed today, while some private vehicles, and a handful of city autos and e-rickshaws plied on the roads. Business activities were largely affected ahead of Durga Puja as the traders said they had already been hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. Bandh supporters, including Left and Congress trade unions, took out separate rallies to show solidarity with the bandh. SUCI (C) activists also
marched on the roads.
Trade unions leaders claimed the bandh was successful. Former Siliguri mayor and senior CPI-M leader Asok Bhattacharya said the bandh was total. “The farmers have been sitting at Delhi’s borders since November, demanding the revocation of three draconian farm laws. People have spontaneously supported the bandh and the response was total,”
Mr Bhattacharya said. Left activists picketed Hill Cart Road, and were seen stopping vehicles briefly in the presence of the police. AICCTU state secretary Basudeb Basu said the bandh had evoked total response in the Darjeeling district. Mr Basu said people in both urban and rural areas actively participated in the bandh.
The bandh evoked a mixed response in the North Dinajpur district today. Since morning, all business houses and financial institutions downed shutters, while most private vehicles stayed off the roads. Only buses operated by the North Bengal State Transport Corporation and e-rickshaws were seen plying on the roads, while government offices remained open.
Sources said adequate police force was deployed to prevent any untoward incident during the bandh. Superintendent of Police of the Raiganj Police District, Sana Akhtar, said, “There were no reports of violence or law and order problem from any place in Raiganj today.”