-Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti
This is a first hand account of what happened at the peaceful rally of artistes, intellectuals, writers, painters, journalists activists in front of Nandan yesterday (Nov 11, 2007). The rally was held to let people know that we are boycotting the Kolkata Film Festival (which is state run) in protest against the Nandigram killings. There were about two hundred of us who started the rally from the protest manch of Medha Patkar at Esplanade, opposite Metro Cinema. There was painter Shuvoprasanna, Samir Aich, Suman Mukherjee, Supriyo Sen, Joy Goswami amongst others. We were carrying posters and banners and singing songs, when we were stopped by a huge force at Park Street. They had put up a barricade and asked us to go back. We tried talking to them to find out why we were being stopped. We were not armed, or violent. We only meant to walk peacefully upto Nandan. We were told that we will not be allowed to reach Nandan under any circumstances. So we squatted there on the road for a while. Then we went back and formed a human chain to stop all traffic. And then eventually we decided to leave for Nandan in threes and fours, where another group was waiting for us.
We reassembled at Academy of Fine Arts where Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh, Shankho Ghosh (poet), Anjan Dutt and a host of other personalities joined us. Now we had a larger group and we signed a boycott statement. And then we started walking towards Nandan (the main venue of the festival) (which is next to Academy) As we walked about twenty steps or so, we were stopped again by the police. They were accompanied by RAF who stood menacingly with their batons. There were quite a few police vans waiting and we could make out that we were going to be arrested. Shuvaprasanna, the seniormost person, tried talking to the police. They told us clearly that we have to leave the place. We decided to squat on the road and sing songs. After a while two senior officers came in and told us that if we do not leave immediately, we would be arrested. They started by arresting four young students, who were beaten up ruthlessly and whisked away in a van. Now we all went forward and demaned that they release the boys immediately. Otherwise they have to arrest all of us. On this they started pushing us with the help of RAF.
Shuvaprasanna was badly heckled and they started using the stick. And then they started pushing us into the vans. We were taken to the central lockup of Lalbazar (police headquarters) where about sixty of us were kept in one cell, There were about 10 or 12 women amongst us. We instantly called up all our friends and informed them of the situation. Fortunately all this had also been shown live on most of the local tv channels. So there was a major public furore. Thousands of people stormed Lalbazar to get us relaesed, and they had to lock all their gates.
We were arrested at around 4.30 pm. By 5.30 pm Aparna Sen, Goutam Ghosh, Shankho Ghosh, Bibhash Chakraborti and Sujato Bhadro had forced their way into Lalbazar and managed to get us out by signing personal bailbonds (under section 151). By the time we were let out it was nearly 9.30 pm. There was a big crowd waiting for us outside with candles.
After this incident, all the people that I know have refused to be part of the festival. Many of our friends have withdrawn their films. The city is seething with anger, and the government has completely discredited itself.