By Urmi Rupa Pal:
On the morning of 21st June 2015, Sunday, three young men came to our house in Burdwan and informed us that the Ward Councilor has demanded to meet us regarding the RTI we had filed about an illegal construction on the wetland adjacent to our house. My father and I went to meet the Councilor, and saw a mob of 25-30 people waiting for us along with the Councilor.
What happened next was beyond our worst nightmare.
The councilor threatened us that if we wanted to live in that locality we would have to withdraw the RTI. When I objected to this they started beating my father holding him by his collar, as he fell down some men started to kick him on his chest. When I screamed and tried to save him, four men grabbed me and lifted me from the ground. They twisted my arms, took my cellphone away, thrashed it on the road, stole the memory card and stamped on the phone. They threw me on the road and dragged me by my hair. They kicked me on my right shoulder and on my stomach. When I tried to stand up they kicked me again. One of them grabbed me by my bottom and tore my leggings. As I screamed for help the Councilor asked the goons to teach me a lesson and kill my father. At last someone turned up to help and shouted at the goons. He handed me my broken phone. My father and I ran for our home. But, the ordeal did not end there. The Councilor gathered more people. They chased us home and tried to break in while continuously making indecent gestures at us and shouting “let the girl out and let us do an ‘RTI’ of the girl”. For forty-five minutes they vandalised our garden, broke our windows, and kept banging and kicking against the collapsible gate. They kept calling for shovels to break the door open and get me out. My mother had sent me upstairs, where I locked myself in and tried to call the police. As I did not get any response from 100, I called my colleagues and seniors.
Why were we attacked on the main road in broad daylight in a meeting with our Ward Councilor? I work for a University Press and my parents are retired teachers. We have been living in this locality for 22 years and have done more than our fair share for the community. My father would religiously attest documents after documents for the locals when he was a Lieutenant with NCC. We would take part in all the important meetings and assemblies in our locality.
What went wrong was the fact that I have been fighting to save a wetland that belonged to the University of Burdwan for some time now by writing to people and collecting local support. The University had setup a board declaring the wetland to be the selected plot for an upcoming officers’ residence. After I had submitted a deputation collecting signatures from local residents to the VC, I came to know that the Botanical Survey of India had signed an MOU with the University to protect that same ecological zone. The VC said to the press that no concrete structures would come up in the area at the cost of wetlands and the University would take responsibility in protecting the flora and fauna of the region. The University decided to give a boundary to the wetland and in the process the contractors filled up a considerable portion of the wetland. Then, new construction started in the plots adjacent to that wetland, using the already filled up portion to transport raw materials.
When my father notified the VC, the University acted and closed the gap in the boundary wall, which stopped the easy access to raw materials for the workers. These upcoming constructions are not adhering to municipality laws. They are blocking the natural drainage system of the area, which is how the locality has flushed ever since it was inhabited. My father submitted an application to the municipality asking for help. Then he gave them a reminder as well. On getting no response, he filed an RTI on 15.06.15.
Two days after the attack, we moved to our relatives’ place in Kolkata for a period of three days. My parents and I could not bear the trauma anymore. While there, we received information that those miscreants, who attacked us on 21st June, were trying to plant false evidence at our home. We intimated the local PS, who sent a patrol and ensured us that things were under control. They requested us to come back to our home. When we came back day before yesterday, we saw that some more windows had been broken during our absence.
We are living in fear and pain while the culprits are still roaming free. How do we protect ourselves and the wetlands that belong to our community?