The right of citizens to protest and gather peacefully is a fundamental aspect of India’s democracy. The 21 July, 1993 incident was a dark chapter in Bengal’s political history. The state Youth Congress led by Mamata Banerjee had organised a mass protest at Writers’ Building against the then Left Front government, demanding voter identity cards be made mandatory to exercise franchise and accused the then ruling government of rigging.
On their way to Writers’ Building they were stopped by the police and the protestors went out of control. Police started lathi charging and beating up protestors mercilessly and also fired shots which resulted in 13 deaths and leftany injured.
The essence of democracy is to have different opinions and sometimes to agitate for its acceptance in front of the ruling government. In a democracy governments are answerable, thus the saying “accountable democracy is democracy that delivers”.
This incident was one of the most brutal and gory events in post independent bengal. We must not forget the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. The philosophy of Gandhi was based on truth, sacrifice, non-violence and cooperation. According to Gandhi one should be brave and not a coward. They should present their views, suggestions and thoughts without being violent. But unfortunately peaceful protest marches and freedom of expression have always been suppressed by every government.
Mamata Banerjee has always held Jyoti Basu, the then CM and his cabinet responsible for using excessive force to deter the protest and open fire on them. Mamata Banerjee was also wounded in the incident. By this incident Mamata Banerjee, who was leading the protest, gained public sympathy and created her own identity in Bengal politics and later in 1998 formed her own political party.
In 2011, the Left Front rule in West Bengal came to an end as the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) formed the government under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. Soon after she took charge the Mamata government set up a judicial commision under retired Justice Sushanta Chatterjee and the commission in its reports said that the control room officers were “vicariously responsible” and “overacted to please their political bosses”.
It has been years since the incident but Mamata still remembers it as a sad and disconsolate day in the history of Bengal. She writes in her book My Unforgettable Memories: “It’s the day when we remember and offer our respect to the hundreds of people who are fighting death every day, whose lives are a living death, who have lost life and limb in this struggle. For us, it’s a day of sorrow and shame”.
Since then, 21 July is commemorated and a Martyr’s Day or Shahid Diwas rally is organised by the TMC. This day is dedicated to the memory of those 13 martyrs.