Why corpses of a 1982 killing are stirring again

Big names, including Somnath Chatterjee, could face summons over the Kolkata massacre of 17 Ananda Margis.

Written by Subrata Nagchowdhury | Updated: June 5, 2015 12:38 am
Kolkata-massacre-l The Margis were pulled out of taxis in the heart of Kolkata and set on fire. (Source: Archive photo)

Big names, including Somnath Chatterjee, could face summons over the Kolkata massacre of 17 Ananda Margis.

Why is the 33-year-old massacre of 17 Ananda Margis back in focus?  
Some recent depositions before the Justice Amitava Lala Judicial Commission — set up by the Mamata Banerjee government in October 2013 — and the collection of new evidence, have created the possibility of some important CPM leaders being summoned. On April 30, 1982, when the CPM-led Left Front was in power in West Bengal, 16 monks and one sanyasin of the Ananda Marga were massacred in broad daylight in the heart of Kolkata.

Who might be summoned?
According to Commission sources, some documents allegedly show that important CPM leaders of the Kasba-Jadavpur area met at Colony Bazar in Picnic Garden on February 6, 1982, to discuss the Margis, whose headquarters was then coming up at what was at the time a difficult-to-access location in Tiljala. Reportedly present at the meeting were Kanti Ganguly, minister in the last Left Front cabinet; Sachin Sen, former CPM MLA, now dead; Nirmal Haldar, local CPM leader; Amal Majumdar, former councillor of ward no 108 (Tiljala-Kasba); and Somnath Chatterjee, then MP from Jadavpur and subsequently Speaker of Lok Sabha.

What did CPM have against the Marga?
Ananda Margis were ideologically opposed to the communists, and the CPM of the early 80s was deeply suspicious of their activities. The first attack on the Marga was at its Purulia global headquarters in 1967, in which five Margis were murdered, allegedly by CPM cadres.

Two years later, the Marga’s Coochbehar congregation was attacked. The CPM always believed political ambitions and agenda lay underneath the spiritual-religious cover of the Marga. Even after the 1982 attack, in April 1990, five Ananda Margis were murdered in Purulia, allegedly by CPM cadres.

So, who are the Ananda Marg, and what is their ideology?  
It is a spiritual-religious sect whose late founder Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar propounded, in 1959, ‘PROUT’ — or the Progressive Utilization Theory — which was said to be opposed to both communism and capitalism, and to aim, instead, at a grassroots “socio-economic democracy”. Sarkar called his philosophy “neo-humanism”. Its spiritual practices were a synthesis of Vedic and Tantrik rituals, including, in the early days, dancing holding human skulls.

What happened on April 30, 1982?
Ananda Margis from all over the country were headed to an “educational  conference” at the Tiljala centre. The way was through what is now known as Bijon Setu in the Ballygunge area of south Kolkata. Taxis carrying monks and sanyasins were intercepted at at least three separate locations, doused in petrol and kerosene, and set on fire. At least 17 Margis were charred to death, several others were severely injured. Local people had reportedly begun a whisper campaign earlier saying the Margis were kidnapping and trafficking children. The CPM claimed the killings were masterminded by the Margis themselves to malign the government.

How did the state government respond?
It set up a commission of inquiry that did not proceed beyond its notification, and did not have a single hearing. No report of action taken, as is mandatory for Judicial Commissions, was placed before the state assembly. Then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu infamously said, “What can be done? Such things do happen”, and appeared to issue a veiled threat, wanting to know what consequences might have followed had Sachin Sen, the then CPM MLA of Kasba, chosen to raid the Margis’ centre with 10,000 of his cadres. A state CID inquiry produced no results. No justice was ever done.

Why did Mamata’s government choose to reopen the case?
Since coming to power in May 2011, Mamata has set up at least 10 Judicial Commissions to investigate heinous crimes committed under the Left regime: the Anand Margi killings, the killings of 13 Youth Congress workers in July 1993, the Cossipore massacre, the Sain Bari massacre in Burdwan, the alleged forcible land grab in Rajarhat, etc. The intention is obviously to remind people of those horrors, the black spots of Left rule. Key Left leaders have been summoned to these Commissions. While this may bring little solace to the Margis whose leaders have spent a lifetime chasing justice, for Mamata, it is an attempt to reaffirm that she was not the only one at the receiving end of the brutality of the Left regime.

Justice delayed

APR 30, 1982: 16 monks and a nun are burnt alive in Kolkata, allegedly by the CPM. Chief Minister Jyoti Basu subsequently sets up stillborn Justice Samarendra Chandra Deb Commission of Inquiry. A CID inquiry is wound up, and the state government stonewalls efforts by the NHRC to investigate.

OCT 17, 2011: Ananda Margis appeal to the Mamata Banerjee government for a Judicial Commission of Inquiry. The Justice Amitava Lala Inquiry begins proceedings in October 2013.

WHAT NOW: 16 witnesses have been examined; the most crucial deposition has been by the then additional district magistrate of South 24-Parganas, retired IAS officer Sher Singh. The next hearing is on June 10. Trial may commence in a sessions court if the Commission so recommends.

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