Six students of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences were assaulted on Sunday, when they were trying to resist demolition and eviction of settlers in Kolkata’s Subhas Sarovar area.
Last month, Increasing Diversity By Increasing Access (IDIA) had secured a stay on the proposed demolition of the slum, in furtherance of a Petition filed before the Calcutta High Court. Despite this order, the authorities had decided to proceed with the demolition.
According to Ms. Gatha G. Namboothiri, Team leader at IDIA, the volunteers had rushed to the lake area right after they became aware of the slum being demolished. The students were, however, brutally abused and their cell phones were snatched away. One of the female students was surrounded by 20-30 women and was groped and assaulted. Five of the students sustained injuries as a result and were taken to a local hospital for treatment. Despite having put up a fearless fight against the perpetrators, the slum was demolished and its dwellers were mercilessly beaten up.
When the students finally did reach the Police Station, the authorities were largely lackadaisical towards them. However, with the involvement of the media, they were able to manage a patient hearing. IDIA has since found a shelter home for the women and children and are in search of a place for the men.
The Calcutta High Court has also intervened, after it was approached with a contempt petition this morning. It has ordered the State to rehabilitate the evicted slum dwellers within 24 hours and has issued contempt notice against the authorities.
The project in question is being undertaken by the Government of West Bengal Tourism Department, along with the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) and the Kolkata Improvement Trust (KIT). It seeks to provide recreational facilities like food court, joggers-park, open-air theatre, and the like, while at the same time rendering around twenty-two families living there for more than a decade, homeless.
Statement released by the Student Juridical Association, NUJS
Soon after the incident, the Students Juridical Association (SJA) of NUJS condemned the assault on the students and termed it the “manhandling of our collective conscience”.
The statement said:
“We, as students of law, have chosen to pursue law not as a mere profession but also as an instrument of social upliftment and change. Last night, when we stood for defending the rule of law that guarantees slum dwellers the right against arbitrary eviction, we were subjected to mob violence. When we approached the police, the registration of our complaint was persistently resisted for a few hours by the police.
As law students, this sequence of events has completely shaken our faith in all the institutions in place in our beloved country. Suddenly all those case studies from classes on the State’s failure where everyone has an impulse to take a stand – be it left, right or center seemed completely irrelevant. All those lofty ideals of social justice which we seek to learn and further through our education at our prestigious law schools were swiftly torn to bits along with the interim injunction.
This incident is a deep affront on our collective conscience. We firmly believe that we, as the law school fraternity, must stand together against this complete obliteration of the rule of law that we seek to defend and practice. We sincerely hope that in this hour of need, our collective conscience will inspire us to participate in defending and echoing the common ideals of liberty and rule of law that bind us together.”
The Government’s project has been challenged by three of the slum dwellers, including octogenarian Shiv Shankar Ray, “being aggrieved by and dissatisfied with the extreme apathy and inaction on the part of the concerned authorities in performing their statutory duties”.
The Petition contends that the slum dwellers were being forced to leave the area, without any notice or rehabilitation scheme in place.
It, further, brings to the notice of the Court the inaction on the part of the Police Officials when approached with a complaint against the project. “…the complete apathy and inaction of the part of the police officials as well as representatives of the Respondents herein to the situation of the residents of the Subhas Sarovar area is a clear violation of their inalienable rights to life and shelter protected under the Constitution of India,” it submits.
Various representations were also made to the authorities, but to no avail. The slum dwellers were, in fact, threatened to vacate, stating that bulldozers will otherwise run their slums to the ground overnight.
The Petition, therefore, submits that this leads to a “direct and gross violation of the petitioners’ right to live with dignity which includes adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter”. It further contends that the authorities have acted arbitrarily, in violation of Articles 14, 19, 21 and 300A of the Constitution of India.
On these grounds, the Petition demands a direction to the Government to stop the demolition of the slum housing, as well as provide a rehabilitation plan with alternate accommodation for slum dwellers.