A constable was beaten to death in a Railway Protection Force (RPF) camp in Malda on Monday afternoon in a direct fallout of an eviction drive opposed by hawkers who have the blessings of several political parties.
The lynching of Samarendra Samanta, 35, by suspected hawkers not only lengthens the list of law-enforcers attacked in Bengal but also underscores the transformation of a politically blessed pressure group into a Frankenstein’s monster.
Samanta, a member of the RPF which is a central force, was killed after around 300 hawkers stormed the camp at the Malda Town station. The constable’s daughter is aged not more than three.
The murder comes two months after chief minister Mamata Banerjee promised illegal vendors in the state “legal rights with a free trade licence”. Railway premises do not fall under the zones that will be earmarked for hawkers.
An RPF drive to remove hawkers has been going on for the past two to three months in Malda. The divisional railway manager in Malda said the effort was in line with the Railway Board’s instructions not to allow any unauthorised person on the premises of a station.
No political party or union wants the hawkers removed from the platforms, and all denied the involvement of any of their members in the attack on the RPF jawans.
Unions backed by or sympathetic to the Trinamool Congress, the Congress or the BJP said the livelihoods of around 700 people depended on hawking food and refreshments to train passengers and they should not be removed.
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), which leans towards the BJP on some issues, alleged that the hawkers had turned violent after some RPF jawans thrashed a vendor, Jhoton Das, selling eatables on a platform. The RPF denied the charge.
S.S. Tewari, the RPF commandant, said the violence was started by hawkers who were demanding permission to ply their trade in the station. “The hawkers started ransacking legitimate stalls at the station. When our jawans tried to resist, they were attacked with lathis and stones.”
He said the jawans fled the platform and entered the RPF camp office, a few metres away. The hawkers gave chase.
The officer said Samanta, standing on the RPF camp verandah around 1pm, was “hit repeatedly with bricks and stones and killed on the spot. Our men, who were outnumbered, had to fire in the air in order to disperse the attackers. At least six of our jawans were injured,” Tewari said.
The divisional railway manager of Eastern Railway’s Malda division, Rajesh Argal, said he would send a report to the state government and the railway authorities on the jawan’s death.
“We have instructions from the Railway Board that no unauthorised person should be allowed on station premises. The drive against unauthorised hawkers has been going on for the past three months. The action by the RPF jawans today to evict the unauthorised hawkers was part of the drive. The hawkers attacked and murdered an RPF jawan without provocation,” Argal said.
No one had been arrested for the murder till this evening.