Barun Biswas: A Martyr India Knew Too Late

Homage to Barun Biswas and Dr Radhakrishan on Teacher’s Day at Mitra Institution, Kolkata,  where Barun was a teacher. It is said that - The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. Barun was such a teacher, Dr Radhakrishnan would have been proud of Barun.

Sutia was Ramgarh; Sushanta Chowdhury was Gabbar, only Viru was missing. We are not talking of a remake of Sholay, but of something which was a part of everyday existence at Suita in 24 Pargana District of West Bengal located about 60 kms from Kolkata. Between 2000 - 2003, Sutia was run as a personal fiefdom of the don Sushanta Chowdhury and his 70 member gang. Their business was extortion and molestation of women their weapon. If anyone would dare protest, the entire woman folk of the family would be molested and raped, that too in front of their fathers, brothers and other family members. There have been cases of repeated assaulted on the same woman by the gang for weeks since she had dared protest. Some 80 women were raped or gang raped (unconfirmed reports puts the number at 300). The villagers cowered in silence, the administration was too busy to be disturbed and the cops did not seem to be interested. And what made things worse was that none of the victims or their family members could muster enough courage to register an FIR.

Then in 2002 a lone voice of protest arose. The voice was that of 28 year old Barun Biswas, a mild mannered school teacher. Sutia had found its Viru. Barun decided enough was enough and started to get people together, Nanigopal Poddar and Jiten Bala were the first to join Barun. But this was not enough, it had to be a people’s movement, the counter to the gang was in numbers. While everyone in Sutia supported the cause; there was fear to come out in the open. The gang was watching.

Barun knew that people will only join if he would challenge the gang in public. So on one July evening at the crowded Sutia bazaar, Barun took a hired microphone, stood on a stool and declared war on the gang. The war was not to be with a gun, but by making the system to work. This would mean going door to door convincing the victims to lodge an FIR, collecting evidence, assuring witnesses to testify in court, pushing the police and administration to act. Most importantly registering his message with the people of Sutia “If we lack the courage to take on the molesters, we deserve more severe punishment than they do….”.

Barun and his supporters were now marked men and were repeatedly attacked by the gang. Some were injured. Nani Charan Samaddar was shot twice and he luckily survived. Barun never spoke of revenge, he was seeking justice, and that meant the gang members had to be punished as per the law of the land. Results started to show from 2002, when a case was filed for the first time. Several molestation victims followed suit and filed complaints with police and identified the criminals. The groundswell was immense, and made front-page headlines. The administration was forced to act and the kingpins of the gang — Susanta Chowdhury, Bireswar Dhali, Ramen Majumdar, Ripon Biswas, Anil Bala and Laxman Tarafdar — were arrested. In 2004, five of them were sentenced to life imprisonment. Barun had waged the battle without any hatred; books on Swami Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Vivekananda were his constant companions. He even handed over a book on Swami Paramahansa to the gang lord Sushanta when the latter was arrested, with the advice “Jele Boshe Poris” (read the book in jail)”.

Barun not only brought justice, he also rehabilitated the girls who had been assaulted by the gang by getting many of the girls married. He continued the good work. He helped poor boys study, bought medicines for the elderly, coached job-seekers, and campaigned for the dredging of a canal to prevent Sutia and nearby areas from flooding. He had not married, lest it makes him more inward looking. Always available for anyone in distress, he was the respected Mastormoshai(teacher) of Sutia.

Born in a poor landless family which had immigrated from Faridpur,Bangladesh in 1971, Barun and his siblings had seen dire financial hardships when growing up. He did his Masters in Bengali literature and then a B.Ed.He subsequently cleared the state civil services exam. But his heart was set on social work, so he refused the cushy government job and became a teacher. Almost all his salary would be spent in helping the needy. In Barun’s deed one would find the echo of Bhagat Singh “I am a man and all that affects mankind concerns me” Both men from different times fought for the cause of freedom - Bhagat Singh from the British, Barun Biswas from intimidation and cowardice.

Barun would regularly commute from Sutia to Kolkata where he was a Bangla teacher at Metropolitan Institution. He knew death was stalking him and always had a couple of youngsters accompany him to and from Gobardanga Station. The gang members on the run could take revenge. At 6.30 PM, July 5, 2012, Barun had none for company, and as he alighted at the Gobardanga railway station, enroute to his village, he was shot. The first bullet pierced his back; he turned and took the second bullet on his chest.

The killing was orchestrated by the gang lord Sushanta Chowdhury, whom Barun had showed the gate to the Jail. Barun was 38.

If the killers had planned to silence the voice of protest, the result was just the opposite. As the news of Barun’s death spread, people streamed out of their homes at night, mostly women, armed with brooms and bamboo sticks and by 5 am in the morning they had gheraoed the Sutia police outpost. The mob then went on to block the Gobardanga- Berigopalpur highway demanding why still 11 of the Sutia rape accused were roaming free. The police team was beaten back and the RAF contingent has to be called in. It took ten hours to clear the road, after the mob extracted a promise that the killers would be caught.

40,000 people attended Barun’s funeral. Police reacted swiftly and have managed to arrest the murderers of Barun. Sutia after long last has found its voice to protest, Barun Biswas’s sacrifice has not gone in vain. How many more Barun’s do we have to sacrifice? One can hear India cry out:

Kis ravan ki Chita sajaun,
Kis ravan ko aag lagaun,
Jan Jan ravan, ghar ghar lanka,
Itney Ram mein kahan se laun!
Itney Barun mein kahan se laun!

(Pyre of which Ravan do I light
Coffin of which Ravan do I nail
Too Many Lankas, Too many Ravans
Where do I get so many Rams

Where do I get so many Baruns !)

Incidentally Barun’s most favourite book was Albert Camus’ novel ” The Plague”. The hero of the novel Dr. Bernard Rieux, fights a lonely battle to combat plague in the Algerian town of Oran and inspires others to join in the fight. While Dr Bernard lived through his battle, Barun unfortunately did not.

Note: The State CID which had probed the case had charged 10 persons, including a juvenile and now-deceased undertrial, for the murder — three among them are still on the run. The main accused, the person whose bullet felled the victim, has been arrested. He is a juvenile and has already been convicted. This accused is serving out a three-year jail term. However the masterminds are still to be convicted. The wheels of justice have moved slow for a person who taught a whole town to fight for justice.

  1. B Sen

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