A Santhal tribal organisation, frustrated at having to beg for the inclusion of the Santhali language in courses at the university level and in schools and colleges, resorted to a railway and highway blockade on Monday 24th September.
The tribal organisation, active in Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa (Odisha), has threatened to continue the agitation indefinitely until the government gives a positive assurance for the recognition of the Santhali language.
“Our main demands are recognition of Santhali language at university level and appointment of Santhali language teachers in schools and colleges. We had taken up our demands with the state government many times. We were assured that our demands would be met but nothing has been done so far. So, we will continue our blockade,” said Rabin Tudu, a member of the organisation.
From 6 am onwards, members of the outfit — many armed with traditional weapons like bows and arrows and axes — started blocking NH6 and railway tracks.
As chief minister Mamata Banerjee was overseas, none in the government took any initiative to end the agitation and there was no comment from Nabanna.
Local media reported that senior administrative officials were trying to reach out to the BJMPM.
In the meanwhile railway passengers were stranded for hours. South Bengal districts like West Midnapore, East Midnapore, and Jhargram were severely hit by the blockade. In Purulia, Bankura and Birbhum, the blockade was withdrawn after some time.
Many trains of South Eastern Railway were cancelled and rescheduled.
Shibnath Banerjee of Asoknagar in North 24 Parganas was waiting anxiously at Howrah station with his family when a local journalist met him. “Six of us were to board Amaravathi Express as we were on a 10-day vacation to Goa. All our bookings are made. Our train is cancelled for tonight. We want to know whether the railways will put us on another train to Mumbai.”
Lack of announcements from the railway authorities on the prevailing situation added to the confusion.
Earlier in the day, the agitation affected passengers of local trains, mostly office-goers and students.
Anita Das, a resident of Shyamchak village in Kharagpur and a first-year BA student at Banamali College in Panskura, said: “After my classes, I could not take a train back home because of the blockade. I tried to take a bus. But bus services were also suspended.”
The tribal organisation put up the biggest blockade on NH6 at Machogram More in East Midnapore where a large police force was present.
“We requested the agitators to disperse but they did not listen. Force wasn’t used in order to avoid untoward incidents,” a senior police officer of East Midnapore said.
The blockade along NH6 left thousands of trucks and other vehicles stranded for hours.