Author photo courtesy: Shankar Sharma
You can tell the greatness of a man by what makes him angry.
Since when have students needed somebody to tell them when to riot?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
One spring evening, Santhal boys from the Adivasi Boys’ Hostel in the town created a mighty havoc at the railway station. Armed with sticks and hockey sticks, they reached the station, broke the glass panels of the enquiry counter and the ticket counter, broke the head and hand of a TTE, and even injured an RPF jawan who tried to intervene.
Violence isn’t a solution to problems. But, perhaps, the violence these boys displayed can find some justification in the incident which spurred them to be violent, and also in the incidents that followed this violence.
This town in question is a small, district town in Santhal Pargana. Santhal Pargana should, ideally — if one goes by its name and the purpose for which it was marked as the Santhal Pargana — be a safe haven for Santhals.
Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way. Non-Santhals now own the place; while Santhals have either been pushed into their villages, or out of them, out of the Santhal Pargana, as migrant labourers in other places.
The Adivasi Boys’ Hostel in question is a hostel run by the government where Adivasi boys — Santhals, mostly — from various villages in the district stay and attend the college in town. Some boys even go to colleges outside the town, to other districts, while still putting up at the hostel, a place with, understandably, better facilities than in their villages.
The mode of transport these boys usually take while travelling to a different district up north is the railways. They take the morning passenger train to that district; attend college; then return to the town, their hostel, by the evening passenger train.
Students hardly buy tickets on passenger trains. If they travel solo, then, perhaps, they do. But if they travel in groups, then tickets? What tickets? It’s useless fighting them. It has always been so. Also, had the students had that much money to spend on daily tickets or monthly passes, they wouldn’t have come down from their villages up in the hills and inside forests to stay in a hostel in the town.
Now, the railway station in the town has a TTE who is known to harass ticketless travellers. Fine, travelling without a ticket is a crime, and those who do so should be penalised; but this particular TTE takes his power of penalising ticketless travellers to the extent of extortion. This TTE is a Hindu — a Brahmin, to be exact — and it isn’t like the job of the railways is his only source of sustenance or he is a faithful servant of the railways. He is known to be having certain side-business, as well. And they are pretty big businesses! He owns quarries — he deals in the famous stones of Santhal Pargana. And he has contacts at high places — he knows even the DC of the district, as the post-violence lament of his companions at the hospital showed.
For some reason, this TTE has the habit of picking on Santhal boys. Santhal boys usually travel without tickets. If they’re lucky, they escape the hawk eyes and feline clutch of the TTE. If not, they end up getting robbed.
So, on that fateful evening, this hapless, ticketless Santhal boy happened to alight from the passenger train and walk straight into the open, anaconda-ish jaws of the said TTE.
“Sir, I don’t have a ticket. I am a student. I couldn’t buy a ticket. I promise I’ll buy a ticket the next time. I’ll not repeat this mistake.”
“You can buy clothes? You can buy food? You can buy mobile phones? Why can’t you buy a train ticket?”
And the TTE made that Santhal boy turn his pockets and wallet inside out and took every currency note, every coin that boy had.
“Go! And be careful the next time. You’re lucky I am not sending you to jail.”
Abused, indignant, the boy came out of the station and informed his friends at the Adivasi Boys’ Hostel of the extortion he had faced at the hands of that TTE. Now, if Santhal boys were on that TTE’s radar for being the most vulnerable ticketless travellers, that TTE too was on the hitlist of the Santhal boys for having robbed them at every given opportunity. The Santhal boys were seething for revenge. This SOS call from one of their mates gave them the chance to avenge themselves.
They came armed with sticks and hockey sticks, a group of 25 to 30 Santhal boys — though the FIR the "victim’s" TTE filed said about one-hundred boys came — and it was rampage. The boys broke down whatever came in their way. They smashed the glass front of the ticket counter and the enquiry counter. They went inside the rooms and smashed lights and fans. They broke furniture and machines, and destroyed papers and other objects. The newspaper report the next day would mention the damage to be in lakhs of rupees.
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Hi Sowvendra.... Amazing story... of helplessness... It has been like that for decades...
Dec 10, 2016 at 00:58