A 65-year-old labourer was allegedly beaten to death by a group of farmers in Burdwan when a meeting to discuss the workers’ demand for a revision of daily wages escalated into a clash.
Radhanath Soren, who is also a CPM worker, was taken to Jamalpur health centre where he was pronounced dead.
Over 100 farm labourers in Nabagram have for the past three days refused to cultivate the fields at a time seeds are being sown for the aman (monsoon) crop.
The workers have been demanding that their daily wage be increased by Rs 50-60 to Rs 120.
Today, the farmers, most of whom are Trinamul supporters, called the labourers to a meeting to discuss their demand.
The meeting, which was attended by around 60 farmers and 75 labourers, started with a bargain but it soon snowballed into an argument and then a clash, Radhanath’s grandson Sunil said.
“We (the labourers) scaled down our demand to Rs 100 a day (from Rs 120) but they would not agree to anything more than Rs 80. An argument broke out and some farmers slapped and punched some of us.
“My grandfather went to pacify both the sides but he was kicked and punched by the farmers. We took him to Jamalpur health centre but he was declared dead there,” Sunil said.
District superintendent of police S.M.H. Meerza said seven persons have been arrested.
Asked if Radhanath was singled out because of his links with the CPM, another police officer ruled out such a possibility.
Radhanath’s son Sahadeb, lodged an FIR on the basis of which the arrests were made, the officer said. Among the arrested persons were Ashok Ghosh, the Trinamul president in Nabagram gram panchayat.
District CPM secretary Amal Haldar said Radhanath was killed “because he was leading the agitation against the farmers”. “We have called a 12-hour strike in Jamalpur tomorrow,” Haldar added.
Local Trinamul MLA Ujjal Pramanik denied Radhanath was beaten to death by the farmers and insisted he died of a heart attack.
“After the meeting ended, Radhanath returned home and died of a heart attack after two hours. Trinamul has nothing to do with his death. The CPM is trying to politicise the incident,” Pramanik said.
According to the Burdwan assistant labour commissioner, Asit Baran Roy, there are three rates fixed by the government for farm labourers. “For skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled farm labourers, the daily rates range from Rs 155 to Rs 202,” Roy said.
An official of the labour department admitted that in many areas in the district, employers do not pay the government rates to the labourers.