Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nandigram outrage

Taken from

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 45, Dated Nov 24, 2007

inside nandigram

Party Zindabad People Murdabad

Hundreds killed, raped and driven out, and the remaining made to join victory marches. The CPM was unwaveringly brutal in Nandigram, reports SHANTANU GUHA RAY

Spreading opposition: Leftwing students in Delhi protest the Nandigram outrage

THERE ARE ANXIOUS FACES on the Boeing 737 heading for Kolkata. “You are entering the devil’s zone,” quips the pilot of Indigo airlines, who minutes earlier had faced the wrath of passengers for avoiding a public announcement about ground realities in strife-torn Kolkata: That the eastern Indian metropolis is rocked with violence, tumult and dissent over political clashes in Nandigram, located 87 km from the city, and that 10 battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been requisitioned to handle the crisis. Why would he? The pilot says he had no such instructions. After all, it is not an airlines job to ferry passengers home once the flight has reached its destination.

Right outside the freshly painted, glass panelled airport building, young men armed with bamboo sticks and iron rods outnumber the city police and patrol streets in what appears to be a situation completely and hopelessly out of the ruling Left Front government’s control. At the airport, hundreds of hapless passengers — including five bodies draped in marigold flowers in caskets flown into the city by relatives of the dead — remained holed in, hoping against hope for the situation to ease.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, surprisingly, are soldiers of the CRPF waiting for their colleagues to arrive from Chennai and Mumbai. They have instructions to not even move outside the building for a smoke. Offices, schools, movie halls, entertainment parks, eateries and call centres have all downed shutters to avoid trouble as reports of clashes pour in from Nandigram, once identified as the venue for a proposed chemical hub to be set up by top Indonesian conglomerate, Salem, in collaboration
with Dow Chemicals.

The initial clashes, which took place way back on the 3rd and 6th of January, were triggered because villagers spread over Nandigram and adjacent Khejuri — a filthy canal separates the two — resented the industrialisation plan. But what is happening for the past month and a half is a simple, straightforward bloodbath between workers of the CPM and the opposition Trinamool Congress (TMC), which backs the Bhoomi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), over control of 64,000 acres of land that is considered one of the most fertile in the state, produces 55 percent of the state’s 175 metric tonnes of betel leaf production, a significant quantity of rice and guarantees the entire supply of freshwater fish to the densely-populated East Midnapore district. Who wins the showdown is important because it provides the answer to the rest of the state that goes for its panchayat polls in May next year. If Nandigram is lost, it would send a terrible signal about the Left Front’s prowess across the state’s rural belt. In short, for the CPM, Nandigram cannot be lost, at any cost.

Till date, an estimated 45 people have been killed — the unofficial figure is 300 — and more than 5,000 rendered homeless in the internecine violence that has also split the coalition government with allies expressing outrage at the violence. As many as four ministers of the Revolutionary Socialist Party have offered to resign from the state cabinet and a top CPM leader — ESI minister Sushanta Ghosh — put under virtual house arrest for disputing figures of those who died in the bloodbath.

“It’s a battle for control and a show of shameless power reminding us of the brutal police horrors of the Naxalite days in the early 70s,” says Kolkata’s top film director Aparna Sen. Two days ago, she walked out of the city’s top film fest — along with a host of other stars and directors — in protest against the violence. “Any sensible person will never tolerate the Nandigram pogrom,” Sen says. Rues the city’s seasoned artist, Suvapasanna: “If this is what they can do to me, imagine what they can do to the poor villagers.” He was among those brutally caned by riot police dispersing a silent march to protest the Nadigram violence.

Actually, you do not have to go far to find the victims of Nandigram. They are there in a dilapidated, state-government hospital in Tamluk town that lies 61 km from Kolkata. “Give us time to clean the floors of the general ward. (LK) Advani is coming to visit the patients,” says hospital superintendent Dr Samar Chowdhury as he supervises the cleaning process. Scores of patients lie bandaged on rickety beds watched by a handful of nurses and curious bystanders. Nineteen-year-old Gautam Das is not a member of the BUPC. But when the CPM cadre attacked his village, he was the first to fall when two bullets hit him. “The next thing I knew I was here,” says Das. “I distinctly saw two of my friends, my next door neighbours, getting killed after being hit in the chest by bullets fired from close range.”

Rows after rows in the hospital’s general ward narrate similar horror stories as victims try unsuccessfully to sit up on their beds to show their wounds. Chandan Das, a member of the BUPC, had three bullets lodged in his body. “I have lost everything,” he sobs. “My house has been looted and burnt and my wife was raped. How can I return to the village?”

A volunteer offers help in locating the female ward where scores of rape victims are lodged. Ashina Bibi Shabbir occupies the first bed with her mother-in-law, both rape victims of the November 12 carnage. Ashina’s husband had fled hours before the attack. Who were the attackers? They were neighbours, who once shared food with Ashina’s family. “I heard loud knocks on the door that night. Even before I could reply, I could see the barrel of a gun pointing at me from one of the windows. They were nine of them. Two of my daughters were raped in front of my eyes. Then they raped me and my mother-in-law who is 60 years old. Anshul, Kalu, Ehsan, Barik, Bachchu. I thought they were friends,” Ashina says.

Barely two kilometres from the hospital is the CRPF makeshift camp that is home to an estimated 700 soldiers. “We have sent in five companies of 200 men and will send another 100 women personnel soon. And then, we will wait for further instructions,” says an officer requesting anonymity. Why not send them earlier? He will not answer that.

The road to Nandigram is strewn with red flags in a sign of victory. Travel anywhere, Satengabari, Sonachura, Adhikrari Para, Jambari, Gokulnagar or Garchakraberia, and chances are you will meet hundreds of motorcycles driven by armed, hooded cadre sporting red bandannas and carrying stacks of red flags, broadcasting the CPM’s triumph. That what happened was a pogrom is evident from the systematic destruction of homes of BUPC members across Nandigram. Their huts lie smashed to smithereens, black with smoke.

“Move in, we are celebrating our homecoming after 11 months. This is a simple, very simple show of strength. It’s been almost a year we stayed out of our homes. It is now our turn to move in and stay forever,” says Tilak Ray, a young CPM cadre leading the procession of motorcycles near Tehkhali bridge, the scene of countless shootouts between his party and members of the BUPC. His flags are for planting — one at every home — and the guns for forcing BUPC supporters to join the victory marches.

AN ABANDONED police bunker lies nearby. A young boy walks out of his burnt home to say the bunker, now decorated with red flags, had been empty for the past two weeks. His voice is drowned in a loudspeaker blaring the voice of Niranjan Mondal, the CPM local committee secretary from Kendamari, who assures people of safety and no further violence. Standing close, many Red Brigade members — brought in specially from West Midnapore — prepare to leave with their arsenal, which includes country-made guns and bags containing crude, hand bombs. There is no need for firepower now.

“We joined the procession to save our lives,” says Sandip Sardar, a resident of Sonachura and a BUPC supporter. At Satengabari, Mohidul Islam, a fisherman, says he knows Mamata Banerjee could be visiting Nandigram but wonders whether it will be safe to speak to her. “The CPM men are watching us. Each move, each statement,” he says. In the Garchakraberia procession, a bearded Rabiul slam, the Jamat lema-i-Hind leader who once supported the BUPC, has now worn a skull cap to join the rally and even waved a red flag. “I need to survive. I cannot turn to the police for protection. There is, honestly, no police here and the CRPF will soon return home. Then who will protect us?” CPM district secretariat member Ashok Guria smiles. He calls Nandigram an oasis of normalcy.

“We are not having the chemical hub here, so why do you need a BUPC?” he asks. Is that the first sign of the BUPC fading into oblivion? No one can say, but the spontaneous farmers’ resistance group that blocked the Salem chemical hub has had its teeth knocked out. The CPM has regained lost ground with brute force. Can opposition groups regain their hold? That would be another battle
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 45, Dated Nov 24, 2007

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