What Really Happened at Nandigram

Writing in defence of the West Bengal government, ‘Intellectual’ apologists of the CPI (M) have decried the persistence of the militant peasants’ movement in Nandigram as an illegitimate ‘struggle’ once the Chief Minister had asked the people of Nandigram to tear up the notification announcing the acquisition of land in the area. Why indeed should the people of Nandigram have continued on the warpath even after this supposedly benevolent assurance from the CM himself? Why should they have dug up trenches and cordoned off the area in the manner of a “liberated” zone? Why did they refuse to display grace, and by extension, also implicit faith in the government once “all the demands of the original struggle were met”? Why did they continue to sulk and behave badly?

Those still ignorant would do well to turn to Nandigram: What Really Happened, the report of an independent Peoples’ Tribunal held at Gokulnagar and Sonachura in Nandigram and at Kolkata towards the end of May last year. Remember, this is months before the early November Operation ‘Nandigrab’, an utterly bloody and violent programme executed by the CPI (M) goons to reclaim the so-called ‘liberated zones’. The Report covers the ground from May to November 2007 through a chapter at the end, which unlike the rest of the report, is based, not on the testimonies and depositions, but largely pieced together on the strength of extensive media reportage.

The Tribunal’s jury consisted of a retired high court chief justice, a senior columnist, social activists and a psychiatrist. It recorded a total of 194 testimonies, including 39 oral and 135 written depositions at Nandigram, and 20 in Kolkata. Given the atmosphere of terror prevailing in the district, the courage of those who testified must be saluted; the District Magistrate (East Medinipur) on the other hand responded to the invitation to depose before the Tribunal through a letter requiring the organizers to intimate the said DM as to the provisions of law by which he was required to appear before the Tribunal.

The report of the Tribunal provides the background to the violence in Nandigram, delineates the chronology of events, focusing in particular on the manner in which the massacre was planned and orchestrated by the CPI (M) in collusion with a servile or helpless administration, attempts to provide comprehensive lists of the dead, missing and injured, besides citing at length various other fact-finding reports and newspaper coverage of the sequence of events that unfolded in the area.

The chapter, “Chronology of Events” chronicles the climate of apprehension and anxiety that gripped Nandigram following the agitation in Singur, and the formal notification (and not mere “rumours” as some JNU professors would have it) about the acquisition of agricultural land for a petrochemical hub in November-December 2006. Local intelligence reports cited here speak of a widespread discontent against the proposed move - a discontent that cut across party lines - and which resulted first in spontaneous meetings and mobilizations, and then gradually into the formation of BUPC. Even prior to the climactic violence of March 14, anti-land acquisition activists were arrested, fired upon and even bombs were hurled at them. Meanwhile contradictory signals kept emanating from the ruling party: there wouldn’t be a hub if people didn’t want it, there would be industrialization at all costs; peace should be restored, agitators should be taught a lesson, so on and so forth. But it emerges quite clearly from the dateline of events that the administration completely abdicated its responsibility towards protecting the life and limb of ordinary people. Economic blockades were imposed on the people resulting in loss of livelihood: it was alleged at the Tribunal that Lakshman Seth, MP and his wife Tamalika Panda-Seth, Chairperson, Haldia Municipality, imposed an economic blockade on Nandigram by suspending the ferry services to Haldia, where on an average 10,000 people from Nandigram go daily to sell fish, vegetables and milk products.

What the CPI (M) spin-doctors would like to obfuscate is the large-scale violence, including horrendous sexual violence targeted at women, which preceded, and indeed continued well after the famous “tear the notification” declaration. Several women came forward at the Tribunal to speak of the gross sexual violation they suffered at the hands of khaki-clad, masked men in chappals. Dr.Debapriya Mallick deposed that in the medical camps in the Nandigram area he found women victims with injuries in the pelvic region, the back, the breasts and the vaginal region. Apart from rape there was sadistic sexual assault. Rods/lathis/gunbarrels were inserted into the sex organs of women. Undressing, molestation, assault on their bodies, indecent exposure and filthy abuse was rampant. “Tell your women we are coming,” was the ominous threat issued by the party goons.

A written deposition submitted to the Tribunal says:

“One of the policemen twisted my left breast with all force. Another one came and forced a rod into my vagina and started twisting.”

45-year-old Angurbala Das of Adhikaripara, Gokulnagar narrated a tale of similar bestiality:

“On 15 March around 1/1:30 p.m. about 10/12 men in plain dress came to our house and started beating me and my eldest son severely. They turned a deaf ear to all our entreaties. I still have pain in my chest and abdomen and carry nail marks on my breasts. I turned unconscious. They then dragged Kabita Das (age 20) and Ganga Das (age 12) to the cowshed, beating and torturing them all the time. Kabita was raped by two cadres and Ganga was raped by one. Kabita has a daughter of 8 months whom she cannot breastfeed even now. Ganga was held forcibly by the throat during the rape. As a result she still has pain in the throat. Kabita has identified some of the miscreants who were her acquaintance; among them she identified Badal Garu and his son Khokan Garu, Sudarshan Garu (elder brother of Badal) and his son Kalipada Garu. Also Gopal Garu, Raju Garu, Dulal Garu, Ratan Garu, Sunil Bar, Rabin Das, Anukul Sheet. Kabita was raped by Anukul Sheet and Sunil Bar while Ganga was raped by Anukul. The daughter’s arm was broken and has still not healed.”

While several independent citizens’ reports have established the culpability of party cadres (masquerading as police, and identified as such by the slippers they were wearing as against the shoes of the regulars), the Tribunal’s Report is valuable for the painstaking documentation of the post-violence cover up engaged in by the administration in order to minimize the scale of real physical and sexual violence, and to protect the guilty, even when they were clearly identified and named as such. In complete violation of all accepted legal and medical protocol, post-mortem (P/M) reports of the deceased showed glaring discrepancies amounting to tampering and improper reporting, dates of discharge were overwritten and changed in most discharge certificates; there was a refusal to undertake medical examinations of women who had alleged rape, and in other instances, attending physicians failed to record the cause and nature of injury when the dead and the injured were taken to the hospital. In fact the official response of the local medical authorities has been that there had been no reported cases of rape.

The Tribunal’s conclusions are unequivocal: “The actions of 14 March 2007 by the West Bengal government, particularly the District Administration, which engaged police forces along with armed ruling party hooligans against a peaceful, religious and lawful gathering of mostly women and children from Nandigram, can be described only as a state-sponsored massacre.” It was driven by the wish to “teach a lesson’ to those opposing the proposed SEZ project and to terrorize them into submission.

From March to November, the victims of this violence were offered or promised no compensation from the government, and in fact the Left Front government cried foul when directed to do so by the High Court, choosing to appeal against it in the Supreme Court. Given the impunity afforded by the State government to the perpetrators of the violence of 14 March, the callous disregard for its own citizens (even the Party’s own voters till the last elections), and given the rhetoric of dum dum dawai and venomous snakes in the grass, is it any surprise that Nandigram witnessed a repeat of the violence, with an even greater ferocity in November 2007, with grave upon grave being unearthed everyday?

If Nandigram has emerged today as the shining example of peoples’ resistance, it is also a chilling intimation of how the State will respond to these struggles. If activists will seek lessons and inspiration from the brave fight of the people of Nandigram, so too will it serve as a model of the emerging police-state in India where political parties, big money, state machinery and criminals will collude to put its citizens down, penalize and brutalize them for speaking out against their agenda of 'loot and grab' development.


Nandigram: What Really Happened

Based on the Report of the People’s Tribunal on Nandigram (26–28 May 2007)

Foreword by Lalita Ramdas

Daanish Books, Delhi, 2008

ISBN 978-81-89654-44-3 (with CD) l INR225

ISBN 978-81-89654-45-0 (without CD) l INR175l

USD9.00 (without CD) l USD12.00 (with CD) for rest of the world

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