Singur and Nandigram By Akhila Raman


Be it Right or Left, it is becoming increasingly clear that many Governments across the world are eager to get in bed with the corporations. The message is clear in West Bengal: Economic development will be pursued at any human cost. Protesters will be brutally dealt with and killed if required. Critics will be vilified. Facts will be fudged to justify brutal actions. The Ugly Might of the State has descended in an unholy manner on the farmers in Singur and Nandigram. How can CPIM reconcile its conflicting history of admirable land reforms in West Bengal with the recent brutal repression of farmers in its desperate bid of industrialization?


"The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is the revolutionary vanguard of the working class of India. Its aim is socialism and communism through the establishment of the state of dictatorship of the proletariat. In all its activities the Party is guided by the philosophy and principles of Marxism-Leninism which shows to the toiling masses the correct way to the ending of exploitation of man by man, their complete emancipation. " – CPIM website[1]



Thus reads the website of Communist Party of India-Marxist(CPIM). Its stated aim and ideals are lofty. Practice is becoming increasingly shameful. The CPIM led Left Front came to power in West Bengal in 1977 with the promise of achieving socialism and has continued to win every election ever since, largely due to the land reforms through the 80's, which did benefit large sections of the toiling masses[2]. Lately though, the Party is increasingly becoming indistinguishable from the Right.

Singur Blues


The Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has issued an open invitation to all and sundry in the investment sector to come and set up shop in West Bengal.[3] Strange Bedfellows? He even offered to acquire the land for Ratan Tata to set up a small car factory near Singur. It so happened that the land Tata wanted was multi-cropped land in fact. Hence it became necessary for CPIM to fudge the facts and use outdated survey records to portray it as a mono-cropped land, thus going back on its declared promise that multi-cropped land will not be acquired for industrialization. [4] [5]

Buddhadeb had stated in early December that they had obtained consent from the farmers to acquire 932 acres of land before the fencing of the area began in December.[6] Later, the Government was forced to admit that the consent had been for only 586 acres of land, prior to fencing[7] Which implies, once fencing began in early December, the farmers who had not given consent were under pressure to sell the land else they would lose the land anyway.

Naturally, the toiling masses of Singur rose in rebellion against a Government which was exploiting them rather than emancipating them. The moving video "Abadbhumi" which documents in detail the dissent of the farmers against this exploitation, leaves one in little doubt.[8] Predictably, all kinds of groups rushed to Singur in support, which ranged from politically motivated Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress to selfless grassroots activists like Medha Patkar and numerous human rights groups. Brinda Karat of CPIM was quick to equate Medha with Mamata, denouncing the former, in an unedited draft article circulated among CPIM lists. [9] Here she was behaving exactly as her counterparts in the Right normally do.

Then the Might of the State was unleashed upon the same toiling masses who had dared to question their exploitation. They were intimidated and beaten along with the opposition protesters, which has been documented by reputed human rights groups.[5] Karat and Buddhadeb predictably denied[9] that there was any brutality against the farmers. In their eyes, anyone who protested against the car factory necessarily were allied with the opposition goons and deserved to be beaten up. [ Reminds one of Bush's maxim?:"You are either with us or against us" ] In the meanwhile, the rape and murder of 18-year old Tapasi Malik inside the fenced area in Singur is yet to be resolved and Singur farmers continue to protest.

What really happened in Nandigram?


Next stop in the spree of agricultural land-grab for industrialization is Nandigram. The farmers in Nandigram began to be intimidated by the rogue elements of the CPIM. Troubled by the events in Singur, they rose in protest against any forceful aquisition of their multi-cropped agricultural lands and refused to let the CPIM cadres and the police inside their village. [Sure enough, the situation was taken advantage of by opposition parties which had dug up roads and cut off access to Nandigram.] What followed next is a tale of carnage: On March 14th, the police fired indiscriminately into a crowd of unarmed people of Nandigram, killing 14 persons and injuring hundreds including women, men and children. Many young women were raped by anti-social elements.[10] Eyewitness reports suggest that the people who fired at the crowd included uniformed police and CPIM goons in fact and that many children were brutally torn apart, killed and thrown into the pond.[11] From Socialism to Barbarism?

Predictably, Buddhadeb defended his actions saying that the protesters were armed and were allied with opposition and that the brutality had to be carried out.[12] Many long time defenders of the CPIM continue to defend it in similar vein. But, on-the-ground investigation and fact-finding reports by reputed human rights organizations APDR and PBKMS, based on eye-witness testimonies of 62 patients and 200 villagers, make it clear that many of the people killed and injured were in fact unarmed people of Nandigram, including women and children who were standing up to the organized intimidation tactics of some elements inside the CPIM, some of whom have been identified.[11] Now, CPIM has been forced to scrap the project in Nandigram, but at tragic cost to the locals. It may be that the actual brutality on farmers was perpetrated by a small minority of CPIM cadres, but the Party needs to own up the responsibility and punish such rogue elements.

Emancipation of the masses?


Where does this leave CPIM with its conflicting history of admirable land reforms in West Bengal and the recent high-handed repression of farmers in Singur and Nandigram? From lofty ideals of emancipating the toiling masses from exploitation to blatant wooing of corporations and taking the side of the latter against the toiling masses? It seems now that it rather stands for the Emancipation of the upper and middle classes as opposed to the proletariat. Notwithstanding its past progressive land reforms, lately it seems to be allying itself with the corporations against the masses.


If it is true that the State of West Bengal is indeed in desperate need of industrialization and has to move on with the times, then why not do it in a more just and equitable manner? One fair compensation to the farmers could be to give them equity in the proposed car factory, in addition to a fair sale price for the land . If the Tatas make profit, which they will, then why not share the spoils with the farmers who give up their lands? Why should the farmers of Singur and Nandigram make all the sacrifice for the development of the State, while the benefits of resulting industrialization will mostly benefit the upper and middle classes, with very little "trickle-down effect" to these farmers?

It may be worthwhile for Buddhadeb and CPIM defenders to listen to the following impassioned words of a farmer in Singur:

" Why cannot the Government and the Tatas leave our multi-cropped agricultural lands and instead build the car factory in fallow lands located just a few kilometers away? " – Excerpt from documentary film "Abadbhumi"[8]





Akhila Raman
April 2007


[ The author is a researcher based in California. Full Text of the article with detailed references can be found in: Singur and Nandigram ]

References:

[1]AIM of CPIM, website of CPIM

[2] Progress and challenges in West Bengal, The Frontline, Aug 2004.

Political Economy of Land Reforms in West Bengal

[3] `We are an investment-friendly government' , Buddhadeb Bhattacharya

Buddhadeb wooing Dow Chemicals of Bhopal gas leak infamy

[4] Headline Singur , Amitadyuti Kumar

"Avijit Mukherjee, the BDO of the block said—it is Singur because the official records show this area is marked as ‘single-cropped’, non-irrigated or ‘barren’. These records were based on surveys dating back to 1990. During the last 15 years, in the proposed Tata Motors site, the peasants have got installed 35 shallow pumps, 28 of which with their own money. In addition, there are three deep-tube wells. The two rivulets, the Zulkia and the Kunti – flowing along the either sides provide a substantial irrigational facility. In the dry season these rivulets and the DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation’s dams) release irrigate the fields. How can such land be called single-cropped, barren or non-irrigated?"

[5] THE PUBLIC HEARING AND FURTHER INVESTIGATION ON THE STRUGGLE BY THE PEOPLE OF SINGUR

"The land to be affected is the prime agricultural land with multiple cropping , growing paddy, jute and rich and varied vegetables which is the sources of livelihood for those thousands of families"

[6] Full protection to Tatas: Buddhadeb, The Hindu Dec 1

[7] 'No consent for acquiring 411 acres of land', Times of India Dec 16

Status Report on Singur

[8] Abadbhumi: video on singur

[9] Brinda Karat: Truth about Singur

[10] Nandigram rape: CPM man owns up, The Statesman, March 20

Outsider role in Nandigram, Times of India, March 20

[12] Buddhadeb's statement on Nandigram

[11] Report of Investigation Into Nandigram Mass Killings, Association for Protection of Democratic Rights(APDR) and Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity(PBKMS), March 23,2007

Full Text of Report

Excerpts from the Report:

"According to the villagers and wounded people, there were many goons and leaders of the CPI (M) party with the police during the police violence...There are many complaints of horrific and deliberate acts of violence during this phase and afterwards...Women were taken away and raped..."

Sequence of events

The testimonies and discussions with eyewitnesses and victims (patients) of the firing show that the sequence of events given by all these people is more or less the same. The sequence given below is based on the testimonies of 62 patients and about 200 villagers whom we met.

People were aware that there would be an attempt by the police and party goons to re-enter the area as a first step towards taking over their land. They decided to offer peaceful resistance by organising a Gouranga Puja (incidentally Gouranga is the God believed to be protector of the people nearby). They also planned a Koran recitation ceremony. Once this programme was known, people flocked to the spots where the Puja and Koraan rectals were being held. At Bhangabera the Puja was in a trench that had been cut in the road earlier. About 5,000-6,000 people were present, of which 3000 were women and about 400-500 were children. The people were unarmed as they were in religious ceremonies. The women and children decided to stand in front as the people assumed that the police would not be that much violent with women and children.

A large police force with firearms and tear gas arrived in vehicles and buses on the Khejuri side of the Talpatti Khal in the morning. They were accompanied by many armed CPM goons. They were also carrying truckloads of road repair equipments and materials. At Bhangabera Bridge, [1]they first filled up a large trench near the bridge. None opposed this. They then began advancing across the bridge. There seems to have been no prior warning. It eas reported that, Anup Mondal of the CPM was using a hand mike, but most barring a few nearby heard nothing and were not forewarned about the police action. Without any proper warning the police-CPI(M) combine began throwing bombs and tear gas shells. This blinded the crowd and created confusion and panic. At ths juncture, the the police-CPI(M) combine began firing from various firearms and advancing further while firing. Operations, including the firing and the filling up of the trench seemed to have been planned earlier. While the firing continued for about 15 minutes, other forms of violence followed for the next hour and a half or so.

There are many complaints of horrific and deliberate acts of violence during this phase and afterwards. Those rescuing the wounded were prevented from doing so. Pushpendu Mondal, S/O Beni Madhab Mondal , Vill – Gangra, Nandigram received bullet injuries in his belly and right hand. Pulin Behari Mondal (his neighbour) tried to take him for hospitalisation but due to lathi charge by the police, Pulin fled the place. Police and goons took Pushpendu away forcibly. Women were taken away and raped. Women who tried to hide or wash their burning eyes in ponds were forced to come out and then beaten up again. Houses and shops were looted. Instead of using minimum force necessary to disperse the unarmed people gathered there, maximum possible force appear to have been applied to instil fear and terror in people, to break their morale and teach them a lesson. The large presence of armed CPI(M) men, many also in police fatigue injected the element of vengeance and revenge in the operation.

Violence and Murder of Children

Along with women, children who were present in huge numbers to participate and witness the puja also wore the brunt of the police firing and lathicharge. Scores of people have alleged that children were torn apart, hurled into ponds and killed. Many people have testified to children being shot at and killed. (See annexure 2).

"....I witnessed women being dragged away by the police and they were also throwing small children into the pond..."Satyabala Mani W/o Anadhi Mandal. Residence-Soudkhali Char

"......They killed children-they shot, hacked and even tore them apart with their two legs..." Lata Mondal w/o Shakun Mondal. Residence- Gokulnagar