The situation has quited now, but for the past week violence has gripped the Nandigram region of West Bengal, India. Under the guise of “cleansing” the area of political rivalry, cadres said to be hired by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) began entering village after village; burning houses, forcibly occupying land, and destroying crops. Dozens if not hundreds of people were attacked, killed and even raped.
It all started on November 6, after several gunshots were fired at local farmers belonging to the Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC, Anti Displacement Committee) a group that formed to resist government attempts to seize farmland for industry. In retaliation, some armed supporters of the BUPC fired back at the cadres. At least nine people were killed.
Once the CIP-M onslaught began, supporters of the BUPC fled in the thousands as their homes were burnt. In many villages they simply switched allegiance to the CPI-M to stay alive.
Now that the campaign’s over, the CPI-M–who denies they had any involvement in this large-scale attack–is feeling strangely victorious. Party state secretary Biman Bose declared there to be ‘a new dawn’ in Nandigram today.
Bibhas Chakraborty, an eminent playwright, said the CPI-M now plans to turn Nandigram into a tourist zone to showcase the peace and new dawn; “but we are not convinced,” he added.
The famed activist Medha Patkar, after being front and center for much of the week, was briefly interviewed yesterday by the Business Standard. Medha explained the whole campaign was not so much a ‘political cleansing’ as it was state-sanctioned terror controlled by “Harmad Vahini” (outside invaders) hired to be the armed militia of the CPI-M. She specifically pointed to Lakshman Sheth, an MP, adding that “he alone cannot evacuate 25 villages….”
In another interview, while appealing to “all humanitarian organizations to go to Nandigram (to provide) relief to its residents and restore peace at the same time;” Medha said the region has been transformed into a death zone.
After the November 6 attack, Amnesty International released a plea for “effective investigations and prosecutions;” explaining how it was the latest action in a campaign that began more than a year ago. Since then, “at least 25 persons have been killed and more than 100 injured. At least 20 women have reportedly been sexually assaulted during the violence, with at least 2,000 people displaced from their homes. The majority of the displaced are living in makeshift camps, unable to return to their homes for fear of being caught up in the violence.”
“Violence was sparked in January 2007 after sustained protests from local farming communities because they feared that the industrial project would lead to their mass displacement. In March 2007, 14 persons, mostly local residents were killed when police and armed men, widely believed to be affiliated with the CPI-M, opened fire on demonstrators. After the incident, the state government has said it would relocate the project, but outbreaks of political violence have continued. ”
Right now, there are at least six other major industrial projects planned for Nandigram, which requires the government to acquire at least 10,000 hectares of farmland.
Quite obviously, this means the glorious pledge of a new dawn can be little more than glowing rhetoric.
Even if we believe the government was not involved in the week of violence, it means everything’s far worse now because the cadres will have just learned that they can get away with genocide. Not to mention the fact that, even now, husbands are tending to the bruised bodies of their wives raped in the name of profit, and thousands of humble farmers try to understand why they were attacked for believing in something beyond party politics and ‘profit at any cost.’
So long as the people are in immediate danger of being attacked, raped, murdered, kidnapped, and tortured: there can be no peace in Nandigram; and the only ‘new dawn’ to speak of is one that may come be drenched in the blood of the innocent.
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