by Nisha Biswas
Nandigram, a rural area with two community development blocks in Haldia subdivision of Purba Medinipur, is not known as such but is the name of historic resistance – struggle and the win of its people against the forcible acquisition of 10,000 acre land by the West Bengal government for proposed Chemical hub between 2007 to 2010. Since then Nandigram is inspiration for many agrarian and anti- land acquisition struggles. It was mainly due to Nandigram that the then UPA government was compelled to change SEZ and Land Acquisition Acts. The movement took the steam out of the more than three decades CPI(M) rule and TMC won the state assembly election in 2011 with unprecedented majority.
Women of Nandigram played a key role in its resistance movement. They were in the forefront. Supriya Jana lost her precious life in indiscriminate firing by police. As many as 17 women were raped, many were molested and around a hundred were injured. Women like, twice gang raped Radha Rani Ari, Tapasi Das whose thigh was almost sawed and had uterus hit when police opened fire on unarmed women and children and who still lives in perpetual pain, Swarnmoyee Das whole left elbow was so badly injured that it still remains badly injured, elderly Narmda Shee became the face of the Nandigram movement.
Their courage, energy and never dying attitude inspired many. It was the time to dream, time to hope, time to empower, time to live and time to die. They went all over the country to tell their tales. The then opposition party chief Ms Mamata Banerjee supported them and shrewdly snatched the credit. People of Nandigram in general and women in particular thought that she would bring the change that they had dared to dream. Riding on the waves of Singur and Nandigram movements she snatched power from CPI(M) and became Chief Minister of West Bengal on May 20, 2011.
A seven-member team of Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, West Bengal (WSS, WB) visited Nandigram 4days ahead of observation of “Martyr’s Day”, observed on 14th March of each year to commemorate the historic struggle of Nandigram against land acquisition, this year.
What the team saw was terrible saddening and disturbing. That these women who were once the powerful leaders are today not only distressed but are also disempowered.
Now, they are nowhere in the leadership of Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), formed at the time of struggle. They are not even invited for BUPC meetings or on March 14 to observe Martyr’s Day. The leadership of BUPC did not know what happened to the cases that they filed against police and ruling party goons. On the other hand, in December 2013 CBI has instituted case against more than 30 men and women, including women who were severely injured/ raped for inciting violence and attacking the police and the CBI’s request for permission to initiate criminal proceeding against some police officials is still lying with the state government. The women, who not only suffered rape, bullet wounds and state terror but had remained in the fore front of the heroic struggle against forcible land acquisition, and were subsequently instrumental in unseating Left Front from power, have today been completely edged out of the political space.
Women like Tapasi Das and Swarnmoyee, who needed prolonged treatment and support for the disability caused by bullet injuries were left to fend for them selves. None of the women was awarded or given any job in recognition of their contribution to the movement. In rare cases men of the family are given some temporary job with Metro Rail, but women were just forgotten. Tapasi Das, who lives in continuous pain and is bed ridden for most of the time, is not provided any medical or emotional support. Local MP gives her Rs 1500.00 per month, out of which the courier pockets a hundred rupees, is not sufficient for her travelling to doctor’s chamber. Her family finances do not permit to consult a specialist.
A grand hospital built in the memory of martyrs and to take care of medical needs of the locality, is a picture of grim dereliction and waste. Main gates remained locked and the watchman’s assertion of doctor visiting once or twice a month remains questionable.
Radha Rani Ari, who travelled all over the country with Ms. Banerjee to narrate the barbaric sexual atrocities inflicted on her, recalls how in the run-up of assembly election she was much sought after by the present ruling party. Now that the TMC party of Ms Banerjee is firmly in power, she has been carelessly abandoned. She says “My body was like a property that would get votes” and that now very often she contemplates suicide. Angur Das, who was raped along with her two daughters, one married with two kids and the other unmarried at that time, is today a grim picture of neglect. She remembers the promise that marrying her daughter was party’s responsibility. Her all the three sons work in UP in a carpet factory. Elder daughter Kabita was not allowed to return to her marital home after this incident. Younger daughter Ganga’s well – being hangs on the thin thread of payment/nonpayment of hefty dowry agreed. Only three out of sixteen raped have received compensation of Rs 2.00 lakh.
Brute force of male domination has silenced women. All the rape accused, like Badal Garu, Kalia Garu, Rabin Das, etc., have retuned to their homes after spending years of exile to escape public wrath. Rumor is their rehabilitation has taken place after negotiation with BUPC (male) leadership. Garu clan lives in radha Rani’s area and is next-door neighbors of Angur Das. It makes women further insecure and adds to the reasons of their depression. These men are devoid of any remorse, and with the support of BUPC to whose leadership they had paid hefty fine, causes fear in these women. On confrontation, BUPC leaders tell them, “What is your problem?” They are not ready to understand that their problem is not only justice is not done; they are being humiliated every day. Even neighbours are now pointing fingers at the rape survivors.
Being the battleground that changed the political scenario of West Bengal and have caused major policy changes, Nandigram remains the very picture of neglect. Roads are the same picture of rejection, agriculture still remains single crop, ponds are not renovated and canals are yet to be dug, causing men-folk to migrate in search of work. Even MNREGA work is erratic.
Nandigram today is a sad picture of rejection. Women, who were the integral part of the movement and were at the forefront of the anti-acquistion stir that eventually catapulted the Trinamool Congress into power in West Bengal are now confined to their homes and are subjected to all kind of oppression.
Nisha Biswas is an activist based in Kolkata.