Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Nandigram: Memories alive and festering

Source: http://thestatesman.org/page.news.php?clid=1&theme=&usrsess=1&id=159971

KOLKATA, June 18: Only 14 people died in the Nandigram police firing. Yet the psychological casualties of the unprovoked police violence on the villagers in Nandigram and in surrounding villages number in the thousands, with a ripple effect spreading across rural West Bengal, says psychotherapist Sarbani Das Roy. A first-person account:
Walking towards Shonachura, through green fields and sunflowers, the silence was broken by the blast of a bomb from the other side of the canal, in the direction of Khejuri. Despite only meeting one man on my way as I neared the village it was clear people knew I was coming. And also where I was headed. Villagers were in a state of high vigilance. A man with a bandaged head, just released from hospital after treatment from bullet injuries, paced to and fro restlessly. He suddenly stopped and asked me if I had heard the bombs just then. His dilated pupils reflected his hyper-alertness. When I said I had heard the bombs half an hour ago and not that minute he regarded me with open suspicion. I headed for the nearest tea stall. Here, surrounded by villagers, the months-long nightmare unfolded. People’s narration of the incidents was devoid of any emotion. Expressionless eyes, the matter of fact tone of a father, even while narrating the death of his beloved son. I heard the hollow sound of a sobbing cry from a mother, devoid of tears, bemoaning the death of her son.
The villagers also spoke of sleeplessness since the violence. A small child of eight years old told me, “There are bombs thrown at us in the night. My parents run out of the house. And I feel alone and scared. I can’t sleep at night.” Children can’t eat at night for fear.
Fear is the predominant emotion - and with it anger. The anger was directed not at any political party but at the government, “guardians of peace”. It reminded me of the anger of the fishing community in Tamil Nadu towards the sea - a mother and provider that had turned into a destroyer. Deafening bombs in the distance brought me back to the reality of the difference between Nandigram and Nagapattinam.
I have learnt from working in post-disaster regions that all human beings have an innate capacity to heal from traumatic experiences. The need of the hour is crisis intervention - trauma counselling can come later. We must defuse the tension and allow people return to patterns of life before the violence. Trauma counselling - working through their experience and forgiving the perpetrator - seems absurdly distant while violence continues.
(As told to Lilly Peel)