Tuesday, November 27, 2007



- If there is to be no SEZ, why is there so much violence and fear?

Going into Nandigram, there is a disorienting sense of wading into waves of fear, of getting out of depth in story after story, name after name, figure after figure, of losses, deaths, disappearances, guns, rapes. The women in the relief camp keep speaking of March 14 as if it happened yesterday, with a horror that seems strange when one remembers that they remained home then and were driven out after November 6. Their accounts merge one period with another. It is all one tale of violence and fear. Driving down to Sonachura later, it was painful to imagine the vast distances that people, old and young, must have run in fear in one direction or the other.

Absences have become part of the story. Many have “disappeared”. The women insisted that people they know have been missing since January. Till they all come back, nothing would be “normal”. The Bhoomi Ucchhed Pratirodh Committee leaders have submitted to the police a list of 42 names of those missing since the peace procession was fired upon this month.

The stories multiply from moment to moment. During the lunch to which the organizers of the camp had warmly invited us, saying that a few people more would not make a difference, we met a journalist from Kerala and her companion. Just back from the police station, they said that a woman who had left the camp to go home with her 14-year-old daughter the evening before, was back, weeping. Seven or eight men had surrounded them on the way to her village, beaten her up and disappeared with her daughter.

The men in the camp said it was a lie that the bike army had left. They came out regularly after nightfall, when the Central forces went off the roads. They also timed their daylight forays between CRPF rounds, whizzing off on their bikes across the invisible border towards Khejuri just in time. The villagers, who stood around us while the “official” spokesmen talked, gave us names of six men who were walking around in broad daylight with “pistols”.

What is the violence about? Almost everyone we spoke to had land of their own. A dominating fear is that their crop is being looted, or will be taken away from them by force as penalty for having resisted the CPI(M). A woman from No 7 Jalpai said that they had bought a bit of land after a long struggle. One bigha cost Rs 50,000, which meant saving for two to four years. All the rice would now be gone.

But, for the men, there was another dimension. As they talked about the violence, a visitor said, puzzled, “But there will be no SEZ, the chief minister has said.” A man with patient, humorous eyes asked from behind me, “Then why is there so much conflict?” A younger villager, more impetuous, explained: “No one can go home, you see. The villages have been emptied, and those who go back are being forced to support the CPI(M). The government does not have to do anything at all.”

When I asked the woman from No 7 Jalpai whether she thought there would be an SEZ she said, “How can we be sure? He says one thing one day, another the next, and again something else another day, how will we believe anything?” But it still hurts. “Do you think that the CPI(M) was not close to my heart?” she asked me. “All my life my family has believed in it, we have worked for it. Then they don’t talk to us, or anything, just send a notice that they will take away our land. We love our land, that is why we got together to save it. And now look at what has happened. People cannot say good things that girls have come out into the open and are speaking like this. But for our land, for our soil, for our birthplace, we women have come out. ‘Go home, nothing will happen,’ they say. Can anyone say what will happen? And when we do go home, what will happen to the families where the women have been raped, molested, touched?”

She spoke unafraid, but saw nothing normal in the future.