Sunday, May 18, 2008

Red terror in Nandigram

by Sunanda Sanyal

Two rounds of the panchayat elections in West Bengal are over but post-election violence continues. During the second round on 14 March, eight people were killed in cold blood. The murder at Basanti, an RSP stronghold, both on election day and the day after, shows the CPI-M is going to brook no opposition. It will use the police and its goons in dealing with its own allies as remorselessly as it flouts democratic institutions. It has slandered the Governor, the sole human face in the government, the Calcutta High Court and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), for example. For lesser mortals, ‘political correctness’ is engendered by the fear of murder and rape. The time for the bhadralok to play the innocent bystander is running out.
It is in this context that the findings of the NHRC assume the finality of the statement that, with the CPI-M government in place, the party’s murder and rape squads shall rule the state henceforth. Unlike the state human rights commission, known for its servility, the NHRC is respected all over India. Its chairman, former Supreme Court Chief Justice S Rajendra Babu, has described the violence at Nandigram as the “worst scars on the face of the nation”. Mr Sitaram Yechury, Mr Basudeb Acharia, Ms Brinda Karat, Mr Mohammad Salim (CPI-M MPs), Mr D Raja and Mr Gurudas Dasgupta (both CPI) have given Mr Babu a protest note. The RSP and Forward Bloc have, however, disagreed. They have begun to pay. Some the details of the NHRC’s findings are, therefore, worth a look.
The NHRC conducted an investigation at Nandigram from 15 November to 20 November 2007. It identified three phases in the Nandigram movement. The first (3 January to 14 March) is marked by police inaction despite regular clashes between the CPI-M and Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC). The second (15 March to 30 September 2007) is the aftermath of 14 March, dealt with on the basis of documentary evidence received from Ms Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, People’s Tribunal on Nandigram and Citizen’s Solidarity among others. The third phase, events thereafter, confirms our worst fears of state terrorism under a chief minister who calls rapists and killers at Nandigram “us”, while all else are “them”.
Once the government had announced its decision to acquire land for a special economic zone, the political character of Nandigram changed with a large number of CPI-M cadres switching loyalty. The Trinamul Congress (TMC), which headed the BUPC, was the major gainer. To begin with, police tried to prevent clashes between BUPC and CPI-M goons, but stopped intervening when intervention was necessary. Eventually, the villagers “completely lost faith in the police”. They feared the police would help the CPI-M regain control of Nandigram and locals would lose their land. Notably, the commission found no evidence of Maoists aiding the BUPC. CPI-M supporters may have fled in fear from areas dominated by the BUPC, but the cadres never complained to the police of “impending attacks” by Maoists.
Wherever police registered FIRs against the BUPC, the latter’s supporters suffered heavily. Conversely, there is substance in their complaint of police failure in protecting them against CPI-M violence. For example, the police received information on 4 November that the CPI-M was planning to enter Gokulnagar on 6 November from Khejuri. Police withdrew before the plan was implemented. Once the police was withdrawn, the cadres safely cross-ed the Tekhali bridge. In fact, the police were so completely emasculated that the NHRC team found a “CPI-M flag atop the police bunker at the Tekhali bridge”. No one dared pull it down even after a week. Police wouldn’t record FIRs, doing so only when the NHRC intervened.
The officer-in-charge of Nandigram police station refused to record FIRs unless they were endorsed by a “local CPI-M leader”. General diary entries, the wireless transcript log books (both of Nandigram police station and the district control room) and the FIR register tell another sordid tale. They bristle with “manipulations and insertions, blank columns and pages, exaggerated FIRs, and sloppy investigations”. All these prove the police force’s subservience. The NHRC report drives you inexorably to the conclusion that, with this government in place, the rule of law is impossible.
Take these examples, as recorded by the NHRC. The Nandigram police station’s control room logbook for 10 November was left blank, “at the in-stance of one of the senior officers”. It was as if the day was uneventful, although it witnessed a gruesome assault by the CPI-M cadres on a peaceful BUPC procession. Many BUPC supporters were injured, some died.
Moreover, the CPI-M cadres forcibly herded around 400 of these people, from where the police subsequently ‘rescued’ 11 people (according to the statement of the officer-in-charge, Nandigram police station and circle inspector, Mahisabad). However, none of these events figures in the general diary or wireless transcripts.
The NHRC goes on to give a number of examples of rape victims being dismissed without forensic examination. Take Akhreja Bibi, who was allegedly raped by CPI-M cadres. She suffered severe pain and had a swelling on the upper thigh and on the pelvis. Several other symptoms too indicated rape. But the doctor did not examine her, because she was a “mother after all”. Actually, the NHRC report gives you the impression that West Bengal police will never be fair with the CPI-M in power. They do not have “courage to take action against CPI-M cadres”. You need the “local CPI-M leader…to get any work done by the police”.
Even a week after the vandalism, the district administration did not care to survey the extent of damage to houses. CPI-M cadres claimed to be the owners of the houses that BUPC supporters had left behind. So chances were that the little relief that they provided did not reach the right hands.
More shocking, government doctors acted neither professionally nor fairly. In most cases, injuries were “recorded on small pieces of paper and handed over to the patient” rather than being entered into a medico-legal register.
The NHRC’s interactions with Mr Alok Raj, deputy inspector-general, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which made a perceptible difference at Nandigram, are revealing. The central force arrived after its recapture. The CPI-M’s motorcycle brigade had already taken over the village, “creating terror in the minds of BUPC supporters”, with the cadres “thrashing, beating and imposing fines” on BUPC workers. Mr Raj informed the commission that the state government wanted the CRPF to leave the actual trouble spot, i.e. the CPI-M-dominated areas, and move to TMC-dominated areas. The intention was to “weaken the TMC’s hold”. Mr Raj refused.

(Note: All quotations have been taken from the NHRC report.)

(The writer is former Head of the Department, English, Belur
Ramakrishna Mission College)

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