Testimonies from Nandigram

By Maureen Nandini Mitra
Published: Sunday 15 April 2007

On March 14, 2006, about 3,000 police personnel forced their way into West Bengal's Nandigram block, injuring and killing many villagers. Villages in the block, in East Midnapur district, have been resisting the state government's plan to set up a special economic zone (sez) in the area.

The official death toll is pegged at 14, with about 70 injured, but villagers say over 100 people lost their lives in the bloodbath and several hundred were injured. Villagers say the police, reportedly backed by cpi-m cadres, called "Lakshman Vahini" after their leader Lakshman Seth, MP from East Midnapur, shot to kill. They raped and killed women, not sparing children either. They dumped bodies in the Haldi river, buried some in ditches and carted the rest away in trucks, villagers say. Many who are still missing are likely to be dead or hiding in forests.

Nandigram had been virtually cut off since January, when villagers, fearing their land would be taken to set up an sez, formed the Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee (bupc). They dug up roads and blocked all entry points to ensure the area remained inaccessible (for similar protests against a nuclear plant, see Protest against Haripur nuclear plant in West Bengal)

bupc, which has both Trinamul Congress and cpi-m supporters, had driven out cpi-m loyalists who refused to join the anti-land acquisition movement. About 2,000-odd cpi-m members have been living in a camp in Tekhali, outside Nandigram, officials say. It is widely believed that the state sent forces to Nandigram to regain control of the block.

Three days after the incident, following outraged public protests, pressure from Left Front allies and a veiled censure from the governor, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee finally claimed responsibility, calling the incident an "error in assessment". He said the government wouldn't acquire land in Nandigram. Bhattacharjee said he didn't expect such large-scale resistance. But senior state police officials say the government ignored an Intelligence Bureau report in January that warned of stiff resistance from 10,000-15,000 people.

The Calcutta High Court called the state action "wholly unconstitutional" and taking suo motu cognisance, ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The agency has submitted its report, but at the time of going to press details had not been revealed.

Testimonies People from Nandigram on the police action in the block
ASSAULT Gopal Majhi 24, Sonachura Down to Earth I was in a procession that went to Sonachura. We stopped near Bhangabera bridge. From across the Talpati canal, a Sumo and 17 police vehicles entered. In Khejuri (cpi-m stronghold across the canal), two buses, seven-eight Sumos and four lorries were waiting. We assumed they would leave after a while and so would we. Suddenly they started saying, 'Let us enter, we won't do anything'. We refused.

First they threw gas bombs and shot rubber bullets. We were holding a Gouranga puja, which was disrupted. People started running helter-skelter. They began advancing. The people then moved forward again. We started throwing bricks at them. That was when they started firing real bullets. One pierced my arm, ricocheted and hit another man in the stomach. I saw people falling, some with guts spilling out. I was there for half an hour--at least 24 were killed. The police dragged people away and threw bodies into the lorries.

RAPE 45-year-old woman, Gokulnagar Down to Earth They started cursing, calling us names, and lathicharged. We ran.They caught me, tore off my clothes, stabbed me (in my vagina) repeatedly with a stick and left me lying there. Someone dragged me away and hid me in the forest, where I lay for three days.

LOSS Suhashini Mondol
Down to Earth Where is my son, tell me please. Have any of you found him? Why don't you tell me? With much difficulty I educated him. Now he is lost. Someone please find my son for me. (He was shot and killed on March 14).

Down to Earth Sonachura panchayat member (Trinamul Congress) and Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee leader

The day before, we were informed that about 4,000 police personnel would enter this area . So, we put a statue of Gouranga thakur and started a puja. There were about 50,000 people. Then the police came in thousands and started shooting tear gas shells and bullets. They were snatching little children from their mothers and throwing them into the water. When some of the women jumped into the water to swim away, the men surrounded and beat them, pushing their heads underwater. They were in police uniforms, but in slippers. We think that the police were in front and behind them were cpi-m cadres. We had no firearms. We were praying, how could we have had arms? Our movement has no colour, we are all fighting to save our land. We haven't attacked the houses of those who haven't joined us. It's the local cpi-m cadres who have done that.

DISPLACEMENT Kajal Patra Gokulnagar
Down to Earth A month ago two groups from the Jomi Bachao Committee surrounded our house. They started abusing us, saying, "These are cpi-m people, break their houses." They set our house on fire and and beat my husband so badly that he can't get up. We have been living at the cpi-m camp in Khejuri since then. We don't want to give our land either. We should be fighting as one, but now they are destroying our homes. They told us we had to put up black flags. We didn't. We have voted cpi-m for generations. They take care of us. Now we live in fear. In the past month, committee men have raped six women, four have died.

Makhan Das farmer, Bhangabera
Down to Earth Earlier, we lived peacefully. But since news about the sez came, things have changed. If our people go into Sonachura, they catch us, burn our houses and beat us up. If the police leave, we won't be able to stay here. We can't fight the government. I'll leave my land (5 bighas). I'm already half dead from beatings, why should I court death? Anyway, the government feels for us. The CPI-M gave us the land. I have always supported it. Now if it takes our land, so be it.

WITNESS Iswar Chandra Das tea shop owner, Sonachura market
Down to Earth My shop was open that morning. It was business as usual till the shooting started. Then people came running this way, all bloody. Many were dying. I shut my shop and went home, coming back at around 4 pm. The place was mostly empty because everyone else had also run away.

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