Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > December 1, 2007 > Nandigram: A Dangerous Chapter in the History of Human Rights

Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 50

Nandigram: A Dangerous Chapter in the History of Human Rights

Monday 3 December 2007, by Mahi Pal Singh

Those who expressed their concern at and denounced the post-Godhra carnage in Gujarat will fail in their duty if they do not show their concern at the turn of events taking place in Nandigram in West Bengal. Although the magnitude of the Gujarat communal riots, which took a toll of more than 2000 lives, displaced thousands of families and forced them to live in terror during the last five years, was bigger than the killings and resultant desertion of their homes by hundreds of terror-stricken families in and around Nandigram to take shelter in safer places elsewhere, the issues involved in both the incidents are not much different from one another.

The Gujarat Government, headed by Narendra Modi, was accused of direct involvement in abetting the killings of thousands of Muslims during the three days following the burning of a compartment of Sabarmati Express at the Godhra railway station in which about 60 people were burnt alive. The hooligans of the Hindutva brigade belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal had indulged in the killings of Muslims, including women and children, rapes and burning of their houses in an organised way and the whole administrative machinery, particularly the police force, which had the responsibility of protecting the lives and property of the people, had instructions to look the other way and they did so. News of the involvement of the Chief Minister himself in the communal carnage was widespread even at that time and has now only been confirmed beyond any doubt by the statements, as recorded through a sting operation by a news channel and widely shown in the electronic media, of those who had barbarously indulged in the rioting and killings. What is relevant here is that it was a case of blatant involvement of the state in the illegal and inhuman killings indulged in by the followers and workers of the ruling outfit there.

At that time just not members of the Muslim community were killed and humiliated. The whole Indian culture was dishonoured, humanity was insulted, human rights of the people were trodden underfeet, democracy was buried, political morality was cremated and the whole nation was put to shame. And all this had happened with the active connivance of the state machinery under the leadership of the Chief Minister himself. The only saving grace was that except those who belonged to the Hindutva brigade all sections of the society denounced the act. The Supreme Court called Narendra Modi the ‘Nero’ of Gujarat. The National Human Rights Commission denounced the carnage and the collusion of the administration with the killers in the reports of the various enquiries conducted by it. Of course, the Central government, headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee, did not do so for obvious reasons. And the subsequent acts of the BJP leaders and words of praise for Narendra Modi from the whole Bharatiya Janata Party leadership, at one time or the other, only betrayed their tacit support to Modi during the gory period of 2002 in Gujarat.

IN the same way the state machinery has been used for supporting the CPI-M cadres in West Bengal right from the time when fertile farmland was acquired by the State Government for setting up the Tata car factory under the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project in Nandigram a year ago and the local farmers resisted the land acquisition move under the banner of Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC or Committee to Resist Eviction from Land) led by Mamata Banerjee of the Trinmul Congress. Mamata’s move may have been a political move but then those who do not agree with her political gimmickry cannot deny that her move was in consonance with the mood of the local farmers. That is why the movement led by her got the support of the local farmers, who understood well that farmland was their only and sure bread-winner and once it was gone, they would lose much more than their livelihood. Every effort was made by the CPI-M cadres to break the movement, obviously at the behest of and with the connivance of the State Government as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Chief Minister, was vociferously advocating the project. The CPI-M cadres, in their endeavdour to break the morale of the farmers and the movement itself, openly used bullets and bombs. The police was just watching, as had happened in Gujarat in 2002, and even if there was no evidence of instructions from Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to the police to look the other way, he also never denounced the bloodshed caused by his party cadres in Nandigram. State complicity in the matter was more than evident to everybody. That is why sympathy for the farmers increased day-by-day and the civil society and leaders of various social movements came out in support of their movement. There is no doubt, too, that bullets and bombs were used by the Trinamul Congress supporters also, turning Nandigram into a battlefield. That, however, cannot justify the use of bullets by the CPI-M cadres, nor the silence and non-intervention of the State Government in the matter. That only goes to prove the failure of the government in maintaining law and order and also its failure to protect the lives and property of the people in Nandigram. [In its order on November 13, 2007 the Kolkata High Court has also observed that the government has completely failed to maintain law and order in Nandigram and directed it to ensure law and order there and file an affidavit in the Court within fifteen days in this regard, and also advised it to call the Army for the purpose, if needed; whereas in a press conference on the same day Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the CM, openly appreciated the role of the CPI-M cadres in dealing with the BUPC activists.] It is ironical that the same party which spearheaded land reform in the country had become instrumental in depriving the farmers of their land for ‘development’ of the State whereas elsewhere it had criticised such moves by other governments calling such development nothing but ‘jobless growth’, as described by other social-economists, which primarily benefits the multinational corporations or big capitalists and only exploits the small landowners as has been proved the world over and is being resisted by farmers even in South Korea, a US ally, and elsewhere. How the party forgot its own lessons delivered to others is still an unsolved riddle. Perhaps the people’s party has gone away from the people in its over-enthusiasm for the capitalists’ model of ‘development’.

Ultimately the State Government and the CPI-M had to bow before the popular movement and declare in February 2007 that the chemical hub would not be set up in Nandigram (by forcibly evicting the farmers from their farmland). The latter was certainly under pressure from its Left-Front partners who gauged the popular mood better than their big brother in the government.

BUT now the CPI-M cadres are again active to regain the confidence of and control over the people of Nandigram, which they had lost during the last one year, in their own style while the supporters of the long movement are in no mood to let them do so after the year-long hostility they have shown for them and their movement. The guns are again out, although they had hardly rested during the whole year. The people are still dying. The police are again just watching. The CPI-M cadres even attacked Medha Patkar and other social activists who were going to Nandigram on a peace mission. They did not allow them to go to Nandigram. They suspect everybody as their enemy. And in their intolerance of the others’ point of view they are no different from the Hindutva forces. The police was again looking the other way when these cadres of the CPI-M were slapping Medha, breaking spectacles of others and beating still others. Aparna Sen, a famous filmmaker, Mahasweta Devi, an eminent writer, and others, denounced the incident. So much so that the other three Left Front partners in the West Bengal Government, the CPI, the RSP and the Forward Bloc, also blamed the CPI-M for the incidents in Nandigram in a joint statement saying, “We do not support the wanton violence as a means to find a solution to the Nandigram situation and are totally opposed to it.” The PWD Minister, Kshiti Goswami, a senior RSP leader, even expressed a desire to resign from the government to protest against the behaviour of the CPI-M cadres. This by itself is a comment on the working of the Left Front Government led by the CPI-M, which has been teaching the ‘coalition dharma’ to the Congress running the coalition government at the Centre.

What has happened in Nandigram during the last one year, and also the latest attack on peacemakers led by Medha Patkar, needs to be denounced by all. It was not an attack on Medha Patkar and other social activists alone. It was an attack on the democratic values as well. Human rights of the people cannot be left to the mercy of the workers of one party or the other. They have to be taught to respect them. And state complicity in such acts, whether in West Bengal or in Gujarat, is a dangerous signal and can endanger democracy itself. It has to be watched, denounced and resisted whenever and wherever it happens. We must remember that it happened in Delhi during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 following the murder of Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of the country, and the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in the wake of the Godhra tragedy in 2002; and on both the occasions the results where so horrible that they left an indelible mark on the face of humanity and an incurable wound in the hearts of the victims. We cannot afford to allow such incidents to happen again and again.

The author is the General Secretary, PUCL-Delhi, and the President of the Indian Radical Humanist Association, Delhi.

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