More Horror Stories From Nandigram
CPI(ML) Team In Nandigram: Summary Of Findings
(A 20-member CPI(ML) team comprising Party General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, West Bengal State Secretary Kartick Pal, senior state leaders Dr. Partha Ghosh, Shankar Mitra, Meena Pal and Chaitali Sen, AISA leader Malay Tewari and editor of the Party's Bengali weekly organ Deshabrati Animesh Chakraborty visited the carnage-ravaged areas and people of Nandigram on 17 March. They also talked to injured victims undergoing medical treatment at the district hospital at Tamluk and the extremely under-equipped and over-crowded health centre at Nandigram. They heard reports of most horrendous killings of unarmed people, gangrapes and brutal assaults on women and children, met several people who were desperately looking for missing family members and were shocked to see very few young girls and children among the survivors in the carnage-ravaged villages of Bhangabeda, Sonachura and Gokulnagar. What follows is a brief report of the team's findings).
What really happened at Nandigram on March 14
From the accounts of the injured at the hospital as well as injured residents of the three affected villages – Sonachura, Bhangabera and Gokulnagar, the following facts emerge about the events of March 14.
The villagers were apprehensive of a police crackdown. They wished to be sure not to give the police any pretext to attack. Therefore, feeling that the police would surely not attack defenceless women and children, the latter assembled in the form of separate and adjacent prayer meetings of Hindus and Muslims in the maidan between Gokulnagar and Bhangabera. A huge 5000-strong police force stormed into the area, and began by kicking at the worshippers and destroying their idols and prayer area.
The police then lobbed teargas shells and fired rubber bullets – not to disperse a violent or unruly mob, but rather to literally create a smokescreen and confuse the crowd of people. Having done so, the firing began. The bullet wounds on the bodies of the people at hospitals are mostly in the waist, chest, back – bullets were cold-bloodedly aimed to kill. Local CPI(M) leaders oversaw the entire operation, and many villagers recounted how several of those in police uniform and helmets wore chappals on their feet, indicating that they were actually CPI(M) goons in uniform.
A particularly brutal feature of the attack is the aspect of sexual assault on women and massacre of children. Women have recounted having seen little children being torn apart. They said many children were still in school uniform, having just returned from morning schools, and were brutally assaulted. A large number of children are still missing; it is not clear whether they have run away, been abducted, or been killed and the bodies disposed off. The local people suspect that the missing children have been killed.
The people informed us that the horror did not end on March 14. Our team visited on March 17, and we were told that on 15th, 16th, and right up to the morning of the 17th, the assaults by CPI(M) goons continued.
Evidence from the Hospitals
The team felt the accounts gathered from the injured in hospitals were the most authentic, since those people had beyond doubt been at the spot and had directly witnessed the episode. We saw a broken ambulance lying in a pond. TV footage showed police beating up a woman who was trying to pick up a severely injured and unconscious person. It appears that systematic efforts were made to prevent the injured from getting help.
Members of the team visited Nandigram Health Centre (the nearest health centre), Tamluk Hospital, and SSKM Hospital, Kolkata.
At Tamluk Hospital, we spoke to Sankha Gole (47), Laxmikanta Gayen (26), Niranjan Das (38), Subhransu Partra (30), Gopal Das (32), Anjali Das, Nirmal Mondal (28) and others. Some of the patients had been shifted from here to Kolkata, but there were still others who had been referred to Kolkata and were yet to be taken there for treatment.
We spoke to the CMO at Tamluk hospital, who along with the other doctors and nurses seemed to be doing their utmost, but the sheer lack of medical facilities for the severely injured made their task difficult.
At Nandigram Health Centre, we spoke to Gobinda Paik (37) from Sonachura, Sreehari Samanta (26) from Kalicharanpur, Pranati Maity (50) from Keshabpur, and Ranadhir Galu (40) from Soudkhali. This Health Centre has paltry facilities, and just 30 beds, while even on the 17th, there were at least double the number of patients, with most lying on the ground.
SSKM Hospital Here we spoke to Swarnai Das (40) from Gokulnagar, Avijit Giri (22) from Kalicharanpur, Swapan Giri (21) from Sonachura No. 10, Parijit Maity (51) from Kalicharanpur, Haimanti Halder (50), Tapasi Das, Salil Das, Andhirani, Prithish Das, Banasri Acharya, and others.
We learnt that at Tamluk, 14 dead bodies were brought in on 16th March (12 male, 2 female). Another person died in hospital. Among the injured brought to hospital, 31 were male, and 14 female. 7 dead bodies are yet to be identified. At the Nandigran hospital, 65 injured were brought in, (32 male and 33 female). Both these hospitals are understaffed, there is no sweeper, only two ambulances. Life saving drugs not available and are locally purchased on an ad-hoc basis. The injuries of those in hospital and the reports of the state of the dead bodies tell their own tale. Many had bullet injuries – above the waist, in the chest, abdomen, frontal side of shoulder. In Tamluk hospital there were 2 rape victims – Gouri Pradhan (25), of Adhikary Para of Gokulnagar and Kajal Majhi (35), mother of 4 children, of Kalicharanpur. One of the latter's breasts had been lacerated by a chopper/sword. Swarnamai, in Woodburn ward in SSKM, had severe bullet injuries, while Haimanti had a buttock chopped off and was in the ITU. Such injuries were not merely the result of having been unluckily in the line of police firing – they were deliberate and savage assaults of a sexual nature.
The women we spoke to alleged that 6 other rape victims were not thoroughly examined due to pressure from above. Also that the uterus of one woman was ruptured by introducing a hard metallic rod.
The injured people we met did not speak of themselves – their injuries or chances of survival or lack of proper treatment; they all spoke of how they looked forward to continuing their struggle against eviction from the land.
The sheer savagery of the violence at Nandigram indicate that it was not just another case of unprovoked police firing, or of a police force gone berserk. The injuries inflicted on people (indicated by the state of the dead bodies as well as the survivors) are not mere bullet injuries. We have described above some of the chopper injuries on those in hospitals. A television cameraperson who had seen the mutilated and brutalised dead bodies in the morgue, said he had seen bodies of victims in bad rail accidents and fires – but had never seen bodies in such a disfigured, disemboweled condition as in Nandigram.
The people at the hospitals as well as in the three affected villages told us they recognised CPI(M) leaders who directed the entire operation –Lakshman Seth, MP and chairman of the Haldia Development Corporation, CPI(M) district leaders and panchayat functionaries like Ashok Guria, Ashok Bera, Debal Das, and Sureshwar Khatua. These leaders also ensured that almost no media reached Nandigram – several newspapers reported how their reporters and camera persons were roughed up by the CPI(M) goons.
CBI's findings as reported in several newspapers, also seem to corroborate the allegations of the villagers and eyewitnesses. The CBI team followed a trail of blood, which suggested that a bleeding body had been dragged some distance to the Ma Janani brick kiln in Khejuri, a CPI(M) stronghold. There the CBI sleuths came across CPI(M) and DYFI literature, party flags and clothes including women's underclothes.
The CPI(M) goons arrested by CBI in this brick kiln include Naru Maity, Rajkumar Jana, Manoranjan Maity, Ratikanta Maity, Sachin Pramanik, Abhishek Ghorui, Kanai Das, Panchanan Sasmal. Villagers allege that they were hired by Laxman Seth and others, for two lakh rupees each for Operation Nandigram. A huge cache of arms and ammunitions were recovered from them, and also CPI(M) leaflets and flags, mobile sets with phone numbers of local CPI(M) leaders were also recovered from them by the CBI.
The myth of extremist 'outsiders'
The CPI(M)'s official response has been to blame 'outsiders', 'naxals' and the like for indulging in 'lawlessness', and even attacking the police with bombs and pipe guns – thus justifying the need for the police action. What truth is there in these accusations and claims? A simple question which needs to be posed against these claims is: how come no police personnel is seriously injured, if they were actually subjected to an extremist assault by a huge mob? CPI(M) MP Sitaram Yechury has said that SEZs and land acquisition had nothing to do with the occurrence at Nandigram; 'outsiders' and 'extremists', frustrated by their inability to mobilise local support, indulged in violence against the police. Our observation was quite the contrary. Nandigram is a traditional CPI-CPI(M) stronghold, an old area of Tebhaga peasant struggle. The local MP is from CPI(M), MLA from CPI, and most panchayat members are from CPI(M). The only reason why this very mass base suddenly turnedagainst CPI(M) was the proposed land acquisition for the proposed SEZ to built up by Indonesian MNC Salem International.
It was precisely because Nandigram was emerging as a model for anti-SEZ, anti-corporate- land grab resistance that it invited such horrible repression. It had become a sore spot and a source of concern and anxiety, not just for local CPI(M) leaders or the LF Government, but for all Governments all over the country.
The Build-up to March 14
March 14 has not happened all of a sudden – it is not a mistake that the LF Government or the CPI(M) has committed on the spur of the moment. The events of January in Nandigram were a dress rehearsal for March – in which the patterns for the March assault can be discerned. In January, the police withdrew in the name of allowing 'peace' to be restored; while actually they were clearing the way for a planned assault by CPI(M) cadres from Khejuri. Then, there were systematic attempts to stop facts from reaching the public: the CPI(ML) fact-finding team was arrested before they could enter Nandigram, jailed and had charges of murder and illegal possession of arms slapped on them.
Then, the CM appeared to backtrack in the face of the determined resistance, and claimed the HDA notification of land acquisition was a 'mistake' that caused 'confusion'. He made reassurances that no land would be acquired without farmers' consent. But it seems that these statements were only meant to deliberately mislead the movement and people at large, even as 'Operation Nandigram' was being planned all the while.
Since January, the statements of senior CPI(M) leaders all clearly indicate the ominous threats to the people of Nandigram, and reading them after March 14, they sound like chilling prophecy. CPI(M) CC Member Benoy Konar said "We'll surround them and make life hell for them". Health Minister Suryakant Mishra who is from East Midnapore, had declared "Snakes come out in the summer, you must use the flag like a stick and smash their heads" (see Ananda Bazaar Patrika, 31 January). And in the Kisan Rally of 11 March at Brigade Parade Ground, Buddhadeb also issued a veiled threat that no region would be allowed to hold the development of the State to ransom. These statements are as clear an incitement to and indication of violence as one can get.
After March 14, Buddhadeb has made three types of statements. Immediately after the incident, he declared to the CPI State Secretary that he was "under pressure from the party to act". On the 14th he arrived too late in the Assembly to make a statement. On the 15th, in the Assembly, he justified the police action as "self-defence". And eventually, he accepted moral responsibility as head of the Government, and said he had not expected so much resistance and not known the police excesses would be quite so much.
What to make of the behaviour of the LF Government and CPI(M) in the aftermath of March 14?
The LF partners have reduced the whole issue to a matter of internal democracy of the Left Front – and have ignored the fact that what took place at Nandigram is a massacre, genocide, murder of democracy. Let us repeat that March 14 was no blunder that happened on the spur of the moment. In January itself, intellectuals and well-wishers of the LF Government and of the CPI(M) had expressed concern about the escalating violence in Nandigram and warned the Government to desist from the policy of forced land acquisition and SEZs. The CPI(M) arrogantly dismissed these voices and did not bother to listen to even the pro-Left intelligentsia, preferring instead to mock at them.
If Buddhadeb says he acted "under pressure from the party", the statements of the topmost CPI(M) leadership indicate that all levels of the CPI(M) hierarchy have been equally complicit in chalking out the blueprint of Operation Nandigram.