Widespread violence has once again erupted in the battle-scarred Nandigram in West Bengal'seast Midnapore district.
Trouble started in Nandigram when the armed CPM cadres threatened villagers that stern action would be taken against those who would dare to boycott the meeting of the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, in Nandigram on March 5. This led to angry exchanges and fisticuffs during which party cadres fired at Debashis Mondal injuring him seriously. All the injured people are supporters of the Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee that had spearheaded the agitation against the state government'sagricultural land acquisition policy in Nandigram.
What is really alarming is that women in Nandigram were singled out and targeted by the CPM supporters since the agitation had begun about two years ago. Several women, left behind after the men fled, were raped, assaulted, threatened and harassed by the CPM goons. While cases of sexual violence against women were registered, the suspects are yet to be arrested. The violence witnessed during the CPM'srecapture of Nandigram in November was due to the Bengal government'sinaction along with tacit acceptance of the tactics adopted by the CPM cadres.
According to the Amnesty International India report, titled ?Urgent Need to Address Large Scale Human Rights Abuse during Nandigram recapture?, compiled by a four-member fact finding team of the Amnesty comprising Justice (Retd ) S.N.Bhargava, former Chief Justice, High Court of Sikkim, Vrinda Grover, advocate and senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly and director of the Amnesty International India, Mukul Sharma. The report stated that ?The women were targeted because they were active in the agitation. In fact, they are still being threatened with violence in the future if they reveal what happened,? delegation member, advocate Vrinda Grover said. The report also said: ?Also, the delegation was informed by local residents that many women had refused to file police reports as they were still afraid of the consequences and were also unwilling to risk social censure associated with rape.? Grover said an independent judicial enquiry was urgently needed to look into the cases of human rights abuse. The Central Bureau of Investigation is looking into the violence of March while the state Criminal Investigative Department is looking into the incidents of November. Local residents were decidedly less enthusiastic about the CID probe. Grover said the judicial enquiry should look into the role of different officials, including senior police officers, in the violence. ?They need to come under the scanner. There should be a broad accountability and the
findings of the time-bound enquiry should be made public. ?It was obvious during our visit to Nandigram that state authorities had not acted in an impartial manner,? said Meenakshi Ganguly. She further said, ?The political nature of this violence, involving the ruling party of West Bengal, means there must be an independent inquiry to prevent impunity for the perpetrators.? Throughout 2007, tensions over control of land in Nandigram led to a series of violent incidents between supporters of the ruling CPI(M) and farmers belonging to the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC). Protesting villagers blockaded the Nandigram area to oppose a government plan to acquire land for industry. Instead of responding appropriately to violations of the law by protesters, the authorities appeared to treat the protest as a challenge to the CPI-M and used excessive force against the protesters. At least 30 people were killed, hundreds injured, and thousands displaced from their homes.
The Amnesty International India and Human Rights Watch said that access to justice for the victims of the violence went beyond the successful prosecution of those responsible. Women who suffered abuse must receive proper protection and an effective remedy. In January and March 2007, at least 25 people were killed and at least 20 women were sexually assaulted by armed supporters of the ruling CPI-M. During the latest outbreak of violence in Nandigram beginning on November 6, 2007, at least 15 people were reportedly killed,100 injured and hundreds of people were displaced as groups of armed supporters of the CPI-M commenced an operation to ?recapture? the area. On November 9, the Governor of the State, Gopalakrishna Gandhi, described the situation in Nandigram as a ?civil war? and stated that the ?armed recapture is unlawful and unacceptable.?
The delegation interviewed several women who had been subjected to violence including rape, beating, threats and harassment. In addition, testimony concerning numerous incidents of violence against women has been gathered by several fact-finding teams investigating events that occurred in March as well as November.
Anuradha Talwar, an activist who was part of the first fact-finding team which reached Nandigram on November 16, in a deposition submitted to the delegation said, in Satangabari village alone, local residents informed them that at least seven women had been raped. In one case, a woman said that she was beaten and her four-month-old son was snatched and flung on the floor. Another woman said that though she was pregnant, she was beaten until she
bled. CRPF Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) Alok Raj stated that five cases of rape were registered at Nandigram including three after the November violence. The Officer-in-Charge, Nandigram police station, said only two complaints of rape had been filed in the area. Accounts of both officials and villagers relating to violence against women agreed that the victims were either relatives or sympathisers of the BUPC. The delegation was told that at least seven women from Nandigram have been admitted to the Government Hospital at Tamluk. Two of them shot at, four were beaten and one was raped. Several others were admitted to hospitals closer to Nandigram. Several women, who returned to their homes after the end of this period of violence, said that threats of sexual violence were made against them if they did not support the CPI-M. One woman said that she was forced to attend a party rally on November 28 because she was warned that she would otherwise be stripped in public and then raped along with her daughters.
Mahamaya Das Adhikari said that she went back to her village on November 26 but had to return to the camp a day later because her parents were threatened by the CPI-M supporters. They were told that either their daughter had to publicly pledge her support to the CPI-M or not bother to return. Immediately after the violence, the Government of West Bengal defended the violence done by the armed supporters of the CPI-M, and blamed the BUPC for the blockade and the subsequent violence.
In media briefings Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee claimed that the protesters had been ?paid back in the same coin? and that his party was both ?legally and morally correct? to ?recapture? Nandigram, a comment which he apparently retracted three weeks later while admitting that the Nandigram events amounted to a ?political and administrative failure.?