Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Name of the Country is Nandigram

People’s resistance to displacement in West Bengal captures the attention of all India and the world.

In the quiet rural area of Nandigram, in West Bengal India, there has been a struggle that reflects the dreams and aspirations of an entire nation. In the last year the villagers of Nandigram have resisted the neo-liberal onslaught with their bodies and lives, and have embarrassed the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM led Left Front in India and around the world. In 2006 the land of Nandigram was sold under a Special Economic Zone act to the Salim Group of Indonesia to build a chemical hub. This would result in the deprivation of land and livelihood for thousands of villagers. Sumit Chowdhury, an independent activist who had been involved in the Nandigram movement, said that the sale of the land was actually done by the Salim Group for their client DOW Chemicals. The sale of this land has been disputed and referred to as a ‘rumor’ by supporters of the ruling-party - the CPIM.

In December 2006 the people of Nandigram, fearing the loss of their lands and livelihoods, organized 41 village committees called the Bhumi Ucched Protirodh Committee (Committee Against Land Acquisition) or BUPC, to resist the sale. The BUPC then declared the area a ‘liberated zone’. On 3rd January 2007 a land the Haldia Development Authority, a State body, put up acquisition notice. This was accompanied by a lathi-charge by the police, which gave rise to a mass upsurge. Sumit Chowdhury said that 80% of people in Nandigaram supported the mass upsurge against the police, which resulted in the police having to flee the area.

On 14th March the CPIM, determined to re-capture the land and restore their authority in the area, sent approximately 2000 police officers accompanied by an armed and trained group of CPM members. The village committees heard of the upcoming surge of forces into the area assembled approximately 2000 villagers to resist them. The police attempted to occupy the area by shooting at the assembled villagers, resulting in 14 deaths. The villagers assembled included women as well as men, and even some children. Suma Ghosh, a student at Delhi University and part of a fact-finding team in the area, told us that women have been instrumental in organizing the resistance in Nandigram and have formed an organization called the Mathangiri Mataila Somithi (MMS). Vanessa, a student from the Jawaharlal Nehru University and also a part of the fact-finding team, told me that the MMS has a lot of ‘feminist potential’ and had been using their organization to help resolve family disputes and intervene in domestic abuse.

On 16th March 30,000 villagers recaptured part of the area. Since then there have been repeated attacks by the police forces to recapture the entire area, which has resulted in dozens of unarmed villagers being killed. This included a rally held by protestors on the 9th November 2007 which resulted in the harassment and beating of 800-900 people. The CPM having effectively ‘recaptured’ Nandigram has been harassing the villagers despite the fact that the CPM led West Bengal State government has declared that the land will not be sold. Even reporters and fact-finding teams that have entered the area have been harassed and attacked by the CPM cadre in the area. However, the BUPC is re-organizing and there is a great likelihood that there will be more violence as the people of Nandigram attempt to ensure that their lands and livelihoods are safe in their own hands through the restoration of Nandigram as a ‘liberated zone’.

Nandigram, like many areas around the country had been allocated for ‘development’ under the SEZ act. And like many areas they have resisted the sale of their land and the destruction of their livelihoods. I was repeatedly told by activists and common people alike that the focus of this article should not be on the atrocities that have occurred there, rather I should focus on the people’s brave resistance. Out of the terror and harassment that the people of Nandigram have had to endure at the hands of the CPM there springs forth a dream of a new future in which land will belong to the tiller and there will be freedom from patriarchy and imperialism. Nandigram is not just the name of a village, but is the name of the whole country.