Nandigram: A Day in the Eyes of a Distant Traveler
Dr. Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar
After the mass murder of peasants on March 17, 2007 – men and women, Hindu and Muslim, young and old – by the armed thugs of the ruling Bengali Communists and by West Bengal Police, Nandigram and West Bengal have attained notoriety worldwide bringing our killing machine into YouTube raising us all Bengalis into a new height. Yet Nandigram has not risen into a tourist destination like the World Trade Center site of NYC, Darfur, East Timor or Kosovo. During a recent visit to Kolkata our social worker Didi invited me to visit Nandigram seeking help from our Probini Foundation of New York (www.probini.org) in providing teachers to a school they opened before the killing. That school provides early education to over 75 poor boys and girls.( Probini now supports 20 schools in orphanages and in poor areas: 14 in Bangladesh, 5 in West Bengal and one in Assam.) For a person who has been to all continents visiting my wife’s Medinipur district was very tempting. But the plight of West Bengal revealed even before I left Ballyganj as scores of people from all shades of politics warned, “Don’t go. They will kill you and no one will know.” Thank goodness their fear did not come true, yet in Nandigram visitors were repeatedly reminded that not one murderer, not one policeman has yet been arrested and tried for their crime while the whole world can see in the Internet how citizens were being slaughtered. And villagers told visitors that they know who the criminals – murders, rapists and arsonists – are.
We visited Nandigram in 2008 summer after Panchayat elections, yet it felt like one was entering an occupied territory. Strangers while giving direction whispered as if trees and lampposts can listen although no one was talking of revenge or seeking justice. During 1990 and 1992 anti-Hindu pogroms (fphgrm) in Bangladesh or during 1992 Hindu-Muslim rioting (vh}gh) in Calcutta I visited dozens of districts in Bangladesh as well as riot-affected areas of southwest Calcutta where Hindus were victimized and east where Muslims were targeted, but Nandigram in 2008 seemed to be different. Scores of homes torched by State-supported arsonists remain un-repaired. Villagers showed visitors a Hindu mandir desecrated by anti-Hindu Communists reminding one of similar atrocities by anti-Hindu Islamists during pogroms in Bangladesh. Some peasant families complained that they are going hungry as they are not planting crops as terrorists supported by ruling elites often forcibly harvest crops or destroy them for allegedly supporting democratic opposition. Moreover, many residents mentioned that weeks after election thousands of non-Communist opposition were not allowed to return home, and that hundreds of villagers were murdered, not just twelve. If there is slightest truth to these allegations then Buddhadev Bhattacharya Administration will soon be compared with Mugabe Regime of Zimbabwe, just as in the 1990s many West Bengails began comparing Jyoti Basu with Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania especially because of his mass killing of Hindu monks and nuns in Ballygunj – a few steps from my home; killing of poor oppressed-caste Hindu refugee peasants in Marichjhapi, and initiating the practice of murdering opponents. (Shamefully, no one has been apprehended yet for those crimes. I hope Bhattacharya Administration will prosecute those killers.) The saving grace for West Bengal is that it is part of a larger union, not a country by itself. Those of us who came to maturity in the 1960s supporting a humane, non-communal, tolerant Left, instead have created a polity that is just opposite – oppressive, communal and intolerant. Visitors to Nandigram accidentally came upon a khicchuri langar where hundreds of internally displaced refugees were being fed lunch. But this was a “normal sight” in my in-law’s Medinipur, visitors were repeatedly told! This was not war-torn Chechnya or Sri Lanka; or cyclone-affected Bangladesh or Burma. If Jyoti Basu failed to uphold the law, we are all hoping that BuddhadebBabu will not fail in his duty, or else it will reconfirm our saying, fZe ZhZ l}khZ, fse HZ rhbn, (Whoever goes to Lanka turns into a [demon king] Ravan.) Why murderers, arsonists, terrorists and rapists – whether of opposition or of ruling party – will not be prosecuted? This is the duty of party in power.
Arrogance of Power: During this trip arrogance of power was in full view of the visitors. In the middle of the visit a CPM functionary summoned the teachers – three local ladies – and two men for a meeting. They did not know that there were visitors. The meeting at their home demanded the reasons for opening a school for the poor; then accused them of being agents of Trinomool opposition. The functionaries quickly changed that accusation as they could not point to any evidence of that. In my younger days if such accusation was leveled against the rising Left opposition, then the Left would have said unprintable words. But those are the good old days of tolerant Congress rule that had not taken up wiping out opposition through mass murder. Even a tube well built by the school became a suspect as did the residence of three teachers provided free by a non-Communist, yet they refused to provide one.
There is no question that West Bengal needs industry – even more tolerance, democratic principle and work ethic. Left has succeeded in destroying indigenous industrialists from Bengal, and now selling those to outsiders is a new process of re-colonization, but what sort of re-colonization do we adopt? Bengal needs a different model from China where hundreds-of-year-old neighborhoods are wiped out in days notice. In a dictatorship that is possible, not in a democracy.
In Nandigram Bengali incompetence is revealed soon after one leaves the national highway. Why are the bridges built with huge sums of money remaining unused? Why the roads are not connected to those bridges? Why the roads within commuting distance of Calcutta are in worse condition than one of the poorest corners of India: Dandakaranya? Why could we not promote volunteerism to control our filth when every other non-agricultural job is supported by tax payers? Why the spectacular beauty of the land cannot be marketed to the world travelers who pay tens of thousands of rupees per day in similar natural wonders in South America, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand or China?
But why is Nandigram different from other mass killings, like Ballyganj or Marichjhapi? Why is this outrage of the non-Communist Opposition and of the Hindu and non-Hindu secular civil society? Is that tinged with Left and non-Left communalism? Some have argued that in Ballyganj the Bangal (Bangladeshi) Hindu privileged-caste elite rulers of West Bengal who chose not to live with their Muslim-majority neighbors and with oppressed-caste Hindus in their Bangladesh homeland proved their “secularism” by killing Hindus. How would West Bengalis react if those 20 were Muslim or Christian monks? No different? Was similar logic applied by Bangal rulers in Marichjhapi by killing the weakest of the refugees – the oppressed-caste (inZ_hiyy s$p/vhz) peasants? What would have happened if those 300+ killed were Sikh or Parsi refugees or privileged-caste bhadraloks of Kolkata or Dhaka? Some whispered that Nandigram was the first where Muslims along with Hindus were murdered by the State and the Party, thus this outrage from non-Communist opposition and by civil society. This is difficult to accept. If there is any truth to that then the State, ruling Communists and the Left owe an explanation for indulging in murderous communalism, as well as Congress-Trinamool-BJP-Maoist opposition and the civil society need to further explain their support for selective amnesia – sort of racism – and acquiescence towards communist communalism.
From a publication in India