People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 07

February 17, 2008


National Human Rights Commission On Nandigram: A Response

B Prasant

THE report published by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Nandigram events is a stereotyped mixed bag and the mark of a hasty, somewhat one-sided, cobbling together of 'facts,' is quite evident. There is no reference to when the NHRC 'investigators' actually visited the Nandigram and its surrounding localities. There are also serious lapses of omission and --- we regret to say --- commission as well.

The report would not care to reveal the basis on which the 'investigators' had come to the ground-level conclusions about the train of events in the period between November 1 and 6, 2007. The report repeats itself, is encumbered by a huge amount of hesitation when it comes to identifying and booking the guilty, and yet it is gregariously certain in passing adverse judgement on the role of the Communist Party and the Bengal Left Front government.

It is not known whether the NHRC had at all approached the offices of the CPI(M) --- at Nandigram or in Kolkata. However, it is clear, inter alia, that the NHRC bureaucracy had certainly interacted with the BUPC and Trinamul Congress functionaries, perhaps guided by the likes of Medha Patkar. It was her message, forwarded to the NHRC by one Sanjay Parikh, was what had made the NHRC sit up and go about preparing a report on Nandigram, taking cognisance of a kind of what had reportedly happened.

The NHRC self-confessedly states that it had gone through media reports as had appeared in but two newspapers, The Asian Age and The Indian Express. The basis of the NHRC's preference for dependence on the alleged reliability of these two papers alone is not revealed, as it should well have been done in fairness to the Indian media world per se.

Indeed, an arbitrary phasing elsewhere of the process and procedure of the violence unleashed at Nandigram and its surroundings by the Bhumi Ucchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) works to the advantage of the perpetrators of the widespread and brutal loot, rape and molestation of women, arson, violence, and murders that the BUPC goons had indulged in and of which nary a single mention is made.

The report would not mention the Trinamul men, the Maoists, and the Naxalites by name, but would not hesitate to refer repeatedly to the CPI(M) in a clearly adversarial and guilt-covered manner. One feels physical pain at the way the report trivialises the heavy burden of the nights of long knives that the simple-minded kisans of Nandigram had to endure, having nightmarish days and nights laced with inchoate violence over and over again,

The report can be responded to easily enough in an equally adversarial vein, especially from the wealth of field experience we had gathered over the better part of 2007 from the concerned locales and regions of Midnapore east, an experience that severally and jointly contradicts the bland prose of the indecisive, neither-here-nor-there report. Nevertheless, we would rather prefer to look at the reported manner of the Nandigram imbroglio as ensconced in the NHRC document from the point of view of known facts and cold logic.

To start with, the Bengal Left Front government had never proposed for the setting up of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Nandigram. This was a consummate lie that was spread by a selective few media, print and audio-visual, and taken up with ghoulish gusto by the NGOs and individuals of the likes of Ms Patkar. The employment-generating chemical hub project at economically backward Nandigram --- where salinity of the soil is a source of misery to farmers and peasants alike --- has been a union government proposal, that had been agreed to at the level of the Bengal assembly with enthusiastic and approving participation of both Pradesh Congress and Trinamul Congress MLAs.

The bland statement that the “local people resented the proposal for the acquisition of land” submerges tactically the long period of campaign --- covering more than six months --- that had preceded the actual digging up of roads and destruction of bridges and this was much earlier to the issuance of the notice of the Haldia Development Authority which the NHRC correctly identifies as a document that merely signposted the area likely to be taken over for the chemical hub project.

What the NHRC report ignores willingly or otherwise is the sordid fact that during the hate campaign that went on, people of the area were told that there would be no compensation forthcoming, that sacred religious places would be the first line of attack with complete demolition of mandir-masijid-maqtab-madrasah complexes as well the disinterment of bodies from graves --- all to be 'indulged with glee' by the 'godless communists.' In the van of the propaganda battle were religious fundamentalists of both persuasions, local Trinamul Congress leaders (BUPC having by then been reduced to a euphemism), and the armed Maoists.

The evidence is there, and readily available, for anyone willing to look for it, if one cares to talk to the general kisan populace of what is now calm and quiescent Nandigram where the BUPC and its componential parts have been reduced to a sad, disconsolate, fragmented, and dispirited rump of what it once had been.

Unless this backdrop is noted, the NHRC's assertion of the police muscling into and entering the area guns ablaze to get the Bengal government writ run by force, loses relevance and completely. Putting the number of CPI(M) supporters driven from home-and-hearth precisely at 'about 2000,' (the actual figure is 3,550) and the manner in which they were tortured, raped, killed and their hutments set on fire, is, to be fair, being somewhat liberal with the harsh truth.

The sad if unavoidable event of 14 March 2008 for which the Left Front government has repeatedly expressed sincere regrets is reported with a major lapse. The idea that is allowed to come through is that all 14 persons died from police firing. For a long time now, it has been well-established that while six persons died in the police shooting (regrettable as it was), eight others were killed by exploding bomb splinters and shots fired from country-made guns and that many of the latter were shot in the back. Conclusions can easily be drawn of the gruesome scene that had unfolded.

The most damaging among the assertions of the blatant untruths in the NHRC report is the note that on 6 and 7 November 'CPI(M) cadres' with the help of 'criminal elements' overran the 'blockade' (presumably referring to the siege laid on Nandigram by the right-left combination of the Trinamul Congress and the Maoists) and that in the events that followed in the 'reoccupation' (another lie) 'seven persons were killed,' '32 persons' including '16 police personnel' sustained injuries, and 'several' houses were 'fully or partially destroyed.' Then follows the biggest of the fabrications: 'a large number of villagers (nearly 2500) believed to be supporters of the BUPC were driven out.'

We are afraid that lies on more lies do not make for the truth, and nor does it help the credence lent to NHRC's veracity of findings. Let us take it up from the beginning of this period. As we have always maintained, and as evidenced from a close physical substantiation of the process that unfolded at Nandigram by the first week of November 2007, desperate, and despaired of living at the ghetto-like conditions prevailing in the overflowing refugee camps, the displaced persons themselves chose to hoist the Red Flag, and taking enormous risks, started to return home. Can the act of people returning to their home-and-hearth from where they had been brutally driven away be called 're-occupation?'

Five people who died in the attack launched on them by the retreating and yet armed-and-dangerous Maoists were CPI(M) supporters. Two of their own were killed by the Maoists when their 'attacking brigade' lost nerve and started to run away in the face of a 3500-odd strong marchers each of whom wielded not arms but Red Flags, as captured in TV footage for all to see.

As far as BUPC supporters being ejected, the fact remains, and even the Trinamul Congress has not made much noise on this, that a few (not exceeding a dozen) of hardened criminals of the BUPC took shelter at a Nandigram school where a kind of a show was run by the remnants of the BUPC stalwarts to attract with pomp ever-willing NGOs, 'noted persons' (rabidly anti-communists all) from the world of the arts and the realm of 'spiritual emancipation,' as well as 'crusading individuals' known for their penchant for short, energetic, and much-publicised bursts of fasting, on this issue and that --- until the CRPF put an end to the show, and the schoolchildren returned to their classes with glee --- after eleven months.

The NHRC would have us believe that it was the presence of the CRPF that allowed normalcy to return to Nandigram but would not take cognizance of hundreds of cases of harassment and torture that the same CRPF units had indulged in from the time they were posted in camps on CPI (M) workers and supporters at the insistence of Trinamul Congress and Maoists activists while the accused among the latter were allowed to walk freely around. Nor would the NHRC have a single word to say about the role played by the Trinamul Congress and its temporary masters at Nandigram the Maoists in the foul game of anarchy they engaged themselves in even after the CRPF had come in, or about the recovery of caches of arms and land mines from erstwhile BUPC strongholds like Sonachura.

Yet, the opposition, too, shall have to endure a bit of an embarrassment --- those that are thin-skinned enough --- from a few of the findings of the NHRC report. The report notes that 'a large area covering five Gram Panchayats of Nandigram block 1 was isolated [by the BUPC and its supporters] and police and other government agencies were prevented by the supporters of the BUPC from entering the area.'

The report also points out that in spite of a notification issued by the Midnapore east district magistrate to the effect that no land would be acquired by the state government at Nandigram for industrial purposes, the 'BUPC did not withdraw its agitation' and that 'incidents of violence continued to occur….'

On the role of the opposition, the NHRC has a way of mild almost friendly yet censoring point or two to score when it says that the opposition 'should in no case encourage people to indulge in unlawful activities,' while advising the media that while it played a 'commendable job,' it should not have failed in its 'duty to emphasise [that] the blockade of a large area of Nandigram by the agitators was unconstitutional.'

To us, who have been intimately, often in desolate pain, more often in celebration of the people's struggle, concerned with the events of Nandigram for more than a year now, as both a political commentator and a reporter per se, the moot point of the entire report of the National Human Rights Commission is the caveat that in the process of acquiring land and awarding compensation to the affected the Government 'should take the local people into confidence,' ensuring not only 'alternative means of livelihood' but 'shelter for the displaced.' (INN)