The famous Bengali lyricist Salil Choudhuri’s immortal song during the British period still echoes in the lush paddy fields of Nandigram. Every farmer in Nandigram says, “we’ll give blood but not our land. The land that gives us the golden harvest is our mother. No way will we give up our land”.
14th March, 2007, Nandigram scripted the bloodiest day in India's history. The brute force of oppressive regime in West Bengal (WB) repeated another Tianmen Square massacre, another Jallianwallabag in this free, democratic India.
Today, the people’s Movement in Nandigram has passed into well known folk-lore and is now an inspiring model for people to fight against forcible land acquisition in India. In 1970’s in WB the slogan used to be in a fiery rhythm, almost a melody: ‘My name, your name, everyone’s name: Vietnam… Vietnam’. Now, the whole nation in one chorus with the betrayed people of Nandigram is chanting with the same melody: ‘My village, your village, everyone’s village: Nandigram…. Nandigram’.
Nandigram is 150.kms from Kolkata, in the Purba Medinipur district of W.Bengal. It is located on the south bank of the Haldi River which joins the Bay of Bengal. It is here that the W.Bengal Government decided to develop a chemical hub for direct foreign investment to the State. The proposed site covers about 60,000 hectares of swathe land, having a population of 40,000 of which 60% are Muslims.
The rationale for industrializing Nandigram will anguish anyone. It is a tranquil, charming green area, its land is coated with silt from the Haldi River, making it extremely fertile. It is a home for the twelve finest crops in W.Bengal. Paddy, potatoes, betel nut, tomatoes and sunflower are grown here are the best in the country. They say that one sunflower yields 500 gram oil! Economically, Nandigram is better off than other rural villages in WB, because of its flourishing fish industry and good yields of crops. Though after 60 years of Independence the basic amenities for life still remain an alien concept for the people of Nandigram, yet they have no complaints. Because, here people have something to keep their pots boiling.
Nandigram is a land of great revolutionaries and martyrs. During the Independence Movement Nandigram was at the forefront in boycotting British goods in 1901. People also fervently fought against imposition of tax in 1921, participated in the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, and the peasantry Movement in 1946.
Thanks to Singur for saving Nandigram! Tension started building up in Nandigram when the Government had notified that Nandigram would be converted into a chemical hub. To protect the land from Government, the farmers formed a Land Protection Committee (LPC). A few CPM cadres of the area for whom party’s corporate ideology mattered dearly worked against the LPC in vain. They were forcibly evicted from Nandigram and took refuge in Khejuri CPIM stronghold, near Nandigram.
People were aware that there would be an attempt of retaliation by the CPIM goons and the police to recapture the area. So they decided to offer peaceful resistance by organizing a Gouranga Puja (Gouranga is the god who protects the land) and a Koran recitation ceremony at Sonachura, the boarder village of Khejuri. Around 6000 people were present at the Puja of which 500-600 were children. The mob was unarmed, for they were in a religious ceremony. The women and children decided to stand in front as the people assumed that the police would not be violent with women and children. Contrary to their expectation, when they saw the crowd the police and the CPM cadres (in police uniform) started to fire indiscriminately at the unarmed gathering.
The violence that followed killed fourteen people and left many with severe bullet injuries. Scores of people could not escape from the police carnage due to blurred vision as a result of poisonous chemicals purposely used in the teargas. Women were at the receiving end of a great deal of violence. The cadres ran amok on them beating them up brutally on their breasts with lathis, hitting them with riffle butts and even inserting hard objects into their private parts, finally raping them in a manner unheard of in Bengal’s history!
A day after the perpetrated crime a huge mob of villagers rallying behind the bodies of victims marched defiantly back into Sonachura and took control of the village, leaving the CPM leaders licking their wounds. The area since then, up to date remains politically tense with frequent killings, gun firings and bomb throwing by both parties.
Budhdeb Bhattcharaya’s ability to acquire the land stemmed from the Left Front’s comfortable majority achieved through questionable means. It created in him a false sense of authority that he interpreted as a carte blanche to do whatever his party wanted to without caring a fig about dissent. Despite his popular public posturing, he actually followed the doctrine of the autocratic French monarchy “l’etat, c’est moi!” (I am the state). Thousands of innocent villagers, who were till the other day staunch supporters of the CPIM, turned into an army of resistance resorting to almost guerrilla tactics to crush the Government design.
Today, Nandigram has become a symbol of a resistance movement against any Government’s deceit and deployment of brute force. It is a wake up call for the rural masses to check land grabbing by their elected leaders. Nandigram is India’s first ‘Independent’ village.