Farmers fought pitched battles with police in the fields of Singur on Saturday as the administration sent a huge police force there to take possession of the land and fence it for a proposed Tata Motors small car project.
Women and children in Beraberi, Khaserbheri, Gopalnagar and Singerbheri villages were beaten up by the advancing policemen, alleged farmers' organisations. The adult males of the villages had fled their homes on Friday night itself fearing arrest. However, police claimed the aggressive villagers attacked them with acid bulbs and arrows.
At least 5,000 police and paramilitary forces - sent to take possession of the land - teargassed the villagers and fired rubber bullets at Singur in Hooghly district, about 45 km from Kolkata. A huge pile of harvested paddy caught fire in the clashes.
Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) Raj Kanojia said: "The police were attacked with acid bombs and arrows and many of us, including women cops, were injured.
"The police had to chase the villagers and arrested a few. The crowd was aggressive," he said.
Kanojia said the situation was now under control.
Meanwhile, police stopped activist Medha Patekar at Dankuni near Singur, where she was going to join the protesters.
Hooghly district magistrate Vinod Kumar said: "The acquisition work is on at a good pace." Saturday is the second day of land acquisition.
Trinamool Congress legislator Rabindranath Bhattacharya said about 1,000 policemen swooped down on the villagers. Many women were beaten and many others seriously injured.
"This is the second phase of our agitation that began seven months ago. Now they are trying to take possession of our land. I am sure this agitation will not be restricted to Singur alone but will spread all over," he said.
Singur Krishijami Bachao Committee (Save Singur Farmland Committee) convenor Becharam Manna said, "It is a shame to democracy. Our women were assaulted and children beaten up by the cops. Everyone was hit with batons."
Manna denied that the villagers attacked the policemen with acid bulbs or arrows.
"Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Industry Minister Nirupam Sen have sent their policemen to evict the farmers and unleash repression. But we will continue to fight," he said.
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who was forcibly stopped on her way to Singur for a rally on Thursday, asked her party MLAs to head for Singur.
Banerjee, who was in Islampur in north Bengal for an election campaign, asked party workers to take to streets and block rail tracks. She too is headed for Singur.
Footage captured by a Bengali news channel showed policemen teargassing and beating up villagers. It also showed women and children breaking into tears and in anger as police took possession of their villages.
The farmlands owners, who mostly live in the city, have sold the land to the government for the Tata Motors small car project. The protesting villagers are the tillers or sharecroppers who work on the land and have a close association with it. They stand to lose their livelihood and homes with the land acquisition.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharya claimed that 927 of the 993 acres needed for the Tata Motors plant has been acquired, but Mamata Banerjee said at least 531 acres are with the farmers.
"There was no need to send so many policemen if the land was in the possession of the government," Mamata said earlier.