NANDIGRAM (WEST BENGAL): Standing in front of the heavily garlanded white bust of her 17-year old son at Jalpai village, Aloka Das could hardly control her tears on Tuesday. In the past 10 years since the fateful morning of March 14, 2007, when police opened fire on villagers resisting land acquisition, thereby altering the course of the state’s history, justice has eluded the 14 families each of which lost a member.
But a decade later, Nandigram looked different for sure. The roads were metalled and without potholes. A hospital building freshly painted with blue and white containing a few hundred beds have replaced a rickety primary health centre. Drinking water is more readily available. Small culverts and bridges are replacing makeshift bamboo structures that villagers use to cross local canals. The efforts of the local MLA Suvendu Adhikari, who is also the transport minister, is quite visible in the area.
But the members of the families of those whom ruling Trinamool Congress describe as Nandigram martyrs, are still seething in anger.
“The government gave some compensation. Kins of some of those killed in police firing got government jobs. But will my son return? What about those who ordered the police to open fire? What about those who planned it? We were told we have a government on our side, but justice still eludes us,” said Aloka floating in and out of sorrow and anger. Her son Gobindo Das fell to police bullets.
The police were resisting villagers who were fiercely resisting the design of the government to acquire abut 14,000 acre to set up a special economic zone for a chemical and petro-chemical complex that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee thought was essential to provide large scale employment for the future generations.
Significantly, CBI investigated the Nandigram police firing and submitted charge sheet in January 2014. It sought permission from Bengal government to prosecute a number of police officers, that so far has not been provided.
“The accused senior police personnel, IPS officers have only got promotions even after the regime changed. Nothing happened to them. Top CPI(M) leaders also remained out of the net. How long can we wait for justice?” said Abdul Dayen Khan, 68, who lost his son Imdadul in police firing. Another son of his, Moidul Khan managed to get a job as a homeguard with Kolkata police, but after chasing politicians for years.
Most of the families utilised the amount of Rs 5 lakh they got as compensation to build pucca houses, and putting aside a few pennies as savings.
The ruling party leaders are somewhat on the defensive. “We hope Mamata Banerjee will see to it that the guilty are punished in the police firing case. There is a lot of anguish among the people of Nandigram. However, we have ushered in development in the area,” said Sheikh Sufiyan, a prominent face in the land movement and now saha sabhadhipati of East Midnapore zilla parishad.
But there is bitterness on other a few other fronts as well.
“We applied thrice for digital ration cards (biometric ones that are mandatory for getting provisions from PDS). They (Trinamool Congress) said we will get it in due time. Our family did not get any job as promised. Now we have to run from pillar to post to even get a digital ration card. Forget the question of bringing those responsible for the firing to justice,” said Kabita Mondol, sister-in-law of Pushpendu Mondal, a 17-year-old who, too, fell to the police bullets.
Just next door lived his uncle Bharat Mondol died on January 7, 2007, when allegedly CPI(M)-backed goons attacked the agitators who wanted to save their farmland from acquisition. Bharat Mondal was the first ‘martyr’ of Nandigram.
“None of the 10 members of our family has got digital ration cards,” said an embittered Dhananjay Mondal, the father of Bharat Mondal.
The anger is palpable and bursts forth readily. It does not seem to take into account the token that the ruling party leaders resort to by garlanding small busts of those killed by the police. Memorials were erected at many corners of Sonachura, Bhangabera, Jalpai, Tekhali villages in Nandigram that were the focal points of the land agitation in 2007. Public meetings were held throughout East Midnapore district to commemorate the day.
“As a mark of respect to the martyrs who laid down their lives to protect their lands in Nandigram, Singur and other places, 14th March is observed every year as “Krishak Dibas” all over Bengal…” wrote chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Facebook.