The horrifying details from Nandigram continue to emerge, the latest -- and one of the bloodiest -- encounters between the supposed imperatives of industrialization and economic development on the one hand, and elementary ethical regard for the state's subjects (nominally, its citizens) on the other. The blog Kafila has some searing coverage of the massacre, including updates by Sanjay Singhvi and Medha Patkar. According to Singhvi:
About 125-130 men, women and children were killed by the police and the cadres of the ruling Communist Party of India (CPM). Many dead bodies were thrown by police into the nearby river. The dead bodies of children were thrown onto the trenches dug by the villagers to stop any encroachment, and they were filled with soil to make roads much like carnage in Gujarat. According to the people the cadres and police have devastated the Sonachura village; they killed the people, drove them out, looted the houses and raped scores of women. People are seething with anger against the CPM cadres. It is bloodbath; it’s a war on people ” said Sumit Chowdhury, renowned writer and journalist.
Patkar has provided an update on the resistance in Singur:
Singur, unlike the impressions outside, is still fighting with strength and spirit. Thousands of bargadars, labourers and also landholders are not for the forcible occupation of land although fencing of 997 acres of the land, protected by the sheer police force i.e., the State’s might stands. People too were on the sit-in, in front of the fence on the land not to be acquired. One does find TMC & SUCI representatives there, the Trimanool Congress MLA, Rabindranath, Master Moshai, with other people, student activists supporting them by staying with and being with the village folk, but the whole community is in the struggle, except of course those who have allowed their land to be taken over and accepted cheques not all of which, we are told, are still fully encashed.
When we reached Singur and walked through Beraberi, everything was the same - women, young and old, coming out of their houses, leaving their chores and chanting slogans, welcoming us; at least are at every few furlongs blowing the shell. However, the moment we decided to move towards the fence only to have a look at the fields under siege, hundreds of police encircled us, as if we were to uproot the fence. When they began walking with us it was all right, till they started touching and slightly pushing some of us. The women got upset with the same and started questioning the police who had encroached upon the land not under acquisition plan. No one had any weapon in the hands except the voice that all of them raised. The police however were bent upon creating a law and order problem and pretending to protect us, the outside visitors, they actually started manhandling the local leaders when we were one foot away from the fence and repeatedly saying that we would not uproot it but we did have the right to touch it.
Meanwhile, the Asian Age reported today:
The Left Front government in West Bengal, under intense pressure from all sides, and particularly from its partners, on Saturday decided against acquiring any land in Nandigram for a special economic zone (SEZ). The state government will also withdraw the police force from East Medinipur block in phases. West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, however, refused to condemn or apologise for the police action in which at least 14 people were killed.
Stopping the acquisition of land and the police pullout were two of the five demands put forward by the Left Front partners, who were extremely angry with Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for ordering the police action in Nandigram. These decisions were taken during the second Left Front meeting, which was as stormy as the first on Thursday.
It appears that Bhattacharya and his government have clearly been surprised by the scale of the resistance to the West Bengal government's plans. Mercifully, the spirit of protest and resistance still appears to get results, even from the West Bengal government. But no Phyrric victory can redeem those slaughtered in the carnage. And no Phyrric victory should blind us to the fact that far too many governments, not least the one in Kolkata, appear to be impervious to democratic debate, argument, and "mere" dissent, unless it takes the form of active and strident resistance in the form of street action at the grassroots. It is some (small) consolation that this form of resistance yet retains the power to stop an oppressive government machinery in its tracks -- but as long as this remains seemingly the only means of doing so, the cost of participation in the practice of democracy remains prohibitively high.
[Updated 3/23/07: The truth gets uglier by the day; not that politicians utilizing criminals to do their dirty work is new, but it is rare to get such a public view of it.]