Nandigram is like a concentration camp: Medha Patkar

By Sujoy Dhar

Kolkata(IANS) : Assaulted and intercepted by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) for trying to reach Nandigram, social activist Medha Patkar dubbed the “war zone” of West Bengal’s East Midnapore constituency a concentration camp where the communists have unleashed a reign of terror to recapture lost ground.

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“With no channel for redressal of grievances, Nandigram is like a concentration camp. The people are helpless there,” Medha Patkar told IANS in an interview as she geared up for a fresh battle after she and her associates were punched, pulled by hair and hurled with the choicest of invectives on the way to Nandigram where the ruling CPI-M is out to regain base by launching a massive onslaught on their rival – the Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC).

The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) leader Saturday began a 48-hour fast to protest the brutality and violation of human rights in Nandigram by the communists with whom she had fought many battles in other states till West Bengal’s Singur and Nandigram flared up over land acquisition for setting up industries under the leadership of reformist Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

“I have approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Nandigram. This is blatant violation of human rights. In Nandigram there are thousands of injured at the moment,” she said soon after submitting a memorandum for action to West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi.

“I was not allowed to reach Nandigram, but I won’t give up. We are starting a hunger strike for two days. When the nation celebrates Diwali, the festival of lights, in West Bengal it is a Diwali of darkness. So to protest this physical onslaught of the CPI-M we would fast and appeal to the conscience of the nation to be awakened and act,” Patkar said.

“We are also holding a mass rally on Nov 14 where everyone is requested to join without any political banner,” she added.

A few hours after Medha met Gandhi, the governor came out with a stinging rebuke of the West Bengal government and the CPI-M.

“The manner in which the recapture of Nandigram villages is being attempted is totally unlawful and unacceptable,” the governor said in a statement.

Medha Patkar along with leading intellectuals and rights activists sought Gandhi’s help to open up Nandigram to human rights groups.

“We demand that peaceful defenders of human rights belonging to known peoples’ organisations be protected and their entry to Nandigram area facilitated,” said Medha.

“It is indeed shocking the way the CPI-M hooligans are behaving. The apathy, inaction and both direct and indirect support of the police to the CPI-M hooligans indicates a breakdown of state machinery resulting in non-availability of any channel for security or redressal of grievances of common people,” she said.

“Nandigram is under fire and scare. On the festive days of Kali Puja the light emerging from the land of martyrdom is not the lamps women would light in their houses but from the burning houses,” said Medha, who was held by the West Bengal police at Singur on Dec 2, 2006 when she reached to protest against the acquisition of farmland for the Tata Motors small car project.

“We have to appeal to the Red Cross for taking relief to Nandigram. The people there are facing brutality by the CPI-M,” she said.

As Medha flexed her resolve to stay back in Bengal and draw attention to the ongoing CPI-M invasion in Nandigram, she was supported by Kolkata’s seething intelligentsia.

“As a protest we are not going to the film festival this year. The festival is organised by the same government which is organising the Nandigram bloodbath,” acclaimed playwright Saoli Mitra told IANS.

Filmmaker Aparna Sen Thursday announced her decision of boycotting the film festival.

“Though the festival is dear to me I refuse to be a part of the festival in the backdrop of the Nandigram violence which is worse this time,” Aparna Sen said immediately after returning to Kolkata from Mumbai.

“This is a kind of self-censorship as we artistes are taking our own decision driven by our own conscience. With a person of Sen’s stature boycotting the festival, the message would be loud and clear,” playwright and film and serial actor Kaushik Sen said.

Launching a massive offensive against the Trinamul Congress-backed group BUPC, the CPI-M regained lost bases in Nandigram as their cadres, known as Harmat Bahini, entered village after village and torched houses belonging to the rival groups.

“Nandigram has turned into a war zone,” West Bengal Home Secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy had admitted Tuesday.

While the CPI-M maintains that peace is returning to Nandigram, the human rights activists and political opponents said a new reign of terror has been unleashed in Nandigram where media and social activists were not allowed to enter.

The death toll in Nandigram violence has risen to 32 since January when the region flared up over proposed land acquisition for a special economic zone (SEZ), including a chemical hub, a plan that was later scrapped by the state government in the face of stiff resistance.

Though the SEZ was scrapped, a turf battle continued in Nandigram between the CPI-M and the Trinamul Congress-supported BUPC in the run-up to the local body elections in May next year.

(Sujoy Dhar can be contacted at [email protected])