Report of ABVP team visit to Nandigram on 17-03-07
April 17, 2007
A nine member team from ABVP, West Bengal, visited the scene of the 14th March 2007 carnage at Nandigram on Saturday 17th March along with a NDA parliamentary delegation. The ABVP team comprised of State President Rabi Ranjan Sen, Vice President Arindam Mukherjee, Organizing Secretary Amitabha Chakraborty, Assistant Secretary Parul Mandal, Mahanagar Bibhag Pramukh Sanjay Das, Kolkata Mahanagar District Sanyojak Abhijit Biswas, Hugly Bibhag Pramukh Pratyush Mandal, Howrah Zilla Pramukh Atanu Ganguly, Kolkata unit treasurer Shyam Jaiswal. The delegation left Kolkata at 8am and reached Nandigram around 11am. On the way they were joined by ABVP Midnapore Bibhag Pramukh Shubhajit Roy and Midnapore District samiti member Bishwanath Das. After leaving Tamluk town, lines of flags of the CPI(M) in some areas signified areas which are under the control of the red party while places which were not under their control flew TMC and BJP flags. The tension was evident on the road after Tamluk as on both sides of the road people had lined up and were waving at and shouting slogans welcoming the NDA delegation, only at one place which was under CPI(M) control, the red party activists had gathered to boo the delegation.
Our first destination was Sonachura village in Nandigram block, which along with Gokulnagar village had born the brunt of the 14th March police and cadre joint operation. There we talked to local people who pointed out the bridge across which the police and cadre had attacked them. Contrary to the official reports, the local people claimed that 150 people were still missing and were among the likely dead though of course we had no means of independently verifying the figures.
The local people we spoke to in Sonachura, mostly women of all ages, were still terrified and they expressed their fear that they would again be attacked during night time. The fear was all the more because many of the males had been forced to leave the village for fear of reprisals. We heard that many of the men who had been in hiding outside have just returned emboldened by the visit of the NDA delegation and ABVP team in that area.
The local people claimed that before the operation, 60 truckloads of police had been brought in though they expressed their doubts that they were real policemen and claimed that many of them were just CPI(M) activists in police uniform. When asked why they thought so they said have you ever seen policemen in full police uniform but with chappals on their feet instead of shoes!
Talking about the carnage several eyewitnesses described how children of all ages ranging from a few months old to teenagers were murdered and dumped into the river and into spots near the culvert approaching Sonachuri which were later filled up with sand. Almost breaking out in tears they said that few month old babies were literally torn by their limbs and thrown into the culvert and how one child had his throat slit and was still alive and crying out when he was dumped. A woman in tears said her neighbours son Bagha Mondol (18) had his throat slit and was similarly dumped. We met a young boy of class nine named Utpal Giri who told us that his brother Swapan Giri was critically injured and admitted to SSKM Hospital in Kolkata. They did not know whether he would survive. Ashtami Pradhan (around 70 years) said that she was hit on the jaw and her teeth were broken. She said that after the `recapture` by the CPI(M) each family in the area were being asked to pay the party a `penalty` of Rs 5,000/-, Rs 3,000/- or Rs2000/- for opposing them, depending on the family`s ability and magnitude of opposition to the CPI(M).
Holding our hands, Ashtami Pradhan and some of the other women said that they were very poor and not able to pay the `penalty`. They also described how during the assault many young women while trying to flee were caught by their saris and blouses and disrobed by the pursuing `policemen`. All of them seemed set in their resolve to continue their opposition and demanded the hanging of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Haldia Development Authority (HDA) Chairman and local CPI(M) MP Lakshman Seth who they held as responsible for the carnage.
The team then visited Nandigram Block Hospital where many of the victims of the attack were being treated. It seemed around 45-50 of the victims were in this Hospital and many others had been removed to Tamluk Sadar Hospital (the district HQ) and SSKM Hospital in Kolkata. An injured woman, Tapasi Manna had been hit by a bullet in her chest.
Among the patients admitted we spoke to a young woman Lata Mondol from Gokulnagar village who corroborated an account we had heard from some villagers lined up outside the hospital, that a KG school in Gokulnagar village had been attacked by the police-cadre force. She said that though no firing had taken place inside the school, when the children rushed outside they were fired upon and many of them had been struck by bullets. Even lying on her hospital bed in a severely injured state, Lata Mondol expressed her desire to see Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Lakshman Seth hanged.
Another young woman patient in Nandigram Hospital, Kabita Das Adhikari from Gokulnagar village said that all six members of her family including her husband were missing (presumably among the dead whose bodies were surreptitiously disposed of). She was sitting up on the bed and crying but she didn’t know when she would be discharged because she said that her hut had been burnt down and with all the family members missing (or killed) she had no one to take her home. She said that she had an elder brother-in-law who did not live in that area and she hoped that maybe he would come and take her back from the hospital someday.
In Tamluk Hospital where the more severely injured patients had been removed and where Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi had visited the injured the day after the carnage, we spoke to, among others, two patients who had been raped during the operation, falsifying the statement of Left Front MPs who had stated in Parliament that no rape had taken place in the operation. Kajal Majhi from Kalicharanpur and Gauri Pradhan from Gokulnagar, both rape victims, were lying in the Hospital in a severely injured and traumatised condition. Gauri Pradhan, lying curled up on the bed with a vacant look in her eyes and a gamchha partially covering her face to hide her feeling of shame, was barely in a condition to talk.
Kajol Majhi, who is the mother of four children, said that she was chased by the `policemen` into a go-al ghar (cow shed) where she was raped and lost consciousness. When she regained consciousness it was late at night and she found herself being taken care of by a family who had found her in the cow shed and carried her indoors. The next day (Thursday) she had been admitted to Hospital. When asked by us whether it was the police who had raped her she said that they were dressed in police uniform but was not sure whether they were real police or CPI(M) activists dressed like that. Incidentally, the day after our visit and press statement about the NDA delegation and the ABVP team talking to the rape victims, The Telegraph (18/03/07) carried a news report stating that the Midnapore district administration was all set to lodge a formal case of rape, five days after the incident!
Among the severely injured patients with bullet injuries in Tamluk Hospital we spoke to Shankha Gor from Sonachura who had been shot in his head. Shyamali Manna of Garhchakraberia had been hit by a bullet in her leg. In her eyewitness account of the incident Shyamali Manna stated that a lot of school children had been shot at point blank range and thrown into the river.
Anubha Khanra from Sonachura had bullet injuries on her leg and she said that her husband who was critically injured had been admitted to SSKM Hospital in Kolkata after having been shot in his stomach.
Geetanjali Bijoli from Gokulnagar said that she had fallen down while she was running away from the goons and had been mercilessly hit on her head with a lathi.
Incidentally, at least till the time of writing this report five days after the massacre, none of the Left Front functionaries or ministers of the West Bengal government had bothered to visit either the scene of the massacre, or the Nandigram Block Hospital and Tamluk Sadar Hospital. Leave aside the CPI(M), even the Left Front junior partners supposedly horrified over the incident did not send anyone to visit the affected.
After talking to the affected villagers in Sonachura in Nandigram as well as the injured who had been admitted to the two hospitals, the ABVP team found that the villagers were at once afraid and terrified of Lakshman Seth`s reprisal on them but at the same time determined and stubborn in their attitude of not giving their land. The team saw with their own eyes that most of the bullet injuries were in the head, chest and stomach, thus proving false the contention of the state government that the police merely fired in self defence and not to kill. In fact corroborating the villagers’ accounts, the CBI interim findings as on 18/03/07 have clearly indicated the presence of ‘outsiders’ who took part in the so-called operation and have also ruled out the Left Front’s theory that the firing was just in self defence. Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s statement in Parliament based on inputs from the West Bengal government did not mention any presence of Maoists in the area, thus calling the bluff of the CPI(M) on this account too. The arrest of 10 CPI(M) activists along with 22 rifles and stockpiles of ammunition as well as police helmets too catches the state government on the backfoot as it had been repeatedly claiming that the ‘resisters’ had been stockpiling arms. Instead, it shows that it was the CPI(M) who had been stockpiling arms and ammunition and police uniforms.
We found that the villagers were mentally prepared to suffer even more but were resolute in their demand that Lakshman Seth and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should be hanged for their crimes. In fact, in all the three places that we visited, two statements kept ringing in our ears because almost everyone we met repeatedly told us the same thing. At every place we were told that young children and babies were torn from their limbs and buried in the sand or thrown into the river and secondly almost everyone we met kept repeating that they would not rest until Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Lakshman Seth were made to pay for their sins. After visiting Nandigram, the team got a first hand picture of the extent of the brutality of the CPI(M) activists/police under CPI(M) control, and of the ‘new and improved’ (unnototoro) Left Front Government in Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya`s self-declared ‘shantir morudyan’ (oasis of peace).