Nandigram (WB): Rukmini Mondal and Sikha, neighbours at a tiny hamlet here, have stopped seeing eye to eye ever since they joined rival political parties.
What had bound the two all these years was the grief that befell on them following the sexual abuse they faced during the anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram, and the never-ending wait for justice thereafter.
Political colours have changed in this part of Bengal in the past 14 years, but justice continues to elude the women, who are at the crossroads this time, having reposed faith on two opposing camps, with a hope that their demands would be met.
This obscure Nandigram village that had shaken the base of the mighty Left regime and propelled the TMC to power now stands divided between its “Didi and Dada”, as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has locked horns with her protg- turned-adversary and the face of farmers’ protest, Suvendu Adhikari, in the constituency – set to go to polls on April 1.
More than 42 people were killed, including 14 who died in the police firing on March 14, 2007, and over 40 women raped during the ten-month-long bloody battle in then-little- known agrarian town.
With battle lines having been redrawn in Nandigram, which stands polarised along political and communal lines, the survivors, despite all differences, are keenly waiting for justice to be served.
“Didi has given us everything — compensation, jobs and other benefits. But we have one regret that we didn’t get justice. We want to see perpetrators languishing behind bars,” Sikha told PTI.
Standing in front of a large cut-out of Banerjee, which also had the poll slogan ‘Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chai’ (Bengal wants its daughter) written on it, 42-year-old Sikha, during a street-corner meeting in Sonachura market, asked people to vote for the TMC and defeat the BJP and ‘Mir Jafar’ (traitor) Adhikari.
“Suvendu has not just betrayed the TMC but also the people of Nandigram. Some of the perpetrators of violence, who were then with the CPI(M), have now joined the BJP. But Suvendu has turned a blind eye to this, just for political reasons,” she said.
Echoing her demand for justice, Mondal, however, wondered why the TMC, despite being in power for ten years, could not do anything to ensure that the culprits get punished.
“Can jobs, money or doles compensate me for the honour I have lost? I want justice. I want to see them (perpetrators) in jail. I am hoping that if the BJP is voted to power, there will be fair play,” she said.
Showering praise on Adhikari, she said that it was the 50-year-old leader who stood by her, and many more like her through thick and thin.
The residents of the discrete village, where at least 30 women had to endure sexual abuse during the unrest, are, nonetheless, sceptical that this could just be another election, before which the parties make tall promises only to end up delivering nothing.
With the TMC supremo and her former lieutenant at each other’s throats, Nandigram, often referred to as the cradle of change in Bengal, is once again on the edge.
Many rape survivors, disenchanted with the TMC, are yearning for yet another change.
“People of Nandigram are not very happy with the TMC.
They also have grievances against Mamata di, as she hardly visited the constituency, which once catapulted her to power.
But there is also a section, which has a soft corner for Didi,” another survivor Rama Das said.
Mocking the TMC’s poll slogan ‘Bangla nijer meyekei chaye’ (Bengal wants its daughter) Shyamali Jana (name changed), another villager, said, “Have they spared a thought for the mothers ad daughters of Nandigram?”
Jutikha, whose sister-in-law was raped and their house set on fire, said the scars would not heal if the offenders are not taken to task.
“For 14 years, we were made to feel that we existed just one day in the year — March 14 (Nandigram Divas). The people of Bengal have forgotten the sacrifices we had made. We were treated as outcasts. Some of our husbands abandoned us.
We have to fend for ourselves,” Juthika said.
According to Mondal, “none of the senior police officers who opened fire on villagers has been punished”.
Many political leaders, who were responsible for the atrocities, have crossed over to the TMC or the BJP, she said.
According to a report published in 2015 by Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a nationwide network of women’s groups, several rape survivors, following the March 14, 2007 carnage, are fighting social stigmas as they still wait for compensation.
“The women who remained at the forefront of the heroic struggle against forcible land acquisition, despite all forms of atrocity, have today been absolutely edged out of the political space. They are in precarious health condition and have faced social stigma,” the report had stated.
Nisha Biswas of WSS said, “When we visited the place in 2015, we found that most of these women were being used for political purposes. They had no clue about the status of the cases. After we came out with the report, we were not allowed to enter Nandigram anymore.”
Ashwini Patra, a local TMC leader, said several cases are still sub-judice.
“Many culprits have fled the area. We hope the women get justice soon,” she stated.
According to Sheikh Sufiyan, the TMC’s Purba Medinipur Zilla Parishad deputy chairman, the ruling party has done its bit to take care of the victims and their families.
“At least one member of every victim’s family was given a job. The government also provided them with financial aid. We took care of the families in every possible way. Now, if someone wants to switch camp, it is up to them,” he said.
Banerjee and Adhikari — hailed heroes of the Nandigram movement – had marched side by side and led the protests in 2014 against the Left-backed SEZ project, which was to be undertaken by Indonesia’s Salim group.
The firm eventually dropped its idea of setting up a chemical hub in this Purba Medinipur town.
After Adhikari jumped the ship last December, several villages switched sides overnight.
Even as Sonachura, Haripur, Khejuri, Brindaban Chak, Daudpur and Tekhali continue to remain TMC bastions, places like as Gokulpur, Gokulnagar, Gopimohanpur, Adhikaripari, Heria have turned into Adhikari strongholds.
Local BJP leadership, on its part, promised that it would ensure justice for all “martrys” and rape survivors, no matter what the political colour, if voted to power in Bengal.
“We would see to it that everyone gets justice. The TMC has used victims for political reasons. That won’t happen again,” Nabarun Nayak, the saffron party’s Tamluk district unit president, said.
(Names of rape survivors have been changed)