A team of WSS, WB comprising of Anuradha Talwar, Nisha Biswas, Rama Debnath, Rangta Munshi, Saswati Ghosh, Sharmistha Choudhury and Swapna Banerjee visited Nandigram on March 10, 2015 to study the condition of the women of Nandigram who had been at the forefront of the heroic struggle against land acquisition back in 2007-2009.
What we saw saddened and disturbed us for a number of reasons, the foremost being the fact that these women, who had once been powerful leaders of a historic mass movement, are today not only distressed but disempowered as well. We tried to assess the present condition of the women of Nandigram and here is what we learned:
THE FACTS GLEANED
Status of legal cases
Nobody was able to give any concrete information on the status of the cases filed by the rape survivors. It is not certain that cases of rape were filed at all. A total of 362 cases – including 9 murder cases – against more than 4000 persons involved in the Nandigram Movement were registered in 2007-2009. 160 minor cases have been withdrawn so far. The court has not allowed withdrawal of some of the cases that the government wanted to withdraw. According to BUPC leaders, chargesheets have been filed in almost all the cases, though trial is yet to begin. However, we were unable to ascertain the exact status of the cases.
– All 159 injured on March 14, 2007 have received compensation of Rs 1 Lakh as per High Court order.
– Only 3 out of 16 rape survivors have received compensation of Rs 2 lakh.
– In December 2013 CBI instituted cases against more than 30 men and women – including women who were severely injured and/or raped like Radharani Aari, Kajal Majhi, Gouri Pradhan, etc. – on charges of attacking the police and inciting violence.
– BUPC sought dismissal of above cases in HC, but was denied by the Single Bench. Now appeal is lying before the Division Bench of HC.
– CBI also sought Govt. permission to initiate criminal proceedings against some Police Officials.
– Govt. is yet to respond on the above.
It appears that the CID was in charge of the cases at some point. According to BUPC leaders, the subsequent intervention of the CBI threw everything in disarray due to confusion regarding the respective domains of responsibility. What is beyond doubt, however, that all this has resulted in justice being denied to the victims.
Status of some women of struggle
Tapasi Das (38 yrs)
· Bullet injured her uterus, causing permanent gynecological and neurological problems.
· Remains in persistent pain and is confined to bed most of the time.
· Difficulty in walking, severe limp.
· Gets meagre Rs 1500 per month from local MP for treatment. This amount, however, is not even sufficient to cover the travel expenses she has to incur to continue with her treatment.
· Husband got a temporary job in Metro Rail.
Radha Rani Ari (45Yrs)
· Gangraped twice.
· Not received compensation. Rumour is some imposter made away with her compensation.
· Suffers severe social stigma, husband too accuses her.
· Rape accused are out on bail and are back in the locality.
· Gets meagre Rs1500 per month from local MP.
· One son got a temporary job in Metro Rail.
Angur Das (40yrs)
· Raped on 14th March along with her daughters Kabita (married with 2 kids) and Ganga (then unmarried)
· No compensation
· 3 sons work in a carpet factory in UP.
· Husband works in small patch of own land.
· Heavily depressed. Ganga is now married but is facing problems at in-laws’ for non-payment of agreed dowry.
Kabita Das (22yrs)
· Daughter of Angur Das.
· Not allowed to return to marital home after rape incident.
· Lives with mother. Husband visits occasionally.
Srabanti Das Adhikari (35yrs)
· Received compensation of Rs 2 Lakh as per HC order
· Works as cook in ICDS
· Unwilling to talk, ‘I am fine, have to stay here.’
· Women like Tapasi Das, Radharani Aari and others, who had become the face of the Nandigram Movement, who had suffered rape, bullet wounds and state terror but had remained at the forefront of the heroic struggle against forcible land acquisition, who had subsequently been instrumental in unseating the then Left Front government from power, have today been absolutely edged out of the political space. They are neither called to Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) meetings, nor invited to Martyrs’ Day observations, nor given the recognition they deserve.
· Radharani Aari recalls how, in the run-up to the Bidhan Sabha election of 2011, she was much sought after by the present ruling party. She would be taken on political campaigns all across the country and made to describe the barbaric sexual torture that was inflicted on her. “My body was like a property that would get the votes,” she says. Now, with that party firmly in power, she has been carelessly abandoned, left to fend for herself. “I often contemplate suicide,” she says.
· The women have been silenced by the brute force of male domination. All the rape accused, like Badal Garu, Kalia Garu, Rabin Das, etc., have returned to their homes – after months of exile to escape public wrath – and this ‘rehabilitation’ has taken place after negotiation with the BUPC (male) leadership. Radharani Aari and the other women allege that the BUPC leaders took hefty sums of money from the rapists in exchange of granting them permission to return home. None of the raped women was consulted in the process. Now with the rapists at large, and often inhabiting adjacent houses, these women live in constant fear. BUPC leaders tell them, “What’s your problem?” Their problem is that justice has not been done, and it does not seem like that it will.
· Very few of the women who were raped, injured or otherwise tortured in the course of their valiant role in the Nandigram Movement have been rewarded by the government. In most of the cases, the husband or the son has been provided some kind of a job by the new government, in lieu of the woman’s sacrifice. The woman, however, has received virtually nothing. For example, the son of Radharani Aari – who was gang raped twice in 2007-2008 – has been given a job by the new government, and leaders now tell her, “What else do you want?”
· The women are in precarious health. Tapasi Das, whose thigh was almost sawed off and uterus hit when the police opened fire on unarmed women and children on March 14, 2007, lives in perpetual pain. There is nobody to oversee her medical treatment or ensure that she gets it. Radharani Aari and other women who were raped by hoodlums of the then ruling party are victims of severe trauma. They are all in need of medical attention, which is absent.
· A grand hospital built in memory of the martyrs of Nandigram stands amidst sprawling acres, the picture of grim dereliction and waste. The caretaker said that a doctor visits once or twice a month, but even that thin story did not ring true. It is indeed an irony that with so many women in desperate need of medical attention, a hospital in the very middle of Nandigram should be allowed to go to seed.
· These women, who were once leaders of one of the most famous mass movements of recent times, are now confined to their homes and subject to all kinds of patriarchal oppression. They cannot marry off their daughters without paying massive dowries as if to ‘compensate’ for the ‘stigma’ of rape. Some of the daughters have been thrown out of their marital homes as ‘punishment’. Even neighbours have now taken to pointing fingers at the rape survivors. This social chastisement, in conjunction with crippling poverty, has broken their hearts.
These are the findings of our first visit to Nandigram. We hope to follow this up with more visits in the future and stand firmly by the women in their fight for justice.