Saturday, March 17, 2007

'Nandigram was more shocking than Jallianwala Bagh'

KOLKATA: Returning the highest literary awards bestowed on them by the West Bengal government, eminent Left historian couple Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar on Saturday said Nandigram was more shocking than the Jallianwala Bagh massacre because it happened in a Left-ruled state.

"Jallianwala massacre happened in colonial India but what happened in Nandigram is shocking since it happened in a Left-ruled government in independent India," said Sumit and Tanika Sarkar in an interview.

"Jallianwala Bagh was the outcome of one single man's action (General Dyer ordered the firing on hundreds of people on April 13, 1919) but here the entire CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) machinery and the government were involved in the killings," they said.

"What happened in Gujarat in 2002 did not amaze us as much because it was a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government but in a Left-ruled state this is astounding," Tanika Sarkar said.

The couple returned their Rabindra Puraskars - the highest honorary literary award given in West Bengal - to register their protest over the killings of 14 people in police firing at Nandigram and decided to donate the award money to the Nandigram Relief Fund.

"I received Rs.50,000 in 2004 and Sumit received Rs.25,000 in 1998. We are giving away the money to Nandigram Relief Fund," she said.

"We are shattered. All this has happened and there is not a word of shame or apology from the CPI-M central committee or state committee," she said.

Sumit Sarkar, former professor of history at Delhi University, is a prominent Indian social historian who in his "Writing Social History" sought to combine an empirical study of themes in late-colonial Indian history with an intervention in current debates about the extent and nature of Western colonial domination. Tanika Sarkar's work focuses on the intersections of religion, gender, and politics in both colonial and postcolonial South Asia, in particular on women and the Hindu Right.

"What happened inside Nandigram that day (March 14) no one knows," said the Sarkar couple who were distressed since the controversy in Singur over takeover of farmland for industry broke out.

"As a lifelong Leftist, I was deeply shocked by recent events in the countryside of West Bengal. On Dec 31, a group of us went to Singur, spent the whole day there, visited four out of five most affected villages and three things became very clear, because of which the West Bengal government's version cannot be accepted," said Sumit Sarkar.

"One, the land, far from being infertile or mono-cropped, as has been stated repeatedly, is extremely fertile and multi-cropped. Two, there is no doubt that the vast bulk of the villagers we met are opposed to the take-over of land and most are refusing compensation. Three, we found much evidence of force being employed, particularly on the nights of Sep 25 and Dec 2 last year," he said.

"The West Bengal government seems determined to follow a particular path of development involving major concessions both to big capitalists like the Tatas and multinationals operating in SEZs (special economic zones). Yet the strange thing is that these, particularly the latter, are things which Left parties and groups as well as many others have been repeatedly and vehemently opposing," he said.

"Is this SEZ model that implies massive displacement and distress really the only way? If the West Bengal government thinks so, then it also has to accept that the inevitable consequences are going to be a repetition of Nandigram across the state," Sarkar said.

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