Sunday, April 1, 2007

Preliminary report by the All India independent fact finding team on Nandigram Massacre

Preliminary report by the All India independent fact finding team on Nandigram Massacre

The ghastly massacre at Nandigram came to be known to us through phone calls from West Bengal on March 14th around noon. The firing was on and we were told that tens had died and hundreds lied wounded. Some of us sent faxes and emails to the Prime Minister of India, Sonia Gandhiji, Pronab Mukherjee, Shivraj Patil and informed some others including the Governor of West Bengal. We also sent a letter to the Hon’ble Chief Justice, Kolkata High Court and same was accepted as a PIL by the High Court. The stories of brutality and continued state sponsored terror in Nandigram kept arriving.

We then gathered from different parts of India in Kolkata, after hearing about this barbaric incident and rushed to the affected area. With knowledge of the background of the struggle and conflict between the State and CPI (M) on one hand and the people – farmers, fish workers, labourers, artisans and others, we proceeded with senior activitists from Bengal and reached out to maximum number of people in the fields and in hospitals. We tried to collect first hand information, whatever available to apprehend exactly what had happened on the 14th of March 2007 and thereafter in Nandigram. The members of the team include:

  • Medha Patkar(NBA & National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements)
  • D. Thankappan (New Trade Union Initiative)
  • Dr. B. D. Sharma ( Bharat Jan Andolan)
  • Tridib Ghosh (People’s Democratic Front of India, Ranchi, Jharkhand)
  • G N Saibaba (Preparatory Committee for the Formation of Anti Displacement Front, Ranchi Conference)
  • Arun Khote (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights)
  • Rakesh Rafiq (Juba Bharat)
  • Ram Dhiraj (Azadi Bachao Andolan)
  • Sreemant (Kalinga Nagar Movement)
  • Mehr Engineer (Scientist and Academician)

The team visited various villages in the Nandigram area and PG hospital Kolkata, Nandigram and Tamluk (district) hospitals. The team also met the District Magistrate and Collector of East Midnapur district and talked to various political and people’s organizations. The team has conducted elaborate interviews with the villagers in the affected area and also talked to the victims and their relatives.

Some of the members of the team investigated into the January incidence in Nandigram and so the team is aware of a number of issues involved in the present situation.

When the team visited the various hamlets of Gokulnagar village Pachayat including Adhikaripara; Sonachura including Bhangabera; Maheshpur and Hazarakanta, a number of facts relating to the incident have come out.
1. The people, majority of them women, informed us of the incidence that occurred in Gokulnagar and Sonachura with total unanimity. They said that they were receiving threats of attacks from the CPI (M) leaders and cadres since days. The attack was supposed to be immediately after the school exams but it was preponed.

2. We were also told that Secretary, Home Affairs, Mr. P. R. Roy had categorically stated publicly that the Government would forcibly enter and establish the rule of law in Nandigram. A similar statement came from I.G., law and order. The likelihood of state repression was therefore known to the people all over the state of West Bengal at least 2 days before the incident. There were some protests in Nandigram.

3. The police entered from Khejuri and Tekhali villages, the known bases of CPI (M) into the villages Sonachura and Gokulnagar respectively. The police entered the area from 3 entry points which are Garchakraberia, Bhangabera and 7th ward of Jalpai village. In both the places the people were conducting Pooja (worship) or reading Quran alternatively at that time when the police entered the villages. They were worshipping Mahaprabhu Gourangadev by placing his statue of sage who was a social reformer. Apparently they were protesting the announced entry of the police but also peacefully involved in religious activities believing that they would be protected by God. At both the places the women and children were in the forefront. They expressed that they placed women and children in the front expecting that police would not attack them. The nature of protest shows us clearly that it was peaceful and there was no possibility of any untoward incident happening. There was no need for police firing on the people who had gathered in these two places.

4. The women waved their hands and shouted that they should not be attacked upon and also appealed to the police that they were only conducting Pooja and Police should not interfere or enter the villages.

5. Without giving any time to the people the police started firing the tear gas shells and rubber bullets. As per the report of the people the entire area was covered with smoke. Within 10 minutes, even before the people could realise what was happening, the police started firing bullets mostly above the waistline. The women were specially targeted including those who were trying to flee away. At both the places there was stampede and chaos. At Bhangabera, the police chased the villagers firing from the back for two kilometres into Sonachura village.

6. Apart from the initial firing and killing of the people, the police continued firing in the villages for the next 24 hours by cordoning off the villages to prevent entry of outsiders including the press. There was large scale looting, burning of the village houses and property and raping as reported by the local people. The police and cadres of CPI (M) entered various houses, mercilessly beat and dragged people out and raped and molested the women inside.

7. The local press reports make it very clear that the state Government and East Midnapore district police administration were well prepared for the attack on the villagers which was corroborated by the people’s narration. For example, the East Midnapore police administration requested for 40,000 rounds of ammunition and 40 ambulances from the state administration a few days before the incident. This clearly shows that the whole attack on the villagers was well-planned one whereas the people were totally unprepared for this brutality.

8. According to the oral narrations of the villagers, the police resorted to firing while the CPI (M) cadres were directing them closely. The CPI (M), mostly mobilized from outside these villages were in khaki uniforms but wearing chappals. The women in Adhikaripara in Gokulnagar clearly told us that the uniforms didn’t fit them mostly and they wore Red tags in their wrists. The villagers referred to these khaki clad non-police personnel as cadre Vahini or Harmad Vahini. This Vahini was also named as Laxman Sena indicating that this was a mercenary force specially prepared by the local MP of CPI (M) who led the police and CPI (M) cadres in person on that day. The people in the villages namely Sonachura, Tekhali Bazaar, Gokulnagar Panchayat reported us that this ‘Harmad Vahini’ entered their villages in hundreds from the Khejuri side. These cadres fired indiscriminately from local made and imported weapons and the hospital authorities confirmed injury marks of bullets other than those used by the police have been found on the victims. The people told us that this Harmad Vahini is notorious for its acts of murder and making the dead bodies disappear.

9. The people of Sonachura village reported that about 35 children who were studying in a Ramakrishna Saral Kindergarten Vidyalaya are still missing. Their whereabouts are not known. There are cases of missing children from other villages too. The parents naturally are very worried and apprehend that they were killed and their bodies have been abducted. The villagers reported that these ‘Harmad Vahini’ not only kills but also abducts the dead bodies in a routine manner. They also told us that the school uniforms of 2 children were found in the bushes nearby. Incident of the children being killed and torn apart by pulling aside their 2 legs were also reported.

10. The villagers of the Sonachura repeated time and again with anguish that many dead bodies of the people killed by the firing were buried by the police with the help of CPI (M) cadres in the trenches dug by the villagers earlier to restrict entry of outsiders into the villages. If this report is to be believed, the authorities should immediately arrange for digging of the filled in trenches to verify this claim. The villagers also reported that some dead bodies were carried away in a truck.

11. The other very brutal aspect was while the villagers were trying to nurse the wounded, they were severely beaten by the police and also ambulances were prevented in rescue operation.

12. The still continuing presence of police in the area is a matter of great concern to the villagers because the police was providing protection and support to the CPI (M) goons. The current situation is also preventing the children to go to the schools and the women from going to the market. All the schools in that area are closed as of now. The police continue to invade the village houses from time to time.

13. In Sonachura, it was during our presence that the information of three persons being kidnapped reached the villagers and the youths from the families of the victims became furious screaming and abusing police. They were pacified by the other villagers and our team members.

14. We were reported by women in Gokulnagar that the police were trying to make vulgar gestures on March 16th when the women had to run away to save themselves from any untoward incidence.

15. Women, raped and molested, were interviewed by us in the hospitals who have faced physical injury and mental shock but with no lady doctor or counsellors to take care of. The investigation to establish rape was also not completed.

16. A number of wounded persons, children to the aged and a large number were still lying in the villages unable to reach the hospitals and were being threatened by the CPI (M) attacks from the adjacent areas.

17. The people expressed their helplessness not being able to file FIRs, many being illiterate and outside supporters were not yet been able to reach them, especially due to CPI(M) protests and blockades.

18. Hundreds of families especially labourers, informed us that they were without any income over days while others complained of not being permitted to visit Tekhali Market by CPI M) goons. Many families could not cook and eat two meals over last two days, while they could not have peaceful sleep over weeks.

19. The people invariably, especially the women screaming in pain and anguish were emphatic in their expression and demand that Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya as C.M. and Home Minister should be held responsible and guilty and should be punished for cold-blooded murder of women and children. They even demanded that capital punishment be given to the guilty when a poor person like Dhananjay faced the same for a rape and murder.

20. With many families having faced death and devastation and all the communities in the area shattered, the people are still unanimous with their resolve that they will not allow their land and resources to be taken over. Even with the Left Front’s decision reaching them, the people feel suspicious of the state’s plans and were determined to continue the struggle with unity and no divisions within.

Our demands:

1. A Judicial Enquiry with a sitting Supreme Court Judge into the whole incidence of firing and associated atrocities on the people of the villages of Nandigram. Punish all the culprits who are directly or indirectly responsible for this barbaric act.

2. Immediate investigation into the missing cases of people from each of the affected village of this area, if necessary with a household survey by an independent agency. Digging up of the trenches where people suspect that the dead bodies have been buried near the canal of Bhangabera.

3. Immediate withdrawal of the police force not in phases and restrict the CPI (M) from any kind of protest, repression and attack.

4. A formal and official announcement with written notification of the withdrawal of the proposal of the Nandigram SEZ, Chemical Hub allotted to the developer Salim group of Indonesia.

5. Withdrawal of all the proposals of SEZs across India along with the very SEZ ACT.

6. Constitution of the concerned citizens’ committee with prominent democrats to start a process of establishing normalcy in the affected areas of Nandigram.

7. Adequate compensation package for the victims and proper treatment for the injured after shifting them to Kolkata hospitals so that they get sufficient care and medical facility.

8. The medical case profiles of the victims should be protected and deposited immediately with an independent and neutral agency.

Meeting with Mr Anup Kumar Agarwal, East Midnapore District Magistrate and Collector on 17th March 2007, between 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm.

After visiting various villages and hospitals the All India Fact Finding team members met the District Magistrate at his office and presented some of the concerns expressed by the villagers. The team expressed their shock over the unprecedented and unheard of police atrocities on the villagers of Nandigram including large number of women and children. The reign of terror prevailing in the area was a continuing threat to peace to the area. The team expressed that the villagers were concerned about the large number of children missing from 14th March and continued attacks on women and their homes by the uniformed personnel, harassment of the villagers including the women being prevented from going to market and children to schools and the situation must be addressed by the administration precisely to bring back normalcy.

On the pointed questions relating to the incident of 14th March, the collector refused to talk on the same on the plea that the matter was under investigation by the CBI under High Court’s direction. He expressed to the team that he had no information on missing children, nor any attack on women and told that no such police complain has been reported. The team members pointed out to him that the continued presence of police camps in the area creates constant fear to the villagers from reporting the incidents to the police. The team pointed out to him that the appalling conditions of the injured persons admitted in the Nandigram hospital, inadequate facilities in the hospital need urgent transfer of patients numbering around 20 to Kolkata hospitals. It was reported that due to the inadequacy of ambulance facilities the transfer of the injured to the city hospitals was not being done. When the team members enquired with him why the request of inspecting the dead bodies in the mortuary were being denied to the relatives and even to the elected representatives, he replied quickly that if the question was related to Ms. Mamta Banerjee’s visit to the hospital on 14th midnight, then at that night the mortuary didn’t have any lighting and hence was closed to visitors.

Subsequently the team members enquired further that the manner in which the District Magistrate’s casual replies showed that this was just to avoid the real question. The team members found out from other sources that the excuse given that night was that the key of the mortuary was missing. As a matter of fact both these reasons were simply lame excuses to hide the reality. When the team members appealed to him for the immediate withdrawal of police forces from the Nandigram area, he said that it would be reviewed later. No specific commitment was given on the question of police withdrawal and timeline. The District Magistrate gave an impression that he had no role to play in it. He however said that he would look into the matter of shifting the patients to the city hospitals. The impression of the team members on the responses of the District Magistrate to various issues raised by the team undoubtedly were of a casual nature and not responsive for an official with authority.

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