Mass Convention of April 18 and Ongoing Struggle at Nonadanga – A Report

April 19, 2012

By Sudipto Muhuri. Photo credits: Purba Rudra.

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April 18, 2012

The underbelly of our urban landscapes is always dark amidst the halo of its exterior. The glitter and glitz of the main roads tapers off by the time one reaches the lanes and bylanes, which get narrower, till the pitch roads gives way to the dirt roads. This is where the dispossessed live. Huddled away from the eyes of a small minority of the “happening and shining people” of the neo-liberal era (even while the poor are squeezed dry by the very same people), lie their ramshackle settlements. Nonadanga is no exception.

One meal a day was the order of the day for Shanti Mondal even before her dwelling was bulldozed on the 30th march. Her dwelling was among the 200 such hutments which were demolished and burnt stock and barrel. Yet what has been exceptional and remarkable about the people of Nonadanga is their indomitable spirit amidst all odds, in face of this eviction and demolition drive by the government. Even as their dwellings stand in ruin, their resolve to fight back, to recover back what they lost in these last couple of weeks, remains unshaken. The demands are pretty straight forward – Reconstruction of the demolished dwellings and withdrawal of cases against their comrades in arm; the seven activists who were arrested on the 8th of April.

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Above: Rajkumar, day 8 of hunger strike

Today was the 8th day of the hunger strike. While Anwar Mondal had to be admitted in CMC hospital in serious condition after all these days of this hunger strike, the others – Rajkumar Naskar, Amitava Bhattacharya, Lakhidhar Haldar, Sanjay Sarkar and Bidhu Bhusan Naskar have persisted. It has taken a toll on their health- the eyes were red, the bodies looked frail and yet their words echoed one of determined resolve, to battle it out till the end.

The place was abuzz with hectic activity as people prepared for the convention which was to begin at 4 pm today. The sight of demolished housing was a constant reminder of the kind of brutality the state is capable of unleashing on its people. The empty and hoax promises of Ma-Mati-Manush sarkar had turned on the people to bury them in the very Mati (soil) that it promised. That seething anger and rage was palpable. Yet that rage has also meant the budding solidarity – among the people here and the people who joined- writers, poets, students – some of whom have even come from far of places like Bankura. They were also preparing and serving food in the community kitchen that has started here. Today there was meal prepared for more than two hundred people.

By the time the convention started, it must have been about 4:30 pm. Nitish Ray, singer and activist from Nabadwip sang about how in these megacities poor are being exploited and sidelined. Dipankar Chakraborty of APDR spoke about the startling similarities of the turn of events leading up to the struggle in Singur with that of Nonadanga. While the gory end of Tapasi Mallick exposed the face of State terror of the Buddhadeb led CPM government during the Singur agitation, here in the case of Nonadanga there was the beating up of a pregnant woman by the police forces which exposed the face of the Mamata-led TMC government.

Nonadanga might well be that fi rst spark and the fi rst solid resistance of people against the might of the State, just like the Singur struggle was in yesteryears. Even while Singur was the precursor to massive movements of Nandigram and Lalgarh that followed it, there is a feeling in the air that something similar is unfolding among the people, only this time it is the urban poor.

Malavika Das, one of the residents whose dwelling has been demolished, recounted the immense pain and agony of seeing her dwelling being razed by the bullldozers. She wondered how the people in power behaved arrogantly with the downtrodden, using the brute force of the police on one hand and the party hired goons on the other. She urged for solidarity among the people in this struggle.

Amit Dasgupta of Gano Sanskriti pointed out how the right to proper shelter and housing was a non-negotiable right of every citizen in this country.

Purna Mondal, another resident of Nonadanga, wondered how the very same politicians who came begging for their votes were not the least bothered about their plight. He ridiculed the idea of turning Calcutta into London and wondered what kind of people would live in such a city which steamrolled over manush.

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Above: Purna: ” There is no place
for the poor in didi’s London”

Poet Saswati Lahiri recited a hope-inspiring poem even as she pointed out how a section of the inteligensia in the city has been silenced and in a way trapped by the being provided various forms of sops and rewards by the government of the day. Biswajit Haldar, a veteran of the Anti-eviction committee, vehemently urged for the broad solidarity of the people living in various di fferent slums in the city. He also shared the success of the resistance movement of slum dwellers in Dum Dum area who have so far sucessfully resisted the takeover of their land by the Kolkata Metro.

Meanwhile people of Nonadanga were enthused in getting to know about the press conference of fellow activist Partho Sarathi Ray, were he reaffirmed his commitment with this struggle in no uncertain terms.

Inspite of the eight days of hunger strike, Amitava Bhattacharya of MKP and convener of Ucched Pratirodh Committee spoke passionately about the need for unity among the slum dwellers in the wake of the repeated attempts by the government to divide the people and pitting one against the other. He explained how, by selectively distinguishing various slum dwellers based on the number of years of their residence, and making empty promises to one set of people, a shrewd ploy was in reality afoot to evict slum dwellers and hand over land to the real estate developers. He pointed out the fact that many of the people in Nonadanga have lost their jobs as a direct consequence of the current eviction drive by the State. He described how the State in its current avatar dared to play with the lives and livelihood of people only because these are very people who starve and live on less than twenty rupees a day and the government thinks this majority of (77 percent of the Indian population) hungry people are powerless.

He ridiculed and mocked the fact that the people who stole from the poor were legal residents, living in the skyscrapers, while the toiling mass of the poor on whose labour this city has been built have been declared illegal and are being evicted. He warned the government to stop playing with the lives of the poor because it might well be the fire of anger of the people which will gobble up the government. He also sharply criticized the State and the judicial system in context of the granting of bail to the arrested activists,

While Partho Sarathi Ray was provided bail, the other six activists were denied bail although all of them were arrested exactly under similar situations and under similar conditions. He also mentioned about approaching the High Court regarding the bail plea for the six other activists who are still languishing in police or judicial custody.

Finally after a few more speeches by people of other organizations the convention concluded with a screening of a very recent documentary film on Nonadanga which also draws parallel with the previous eviction drives of the erstwhile CPM led government. More than 700 people attended today’s meeting.

While the night fell, the spirit of people of Nonadanga remained wide awake. There was also this increasing realization among them that they are on the cusp of a defi ning moment in the history of people’s resistance, where they are standing in the forefront, representing and fighting this battle not just for themselves but for the larger mass of people – the urban dispossesed who are being assaulted and attacked by the current onslaught of neo liberal forces. What the future holds, only time will decide but surely if they win this battle, it will be the springboard for other urban based people’s movements fi ghting against the ruling neo-liberal dispensation.

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