The Nonadanga Movement – An Analysis

May 17, 2012


Published by Parag, on behalf of Krantikari Naujawan Sabha (KNS)

From the filth and dirt of the cities of the present, emerges a shriek of revolt. Liberal society based on inequality squirms, and tries desperately to contain it and dole out relief. The people asserting their power and dignity of labour persist with the question—who controls access to urban resources and who dictates the quality and organization of daily life? Is it the financiers and developers, or the people?

Nonadanga, in the eastern fringes of Kolkata in West Bengal, has brought this question again starkly to the foreground which is being posed everywhere. In this area lie several slums with thousands of households, housing a population with few belongings and only their capacity to labour and dignity in hand. The bulldozers of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) with brute Police force burnt and razed the houses in Mazdoor Pally and Shramik Colony to the ground on 30 March 2012 in the name of ’emptying the land’. This prime land including water bodies in and around Nonadanga of 80 acres is to be handed over to developers of ‘star/budget hotels, shopping malls, multiplexes, restaurants, serviced apartments, recreational facilities’. If the 80 acre project materializes, another 1000 odd houses are in line to be demolished. The legal and parliamentary channels had already been close to exhausted before this round of evictions. Peaceful marches by residents under the banner of the local autonomous Ucched Pratirodh Committee (Resistance-to-Eviction Committee) on 1 and 4 April, sit-in demonstration on 8 April and many agitations were organized, appeals were made. The government responded with allusions of Nonadanga being a place where ‘outsiders are inciting’ and ‘stockpiling arms and ammunitions’.

Kolkata Police resorted to brutal lathicharge on a protest rally on 4 April, and many suffered severe injuries including children and pregnant women. On 8 April the committee decided to go for a road-side sit-in-demonstration and police was intimated accordingly. But within an hour police force mobilised and picked up 69 residents and activists. Later 62 among them were released but seven activists continue to languish under many charges ranging from ‘assaulting public servant in the execution of his duty’ to ‘anti-national activities’ (5 of them were released on bail after about two weeks imprisonment). Then continued a series of mass protests and subsequent arrests, along with which we witnessed attack on APDR rally by TMC goons. On 28 April, after the confrontation of residents with police over the blocking of the entry-exit points with a boundary wall by the KMDA, 11 residents including 5 women were arrested and slapped with a host of cases, and were put into police custody (on 3 May, only after payment of bailbonds of Rs. 5000 each, all of whom are daily wage earners, they were granted bail). The threat of further repression through legal and illegal channels looms large.

Who are the residents of Nonadanga?

An area meant for rehabilitation for evictees from various canal banks and slums across Kolkata, Nonadanga is crowded with single roomed flats of 160 sq ft, which were distributed to these evictees with many anomalies. The ‘rehabilitation’ did not contain schools, health centers or markets. Later more and more evicted and forcedly migrated people from the crisis in the rural areas, a majority from Sunderbans after Aila, started to come here and build their homes as they thought that the land stipulated for rehabilitation would be the last one where jaws of eviction could reach. Having been pushed here thus, the people of Nonadanga are employed in various small-scale industries, in petty production and many are unemployed workers. Some in the garment industry, some in the ‘Kasba Industrial Estate’ nearby, some in other small factories of the subcontractors of big industrial houses. A large number of people work as construction workers and contract workers in various places. Many are auto-drivers, rickshaw-pullers, van-pullers, drivers of personal or official cars. Many people are self-employed in small roadside shops of food, tailoring, mobile-recharge, grocery and majority of women are employed as domestic-helps. The question of living wages in such a situation is one of the most important. Linked to that, the quality of living condition is horrible to say the least and the struggle to reproduce everyday life is rife with insecurity. Struggle over shelter and rent, added with worries over water and sanitation constantly plague the people. These insecurities also play out into internal divisions over the struggle for scant resources.

As in each and every urban concentration across India, they bear with them the marks of the violent process of development both in the rural and urban areas. And this pain and their function in the chain of capitalist production is their strength and power. In the villages, they have seen their debts with the landed elite and prices of agricultural inputs soar, the pesticides ruin the nutrition of their soil, even caste related atrocities jump in number, and have been thrown out unceremoniously as companies pounce on their resources. They bear with them the crisis in the urban areas where huge ‘industrial model towns’ have no mention of workers housing even in the grand ‘master plans’, where workers are being pushed daily into selling the endless days and nights of labour even cheaper. With no proper housing, they are pushed into residing in rented dormitories and slums where the state has willfully withdrawn from all its responsibilities. The working classes are thus ‘legally’ handed over to networks of the local elites and goons (who are hand in glove with the local police, the company owners in the nearby industrial estates, the political party in power or parliamentary opposition) who impose exorbitant rent and user charges on any service that is provided. All this comes under the rubric of ‘illegality’, and the pitching of the people as encroachers. To manage this, the system also has in place several welfare programs and NGOs who act as middlemen, ‘service providers’, ‘consultancy groups’ to delink the struggle in the rural and the urban, the factory/workplace and the household, and push the struggle only into litigation and as a question of lack of rule of law. Integrated in the global networks of capital, cheap labour has to be ensured for the ruling class by constant regulation—by the force of law, by the police and by the ameliorative benevolence of the NGOs.

Exposing the present model of ‘development’

There is nothing surprising about eviction and repression as everywhere in India, and across the world, cities are restructured to suit the needs of capital accumulation, as the attack of neoliberal capital intensifies. In the resistance in Nonadanga is seen an active process of exposing the linkage between exploitation and state repression—both of which define the fabric of ‘normalcy’ and ‘development’. The residents of Nonadanga formed an independent organization without links to the Trinamool or CPI(M) or any of the standard vote-shops, and asserted their power without relying on the NGOs either. This has been possible, even in the face of their weak economic condition and other insecurities, because of their will and the presence of struggling left revolutionary forces from much before this present agitation started—who are working in coordination during the struggle. Even after all the houses were demolished, the residents refused to budge from the site, put up shelters, ran a community kitchen, and are confronting the might of the police everyday with their bare hands and indomitable will. Since 11 April, 10 comrades under this Ucched Pratirodh Committee persisted with a fast-unto-death in the site for 12 days with undeterred support of the entire slum, and beyond. Fighting the might of the developers and the state, they have reconstructed almost all the burnt and demolished houses, and are preparing to face further assaults from the government, like the boundary wall being constructed by the KMDA and constant threat of further violence by the police, and TMC goons. A local school here, during the present agitation, has been turned into a police camp. However, even in the face of this, some initiatives in education, ecology, health camps are stirring to imagine a different vision of development, even as the state is sought to be held responsible and answerable to their demands. The built makeshift houses stand for now, but so do the demands for proper housing.

The residents continue to demand unconditional dropping of charges against the arrested activists and residents. That without ‘organisational prejudice’, 7 activists of various mass organisations were arrested on 8 April, and then again 11 residents of the area were arrested on 28 April, shows that whoever raises a voice against the developmental terrorism of capital, without exception, will be crushed. The illusions of justice by the government, police, administration, and judiciary are daily breaking, coming face to face with them in the arena of struggle. The TMC and CPI(M) of the Singurs and Rajarhats have been exposed as lapdogs of the land sharks and company mafia. The state has been forced into retreat after confrontation—the government has been forced to grant bail to the 7 arrested activists (though 2 of them are still in jail) and the 11 residents, and make promises (albeit temporary) not to go into further evictions. The solidarity campaign by revolutionary left forces and mass organizations in different places also got energized into thinking, debating and linking the ongoing struggles against similar processes in own specific locations. In cases of local resistance, not only did the general process of capitalist restructuring of cities and resistance as the only way to confront it come up again, but thinking around questions of forms of resistance and organization within the struggle are also showing itself.

Beyond anti-Mamata-ism, and the empty discourse of (il)legality

During the ongoing struggle, we have witnessed repeated attempts to not only repress the movement, but at the same time to depoliticize and divert it as an ideological offensive by the ruling class. Even the solidarity campaign when picked up by the civil society, the NGOs, the national media or a organization like SFI focused on (a) anti-Mamata Banerjeeism, (b) depoliticized appeal to push the release of the ‘eminent scientist, harmless national asset’, Partho Sarathi Ray, and (c) relief to the ‘helpless slumdwellers’, without challenging the discourse of (il)legality.

There is at present, a seemingly anti-Mamata Banerjee wave. From the huge uproar over the arrest of a JU professor over a anti-Mamata cartoon to the ‘don’t talk to CPI(M) members diktat’ around the same time, the corporate media is also ‘lovin it’. Nonadanga then becomes merely a question of ‘bad management’ by the Chief Minister. Whereas one opinion argues for an even more virulent form of corporate rule as the answer (it points to the earlier three decades of so-called ‘communist misrule’), the other opinion grants legitimacy to the CPI(M) as better political managers for the capitalist class. After all, the CPI(M) showed its capability to contain revolutionary and mass struggles for a long time, before it faltered over Singur and the Nandigram, and the building mass discontent and shifting class base. What these opinions fail to see is that these Nonadangas show again that whether it be a Mamata or a Buddhababu, they have to take credit for their shops from the same capitalist class. The handing over countless Singurs and Nonadangas to corporates at throwaway prices, the using of brute repression for it on the resisting population is to continue the normalcy of exploitation and accumulation by further demolishing the power of working class. Against this, what must be posited, in continuation from Singur, is that the revolutionary left forces organizing the working class and masses as a power will fight capital and its political executive of whichever variety, who seek to impose the fear over the people.

The hullabaloo over Partho Sarathi Ray as the ‘eminent scientist’ divorced from his political positions against the depredations of global capital and state repression reminds us of the decoupling of ‘the good doctor’ Binayak Sen from his politics of demanding universal primary health (upholding the declaration of Alma Ata, the work with Shaheed Hospital) and protest against the Operation Greenhunt. It reminds us of representing Irom Sharmila Chanu as the vaishnavite/Gandhian divorced from her struggle against the AFSPA and the Indian military’s occupation of the Northeast. The question is in this manner sought to be trivialized to mere condemnation of harassment of these ‘national assets’ ignoring their uncomfortable politics or just mentioning it in passing as merely incidental.

The third argument is a desperate attempt to confine the struggle. It raises the question of rehabilitation and livelihood from a NGOist perspective—not going into its causes, and forgetting that most rehabilitation packages are used by neo-liberalism, more often than not, to make yet another assault on the reproduction of labour-power. They thus see this as only a question of shelter for the marginalized, push the struggle into mere litigation and ask for stronger laws or better implementation of existing ones. However law itself and its enforcers create a false sense of equality even as it constitutes its ‘outside’ i.e. the slums as areas of ‘illegal encroachment’. The struggling people and the revolutionary left forces understand that what is law for one class is repression for others—and only a struggle that seeks to question ruling class law itself can shed light into how they came to be ‘illegal encroachers’ in the first place and overturn it; that it is not a question of mere ‘governance’ or more laws or protection from the state of ‘human right violations’. When here, the law of equal exchanges is pointed out, we reiterate Marx of Capital, “between equal rights, force decides”, as has been the history of capitalist production. The people assert—we are not helpless victims of atrocities but we raise the question of housing as a question of class struggle. We demand wages and housing both simultaneously, recognizing that the increase in distance between the place of residence and the source of livelihood that most resettlement and rehabilitation process imposes on the evicted slum-dwellers further devalues our labour-power by lengthening our average labour­ day. We link the spheres of reproduction and production, we bear the pain of your ‘poriborton’, ‘development’ and ‘aid’, and are a force who posits a different imagination. From the Paris Commune to Occupy Wall Street and the London Riots, imaginations of how cities might be reorganized in socially just and ecologically sane ways—and how they can become the focus for anti-capitalist resistance have been posited. Today in India, we find the urban space as increasingly turning into a site of such resistance even as these are still fragmented, localised and disorganized.

As the struggle in urban areas intensifies, the space of operation of NGOs and civil society organisations as only ‘mediators’ between ‘atrocities happening in some remote part’ and ‘corridors of power’ in the cities, is shrinking more and more each day. As class struggle and urban resistance sharpens, the limits of the framework of ‘legality’ and ‘civil liberties’ within which these forces work will become even starker. The shrinkage of democratic space—manifesting with even more brutal assaults by the police state and juridical machinery on the working class is inevitable. While being engaged in the struggle in Nonadanga, we learn from it and those like it that this presents a possibility, and we must seize this.

The Aspirations/Possibilities of Nonadanga

The movemental militancy here is bound not to be confined in the legal and rights discourses only; it asserts its right to the question of housing as a class question. Neo-liberal capital thrives on cheap labour and segmentation. The working class while asking whose city is it, whose space is it, militantly asserts its inalienable right to all resources and to the dignity of its labour. This possibility in Nonadanga is then the potential of the struggle of the working class in urban areas to fight for the cost of its reproduction i.e. of housing and rent, health, education, transportation. These are reflected in some of the present demands—the movement is now proceeding with the demand for proper rehabilitation which is a political demand for a dignified and free life, along with thinking of the practice of alternate forms (however transitory now) of development.

Linked to this, is the possibility of taking this struggle against exploitation to the site of production, to the connected workplaces—asking for higher wages and better working conditions. In attempting to organize domestic workers and the huge informal sector workers and unemployed in the area in these ways, we believe the struggle can take a crucial turn, and this presents a possibility of unearthing and positing through a period of struggle, a form of organized working class power. In organizational terms itself, a process of democratic churning among left revolutionary forces in tune with the movement also is at play, which is also noteworthy. Today, the future of the present struggle is still uncertain, but we find that these possibilities show themselves as the political question that Nonadanga poses, which we seek to take forward here and elsewhere. The crisis of capitalism cannot always be managed by governance, more laws and NGOs which seek to isolate and contain these local struggles—this framework will be in danger, and thus the eruption of a hundred million Nonadangas can be a serious anti-capitalist threat in the heart of capitalism as the terrain of struggle is remapped. The state will increasingly act with the repressive and ideological apparatuses at its disposal and this clash can and will only intensify.

What is required is to take the movemental militancy and democratic organizational forms in Nonadanga a step further, and in every space where capital thrusts its violent marks. Standing in solidarity with it can only mean intensifying the struggle in our own locations and furthering them to learn from and connect to each other for a proletarian upsurge.


2 Responses to “The Nonadanga Movement – An Analysis”

  1. biswajit roy Says:
    May 22nd, 2012 at 12:22

    Thanks Parag/KNS for your excellent analysis of Nonadanga movement that focussed on the centrality of ‘housing as class question’ and banality of so-called illegality of the acts of the ‘encroachers’and dangers of NGOism , however well-intentioned that may be.

    Having said it, I would like to draw your attention as well as other activists to the divisions/clashes of immediate interests between the ‘illegal encrochers’ on the KMDA land and the encrochers-turned legal settlers in surrounding apartments, mostly the earlier evictees from Rail colony and canal-banks accross the city.

    As a humble sympathiser of the movement, i have interacted with the affected people as well as those poor on the other sides of the social/political as well as physical fence. That the Mamata Banerjee government, like its predecessor, is playing the old dirty game of dividing the poor is no more secret.

    It’s heartening to know that most of the flat residents have not rallied behind the TMC’s effort to incite mob violence against the targeted people who are much less in number and quite vulnerable still today.

    But the division is real between ‘them and us’ and the resultant emotions and attitudes swing from active hostility to mute sympathy,from indifference to fear. Unless and until the tensions between the rehabilitated and their lesser fortunate counterparts are addressed and common grounds for their co-ordinated action can be developed, the ‘squatters’ run the risk of being evicted by the ‘rightful and legal settlers’ as soon as Nonadanga gets dropped from media attention.

    I know from my own experience that it is more easier to talk about uniting sections of poor and marginals than get it done. The different positions taken by the organisation of earlier Canalside evictees-turned settlers is an eye-opener to this painful reality.
    All the segments of development-refugees in Kolkata and suburbs, hawkers and squatters on the canal-banks and railway-tracks have failed to put up an united movement despite valiant but isolated resistance at different locations at different time. Some of them got rehabilitation, far away from the city centre at dingy and poorly maintained apartments in Nonadanga.

    But the question of housing as a class question has never been highlighted in a political-ideologica campaign, also to get the middle class support.

    We are aware that the mainstream Left led by CPM is mainly responsible for delinking urbanisation/development discourse from urban poor and rural migrants’ inalienable rights to the city and its resources. These lefts have turned the sections of the marginals among the clients, often at the expense of the others.

    But what is more painful and frustrating is the hair-splitting,grandstanding,one-upmanship and factional intrigues among the radical left groups. They may not have been able to develop a united moves of all the city marginal groups due to their lack of strength so far. But Nonadanga provided another opprotunity to start with.

    However, the cold aloofness of the leaders of some activist groups who were associated with evictees-turned rehabilitated people shocked me. Their disapproval of the ongoing movement is based on filmsy and personal grounds.

    On the other hand, I have found that there are lot of confusions and clashes over the course and tactics of the movement among the activists who are part of it. This only reflects the lack of shared understanding of the immediate and longterm goals.

    On the question of tactics, Between the extremes of anti-CPM-ism and anti-Mamata-ism, there are numbers of vaciliating positions. Rezzak Molla’s presence at Nonadanga convention raised brows and news of organisers’ meeting with Sujan Chakroborty was spread to justify the branding of the movement as the CPM-hijacked one by some of our friends.

    Also, there are debates whether radical lefts should forget what CPM has done during its regime and allow the former ruling party to join a movement which the present ruling party wants to crush.

    In this context, I would request Parag/Amitabha/Partha/Baboon and other organisers to consider an open and informed debate/discussion on policy perspectives regardin the issues related to Nonadanga and larger question of housing for the city poors in Kolkata and beyond. We should also know about the central government housing projects for poor and related experiences in cities across the world to argue for our position in concrete terms. It may clear confusions,generate new ideas and help to formulate strategies and tactics for fresh intiatives. It is better than closeted sessions with selected people.
    Biswajit Roy

    May 27th, 2012 at 14:39

    The advocates of united front tactics say, if we are to make a proper estimate of the possibility of forming a broad revolutionary national united front, a proper estimate must be made of the changes that may occur in the alignment of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces in China resulting from the attempt of Japanese imperialism to turn China into a colony. Without a proper estimate of the strong and weak points of the Japanese and Chinese counter-revolutionary forces and of the Chinese revolutionary forces, we shall be unable fully to understand the necessity of organizing a broad revolutionary national united front, or to take firm measures to break down closed-doorism, or to use the united front as a means of organizing and rallying millions of people and all the armies that are potentially friendly to the revolution for the purpose of advancing to strike at our main target,…. but instead we shall aim at a variety of targets so that our bullets will hit not the principal enemy but our lesser enemies or even our allies. This would mean failure to single out the principal enemy …. It would mean inability to draw to our side all those in the enemy camp and on the enemy front who have joined them under compulsion, and those who were our enemies yesterday but may become our friends today. ………
    The advocates of closed-door tactics say the above arguments are all wrong. The forces of the revolution must be pure, absolutely pure, and the road of the revolution must be straight, absolutely straight. Nothing is correct except what is literally recorded in Holy Writ. ….The yellow trade unions must be fought tooth and nail……. Intellectuals are three-day revolutionaries whom it is dangerous to recruit. It follows therefore that closed-doorism is the sole wonder-working magic, while the united front is an opportunist tactic.
    Comrades, which is right, the united front or closed-doorism? Which indeed is approved by Marxism-Leninism? I answer without the slightest hesitation–the united front and not closed-doorism. …. Marxism-Leninism is opposed to the “infantile disorder” found in the revolutionary ranks. This infantile disorder is just what the confirmed exponents of closed-doorism advocate. Like every other activity in the world, revolution always follows a tortuous road and never a straight one. The alignment of forces in the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary camps can change, just as everything else in the world changes. ….. In order to attack the forces of the counter-revolution, what the revolutionary forces need today is to organize millions upon millions of the masses and move a mighty revolutionary army into action. ….. Therefore, united front tactics are the only Marxist-Leninist tactics. The tactics of closed-doorism are, on the contrary, the tactics of the regal isolationist. Closed-doorism just “drives the fish into deep waters and the sparrows into the thickets”, and it will drive the millions upon millions of the masses, this mighty army, over to the enemy’s side, which will certainly win his acclaim. In practice, closed-doorism is the faithful servant of the Japanese imperialists and the traitors and collaborators. Its adherents’ talk of the “pure” and the “straight” will be condemned by Marxist-Leninists and commended by the Japanese imperialists.
    – Mao Tse-tung (“On Tactics Against Japanese Imperialism” December 27, 1935)


    In the main article what has been written in the chapter “Beyond Antl-Mamata-ism and Empty Discourse of (Il)legality” is a clear manifestation of “closed doorism”. Ideologically untill we fight “closed doorism”, we cannon build a broad united front. I fully agree with Biswajit’s content in the last three pararaphs. Let’s start a debate/discussion as proposed by Biswajity.

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