Nandigram Today – The Disempowerment of Empowered Women

March 18, 2015


[Three articles on Nandigram are collated: (1) a first hand account by Nisha Biswas, who was a member of the WSS team that recently went to Nandigram, (2) the WSS Press Statement and (3) a first person account, from 2007, of the struggle by the leader Radha Rani Ari – Ed.]

1. Nandigram: A Perfect Example of the Disempowerment of Empowered Women – Nisha Biswas
2. WSS Press Statement
3. Radha Rani Ari Addresses Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, 2007


Nandigram: A Perfect Example of the Disempowerment of Empowered Women

By Nisha Biswas

Nandigram, a rural area with two community development blocks in Haldia subdivision of Purba Medinipur (West Bengal), is the site of a historic resistance. It is the site where a struggle was waged, and an eventual victory won, by the people against the forcible acquisition of 10,000 acres of land by the West Bengal government for a proposed Chemical hub between 2007 to 2010. Since then Nandigram has been an inspiration for many agrarian and anti- land acquisition struggles. It was mainly due to Nandigram that the then UPA government was compelled to change SEZ and Land Acquisition Acts. The movement took the steam out of more than three decades of CPI(M) rule and the TMC won the state assembly election in 2011 with unprecedented majority.

The women of Nandigram played a key role in this resistance movement. They were in the forefront of the struggle. Supriya Jana lost her precious life in indiscriminate firing by the police. As many as 17 women were raped, many were molested, and around a hundred were injured. Women like Radha Rani Ari (who was gangraped, twice), Tapasi Das (whose thigh was almost sawed off and whose uterus was hit when the police opened fire on unarmed women and children and who still lives in perpetual pain), Swarnmoyee Das (whose left elbow has remained badly injured to this day), and the elderly Narmda Shee, became the face of the Nandigram movement.

Their courage, energy, and indefatigable attitude inspired countless people. It was the time to dream, time to hope, time to empower, time to live and time to die. They went all over the country to tell their tales. The then opposition party chief Ms. Mamata Banerjee supported them and shrewdly snatched the credit. People of Nandigram in general and women in particular thought that she would bring the change that they had dared to dream. Riding on the waves of Singur and Nandigram movements she snatched power from CPI(M) and became Chief Minister of West Bengal on May 20, 2011.

A seven-member team of Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, West Bengal (WSS, WB) recently visited Nandigram four days ahead of observation of “Martyr’s Day”, observed on 14th March of each year to commemorate the historic struggle of Nandigram against land acquisition.

What the team saw was terribly saddening and disturbing. That these women who were once powerful leaders are today not only distressed but also disempowered.

They are now nowhere in the leadership of the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), formed at the time of struggle. They are not even invited for BUPC meetings or on March 14 to observe Martyr’s Day. The leadership of BUPC do not know what happened to the cases that they filed against police and ruling party goons. On the other hand, in December 2013, CBI has instituted cases against more than 30 men and women, including women who were severely injured/ raped, for inciting violence and attacking the police. The CBI’s request for permission to initiate criminal proceeding against some police officials is still lying with the state government. The women, who not only suffered rape, bullet wounds and state terror but had remained in the forefront of the heroic struggle against forcible land acquisition, and were subsequently instrumental in unseating Left Front from power, have today been completely edged out of the political space.

Women like Tapasi Das and Swarnmoyee, who needed prolonged treatment and support for the disabilities caused by bullet injuries, were left to fend for themselves. None of the women were awarded or given any jobs in recognition of their contribution to the movement. In rare cases men of the family were given some temporary jobs with Metro Rail, but women were just forgotten. Tapasi Das, who lives in continuous pain and is bedridden most of the time, is not provided any medical or emotional support. The local MP gives her Rs 1500 per month, out of which the courier pockets a hundred rupees. This is not sufficient for her to even travel to the doctor’s chamber. Her family finances do not permit her to consult a specialist.

A grand hospital built in the memory of martyrs and to take care of medical needs of the locality, is a picture of grim dereliction and waste. The main gates remained locked and the watchman’s assertion of the doctor visiting once or twice a month remains questionable.

Radha Rani Ari, who traveled all over the country with Ms. Banerjee to narrate the barbaric sexual atrocities inflicted on her, recalls how in the run-up of assembly election she was much sought after by the present ruling party. Now that the TMC party of Ms Banerjee is firmly in power, she has been carelessly abandoned. She says “My body was like a property that would get votes” and that now very often she contemplates suicide. Angur Das, who was raped along with her two daughters, one married with two kids and the other unmarried at that time, is today a grim picture of neglect. She remembers the promise that marrying her daughter was the party’s responsibility. All three of her sons work in UP in a carpet factory. The elder daughter Kabita was not allowed to return to her marital home after this incident. The younger daughter Ganga’s well – being hangs on the thin thread of payment/nonpayment of the hefty dowry agreed. Only three out of the sixteen raped have received compensation of Rs 2 lakh.

Brute force of male domination has silenced women. All the rape accused, like Badal Garu, Kalia Garu, Rabin Das, etc., have returned to their homes after spending years of exile to escape public wrath. Rumor has it that their rehabilitation has taken place after negotiation with BUPC (male) leadership. The Garu clan lives in Radha Rani’s area and is next-door neighbors of Angur Das. It makes the women insecure even further and adds to the reasons of their depression. These men are devoid of any remorse, and with the support of the BUPC, to whose leadership they had paid hefty fines, they cause fear in these women. On confrontation, BUPC leaders tell them, “What is your problem?” They are not ready to understand that their problem is not only justice has not been done; they are being humiliated every day. Even neighbours are now pointing fingers at the rape survivors.

Although it is the battleground that changed the political scenario of West Bengal and caused major policy changes, Nandigram remains the very picture of neglect. Roads are the same picture of rejection, agriculture still remains single crop, ponds are not renovated and canals are yet to be dug, causing men-folk to migrate in search of work. Even MNREGA work is erratic.

Nandigram today is a sad picture of rejection. Women, who were the integral part of the movement and were at the forefront of the anti-acquistion stir that eventually catapulted the Trinamool Congress into power in West Bengal are now confined to their homes and are subjected to all kinds of oppression.


Article 2: WSS Press Statement


14th March, 2015

A team of WSS, WB comprising 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:


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, charge-sheets 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.

Compensation Payment

* 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.

CBI Investigation

* 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.

* 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

1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) Kabita Das (22yrs)

Daughter of Angur Das.
Not allowed to return to marital home after rape incident.
Lives with mother. Husband visits occasionally.

5) 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 alleged that 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.


Radha Rani Ari Addresses Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, 2007


Originally published in Sanhati here.

Honourable Chief Minister, I am the same Radharani Ari of Nandigram. How many more times will your cadres rape me?

Yes, I am the same person. The same Radharani Ari, resident of Nandigram Block, village – Gokulpur. Whether or not you remember me, I am not too sure, although by now the entire state of West Bengal has heard about me. I did not catch the limelight due to some creditable act of mine but on account of my misfortunes. I am a housewife of, by now infamous, Nandigram. My spouse is a marginal farmer with a holding of 3 bighas (1 Bigha = 0.1338 hectare) and this piece of agricultural land is our only source of a hand to mouth existence for our family. Other than me and my spouse we have six children – four daughters and two sons. When the movement against land acquisition started in Nandigram, when your party cadre along with policemen wearing slippers pounced on our village with bombs and guns, I was there along with all the others in the movement against land acquisition, to resist the onslaught. These people in the resistance movement were our neighbours, neighbours with whom we have lived in harmony for the past three generations. They were all agriculturists, thousands of us, men and women.

On 14 March 2007 my world went in to turmoil. I was no more to remain a homemaker in an obscure village. On that day I evolved to Radharani Ari. Since morning of that fateful day there was news in the air that police would be coming to break the resistance movement. Since dawn, before daybreak, hordes of people from the villages had gathered at Sonachura, beside Talpati canal. Children and women were in the forefront of the gathering. What happened next is known to all and known the best to you. Police and your party cadres in police uniform fired and advanced towards us and we were forced to retreat, the gathering was scattered helter-skelter and I finally took refuge in what I till then thought were the safe confines of my home. But it was safe no more.

At 2 pm in the afternoon of that day CPI(M) cadres had entered our house and they were all local faces known to me. Their names are Badal Garudas, Kalipada Garudas & Snehangshu Das. What followed can only be termed as behaviour of monstrous proportions and I became unconscious. I was later found in a nearby field and brought home by my husband. Sonachura, was surrounded and blockaded for the next two days and I could be taken to Nandigram hospital only after the siege was lifted. The aforesaid three persons were named by me to the police but the police did not record their names. I repeated their names to the CBI investigation team that came to investigate the 14 March incidents at Nandigram. I also mentioned the names to Balbir Ram one of the CBI officers. Badal and Kalipada were picked up by CBI but are you aware of the fate of Snehangshu?

Snehangshu Das is the CPI(M) candidate, in the forthcoming Panchayat elections, contesting the Gokulnagar gram panchayat from booth no. 167.

I have not hesitated in proclaiming that I have been raped, gang raped. I have said this in Kolkata, in Delhi, in Chennai, in Thiruvananthapuram. I have said, what I have said, with the hope I will get justice and the perpetrators of this horrendous crime on me will be punished. You had visited Nandigram recently and we heard your speech, your plea seeking forgiveness. There was supposedly a ‘new dawn’ over Nandigram but did things really change?

Yesterday evening (April 18, 2008) at 10 pm CPI(M) had taken out a procession that abruptly ended after half an hour. Suddenly a group of people attacked our house. “Open the door, you will meet your fate this time!” they shouted as they banged on the door and started breaking it with axes and hoes. The door finally gave in and the hooligans entered our house and attacked my son and my spouse. Hurt badly they fell down on the ground. The intruders forcibly lifted me and carried me away. Later my son, Bapi Adhikary and my spouse, Ajit Adhikary found me in a nearby field and brought me back home. I had to again retrace my steps to Nandigram hospital exactly 13 months and 5 days after I had been discharged from that place.

Honourable Chief Minister, this time again I recognised the perpetrators of this heinous crime on me. They are the same Snehangshu Das and Gurupada Patra, Manik Patra, Purna Das, Prakash Das, Raja Garu Das. I do not know whether they will be punished for their crime. I do not know whether you will come again to Nandigram and what you will say, what assurances you will give. I have realised that we will have to continue to live like this at your mercy and at the mercy of your police and party cadres.

Your speeches are sound bytes only, meant for audiences at meetings and not for gang rape victims like me. Or else how could I have had to survive hell, not once but twice. How can the perpetrator of that crime, twice over, be a CPI(M) party candidate in the forthcoming Panchayat election. Honourable Chief Minister, what have you got to say.

This first-person report appeared in the Doinik Statesman, Kolkata, 20 April 2008. It has been translated by Soumya Guhathakurta, Sanhati.

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