Politics of Exclusion: Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh

Abstract: Nehru’s policy for shifting agricultural base to heavy industry had its toll on economic backbone of the country. Though agricultural production rose four times in last sixty years, but its share in GDP reduced from 67% to 17%. Vision 2020 reduces this share to just 6%. Russian model of heavy industrialisation marginalised the agricultural sector, wherein women are the major participants. This led to deprivation of rural folk in general and women in particular. New economic liberal policies of 1990s catalysed the process of deprivation and destitution of women.

Opening the doors to multinationals in mining, industrial development, information technology parks, special economic zones (SEZ) etc at the cost of indigenous economy structure has devastated the life of women of all strata. This loot has helped the rich to accumulate more wealth and the poor are gradually dispossessed.

Large-scale resistances against the loot of multinationals with the help of Indian state in last two decades have questioned the whole model of modernisation and industrialisation. Significantly, women are in the forefront and in some cases are pioneering the movement. They are challenging implicit patriarchy as well.

In West Bengal Singur, Nandigram and now Lalgarh are the epicenter of resistance. In singur and Nandigram the apprehension was loss of livelihood of which the major participants were women. Whereas, Lalgarh movement is for self-respect and self-determination of which the people are systematically deprived.

This paper analyses the role of patriarchy, sponsored by state, on the women of Singur and Nandigram where apparently the resistance has died down. Paper also analyses the effect of continuing resistance on women of Lalgarh. The paper will also highlight the various beneficiary schemes through which the state is trying to improve the life and livelihood.

Keywords: anti-displacement, women’s resistance, people’s struggle, singur, nandigram and lalgarh, coercive industrialisation, state repression, patriarchy, Nehru’s policy,

In the era of information technology, within a span of four and a half year, obscure places like Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh became synonym of people’s resistance. Policies of industrialisation of last sixty years have shifted the centre of economic activity from rural to agriculture, from agriculture to manufacturing, from villages to towns to cities to megacities. All the policies of successive governments, of whichever color they belong to, are focusing around top 20% of its population. All the resources, wealth and benefits are directed towards this top ignoring remaining 80% who are remembered twice only in five years on the event of biggest circus of democracy.

Nehru’s policy for shifting agricultural base to heavy industry had its toll on economic backbone of this country. Where in 1947, agriculture sector contributed to the extent of 67% of GDP, in thirty years it reduced to half and now it is only 14%. Russian model of heavy industrialisation marginalised the agriculture, wherein women are the major participants, depriving them greatly. New liberal economic policies of 1990s accelerated this process of deprivation and destitution of women. Opening the doors to multinationals in mining, industry, information technology parks, and SEZs etc., at the cost of indigenous economic structure devastated the life of women of all strata. This loot has helped the rich to accumulate more by systematically dispossessing poor.

Sexual division of labor based on the reproductive capability of women’s bodies that gave her an edge, when survival itself was a bitter struggle. Subsequently, with creation of surplus and relegation of women to their productive task as well as their use as object of men’s desire requiring their decorative role, put her in subservient position in society

– throughout civilised human history. Seen as a reserve force of labor, women are excluded from economic activity and are valued for their unrecognised one in reproduction. Patriarchal system keeps majority of women confined to domestic work and child rearing and thereby keeps the wages low.

As women constitute about half of the population of any society, it would be difficult to conceive of a movement for change in society which does not evoke the direct participation of women and therefore, no movement can ignore the contribution of women. But, if the ideological inclinations of the movements are not aligned to the long-term interest of the working masses, it is likely to betray the later, as soon as it achieved its goals.

Last four and a half year wide spread resistance movements have grown in different regions of West Bengal. Singur was the first in this series. Resistance started with the plan of the government to acquire 997 acre of extremely fertile land for much-hyped Tata’s Nano. Women came out spontaneously. For them it was their struggle to save their livelihood, their contribution towards family’s economic activities. It was their independence. Not only the money that they could fetch by selling their produce, through this land they were also able to satisfy their taste buds and experiment with their culinary skills by growing things of their interests and likings without bothering any other produce or person. Through these trial and error experimentations, however, family could bring new products in the market. We know how young Tapasi Mallick mobilised young girls and boys and for this she had to face extreme form of violence. Young Tapasi was brutally raped and murdered. 27 women including a two and a half year old girl child and 53 men were arrested on the night of 24th – 25th Sept, 2006 and were jailed for six days. Incidentally on the same day Mamta Banerjee too was assaulted. On 2nd December of the same year, the day land was forcefully, physically acquired; once again 60 persons including 18 women were arrested and were kept in jail for 15 days.

Around a dozen women who could articulate their grievances accompanied Mamta Banerjee to various parts of the country. They were the face of the repressive policy of state government. These women faced press, made speeches, statements and addressed public meetings. They were on ‘Dharna Mancha’ when Ms Banerjee went on 27 days hunger strike in Kolkata. Ms Banerjee shared meals as well as room with them. It was because of the strength of people’s movement that Tata was forced to abandon car-manufacturing plant in Singur, giving a new direction to people’s movement.

Tata’s site with its blue-bordered steel structure reminds them of their struggle and are still not ready to part off their land and just want it back, whatever be the condition it is. Especially for women, who had worked on the land owned by their father, brother, husband and in rare cases by themselves these five years had been very tough. Every day they passionately remember what could have been grown there.

In the first two years, there was hope. Women were beaming with excitement of being part of an historical struggle. They held meetings amongst themselves, participated in bigger meetings, rallies, dharnas, visited different cities, and met lot of people. Time and again they went to Nandigram to express solidarity and support. The world did open for them. There was a comradeship between them and the larger world. They were not afraid of any eventuality; families were proud of them.

But the last two years had been very depressing. With the election of local bodies, all the male leadership has acquired some position or other, leaving behind the women. Men with the ambition of getting back their land, with the pain that too visible Tata’s sheds keep on inflicting and reminding them of their losses, have moved ahead. Men are looking for alternatives for survival. Women are the worst of the lot. They have to forgo their independence with the land and are confined at homes. Economically, they are now dependent on the male members of the family. There is no surplus for them; past too keeps haunting and many of them just cannot work in MGNREGA schemes. Moreover, like other places in Singur too cardholder families do not get more than 25 days of work per year. Corruption is so rampant, that on occasions the work that should be for the area development becomes individual’s asset development. The political process of which they were the important part has betrayed them. In a span of two years many of them are already suffering with various ailments. The only woman that Singur remembers is Tapasi Mallick; had she been survived, she too had been excluded like others.

Things are not different in Nandigram. Though Nandigram struggle went for a year and government was forced to abandon its plan of acquiring 25,000 acre of land for chemical hub. Large number of men and women were part of resistance struggle. Women formed their own women’s wing. People could save their land; therefore, women did not loose their work in fields. But, once again, the after effects of Nandigram were devastating for women. More women were molested, raped, hurt and killed. In the long run injured women too could not harness much support and help. Their own wing was not allowed to function; many of the injured women of 14th march could not attend doctor for the follow- up, once they were released and went back to their homes. Swarnmoyee, whose right arm had multiple bullet injuries had to go back to fields immediately after her release from hospital in extremely painful conditions. Political process of which they were the major participants and forerunners of the struggle were just forgotten immediately after the land was saved. The women, who were molested, raped, injured and were major force of the resistance movement are sidelined by capitalist patriarchy. Their own forum named Matangini Mahila Samiti stopped functioning on the pretext that because land is not acquired, now there is no need of MMS and BUPC, though official notification of withdrawl is yet to come. The only almost invisible face of woman is TMC MLA Firoza Bibi, mother of Imadadul (Raja) killed in police firing on March 14, 2007. Women like Supriya Jana, martyr of March 14 are just forgotten.

It is not that the women are excluded only after the apparent death of the resistance. The fact is that from the inception Krishi Jamin Raksha Committee at Singur and Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee at Nandigram both were guided by conventional patriarchal model. Women had limited space in these committees. They were not part of decision- making body. Their role in committees was more or less decorative. It does not mean that men guided women’s participation in struggle. Women, intuitively, understood that they would be the bigger looser if the land is acquired as can be seen in the present scenario at Singur. Therefore, it was there compulsion to resist further marginalisation.

However, Lalgarh, so far, is a different story altogether. At Lalgarh the resistance is not for a material benefit, but is for political right of self- respect of which people are systematically deprived. Though Lalgarh has come into news only in November 2008, the brutalities on tribals were routine for last ten years. Beating, electric shock, taking off clothes, parading naked even women, and routine checking of under-garments to ascertain sex of young ones was the regular things. In 2002 newly married, 17 year old, Sulochna Kalindi had to under go police method of sex determination and was so much terrorised that she went into severe depression. Behula kalindi was forced to take off all her clothes in police station and was forced to utter repeatedly, “I am a prostitute”. Ashit, a vegetable vendor, was picked from market and police hanged him on a peg with lizards in his pants. Ration shop used to open once in a week and if they could not manage to possess requisite amount of money on that day, they had to forfeit their supply of ration. The same then they had to buy at higher price from the neighboring shop of the same shopkeeper. Ration in different schemes available at low price could be procured only if that family could collect all the supply that they are entitled to in one go. MGNREGA card making itself was a difficult task. Only bank of the area used to open fresh accounts only once a week and for that people had to queue from the night and then after all this there was no guarantee that the account will be opened. Education, health, drinking water, electricity, sanitation etc. were abysmal.

So, the resistance did not spurt suddenly. People were terribly aggrieved; there is no family in Jungal Mahal where at least one male member of the family has a police case against him. There are many men and women who were facing multiple cases of sedition, waging war against state etc. even before 2008. Therefore, the local people of area understood the politics of state repression. When on 6th November 2008, PCPA was formed; there were 50% women as its member. Later on village level PCPA too had 50% women as its constituent members. Women actively participated in the meetings and were decision makers. Though at a later stage they formed women’s wing of PCPA, but their participation in PCPA was not reduced. Presently, due to the presence of Joint forces and Harmad, most of the men are not able to stay in their houses; women are the face of Lalgarh movement.

Saying all this, I personally believe that the struggle is still not out of the clutches of patriarchy. Apart from plough the field and selling the produce of in the market, women take entire burden of labor on their shoulders. Attending fields, going to jungle to collect leaves, stitching and packing them for market is their job. One does find some exceptions, but then they are exceptions. Even after the arrests and murders of various leaderships we are yet to see a women replacement. However, women’s strong aspiration of coming out of the clutches of patriarchy can be seen from their response to Sonamukhi incident, when 7 home-makers and many others were molested by armed forces, within 2 days these women hit road. They failed in registering FIR in local police station. When they tried to meet SDO, police beat them severely. Treatment in local hospital too was denied. With the beaten body and high spirit 10,000 women took out a procession and blocked Jhargram town.

I, therefore, do hope and wish to see changes in this resisting tribal society and that is my only sunshine.

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