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Women's Protests in Singur



Women’s Protests in Singur

n the last few months, Singur has become the seat of great debate in West Bengal. Ever since chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya declared his intentions to hand over agricultural land in the area to the Tata Motors, nothing has been the same. And as Singur simmers in unabated protest, several myths that people of West Bengal held dear are being dispelled. On November 30, 2006, the government clamped section 144 in the area so as to fence the 997 acres of acquired land, 956 acres of this, as it claims, was handed over by consent. On December 2, the government took brutal action against farmers who were fighting for their right to survival on the very land that had witnessed the Tebhaga struggle. Some 6,000 policemen, combat force and rapid action force were deployed. When villagers and members of the Krishi Jami Raksha Committee (KJRC) protested, they were lathi-charged. Hundreds of poor peasants including women were severely injured. Around 50 villagers including 18 women were arrested and condemned under section 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code. Among the arrested were a 75-year old woman and two girls in their early teens. Earlier, the police had lathi-charged about 7,000 villagers, including 2,500 women who were demonstrating peacefully at the block development office at Singur on the midnight of September 25. At the time, hundreds of protesters including several women were severely injured, 72 activists of the KJRC including 27 women were arrested.

The active participation of women is emerging as one of the most important features of the people’s movement in Singur. From the beginning women have been at the forefront protesting the acquisition of land. Our fact-finding team has found that even when there have been cases where male members of the family have showed interest in handing over their land, the women have strongly opposed these moves. Women were seen defending their rights and giving evidence of police torture of September 25 before a panel that comprised Medha Patkar and others on a public hearing organised on October 27. Women also fasted for days in protest. In Kolepara where about 30 women are still on fast (at the time of writing in the third week of December), we talked to five who were above 60 years of age. The police definitely have their own reasons as to why they are targeting women. Tapasi Malik, the 18-year old daughter of a landless labourer was just another woman activist who was with the movement from the beginning and whom few outsiders knew till December 18, 2006. On that day she was found dead inside the fenced fields of Bajemelia village where she lived. Her severely burned body was recovered by the police in the early hours of the morning from within the fenced area that was patrolled by CPI(M) cadres in the night, specially appointed on a daily wage basis.

Her brutal murder has unearthed some shocking facts. The police atrocities on the poor peasants and the blissful silence of most left and progressive intellectuals as well as the upper middle class professionals reveal in whose interests the CPI(M) led-government is truly acting. The silence of women’s groups and gender activists on the Tapasi murder issue shows them up to be grand theorists and poor performers. The state women’s commission reached the spot three days later though in their primary report they have accepted that a sizeable section of the villagers

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(Continued from p 5290)

remain opposed to the acquisition. The opposition has taken up the issue but in the absence of a strong women’s movement in civil society, these protests lack focus. The family of the murdered girl strongly suspects the involvement of the night-guards. A section of the media that had initially reported the incident as a case of suicide has offered a changed version now. After the post-mortem reports confirmed it was murder, the media has begun speculating on the possible involvement of either Tapasi’s own people or some “outsiders”.

While bereaved family members and neighbours are being interrogated, till date the hired night-guards on duty that night have not been interrogated. While it is difficult to determine whether Tapasi was raped before being murdered, her charred body offers several clues and also suggests that those who killed her took deliberate care to bury certain evidence. Perhaps they, i e, Tapasi’s purported killers, wanted it to be known that Tapasi was also raped and wanted the villagers to identify beyond doubt that the body was indeed that of an activist who had been organising students the night before.

Why is not the enquiry being directed along these lines? Meanwhile women, men and children are carrying on their peaceful protest. According to KJRC sources, 431 farmers have submitted affidavits at the local court of Chandannagar confirming that they have not consented to give up their lands, some 500 acres.


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    5416 Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006

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