It was a mammoth show —both of vindication and strength — of Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee.
By mid day, the main highway leading to the venue in Singur, where Mamata was to hand over parchas (revenue documents) and cheques, was chock-a-block with farmers, who had to lost their land, and their families. They had walked kilometres under the glaring sun “to meet their hero”.
Some canny entrepreneurs had set up food stalls by roadside. The road had been in places cordoned off with makeshift bamboo barricades. A large stage had been set up for the dignitaries and their entourage and tribal dancers performed to keep the large crowd from getting restless. Trinamool supporters and villagers beat drums and smeared each with other with green ‘abir’.
Mamata’s full cabinet was in attendance. As were her MPs — all lending support to the party’s massive show of strength. Senior bureaucrats and top police officials were also present. Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar too showed up alongwith some other poet-activists. But the front row of the stage was booked for some special guests of honour, Seated on either side of the CM were the men and women, farmers and villagers, who had spearheaded the Singur uprising in 2006 at great personal cost.
Notable among them, was the mother of 19-year-old Tapasi Malik. The teen, who was at the forefront of the Singur resistance, was gangraped and burnt alive allegedly by CPM workers. Her father was initially accused of the crime. Her mother, tears rolling down her cheeks, was seated next to Mamata on stage. On the other side of Mamata was 12-year-old Payal and her parents. Payal and her mother were arrested and sent to jail – the girl was two years old at the time. Saraswati Das (82) was also on stage. The elderly lady used to bring puffed rice for protesters during the agitation.
“I would usually take 1-1.5 kgs of puffed rice. Whatever I could afford. I never really thought I would see this day when we would stand vindicated. I am very happy,” said Das.
Immediately after the Supreme Court gave its verdict on August 31, Mamata had set the ball rolling to return the land to the farmers in a victory rally. “She appointed six of us ministers to take charge and plan the event. We started working on September 2. We have already started cutting down the wild growth that has taken over the fields and clearing the land,” said Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim.
Mamata kicked of the function with the distribution, not of the deeds, but of little sack pouches filled with Singur dirt. “This is your land. This land is more valuable to us than gold,” she announced from the stage.
Soon the much awaited parchas were handed out. Akul Chandra Das (73) used to own a five-bigha plot in Beraberi village. The retired headmaster of the hamlet’s only school, Das had spent his earlier years teaching students all the subjects – ranging from mathematics to English. On Wednesday, he was handed over documents, which guarantee the return of his five bighas, and a signed cheque of Rs 2,28,236.
“I have been waiting for 10 years for this. I never really thought I would get to see this day or that I would remain alive by the time the SC verdict came. I can’t express how jubilant I feel,” Das told The Indian Express.
Ubiquitously called mastermoshai by his students, Das said that even as a teacher he used to cultivate his own land. “All five bighas of it. My land was very fertile. It would give crop three times, sometimes four times, a year,” he said, adding that he would normally grow seasonal vegetables.
With three children, two daughters who have since been married off, and a son who works as an assistant at a jewellery store, the family had fallen on bad times since their land was taken. “But I will start farming again. I will do it myself if need be. She (Mamata) has promised that she is going to make the land cultivable again. So there should be no problem,” he adds.