At Shonachur village, 15 km from Nandigram town, a white tower stands in the middle of paddy fields empty after harvesting. It looks out of place on this flat land, its 130 feet dwarfing the palms. From the top of the tower an octagonal structure tapers to a point that is lit red every night, while its tiers are dotted with blue Chinese lights.
“Nandigram andolone shahid smarane,” reads a plaque on the wall around the tower, a memorial to those killed in the violence in Nandigram in 2007. The plaque announces it was built by the Bhoomi Uchched Pratirodh Committee, an organisation under the Trinamool Congress that led the protests and was headed by Suvendu Adhikari, TMC sitting MLA now recontesting Nandigram. Adhikari and an alleged rape victim inaugurated the tower on January 7, 2014.
On the complex is a lush green garden flanked by a free healthcare centre. A line of 21 B&W photographs hangs over the front of the building, pictures of those who died, 14 of them on March 14, 2007, when police fired on a procession headed to Nandigram from Shonachur. Among the 14 is class-7 student Biswajit Maiti.
At Shonachur market, shops are lit brightly by white tubes or dimly by bulbs. S Jana, 50, was walking down the marketplace with Sukhdev Das, 35, a routine every evening. Jana’s wife, Supriya, and Das’s brother Joydev had been killed on March 14, 2007.
“I was part of the procession too,” said Jana, who survived after falling flat on the ground. “Through the previous night, Left cadres were firing shots and throwing bombs. At dawn the police gheraoed the area and started bursting teargas shells. We were all on the street. At 8 am they just started shooting. My wife died then and there. Many bodies fell into a pond, which turned red.”
Shonachur panchayat member Khokhon Shith said every villager in the neighbourhood is now a TMC member. “Seeing how peaceful it is now, you would never believe what it was like then,” he said. “It used to rain bullets. Women would be dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night and raped. No one wants to remember. But one thing is for sure. Only the TMC will win here. There may come a time for another party, but never the CPM. As far as we are concerned, they are finished.”
Can a factory or an SEZ ever be set up in Nandigram, given that the procession was against an SEZ? A young passerby stopped: “Na, mati debo na (No, we will never give up our land). Maybe factories for artisans, more like workshops. Didi (Mamata Banerjee) had planned a eco-tourism site here. But never an SEZ.”
Apart from those recorded as killed on March 14, 2007, 10 villagers disappeared. In Tekhali village Purnendu Bera, 43, lives in a large freshly painted house with his wife and three children. His father, Aditya, then 60, was among those who had disappeared. “He was a retired subedar in the army. He had always been interested in andolans and people’s rights and he was in the procession that day,” Purnendu said. “When the police opened fire, he was shot in the right thigh. He fell down.”
Purnendu, then working in Bangalore as a cook in a hotel, came home after he heard the news. “Everyone had fled the village by then. No one was in Tekhali or any other village. Only those who were helpless stayed, especially the old. That’s how I got to know my father had been injured,” Purnendu said.
“The harmad vahini (alleged armed wing of the CPM) came to a nearby village and made those who had stayed back pick up the injured and put them in a van. They then took them to Janani brick kiln. I heard one of those picked up was hacked to death. Another died of injuries. The rest just disappeared, including my father,” he added.
“I have been to government offices a number of times to get a death certificate but officials refused. I have heard you can get one after 12 years of someone disappearing; that’s two more years. I’ll wait. Once I get the certificate, I will perform his last rites.”