Raped and assaulted, justice eludes the victims, while the perpetrators have returned with political patronage
When the farmers of Nandigram came out to protest against the 2007 State government order acquiring 10,000 acres of land, women were present in large numbers, taking on the forces of the state and party cadre. In the brutal crackdown that followed, 14 women were killed and at least 17 were raped, in some cases by gangs, assaulted and even shot at.
Nearly 10 years later, while the victims are still seared by the trauma, the perpetrators of the assaults have returned to the villages with political patronage. The Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee, the umbrella organisation that led the movement, is now controlled by the local Trinamool Congress leadership.
A report by Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression, a nationwide network of women’s groups, has documented the long-drawn struggle of these victims for compensation and justice. Laxmi Das* (40) and her daughter Radhika (22), as most of the victims, are treated as outcasts. Radhika was not allowed to return home after the rape, though her husband visits her occasionally. Laxmi is “clinically depressed and is still fighting for compensation. Some women (were) gang-raped twice, notes the report. Manasi Das and many others suffered bullet injuries. All face social stigma and ostracism.
With no support, Rani survives on a Rs. 1,500 dole from a local politician. “I often contemplate suicide,” she told the WSS team.
Manasi, who is in permanent pain, gets the same amount which is “not even sufficient” to cover the cost of travelling to visit a doctor in the city. “When the pain is unbearable I visit the doctor, but cannot afford regular treatment,” she said.
The hospital constructed in memory of the ‘martyrs’ of the Nandigram movement is virtually defunct with the doctor turning up come only once or twice a month, the WSS report said.
While the women battle wounds and stigma, most of the men accused of rape have returned to their homes, the WSS said. The report noted that the rehabilitation of the accused such as Badal Garu, Kalia Garu, Rabin Das was negotiated with the BUPC. Its “male leadership” has facilitated the return of the alleged rapists, who at one point worked against the interest of the farmers and the Trinamool, the report said.
“With the rapists at large and often inhabiting adjacent houses, these women live in constant fear … Their problem is that justice has not been done and it does not seem like that it would,” the report said. The nine-member WSS team, visited Nandigram four times but was unable to ascertain the status of the rape cases.
“It is not certain that cases of rape were filed at all,” they concluded. Only three of 16 rape survivors have received compensation of Rs. 2 lakh each.
The WSS said local politicians were dismissive of the women. According to the report, Swadesh Das Adhikari, a panchayat official and local Trinamool leader, told the team that the raped women were “simply foot soldiers” and not leaders with any “idea of how to fight a battle”. Mr Das also said that being novices, the women “got raped or wounded” unlike the actual leaders, who were “not injured in this manner.” Mr. Das denied making these statements, saying, “Nobody has come to me to talk to me in this regard, neither have I said any such thing.”
“I have heard that one such person Kalipado Garu has returned to the village. I have asked the police to keep a watch. If they receive complaint against him, police will take action,” Mr Adhikari said.
(Names of rape victims changed)