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Rights report slams Bengal admn for Nandigram
Vicky Nanjappa |
January 15, 2008 14:47 IST
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have demanded an independent inquiry into the serious acts of violence in Nandigram [Images] since early 2007.
A fact-finding team comprising Justice S N Bhargava, former Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court, Advocate Vrinda Grover, Meenakshi Ganguly, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch and Mukul Sharma, director of Amnesty International India, have also recommended that the state government should prosecute those responsible for human rights abuse and examine both social-political origins of the violence and the failure of state authorities to provide effective protection to the community.
The team, which was in Nandigram and Kolkata from November 28 to 30, 2007, toured affected villages and relief camps, and met victims of the violence, government officials and rights activists.
Throughout 2007, tensions over control of land in Nandigram led to a series of violent incidents between supporters of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist and farmers belonging to the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee.
Protesting villagers blockaded Nandigram to oppose a government plan to acquire land for industry. Instead of responding appropriately to violations of the law by protesters, the authorities appeared to treat the protest as a challenge to the CPI-M and used excessive force against the protesters.
BUPC members were also responsible for acts of violence. At least 30 people were killed, hundreds injured, and thousands displaced from their homes.
In November, CPI-M supporters and armed thugs forcibly ended the blockade. In retribution for the protest, they attacked villagers supporting the BUPC, burned down their homes, threatened further violence if villagers went to the authorities, and humiliated them by compelling them to join CPI-M rallies.
The state administration removed police posts before CPI-M supporters advanced into the area, strongly suggesting governmental complicity in the abuses.
Villagers in affected areas reported to the fact-finding team that CPI-M supporters frequently subjected women to violent attacks, including rape and assault, as well as to threats and harassment. There is no evidence that the police have sought to arrest those named in police complaints.
Victims, particularly women who risk social censure by reporting rape, remained vulnerable to threats and further attacks from perpetrators who roam free.
"The tragedy of the reported rapes at Nandigram has been compounded by the failure of the police to seriously investigate these cases, keeping the victims at grave risk," said Meenakshi Ganguly.
Mukul Sharma, director of Amnesty International, says that it is disturbing that the West Bengal authorities failed to prevent the violence at Nandigram and failed to arrest the perpetrators.
"Weeks after peace had supposedly been restored, we learned that the perpetrators were still roaming free, celebrating their victory by threatening and beating up local residents."
The impunity enjoyed by those perpetrating abuses in Nandigram since the violence began in early 2007 fueled the widespread abuses committed later in the year. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee contributed to the violence in November by saying that the protesters had been 'paid back in the same coin,' a comment which he retracted three weeks later, admitting that the events were a 'political and administrative failure.'
Based on the team's findings, Amnesty International India has produced a report titled Urgent need to address large scale human rights abuses during Nandigram 'recapture.'
The report concludes that the inaction of the West Bengal state government, including tacit acceptance of the violent operations of the armed supporters of the CPI-M, resulted in serious human rights abuses, including unlawful killings, abductions, sexual assault of women and forced eviction and displacement of thousands of people in 2007.