14 years on justice still eludes Nandigram rape survivors By Pradipta Tapadar

    (Eds: Names of rape survivors have been changed)
    Nandigram (WB), Mar 23 (PTI) Rukmini Mondal and Sikha,
neighbours at a tiny hamlet here, have stopped seeing eye to
eye ever since they joined rival political parties.
    What had bound the two all these years was the grief
that befell on them following the sexual abuse they faced
during the anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram, and
the never-ending wait for justice thereafter.
    Political colours have changed in this part of Bengal
in the past 14 years, but justice continues to elude the
women, who are at the crossroads this time, having reposed
faith on two opposing camps, with a hope that their demands
would be met.
    This obscure Nandigram village that had shaken the
base of the mighty Left regime and propelled the TMC to power
now stands divided between its "Didi and Dada", as Chief
Minister Mamata Banerjee has locked horns with her protg-
turned-adversary and the face of farmers' protest, Suvendu
Adhikari, in the constituency - set to go to polls on April 1.
    More than 42 people were killed, including 14 who died
in the police firing on March 14, 2007, and over 40 women
raped during the ten-month-long bloody battle in then-little-
known agrarian town.
    With battle lines having been redrawn in Nandigram,
which stands polarised along political and communal lines, the
survivors, despite all differences, are keenly waiting for
justice to be served.
    "Didi has given us everything -- compensation, jobs
and other benefits. But we have one regret that we didn't get
justice. We want to see perpetrators languishing behind bars,"
Sikha told PTI.
    Standing in front of a large cut-out of Banerjee,
which also had the poll slogan 'Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chai'
(Bengal wants its daughter) written on it, 42-year-old Sikha,
during a street-corner meeting in Sonachura market, asked
people to vote for the TMC and defeat the BJP and 'Mir Jafar'
(traitor) Adhikari.
    "Suvendu has not just betrayed the TMC but also the
people of Nandigram. Some of the perpetrators of violence, who
were then with the CPI(M), have now joined the BJP. But
Suvendu has turned a blind eye to this, just for political
reasons," she said.
    Echoing her demand for justice, Mondal, however,
wondered why the TMC, despite being in power for ten years,
could not do anything to ensure that the culprits get
    "Can jobs, money or doles compensate me for the honour
I have lost? I want justice. I want to see them (perpetrators)
in jail. I am hoping that if the BJP is voted to power, there
will be fair play," she said.
    Showering praise on Adhikari, she said that it was the
50-year-old leader who stood by her, and many more like her
through thick and thin.
    The residents of the discrete village, where at least
30 women had to endure sexual abuse during the unrest, are,
nonetheless, sceptical that this could just be another
election, before which the parties make tall promises only to
end up delivering nothing.
    With the TMC supremo and her former lieutenant at each
other's throats, Nandigram, often referred to as the cradle of
change in Bengal, is once again on the edge.
    Many rape survivors, disenchanted with the TMC, are
yearning for yet another change.
    "People of Nandigram are not very happy with the TMC.
They also have grievances against Mamata di, as she hardly
visited the constituency, which once catapulted her to power.
But there is also a section, which has a soft corner for
Didi," another survivor Rama Das said.
    Mocking the TMC's poll slogan 'Bangla nijer meyekei
chaye' (Bengal wants its daughter) Shyamali Jana (name
changed), another villager, said, "Have they spared a thought
for the mothers ad daughters of Nandigram?"
    Jutikha, whose sister-in-law was raped and their house
set on fire, said the scars would not heal if the offenders
are not taken to task.
    "For 14 years, we were made to feel that we existed
just one day in the year -- March 14 (Nandigram Divas). The
people of Bengal have forgotten the sacrifices we had made. We
were treated as outcasts. Some of our husbands abandoned us.
We have to fend for ourselves," Juthika said.
    According to Mondal, "none of the senior police
officers who opened fire on villagers has been punished".
    Many political leaders, who were responsible for the
atrocities, have crossed over to the TMC or the BJP, she said.
    According to a report published in 2015 by Women
against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a
nationwide network of women's groups, several rape survivors,
following the March 14, 2007 carnage, are fighting social
stigmas as they still wait for compensation.
    "The women who remained at the forefront of the heroic
struggle against forcible land acquisition, despite all forms
of atrocity, have today been absolutely edged out of the
political space. They are in precarious health condition and
have faced social stigma," the report had stated.
    Nisha Biswas of WSS said, "When we visited the place
in 2015, we found that most of these women were being used for
political purposes. They had no clue about the status of the
cases. After we came out with the report, we were not allowed
to enter Nandigram anymore."
    Ashwini Patra, a local TMC leader, said several cases
are still sub-judice.
    "Many culprits have fled the area. We hope the women
get justice soon," she stated.
    According to Sheikh Sufiyan, the TMC's Purba Medinipur
Zilla Parishad deputy chairman, the ruling party has done its
bit to take care of the victims and their families.
    "At least one member of every victim's family was
given a job. The government also provided them with financial
aid. We took care of the families in every possible way. Now,
if someone wants to switch camp, it is up to them," he said.
    Banerjee and Adhikari -- hailed heroes of the
Nandigram movement - had marched side by side and led the
protests in 2014 against the Left-backed SEZ project, which
was to be undertaken by Indonesia's Salim group.
    The firm eventually dropped its idea of setting up a
chemical hub in this Purba Medinipur town.
    After Adhikari jumped the ship last December, several
villages switched sides overnight.
    Even as Sonachura, Haripur, Khejuri, Brindaban Chak,
Daudpur and Tekhali continue to remain TMC bastions, places
like as Gokulpur, Gokulnagar, Gopimohanpur, Adhikaripari,
Heria have turned into Adhikari strongholds.
    Local BJP leadership, on its part, promised that it
would ensure justice for all "martrys" and rape survivors, no
matter what the political colour, if voted to power in Bengal.
    "We would see to it that everyone gets justice. The
TMC has used victims for political reasons. That won't happen
again," Nabarun Nayak, the saffron party's Tamluk district
unit president, said. PTI PNT

(This story has not been edited by THE WEEK and is auto-generated from PTI)