Friday, May 20, 2011

Bodla Noy, Bodal Chai

We want Change, not Revenge. As Mamata Banerjee - Didi to her people - becomes chief minister of West Bengal today, she has with these words, affirmed her intention to move on from the bitter politics of the past and build a new Bengal. It might, however, be a good time to revisit Singur and Nandigram, twin rockets that propelled her to power and created a total disaffection with the Left Front, despite its early successes in land reforms and its consistent track record of no communal riots - though not of non-violence. These writings by Walter Fernandez and Somnath Mukherji, both written in 2007, are a timely reminder of the perils of the development paradigm India has settled for. 

West Bengal and most states that are offering land for the SEZs do not have a rehabilitation policy. West Bengal has promised rehabilitation in Singur because its farmers agitated against displacement. Most of those to be displaced from the 2,32,167 acres it has committed to industries will be deprived of their livelihood without alternatives. The result of not rehabilitating them is impoverishment. Studies show that most farmers have become daily wage earners, their income has declined by more than half, over 50 per cent of them are jobless and have slipped below the poverty line. Many of them have pulled their children out of school in order to earn for the family. In the absence of other sources of income
many have taken to crime or prostitution. Even if the promise of rehabilitation is kept, skewed land laws will ensure that its benefits do not reach many DP/PAP. In West Bengal, the issue is sharecroppers
and elsewhere it is the common property resources (CPRs). If the sharecroppers are registered, they are to get 25 per cent of the compensation paid to the zamindar when their land is acquired. Around 250
of the sharecroppers cultivating some of the 997 acres being acquired at Singur have not been registered so they will not be compensated or resettled. Also, the 1,000 landless agricultural labourers and others
like barbers who sustain themselves by rendering services to the village as a community will lose their livelihood when that land is acquired.

Most officials treat compensation as rehabilitation. Compensation is defined as the average of the registered price in an area for three years. It is a public secret that not more than 40 per cent of the price
is registered. Thus, by using this norm the state deprives the land losers of the full price. It may not follow even this norm in some cases. Farmers deprived of their land for the bypass and the Rajarhat township in Kolkata were paid an average of Rs 3 lakh per acre when the market price in that area was Rs 20 lakh. The situation is worse in the “backward” areas where price is low. In the 1980s, some farmers in Jalpaiguri district were paid an average of Rs 1,700 per acre. By today’s standards it would be about Rs10,000. Read on: Singur and the Displacement Scenario


Democracy was just going so well for India – the Sensex had finally synchronised completely with the New York Stock Exchange, rising and falling like a shadow; finally the US had started considering it grown up enough to be playing with dangerous toys; all indices were finally climbing – growth rate, literacy, destitution, farmer suicides, FDIs, military expenditure, obesity, HIV rates; so strong was the momentum of democracy that it spread beyond its territory and was successful in luring 8 lakh NRIs to get “Overseas Indian Citizenship”; finally tomatoes could be bought with stickers on them that read “tomatoes”; finally the gnarled lathis (sticks) of the security guards were replaced by shorter machine-finished shiny batons and elastic retractables were appearing everywhere to maintain queues. And just when we were in the final stages of imitation, some “backward” people started putting up a fuss about land, agriculture, submergence and all sorts of unscientific and regressive concerns. Cartographic manipulations were an easy way out to keep the trouble making people at bay.

It is the case of a state against the nation: a nation of people that get in the way of progress and development; a nation of illiterate, ill-fed, ill-clad people springing up from within this amorphous glob called the masses. How could these people represent civil-society? Are they not engaged in their struggles of daily subsistence? Surely they have not read Marx, Weber, Foucault or the tomes on developmental economics. How then could they decide what is good for them, let alone what is good for the society?

State repression in India is climbing to a frightening crescendo both in frequency and brutality. There is a widening rift between the state and the nation. Kalinganagar, Singur, Vidharba, Bastar, Nandigram and the arrest of peaceful protesters of Action 2007 have been one instance after another of the brutality and apathy of the state. Nandigram will remain a blemish on the face of the Indian democracy for a long time to come, unless of course something more gross, inhuman and barbaric takes place. The Govt. of West Bengal rightly claimed that the incidents in Nandigram were the machinations of “outside elements” – they were referring to the people of Nandigram. What they failed to mention was that the new cartographers were redrawing the lines which made the Salim Group and their ilk the insiders and the rural and urban poor the outsiders. If people in their agricultural stupor did not wake up to such updates, who could be blamed? Read on: A State against the Nation

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