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Sanhati, August 19, 2008

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Reporting from Singur – Shamik Sarkar, Sanhati. 19th August, 2008.

The impending movement of 24th August and perspectives of locals

It has been over a year and a half that 997 acres have been sealed off by Tata’s fences here. But many landowning farmers have not accepted compensation.

In the last week of July, 2008, the Krishi Jomi Jibon Jibika Raksha Committee (Committee for saving farmland, life, and livelihood) gave the call to “outsiders working in Tata’s plant” to leave Singur, “to protect the rights of unwilling farmers, Bargadars, and agricultural workers”.

After that, Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee declared that there would be a continuous blockade of the project from August 24th. The pressure of the movement forced workers who had been coming to the site from outside to stop.

The police set up patrol at the rail stations of Singur, Madhusudanpur, and Kamarkundu, and drove workers to the site under protection.

On 10th August, as I inspected the region around BeraBeri Bazar, Purbopara, Ruidaspara, and Dobadi, I got the feeling that the whole area “had become Trinamul”. Those who had not accepted compensation, those who had – they all told me “We are Trinamul”.

The farmers of Purbopara want their land back and believe that the movement would win it for them. Those in Beraberi Bazaar, however, declared “They won’t give back the land”. They all spoke of the plight of the sharecroppers and agricultural workers, almost unanimously saying that it is those people who have lost the most.

The Government’s stance can be understood clearly from the words of Arun Bag from Purbopara. “WBIDC Chairman M.V.Rao called me and my brother. Present were A.K.Pattanayak, the Additional S.P., D.M., and the A.D.M. We were asked – “How much money do you want for the land?”

Problems abound in the implementation of the compensation procedure. Arun’s brother Joydeb Bag was told that half of the compensation he was entitled to had been withdrawn by one Chandrakanta Ghosh. Probing further, he found that a false mutation had been used. Many such cases are happening within the acquired land.

The people who accepted compensation and got the money – what did they do with it?

Some opened “Syndicates”, supplying sand and cements to Tata’s plant. Some other landowners like the Barui’s, on whose land many worked over generations, are trying to get their sharecroppers and labourers registered under the Barga system. The motive – if Bargadars finally get their Rs. 1 Lakh compensation from the government, the landowner would take three quarters and give them a quarter!

The road to Dobadi

That old road, the one that used to run from Ruidaspara to Dobadi, the village of the labourers, has disappeared behind Tata’s fences. On both sides, there are small gaps in the fence. Cows and goats have entered, and are feeding on the grass inside the fence. These temporary feeding grounds too are diminishing, as sand and cement pile up for various ancillary industries.

A few women from Dobadi went to get the animals toward the evening – local youth from the Mansamata Club told them that they might be attacked if they entered.

“If they attack us, we will die, that’s all – we will burn in the crematorium!” Pat came the reply – “There aren’t any crematoriums left, there are only factories!”

A man from the Club told me that only the previous evening, he had gone behind the fences to fetch his cow.

“Had a light and an umbrella with me. The police caught me, and said I would need a passport. I told them that I worked here, had been coming to work for a couple of weeks. Didn’t know where to get a passport. They told me to speak to my employer, to get a hold of the Police chief Bakshi…my cow mooed. I said – sir, that’s my cow right there. Stuck in the sand!”

“We have no value”

It has been fifteen days now that men from Dobadi have been working in the construction zone, unloading sand from the trucks and the dumpers. Around sixty men. Agricultural workers from other villagers had begun before – Dobadi’s men simply joined them. They had been told – “Why don’t you come to work with us! We will all work together.”

Work has been assigned village-wise. People from Joymalla used to work on this side of Julkia canal – now they have gone to the other side, leaving it for Dobadi. In a faint echo of other times, this was how work was divided when all this was farmland.

They are paid by the people manning the sand trucks. 6 or 7 workers are required for each truck, together they get Rs. 250 – Rs. 300. Somedays there are 10 trucks, somedays there are only 2 or 3.

Till just before the Panchayat elections, these people were given rice by the Committee. “But it isn’t possible to feed the poor indefinitely…” Before, at least it was possible to go to fields far away and work. With the monsoons here, there really isn’t any work. And it isn’t possible to go too far in the mud.

Last year, the NREGA stopped in the area after operating only for two days. “They tried to cheat us by telling us that we hadn’t worked hard enough, that we only deserved Rs. 25. We didn’t accept the money. The stomach doesn’t listen…we have to unload sand…”

Agricultural work was done by both men and women. However, construction work is done only by men. “We are working, and when the movement calls us, we go there too, stopping work”.

They will go on 24th August, as part of the movement to stop the plant. What do Dobadi’s labourers want?

“If the factory closes, then we want land. If it goes on, we want work there. But we will never get work there, because we do not have the education, the skills, or the experience needed.”

Then?

“Don’t know…there must be a channel of work, somehow…”

Those who had been working as guards, from Joymolla, Ruidaspara, and other villages, have been laid off. No papers have been given.

“We have no value”.

What will they demand from the movement of 24th August? A one-time monetary compensation?

“Money won’t help – not ten thousand, not twenty thousand…”

“Let the government give us land and Patta elsewhere!”

“First let the government ask us what we want – then we can think”.

Translated by Kuver Sinha, Sanhati.

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