Thursday, January 04, 2007

The children take a beating

West Bengal is rife with a huge debate. The event: Building of the Tata Motors factory on viable cropland in Singur.

The conflict: Snatching away of land from farmers and their rehabilitation.

The opponents: Trinamul Congress led by the ever aggressive Mamata Banerjee for the farmers’ rights and CPIM, led by dignified CM Buddhadeb for industrialisation.

That’s the political side of it. Now let us look at what is actually happening: people are being dragged from their houses, beaten up, abused, and those who want to protect them are being persecuted. And somewhere, in the midst of all this chaos, a lone child wails at the top of its voice… Nobody spares a thought for the children of Singur in this political and ideological mess.

In course of acquiring of land forcefully the police arrested nearly more than 60 people comprising women and even children on 2.12.2006. Among them, Jhuma Patra, daughter of Ashok Patra of village Ghaser Veri, Singur, 12-years-old and a student of Class V in Naraharipara Primary School and Soma Dhara daughter of Sanyasi Dhara of same village, a minor were also arrested.

The children arrested were kept in police lock-up with other inmates and were released on the next day on furnishing personal bonds under the total violation of the procedure of Juvenile Justice Act.

At Singur, the attendance of students in the primary schools has drastically reduced in the past four months because of the farmers’ movement against land acquisition. A district primary school board official said the students in the five affected villages were unable to concentrate on their studies. The situation in Singur has created the psychological pressure on students, harming their studies.

More than 2,000 students go to 17 primary schools in the villages. Sontu Kolay studies in Class III of Bajemelia Uttar Primary School. His mother, Ms Sabitri Kolay, an active member of the Singur Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee (Agricultural Land Protection), believes her son fared badly in his examinations last month as there was no one to take care of his studies and they are too poor to afford private tutors. Another member, Ms Jharna Langal, of Bajemelia, said that despite being a meritorious student, her daughter, Hoimonti, failed in her half-yearly tests this year. Ms Protima Dey, of Bajemelia, cannot recall the last time her son, Subhadeep, went to school. The Integrated Children Development Scheme (ICDS) too has suffered. Only a few nursery students show up at the ICDS centres in the affected villages.

Two girls, aged 11 and 13, have been put behind bars by local police authorities. According to a Bengali human rights activist, every week there are reports of molestation, rape and murder from the local prison at Chandranagar.

Some of the farmers will get job in the factories. Others will come to Kolkata for a livelihood along with their families. What will happen to their wards then? Will they be able to go to school again? Is this the future for the unfortunate brilliant students of Singur? Or will smiles return to their sad faces again?

The Government taking away land, protests... whatever has happened - and continues to happen - in the Narmada Valley is almost in the same vein as what is happening in Singur. The only difference is that, in case of the Narmada Valley project, protests snowballed into an internationally famous movement after it was found that resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) of the displaced people was insufficient, and that the increasing height of the SSP (Sardar Sarovar Project) started causing environmental degradation. We, Indians often boast of having the lengthiest and one of the best Constitutions in the world - the largest - a democracy where people enjoy certain rights, people have the right to vote and they form the key to constitutional power. The controversy was heightened even more when Medha Patkar, leader of the famous ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ (NBA) was denied entry into Singur through the ‘Durgapur Expressway’. Medha however reached Singur, where the villagers complained to her about the barbarity of the police. Forces were sent to Singur to bring back Medha to Kolkata after this incident.

The protests in Singur have attained a political colour. Initially the Congress affirmed their support to the TMC but the moment the BJP stepped into the arena, the Congress declined to continue the agitation. During the British rule, the Indians were never been able to raise a united appeal against the foreign aggressors which mainly resulted due to the presence of so many communities in India. Now also, they are not united enough to raise their voice. It is clear from this fact that the opposition parties are very much concerned about their own selves. They do not care for the betterment of the common people. Mr Ratan Tata has commented he will not retrace his steps and that the Tata Motors factory will come up in Singur. The fight between Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Ms Mamata Banerjee will continue. And poor peasants will have to pay the price. Police will continue to do their ‘duties’. It’s a fight - so let’s see who wins in the end - industries or agriculture, people or the government, and lastly Mamata or Buddhadeb?

In all this, the children take a beating. They are out of the priority list of these people who are in a virtual tug-of-war. The children don’t get to play or study, and unfortunately have to grow up well ahead of their time. Isn’t this unfair and unjustified?

Mamata has flatly refused all public talks with either Tatas or the government. This is unusual. Why not make her problems known to the opposing side? She has threatened boycott of Tata goods and has only budged from her long-running hunger strike after letters from the Prime Minister and the President.

We can only draw our own conclusions. Is industrialisation the only way out or are rights being snatched? The Trinamul has used violence but the Left has been constitutional. Also, what about the children? Will this needless wrangling help them? So many are being harassed daily as pawns in daily altercations between Naxalites and policemen. When will they get peace? Alas, at the moment it seems to be an ever raging war. Questions are many and answers are unknown. We keep wondering what happens to the core of humanity when there is a crisis like Singur. It will go down in history as a time when the adults were so involved in their own egos and unnecessary feuds that the children had to throw away their toys and books and assume seriousness to the extreme. Like the 18-year-old who was raped, then burnt alive.

India is a democracy, the largest democracy in the world, after all.

Sunrita Sen, La Martiniere for Girls
Soham Saha, Mansur Habibullah Memorial School
Anuvab Chattopadhyay,The Heritage School
Esha Pandit, Bidhannagar Municipal School
Aparajita Bhattacharya, The Future Foundation School
Compiled by: Shreya Sanghani, The Cambridge School