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Post Info TOPIC: The Left massacre of migrant Hindus in Bengal that was bigger than 2002 & 1984


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The Left massacre of migrant Hindus in Bengal that was bigger than 2002 & 1984

 The Left massacre of migrant Hindus in Bengal that was bigger than 2002 & 1984


Not much is known about the Marichjhapi massacre that took place under the Jyoti Basu government on a tiny island in the Sundarbans where Hindu refugees had settled.

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Journalist Deep Halder reconstructs the events through oral retellings. Here he talks to Santosh Sarkar, one of the people who had made Marichjhapi home.

The economic blockade put in place by the [West Bengal] state government [on Marichjhapi] had begun unannounced. Around thirty police launches and two B.S.F. steamers had circled Marichjhapi on 26 January, preventing islanders from taking boats out to fetch food, water and other essentials from neighbouring islands. Not that they did not try to break through the cordon, but the police launches were quick to attack the boats and drown them, forcing the men to swim back to the island. Some were picked up and taken away to police stations.

‘On the morning of 31 January, we decided on a new plan. Our leaders, Satish Mondal and Rangalal Goldar, said women would row boats to the next island to fetch clean during water and grains, as well as medicine for the sick. Surely, the police launches would not ram into boats carrying women.

‘But we were proven wrong. Those bastards in police uniforms did not care for our women either. They rammed their launches into the boats and drowned all three boats.’

Sarkar had just sat down to have his lunch – a measly meal of boiled khud [small, broken bits of rice] prepared by his mother – when he heard the screams. He ran to the spot despite his mother’s pleas, leaving his meal untouched.

The first task at hand was to rescue those women. Ignoring the teargas shells lobbed by the police from the launches, the men decided to take out boats to save the drowning. Some they were able to rescue, others were lost in the waters, never to be found again. They would know later that a few women were picked up by the policemen themselves on the launches. They were taken to the nearest police station, gangraped for days and then released.

Also read: One thing was distinctly rotten about 2002 Gujarat riots: use of rape as a form of terror

‘Something snapped inside us. The policemen were in launches, armed and dangerous. We were on the shore. All we had were the thick branches of goran trees we had sharpened to use as spears. We threw them at the bastards who had drowned our women. They were taken aback by this sudden retaliation, which gave us the opportunity to take boats into the river.’

There were almost 400 of them, 400 boys and men, Sarkar among them, who took boats into the river to save the drowning women. The policemen opened fire. ‘Refugee Robin Joarder was hit by a bullet before he could get into a boat. But we were in no mood to stop,’ says Sarkar.

‘Few of us picked up the drowning women and rowed back to Marichjhapi. Others, me amongst them, rowed ahead to Kumirmari to finish the task that our women had set out to do. We reached Kumirmari and asked the villagers for food grains to take back to Marichjhapi. Most of the Kumirmari villagers were hiding inside their houses, fearing we would attack them for siding with Jyoti Basu’s police. They thought we would suspect them of passing on information about us to those criminals in khakis. They were hesitant to open their doors for us.’

But the men who had faced bullets would not be deterred by closed doors. ‘We assured them we hadn’t come with any harmful intentions. All we wanted were food items, medicines and drinking water for our people on the other side. They gave us rice and daal, and pots of drinkable water. The problem was how to travel back to Marichjhapi,’ says Sarkar.

The refugees devised a plan. One boat with rice, daal, water and medicines would have only four people and the boatman on board. This would help the boatman row the boat faster. This boat would be guarded from the police launches on both sides by other boats. Sarkar decided to be on one of the ‘other boats’ that would shield the boat ferrying essentials for the islanders.

‘We had those sharpened branches of goran tress, which we called chenga, to hurl at policemen firing bullets at us and lobbing teargas shells. Some of us had carried small axes to throw at the policemen from our boats. We knew if they opened fire, there was no chance of us surviving. But that day we were willing to die for our people back in Marichjhapi.’

Till 3.30 p.m., those brave 400 did this again and again. Their boats would carry essentials from Kumirmari to Marichjhapi, guarded by other boats. When the police launches came close, the refugees threw their battle spears and axes. The police launches in turn tried to ram their boats to drown them. The boats that drowned were the boats that were guarding the ones carrying essentials. Their plan was succeeding.

At around 4 pm, they decided to take a lunch break, eat a few morsels and go to war again. But as they sat down to lunch, news flowed in that additional police forces had been dispatched to gherao these 400 bravehearts. ‘We did not have the luxury of finishing our chire and gur [flattened rice and jaggery].’

If additional forces arrived, the men knew they stood no chance. The 400 were also not at one place. A few were in the river, rowing to Marichjhapi with essentials, while Sarkar and others were at Kumirmari, taking a break for lunch.

Also read: Anti-Sikh riots of 1984 were three days of furlough given to criminals by police, Congress

They spotted a huge battalion of almost 500 policemen, armed with rifles, coming towards them in launches.

It was thirty-nine years ago, but the day seems to flash before Sarkar as if it all happened yesterday. ‘How can I forget? The day took my right leg; made me the man I am.’

Sarkar has always been a Swami Vivekananda fanboy. He says the Swami’s spirit entered him that moment when he addressed his fellowmen, ‘Brothers, this is no time to run and hide. Even if you run, the police will open fire on you. They do not treat us refugees as humans. If they did, they would not have drowned our women. Ever since we, the Hindu refugees, have come to this country, the state has treated us like dogs. Whether in the refugee camps or outside, we have been shown no dignity. Today, let us fight back. If we have to die, let us die with dignity.’

The words acted like an instant drug and transformed the tired mass into a battle-ready mob.

They gathered bows and arrows, lathis, bricks and stones, whatever they could gather from their benefactors in Kumirmari and rushed to the shore. The policemen opened fire, both at the men in boats and those gathered on the shore of Kumirmari.

Bodies fell off boats as screams of the injured filled the air. One local woman from Kumirmari was hit by a bullet when she stepped out of her house while breastfeeding her child to see what the commotion was about. Sarkar saw her lifeless body slump down as her child fell to the ground, crying.

Sarkar picked up his bow. He had always been a good marksman. As teargas filled the air, he chose the safety of a date tree that was at a height to hide behind and aim at the policemen on launch decks. His men were throwing spears and bricks at the approaching launches. The cops lobbed more shells at them and fired in the air to scare them off.

But this was not a day for retreat. The brave refugees stood their ground. This time, the cops aimed straight at them. Sarkar had not seen a launch touch the shore, nor had he noticed cops getting down from it and come up behind him.

‘One of them fired at me from a distance of no more than twenty or thirty feet. A bullet hit my leg. I didn’t quite understand what had happened. It felt as if a bone had turned to powder. I fell to the ground.’

Also read: Blood, bodies and scars: What I saw after the 1983 Nellie massacre in Assam

There was so much smoke from the teargas that the pain in Sarkar’s eyes was more than that in his leg. He somehow crawled to a fenced area and lay there as the enemy gheraoed him.

Several bayonets were up in the air, ready to be plunged into him. Sarkar closed his eyes, believing it to be the end. But from nowhere, a man rushed to the spot. A policeman. ‘I dare you to kill him! No one will touch this wounded man!’

Those were the last words Sarkar remembered.

Sarkar would only gain consciousness after the leg was gone. He would spend a month and thirteen days recuperating, between pain and sleep, between depths of despair and yearning for Marichjhapi. He would know later that CPM cadres had landed in Marichjhapi that day, fired at, killed and raped islanders and looted their belongings. The mayhem continued for the whole day.

He would also hear later how the police did not even spare children. Bayonets had been thrust into fifteen school kids – aged between five and twelve – who had taken shelter inside the thatched hut that was their school. Their skulls were crushed. The kids had gathered there to make arrangements for Saraswati Puja, which was to be celebrated the next day. The policemen had smashed Saraswati’s idol before they left.

Though the figures varied, Sarkar would be told later that no less than 1,700 were killed that day; the day he lost his leg: 31 January 1979.

This excerpt from journalist Deep Halder’s book Blood Island: An Oral History of Marichjhapi Massacre has been published with permission from HarperCollins India.



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Five Massacres That Every Indian Communist Must Be Reminded Of

byAnirban Ganguly-Aug 12, 2015 02:32 PM +05:30 IST
Five Massacres That Every Indian Communist Must Be Reminded Of

A recollection of the totalitarian and violent regime of Communists in Bengal.

Communist paradises of proletarians have essentially been backwaters of violence and victimization with stagnating waters of cultural, educational and ethical degeneration. While the story of Communist violence in the state of Kerala is now being told – with the launch of an exhibition curated by the Forum for Justice and Development, in Delhi, the sordid saga of Communist atrocities in West Bengal is yet to be narrated in its entirety.

It is imperative that that saga be narrated not only to highlight the shackles that Communism had bound over the spirit of Bengal but also to reveal how the institutionalization of violence in Bengal politics was a singular contribution of the Communists and of how, now that tradition and political habit continues with the TMC. Democratic opposition was never tolerated by the Communists in Bengal and violence became the prime instrument resorted to by the comrades to dissolve in the Bengali political space.

In West Bengal, in three decades that it was in power, the Communists have inflicted violence on the common people, especially those who have politically opposed them. In fact, the CPI-M and other Communist parties continue to stick to the cult of violence and whenever an occasion arise resorts to it. Their character is “anything between a fascist party and a Mafioso.”

Ever since it came to power in West Bengal in 1977, the CPI-M, for example, used murder as a political instrument in an organised manner. Ironically, on the one hand it nurtured and created a web of committed intellectuals who were often party card holders and were prolific in their literary and intellectual output, on the other hand it perpetrated violence as to control and regulate, especially the lower strata of society, the hapless farmer, the fisherman, the small trader, the refugee, who had to, perforce, become a member of the party and toe its line.

A brief list will reveal that the rule of Communists in West Bengal was one of the bloodiest episodes in democratic India’s history. The urban intellectuals, of course, kept silent throughout until it became politically incorrect to do so…but by then the cult of violence had been ingrained and cemented in the body politic of West Bengal.

Five violent episodes shall always remain the hallmark of Communist rule and define its violent politics in West Bengal. These episodes, among the many undocumented thousands, express the essentially anti-democratic spirit of Communism in India

1. Sainbari Killings (March 1970)

Much before they came to power heading the Left Front Government in 1977, the CPI-M leaders started experimenting with murder as a political instrument. Way back in 1970 CPI-M cadres murdered two important Congress leaders belonging to the Sain family of Burdwan. The level of bestiality that they stooped down to was evident by the fact that they made the mother of the two Sain brothers eat rice drenched with the blood of her dead sons. The shock made the mother lose her mental balance and state from which she never recovered till her death a decade later. Those communist cadres who perpetrated this violence went on to become ministers and MPs under the Left-Front government and were never brought to book.

The case which came to be known as the “Sainbari murders” has come to symbolise political violence in West Bengal. It is ironical to see the Congress depend for cerebral and political oxygen on the CPI-M today.


2. Marichjhapi Massacre (January 1979)

On Saraswati Puja Day, the Jyoti Basu-led Left front Government fired, starved, shot and killed Bengali Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, who had trooped into the state and had taken shelter in the Sunderban area. These refugees, largely Dalits who had escaped persecution in Bangladesh and sought shelter in India, were about 60,000 in number and “were taken in by the Left Front’s poll promises and had come over from the rehabilitation centre provided by the Centre in Dandakaranya (Odisha)” to Marichjhanpi in Suderban. Tear gas, blockade, firing, burning of camps were the methods used by CPI-M cadres and state police under Left front to disperse the refugees.

Many, while trying to escape, fell in the sea to be eaten by crocodiles; many bodies were dumped in the sea as well. Children – 8 years old, 12 years old, women and their babies, men and women in their seventies and eighties were killed in the firing. Till date, the exact number of deaths has not been known.” How many refugees died in police firing and how died when their boats sank while tried to escape will never be known. The refugees were hunted down just because a CPI-M government, led by proletarian leaders decided that they must be ousted. The CPI-M does talk of human rights and of the need for protecting it, but that talk is only reserved in favour of terrorists like Yakub Memon. Nor have those worthies now protesting at the FTII or their predecessors have ever made a documentary on the Marichjhapi pogrom.

3. Ananda Margi Monks Burnt Alive (April 1982)

Ananda Margis from all over the country were headed to an “educational conference” at the Tiljala centre in the southern suburbs of Kolkata when CPI-M cadres led by city leaders struck and burnt them alive. The party was wary that the Anand Margis would emerge as formidable force arresting their growth in the state. The procession wound its way was through what is now known as Bijon Setu in the Ballygunge area of south Kolkata.

Taxis carrying monks and sanyasins were intercepted at three separate locations, by CPI-M cadres the monks, two of whom were women, were doused in petrol and kerosene, and set on fire. At least 17 Margis were charred to death; several others were severely injured. The lynching was carefully planned and executed by Marxist cadres over a land dispute with the Marg. No CPIM leader has been brought to book till date.

4. Nanoor Massacre (July 2000)

CPI-M cadres and local leaders killed 11 landless Muslim labourers just because they were supporters of the opposition party and were resisting encroachment and land grabbing on July 27, 2000. The prime witness was also attacked and injured by CPI-M goons. The Statesman in an editorial wrote, “The sole purpose in attacking the prime witness in the gruesome Nanoor massacre of July 2000 in which 11 supporters were slaughtered by armed CPI-M cadres was to shield those responsible and abort their trial, by hook or by crook. The irony is that although five years have elapsed since the occurrence of the horrendous killings by the Marxists, the trial of their 79 accused comrades had not begun”.

The CPIM’s bike-riding “Harmad Bahini”, spread terror in the region, as it did over the years in areas where the Communist might was politically challenged. The pattern was to intimidate the women, burn huts, beat up and at times hack at the men and set fire to the collected grains before leaving. Often the villagers were compelled to leave the village and live in camps in neighbouring villages or had to leave the state altogether.

5. Nandigram Massacre (March 14, 2007)

The CPI-M-led government of the “poor and the peasants” tried to forcibly acquire 10,000 acres of agricultural land for a foreign company in Nandigram, in Purba Medinipur district. The farmers having formed a Bhumi Raksha Committee resisted the snatching of their lands. They were first attacked by CPI-M’s Harmad Bahini, who threatened and set fire to the villagers’ huts and prepared the ground that led to firing which saw over 14 farmers die and over 70 getting injured. The real figures will never be known, people saw piles of farmers’ bodies dumped. The government of the proletariat, which derived its strength from farmers and from landless labourers and from the poor, did not think twice while mowing them down.

While inaugurating the exhibition on Communist violence in Kerala, BJP president Amit Shah was right when he observed how “wherever BJP activists talk on ideology and development; the CPI-M workers commit murderous attacks on them​” and that this was “not just happening in Kerala, but was “happening everywhere where their governments have been in power or in those areas where they are effective.”

In fact, this murderous method has been practised by the CPI-M and Communist parties against anyone who has spoken for or worked to strengthen India or the nationalist discourse. On every occasion, Indian Communists come out loudest, serving homilies on the correct approach to governance, correct conduct in public life and the need for an effective policy framework to tackle India’s myriad problems.

In reality, such a shallow talk is a smokescreen to hide their own active complicity in turning parts of our democratic polity into wastelands of conflict, violence and death. While it is hoped that scholars would someday take up the study of the saga of Communist violence in the country, aspirational India is increasingly rejecting such a regressive ideology and political method – that in itself is a sign of hope.

Anirban Ganguly is a scholar of Indian civilisation-history-culture. He is also a director of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

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