Land struggle in Naxalbari
NAXALBARI: In the land that gave Naxalism its name, a new revolution is sweeping through, without guns, without bloodshed, but with the same aim empowering the landless. And it all started one hot, humid July day on the Mechi riverbank when a poor farm worker was turned away from a traditional grazing ground on the India-Nepal border.
It was vested land but had been strangely taken over’ for a tea garden. Now, nine months later, men can be seen heading for the same land to farm potatoes, a sickle in one hand and a red hammer-and-sickle flag on the other.
Neither the state agencies nor the powerful "class enemies" dare stand against Ratia Singha and Minu Hansda. Exploited for generations, they have snatched back their rights. They have shown a new path.
Naxalbari which had taught Bengal and India about "armed revolution", is now witnessing a Gandhian revolution.
In July last year, Ratia, a Rajbanshi youth, had gone to the Mechi riverbank with his cattle. A father of four, he lives in Ramdhanjote and tries to feed his seven-member family with whatever little he earns as an agricultural labourer. Ratia has three cows too. That day he was told his livestock couldn’t graze in the land. It had been sold.
Like Ratia, hundreds depending on the land, were hit hard. Within days, tea gardens cropped on the same land. "It was a shock to us all. The land belongs to the government. It is also no man’s land’ because of its proximity to the India-Nepal border," said Khokon Mazumdar, an octogenarian, once close to Charu Mazumdar and a key player in the Naxalbari peasant upsurge.
The anger spread like wildfire. From Ramdhanjote, it spread to Mahipaljote, Bhagwanjote and Chunilal Jote. The government kept mum. Finally, villagers like Kabiraj Tudu and Hapan Mandi whose forefathers once fought for their rights during Naxalbari movement gave the call for revolution.
In September, farmers from eight villages along the Mechi river dyke formed the "Terai Sangrami Mancha" with the help of veteran Naxalites Khokon Mazumdar, Gour Baidya, Nathuram Biswas and Ratan Dey. The quartet still believes in a communist revolution, but condemns violence in the name of class struggle.
"Killing marginal croppers and small traders branding them as class enemies cannot be a revolution. Mindless bloodshed cannot be the right way to end state repression. It simply promotes another group of armed hoodlums," said Nathuram Biswas, a leader of CPI(ML) Janashakti, a splinter group of the erstwhile CPI(ML).
The Sangrami Mancha started their march on October 11, 2010. Thousands of unarmed landless croppers walked on the sun-baked banks of the Mechi, carrying red flags and announcing their right to the land. "We asked the tea gardeners to leave. They had illegally encroached our land. They called up police. Even border guards rushed at us but they could do nothing against our peaceful march," said Ratia. His children and wife were also in the rally.
"Since then the Terai Sangram Mancha has managed to win back 1,200 bighas (400 acres) of land on a 2-km stretch along the Mechi. Our struggle is on," said Mancha secretary Gour Baidya.
The acquired land has been distributed among 600 families in eight villages. They have now started cultivating the fertile soil, where a bigha of land can produce 25-30 quintals of potato.
For the administration, it is a Catch-22 situation. "We are aware of the movement. It is peaceful. Officially, we do not accept their claim to the land," said block development officer Subhasis Ghosh. Darjeeling SP D P Singh said they have received no complaints on the matter.
The CPM is well aware of the movement but has chosen not to go against it. "The people organising the movement may be against our party but it is true that some poor people are getting land. If the movement succeeds in making life better for some people, why should we resist?" said Jibesh Sarkar, CPM state committee member, who looks after Darjeeling.