A question marked in red
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As a lifelong Leftist, I am deeply shocked by recent events in the countryside of West Bengal. On December 31, a group of us went to Singur, spent the whole day there, visited 4 out of the 5 most affected villages which border the land that has been taken over. We had conversations with at least 50-60 villagers. Almost all rushed to us and told us their complaints.
From this brief but not necessarily unrepresentative sample, three things became very clear, because of which the West Bengal government's version cannot be accepted. One, the land, far from being infertile or mono-cropped, as has been stated repeatedly, is sextremely fertile and multi-cropped. We saw potatoes and vegetables already growing after the aman rice has been harvested, some of them actually planted behind the now fenced-in area which the peasants had lost. Two, there is no doubt that the vast bulk of the villagers we met are opposed to the take-over of land and most are refusing compensation. It should also be kept in mind that at best the consent of the registered landholders as well as sharecroppers is being taken. But agricultural production also involves sharecroppers who are not covered by Operation Barga since they have come in later, as well as agricultural labour. Under the government-announced scheme for compensation, such people are not being remembered.
Three, we found much evidence of force being employed, particularly on the nights of September 25 and December 2. We met many people — men and also a large number of women — who had been beaten up, their injuries still visible, including an 80 year old woman.
What the villagers repeatedly alleged was that along with the police, and it seems more than the police, party activists, whom the villagers call 'cadres' — which has sadly become a term of abuse — did the major part of the beating up. Clearly, the whole thing had been done without consultation, with very little transparency, and in a very undemocratic manner.
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