Peasant farmers in the state's poorest districts are protesting a government decision to give land they cultivated to big industries. "We will not be deceived: without land, we will end up begging in the big cities."
Shiliguri (AsiaNews) The Communist Party in power in the eastern State of West Bengal is "seizing land by force from the poorest peasants to give it to the large industries of capitalist Indians". But their efforts "will be met by the people with all possible means, because they have no desire to end up begging on the streets of big cities".
The first protests started in Hoogly district, where around 1,300 acres of land have been earmarked for Tata Motors, which plans to set up a car factory. One of the agricultural workers in the area, Gopal Choudhary, said this land seized from big landowners had been ceded by the Communist government 15 years ago to poor villagers in the district. "It is sadly ironic that the same government now wants to take, even by force, what it gave to poor people in order to give it to capitalists."
But Choudhary said the peasants "will not give in easily". He said: "Protest rallies have already started and residents have said they are ready to shed their blood before ceding their land, the only source of income for them and their families."
Ghansayam Barik, whose family owns three acres of the disputed land, told AsiaNews it was only thanks to farmers' perseverance and hard work that the land had become fertile: "We managed to dig into the field gradually, to have responsible irrigation. Tata Motors, however, has already said it intends to pump 20 million gallons of water per day to make its machines work: this would dry up the underground water resources, making neighbouring land arid. We will not allow this."
After the first protests, Nirupam Sen the state's Industry Minister took care to point out that "although there is no money to pay compensation to peasants for the seizure", the government "is ready to assure myriad new job opportunities once the factory is open".
But Barik said this was a "delusion we will not be deceived by. We are well aware Tata will only employ qualified personnel and not peasants who don't know anything about making cars. The truth is that we will be forced to leave our fields and go begging in big cities."
Protest leaders said the recent electoral victory of the Communist Party had made the government "certain it's invincible". They said: "This time, they have gone too far and the land seizure they are pushing ahead will deprive them first of all of our votes. Peasants will oppose their miserable fate through any means available."