Less Told Facts – Morichjhanpi Massacre by Marixsts

via http://jokesfromindianleft.blogspot.com/2008/03/morichjhanpi-massacre.html published on April 2, 2008

The Left Government in West Bengal is not new to Mass Murder of
Innocent Citizens. Nandigram is just the latest in the series. Before
Nandigram it was  the Morichjhapi massacre of the 1970s, featured in
Amitav Ghosh’s Hungry Tide. There, it was East Bengal refugees
in the Sundarbans who were cordoned off, fired on and the survivors
evicted. The cost in lives is still unaccounted, but it is likely that
thousands were killed.

In the 1960s and 1970s (especially after
the Bangladesh war of independence in 1971, Mujibur Rahman’s
assassination in 1975 and Zia-ur-Rahman’s coming to power) communal
agitations were directed against the Hindus who had remained in East
Bengal. Hounded out of East Bengal,  Bengali Hindus from East Pakistan
and subsequently Bangladesh entered West Bengal in the hope of settling
down. They were however sent to various inhospitable areas outside West
Bengal with the assurance that they would eventually be relocated in
West Bengal. Ironically, during that time CPM Led opposition, denounced
the Congress attempts to evict the refugees from West Bengal and
promised that when they came to power they would settle the refugees in
West Bengal and that this would, in all probability, be on one of the
islands of the Sundarbans.

In 1977, when the CPM Led Left Front
came to power, they found the refugee had taken them at their word and
sold their belongings and land to return to West Bengal. In 1978 a
group of refugees fled from the Dandakaranya camp in Madhya Pradesh and
came to the island of Morichjhapi in the Sundarbans with the intention
of settling there. In all, 1,50,000 refugees arrived from
Dandakaranya1  expecting the government to honour its word.
Morichjhanpi, an island in the northern-most forested part of the West
Bengal Sundarbans, had been cleared in 1975 and its mangrove vegetation
replaced by a governmental programme of coconut and tamarisk plantation
to increase state revenue.

The state government was in no mood
to tolerate such a settlement. It stated that the refugees were ‘in
unauthorised occupation of Morichjhanpi which is a part of the
Sundarbans government reserve forest violating thereby the Forest
Acts’.  However, according to journalist Niranjan Haldar, who
extensively reported and researched the carnage, the refusal of the
Udbastu Unnayansil Samity, an association of refugees, to merge with
the CPI(M) led to their eviction.

On the January 31, 1979 the
police opened fire killing 36 persons. The media started to underscore
the plight of the refugees of Morichjhanpi and wrote in positive terms
about the progress they were making in their rehabilitation efforts.
Photographs were published in the Amrita Bazar Patrika of the
February 8, 1979. Fearing more backlash, and seeing the public growing
warm towards the refugees’ cause, the chief minister Jyothi Basu
declared Morichjhanpi out of bounds for journalists and condemned their
reports. The repeated pleas from the dwellers of the island did not
reach the mainland owing to the iron fisted control of the left front,
over the media. The plight of the refugees was supposed to be published
in parts in the Bengali Daily Jugantar,25th July, however after the
first part, it had to be discontinued. Later the editor Amitava
Chaudhuri wrote, how the CPM led government forced him to back off from
carrying forth the further publications, in spite of the declaration of
the forth coming 2nd part in the 25th July issue itself.

After
the failure of the economic blockade (announced on January 26 – an
ironical twist to Republic Day!) in May the same year, the government
started forcible evacuation. Thirty police launches encircled the
island thereby depriving the settlers of food and water; they were also
tear-gassed, their huts razed, their boats sunk, their fisheries and
tube-wells destroyed, and those who tried to cross the river were shot
at. To fetch water, the settlers had now to venture after dark and deep
into the forested portion of the island and forced to eat wild grass.
Several hundred men, women and children were believed to have died
during that time and their bodies thrown in the river. In all 4,128
families who had come from Dandakaranya to find a place in West Bengal
perished of cholera, starvation, disease, exhaustion, in transit while
sent back to their camps, by drowning when their boats were scuttled by
the police or shot to death in Kashipur, Kumirmari, and Morichjhanpi by
police firings. How many of these deaths actually occurred in
Morichjhapi we shall never know. However, what we do know, is that no
criminal charges were laid against any of the officials or politicians
involved.

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