May 28, 2008 / 12:04 PM / 11 years ago

Amnesty slams India communists for land violence

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Militias of a communist party ruling an eastern Indian state have killed people and raped women with impunity after farmers refused to give their land for industry, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

The human rights abuses occurred after the West Bengal government failed to persuade farmers of Nandigram to sell their land for a chemical industry complex, the organization said.

“People who abused, who attacked, who took recourse to violence to establish their political dominance were neither booked nor arrested by state agencies,” Mukul Sharma, head of the group’s India chapter, told Reuters.

Nandigram, a cluster of villages in West Bengal, has been the flashpoint of a conflict between mostly poor farmers and the state government since early 2007 over the refusal of the villagers to sell their land.

Nearly three dozen people are known to have been killed and several women raped, while police have found several unmarked graves in areas close to Nandigram, a four-hour drive from the state capital Kolkata.

As India’s economic priorities shift from agriculture to industry, authorities face resistance from farmers unwilling to hand over their land for factories, often leading to violent confrontations such as in Nandigram.

Similar violent protests had initially met the factory manufacturing the Nano, the $2,500 car from Tata Motors, at a town near Kolkata.

“In Nandigram, private militias owing allegiance to the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and armed supporters of local organizations battled for territorial control,” Amnesty’s the State of the World’s Human Rights report said.

“A range of human rights violations followed, including killings, forced evictions, excessive police force, violence against women, denial of access and information to media and human rights organizations.”

But the communists say they are being needlessly vilified.

“We are facing a massive disinformation campaign on Nandigram,” senior CPI-M leader Shymal Chakraborty told Reuters. “The picture being painted is one-sided.”

Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee

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