The killings under Communist regimes all over the world are well known and documented. From Stalin’s execution of political opponents to Great Leap Forward by Mao Zedong, the history of Communism is full of bloodshed and violence. The cruelty of the Communist regime in foreign countries is well known. But the massacres by Communist parties in India is lesser known because the left-liberal intelligentsia controls the academic and media narrative. One such incident of mass killing by Communist happened under the Left Front government of West Bengal in 1979. Four decades back in January 1979, the newly elected Communist government killed more than a thousand refugee Hindus who migrated to India after partition. Most of these refugees were Scheduled Castes and poor, the people for whose rights Communists claim to stand for.
The roots of the killing in Marichjhapi (popularly known as massacre but mentioned as ‘incident’ in academic writing due to Communist influence) goes back to the partition of India. During partition, lakhs of Bengali Hindus left their home to move to Hindu majority India from Muslim majority Pakistan. The majority of upper caste Hindus from Bangladesh (East Pakistan before 1971) moved to West Bengal but lower caste Hindus stayed. Jogendra Nath Mandal, an ardent supporter of Dalit Muslim unity convinced the Namasudra (Scheduled Caste in Bengal) to stay in newly created East Pakistan. However, Mandal himself left Pakistan in 1950 and accused the Pakistani government of anti-Hindu bias. But the poor lower caste people stayed there until 1971 when Pakistani army carried out the genocide of Hindus. The pogrom by Pakistani army forced the lower caste Hindus to move to India.
“These migrants were mostly poor, marginal farmers and people engaged in petty vocations in East Pakistan and were mostly Dalits and OBCs. The upper castes, the educated and the wealthy from East Bengal (which became East Pakistan in 1947) had already set up bases and homes in West Bengal before Partition. The poor and the lower castes stayed behind because they did not have the means to migrate,” wrote Amiya Majumdar, a historian.
The Bengali Hindu refugees started settling down in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura but when these state exceeded the capacity to absorb them, union government decided to settle them in Dandakaranya, a jungle area spread over the states of Odisha, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The Communist parties which had started to emerge as a major force in the state of West Bengal in the mid-60s started luring the refugee population in the name of permanent settlement for refugees. The Communist party promised permanent settlement for the refugees in the state of West Bengal if they are elected to power. Jyoti Basu, who later became first Communist chief minister of West Bengal wrote to Congress leaders and asked for the rehabilitation of refugees in islands of Sunderbans.
After the Left government came to power in mid-1997, the refugees started moving from Dandakaranya to West Bengal. The refugees were optimistic that the Communist government will give them land to settle and help them financially, as promised by its leaders. The leaders of Udbastu Unnayanshil Samiti (Refugee Welfare Committee) decided to settle down on Marichjhapi Island. As these refugees started encroaching private and public land, they became a liability for the newly elected Communist government. By the month of June in 1988, more than 30,000 refugees settled on Marichjhapi Island.
The increasing number of refugees became problematic to the Communist government and they changed the stance of refugee rehabilitation. The government said that the refugees would have to go back to Dandakaranya. The Jyoti Basu government sent police forces and the cadre of the Communist party to threaten the refugees to go back. Thousands of refugees were bundled and herded in the railway to go back to Dandakaranya.
However, thousands of people living in Marichjhapi Island without any government help refused to obey the diktat of the Communist government. The Communist government responded to this by blocking the access of Marichjhapi to the neighboring islands. The trade and commerce to the neighboring island were necessary for the basic necessities like food and cloth and blockade put their survival in danger.
The people on Marichjhapi Island decided to send few men in the night to procure basic necessities. However, the police and CPM cadres who were enforcing the blockade caught them in Kumirmari bazaar. They cops looted these men from Marichjhapi Island and killed the majority of them. When the news of killing reached the people of the island, they became more determined to break the blockade.
The people on the island planned that first, they would send a group of women because they thought that police and CPM would not attack them. But the police rammed their boat against the boat carrying the women and when they jumped into the water, the police fired at them. The few women who were not killed in the firing swam to other island but were caught by the police. The people on the island saw the brutality of the police and decided to attack the police forces with lathis, choppers and whatever weapon they had.
This gave the police and CPM cadres the chance they were looking for. They attacked the island and killed people, raped women, and harassed kids. Even the school children were not shown mercy by the police and Communist goons. According to records, more than 1,700 people were killed in the massacre and thousands of women were raped. The survivors fled to the neighboring districts of North and South 24 Parganas and their kids still live the life of misery and poverty.
Mamata Banerjee promised to launch a judicial probe to the Marichjhapi massacre and all other Communist killings in the state. But after coming to power, she betrayed the people like the Communist government.
The Marichjhapi massacre is known by very few people in the country, unlike the Gujarat riots. The estimated deaths in Gujarat riots are less than 1,000 while the toll of Marichjhapi massacre is above 1,500. But the left-liberal intelligentsia which controls the media and academic landscape popularized the Gujarat riots through mentions in books and newspapers while the Marichjhapi massacre is hardly known among the people. The Communists and socialist intelligentsia whitewashed the deeds of Jyoti Basu government despite its direct involvement in it, unlike the Gujarat riots. The whole episode of the Marichjhapi massacre shows the real face of the Communist party. Amitav Ghosh, the popular English writer wrote a novel named The Hungry Tide on the account of Marichjhapi massacre. However, the event still finds little space in mainstream academic and media publishing.
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