To express gratitude, Nandigram to build statue for Mahasweta Devi
As a mark of gratitude to the deceased author, residents of Nandigram will build a statue of their ‘mother’ Mahasweta Devi. The people of Nandigram had witnessed the Ramon Magsaysay Award winner raising her voice against the erstwhile Left Front government’s excesses to grab land from farmers and they have decided to install her statue at Tengua to let the future generations know about her contribution for the poor and hapless.
Tengua is the intersection of Chandipur-Nandigram road and is the point through which one has to pass to enter Nandigram while travelling from the city by road.
It is learnt that the people of Nandigram approached Suvendu Adhikari, the state Transport Minister and MLA from the area, with the proposal to install a statue of their “glorious mother” whom they had lost on July 29. Accordingly, a search was conducted to find a suitable place. Finally, Tengua, the entrance point of Nandigram, was selected considering that it was the place where Mahasweta Devi’s showed people the path to fight against oppression.
Unlike other intellectuals, Mahasweta Devi became one of those for whom she wrote. She presided over several meetings against the forceful acquisition of land by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government for Indonesia-based Salim Group – who had proposed to set up a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Nandigram for industrialisation– and wrote several articles criticising the move. Her writings had attracted people from all walks of life that finally gave shape to a movement against forceful land acquisition of poor farmers.
She had also supported the movement of Mamata Banerjee against the move of the erstwhile Left Front government to acquire agriculture land. During this period, the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) was formed to protest against the acquisition of land and setting up of SEZs that would hamper the ecological balance of the region, with Trinamool Congress MP from Kanthi Lok Sabha constituency Sisir Adhikari, who was then an MLA, as its convenor. BUPC had played a vital role in building up a movement and Mahasweta Devi had attended its several meetings.
The movement against land acquisition had led to a change of guard in the state, with Mamata Banerjee taking over as the new Chief Minister in 2011. BUPC had to collect some funds then to carry out the movement against oppression of the erstwhile government. Some amount from the fund is still left with the group and the same will be utilised to install the statue of Mahasweta Devi in Nandigram.
The task of construction of the statue is yet to start. The photograph based on which the statue will be made will be decided after consultation with her family members.
Besides installing the statue, the Nandigram Book Fair scheduled to be held in winter will also be dedicated to her and a memorial meeting will be held in Nandigram on August 13. When contacted, Suvendu Adhikari said that he was aware of all the steps being taken as a mark of gratitude to Mahasweta Devi.
Mahasweta Devi was born in a family that always worked for the poor and the downtrodden. Her father Manish Ghatak, who wrote under the pen name Jubanashya, was a litterateur of the Kallol movement challenging Rabindranath Tagore; her mother Dharitri Devi was a social worker and writer. Her uncle Ritwik Ghatak, one of Bengal’s most celebrated filmmakers, made several movies based on the life and struggle of the oppressed classes. From her childhood, she came in contact with poor and hapless, whose struggles were highlighted in her writings.
The association of Mahasweta Devi with Midnapore, of which Nandigram is a small part, began from the time when it was known as a backward area and tribals used to survive eating ants, failing to get two square meal a day.
There was no concept of education for them and many died of poverty. Britishers used to call them thaugii or thaks, which back then meant ‘criminal’. Hence, no schemes were taken up for their development even years after Independence. She began writing about them to draw the attention of the upper strata of society and steps were taken for the development of tribes like Shabars and Lodhas.