The extent of political violence that is currently underway in West Bengal has left many across the country shell-shocked. However, political violence in the state has a long history. It is the home of the Naxal movement, of course.
Through the years, numerous atrocities have been committed that capture the lowest of the lows that humans can stoop to. But none, perhaps, could ever transcend the monstrosity of the Sainbari Murders.
In 1970, the Sain Parivar was a prominent family in Bardhaman which supported the Congress party. The family had refused to join the Communists despite the numerous threats that were issued and for their conviction, they suffered ruin.
In a twisted sense of irony, the fateful day was not supposed to end that way. The day should have been one of joy and mirth for the members of the family. The naming ceremony of a new born baby of one of the daughter-in-laws was to occur on the 17th of March that year. But fate had other plans.
A mob of CPI(M) workers, allegedly led by a man who went on to become a Minister in the state no less, barged into the house, set it on fire and committed one of the most horrendous crimes in the history of Indian politics. Two brothers of the family, Pranab Kumar Sain and Malay Kumar Sain, were hacked to death in front of the family members.
A private tutor, Jitendranath Rai, who had come to teach the kids in the family was hacked to death as well. Later, the mother of the slain brothers was forced to eat rice smeared with the blood of her dead sons. Words cannot ever capture the horror that transpired in Sainbari that day.
One of the daughter-in-laws of the family, Rekha Rani, now around 75 years old, recounted the horrors of the incident in an interview with Indian Express. She said, “My brothers-in-laws Pranab Kumar Sain and Malay Kumar Sain and Jitendranath Rai, a private tutor who had come to teach the kids, were hacked in front of my eyes. I was 26. It all began at 7.30 am… people stared pelting stones on our house. Later, they set it on fire.”
“My mother-in-law, Mrignayana Devi, tried to stop the attackers but she was hit on her head. Two attackers mixed Pranab and Malay’s blood with rice and forced it into her mouth… She was taken to the hospital… she survived,” she added.
Not many people are aware of the Sainbari incident. Even those who are only remember the horror of a mother who was forced to eat rice smeared with the blood of her dead sons. The atrocity in itself was so huge that it eclipsed other acts of monstrosity that occurred on the 17th of March, 1970.
How many people are aware of the fact that the husband of Rekha Rani had his eyes gouged out by the monsters who descended upon the family? Acid was poured into his eyes. How many people are aware that the son of Rekha Rani’s sister-in-law was snatched away from the lap of his mother and thrown into a raging fire before he was saved by relatives?
The events of the 17th of March, 1970 triggered a series of murders later. Rekha Rani’s husband was murdered a year later. The Communists clearly believed that gouging his eyes and pouring acid on them was not enough punishment for being a bourgeoisie. Gunamoni Roy, an NSUI activist who was a witness to the massacre, was murdered when he had gone to depose before the Tarapada Roy Commission constituted to probe the incident.
It is perhaps a sign of our times that while the monsters prospered, the survivors were relegated to a life of misery and desperation. Decades have passed, Nirupam Sen, the alleged perpetrator is dead, the Communists no longer rule and yet, the family continues to suffer in ignominy.
Political parties have tried to use the misery of the family for their own gain. Rekha Rani said told the Indian Express in 2016, “On special occasions, like July 21 Martyrs’ Day event in Kolkata, I had been displayed on the stage as a showpiece with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee handing over an envelope containing Rs 10,000… No one wants to find out how we are living in impunity, running from pillar to post… trying to gather funds for my treatment.”
Bijay Kumar Sain, the youngest son of the family, said, “The ruling party (TMC) wanted me to name people I don’t remember being present at the time of the attack. If I followed the diktat, I would probably have got a government job. On the other hand, those allegedly involved in the murders want me to say they were not there at the time of the attack…”
He added, “Many of my relatives have accepted jobs and monetary help from the ruling party… It is not possible to forget… but I would not want to cash in on the occasion.” He recounted ruefully, “I am often invited to functions to mark the day of the massacre but I avoid the same. I garland the dome when everyone has left. I say my silent prayer.”
The saddest part about the entire series of events is the fact that the party for which the Sain family suffered so greatly forgot them entirely due to political opportunism. During the UPA era, the Congress party ruled with active support from the CPI(M). Again, ahead of the 2016 Assembly elections in the state, the Congress was overeager to form an alliance with the Communist party.
The fate of the Sain Parivar and the events that have followed since then is a gross indictment of our democracy. People are prone to exalting democracy as the best system of governance there is but in reality, it has all the vices of the other forms of governance and extremely few of its virtues.
Nirupam Sen did not suffer any consequences precisely because he had political power. The party he was a member of and which even made him a Minister later on still remains an important political player in the country. Democracy as a system is defined by its utter lack of accountability and the Sainbari incident is testament to that fact.
It is also an indictment of the moral bankruptcy of the Nehru-Gandhi Parivar that they abandoned one of their staunch supporters for political gains. It’s not surprising considering the fact that Democracy makes the elites of a nation completely unaccountable to the people they rule over. While the masses fight among each other, the ruling class of different political parties wine and dine with each other without feeling the weight of the burden that leadership is supposed to entail.
Worst of all, political violence in the state continues to this day. Mothers are being robbed of their sons, wives of their husbands, sisters of their brothers under Mamata Banerjee’s rule as well. Women are being raped because their husbands political affiliation does not align with the ruling establishment. Doctors are attacked by a mob and the Police doesn’t act because the perpetrators belong to a community that is the ruling party’s vote-bank. How is any of this any different from a malevolent dictatorship?
It’s an indictment of Feminists and liberals as well who clamour for women empowerment. They have crowned Mamata Banerjee a Queen for her opposition towards Narendra Modi and the BJP. The protests by doctors of the state have opened the eyes of some of them and yet, in the run up to the elections, when families were still being destroyed while the ruling establishment made no effort to stop them as it helped them politically, the Feminists and the liberals hailed Mamata Banerjee as a ‘street-fighter’.
The Sainbari murder should have been a lesson to everyone about the excesses of democracy. And yet, everyone, including the citizens of the state and the country, was more than willing to ignore the misery of the family. Then, it was the Sain family. Now, it is the family of Saraswati Das, Sushil Mondal, Sishu Pal Shashish, Trilochan Mahato and others. The obvious lessons have still not been learnt.