India: General strike called after 14 protesters killed.

Barricades in Nandigram
Barricades in Nandigram

In the Indian state of West Bengal a general strike was called after 14 protesters were killed on Wednesday. The demonstration was against the creation of a 'special economic zone'* in the region.

Submitted by jef costello on March 20, 2007

Violence erupted when some 4000 police and paramilitary police tried to evict protesters from the village of Nandigram and it's surroundings and to destroy the barricades the villagers had erected to prevent the arrival of state contractors.

The police claim that faced with 5000 villagers armed with homemade guns and bombs they were forced to use deadly force in self defence, they also claim that 4 of the dead were killed by their own bomb. However many children were among the hundreds injured. The police used rubber bullets and tear gas against the demonstrators then fired five volleys of live ammunition, many witnesses state that the crowd was already fleeing when the fatal shots were fired.

The police were assisted by supporters of the Indian Communist Party who head the ruling coalition in the state. Marxist rebel groups, who are suspected of the bombing on Sunday of a compound intended to house a factory, have been involved in the calls for the strike and the government is using their presence to justify sending large numbers of police and paramilitary troops to the region.

Schools, offices and shops were closed on Thursday and Friday and the streets of the state capital, Calcutta, were deserted and protester blocked roads and train lines across the region.

A one-day strike was called for Monday but apparently this was not widely observed, especially in the cities with disruption limited largely to blockades of transport in the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar. In Maoist strongholds schools and shops were also closed.

*Special Economic Zones were authorised by a law passed on 04/01/2000, they aim to mirror the success of (and provide stiffer competition to) such zones in China. The avowed aim is "to provide an internationally competitive and hassle free environment for exports." In practise this means that companies are exempt from taxes (and most state regulation) and the state provides superior infrastructure to facilitate this.