A sea of humanity swept in silence through the heart of the city on Wednesday as Calcutta rose in peaceful revolt against the lawlessness in Nandigram.
Not a party flag was seen and not a political slogan was uttered, but the message was loud and clear as over 60,000 people joined the march from College Square to Esplanade.
There were teachers and students, artists and actors, singers and poets, office-goers and businessmen, even monks and nuns as the clarion call given by the city’s intelligentsia drew Calcuttans by the thousands.
“Nandigram symbolises state-sponsored terrorism, where governance doesn’t exist at all,” said Monalisa Mukherjee, an assistant manager of a private bank.
“I was filled with terror hearing chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee speak in terms of ‘our people’ and ‘their people’ on Tuesday,” added Disha Advani, marching by Monalisa’s side.
The silent protest march set off from College Square around 1.15pm and even at 5pm the tail of the apolitical mahamichhil had not reached Destination Esplanade.
“We knew many people would join the protest, but had no clue that the turnout would be so phenomenal,” said Anindo Sen, who put the crowd count at close to a lakh.
Hundreds of onlookers joined the march as it proceeded through College Street, Nirmal Chander Street and SN Banerjee Road before terminating at Esplanade. For once, commuters left stranded by the march shouted words of encouragement to those causing the standstill. “Apnara egiye cholun. Amra apnader shaathe achhi (Keep marching, we are with you),” shouted an elderly man from a tram on College Street.
“We are not following any individual, ideology or political party. We are just listening to our conscience,” said Lilian Mukherjee, a second-year student of Presidency College.
Among the marchers were a few victims of the Nandigram atrocities. Jhuma Sahu, a Class IX student of Sonachura High School, fled the “war zone” on the night of November 8. “We would have been killed if we had stayed back,” stated Jhuma.
Jharna Giri, Jhuma’s classmate, left Sonachura with her family on November 9. “Who can live in constant fear of being killed' My father has been arrested; he is innocent,” cried Jharna.
At the Esplanade congregation, Rupam sang Apon kaje ochol hole cholbe na; Usha Utthup belted out Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the wind and Nandigram Nandigram don’t worry Nandigram.
An ailing Mahasweta Devi, who walked the entire stretch, had the last word: “Amader ektai naam, Nandigram.”
When chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was asked to react to the people’s rally and the presence of Mrinal Sen and the like, he said: “I know all about the rally. I have been watching the developments and am taking note of everything. I will not name anyone but I have had a good relationship with many of the people (at the rally) and I will continue to do so. Both life and the world are ever-changing.”