Netai, once a sleepy hamlet near Lalgarh in West Midnapore, looked abandoned when the HT team arrived at the village one day after the massacre of seven people by alleged armed goons of the CPM.
Tell-tale signs of CPM cadres of the violent variety were strewn all over the village, about 180 km from Kolkata.
Generator-powered halogen bulbs at street crossings for night vigil, duty rosters put up at street corners for those who would perform as night guards or cooks and lists of those ordered to undergo arms training gave an impression of an army base.
Even the local strongman, Rathin Dandapat’s pink-coloured two-storied house that served as the ‘Harmad’ camp looked like a fort. Locals said Rathin Dandapat had left home with his family for Jhargram about nine months ago, leaving only an aunt.
A halogen lamp, fitted on the roof to monitor the movement of anyone who approached the house, was still there although the men left just after the massacre on Friday.
The rooms of the house appeared ransacked, as the furniture lay scattered. We found CPM flags, stockpiles of food grain, jerrycans containing kerosene, puffed rice, blankets, playing cards, a music system and firewood left behind by the killers.
“They used to rule the village from here. But they left me alone because I am Rathin’s aunt. I used to avoid them,” Dandapat’s aunt, Alo (60), who shared the house with the CPI-M men, said.
She said villagers were forced to serve the ‘Harmads’ at gunpoint, but they refused to send their boys for arms training and wanted to discuss the issue with them on Friday morning before all hell broke loose.
Pradip Jana (19), who runs the village club, Agrani Sangha’s library, showed us some books scattered on a bed in one of the rooms. He said, “The armed men took even these books away from our library.”
Besides CPM party literature were Bullet-er Sommukhe (Facing the bullet), written by Narendra Nath Pal and Abar Juddho (War again) by Prafulla Roy. And in one corner of the bed was Pobitra Hindu Dharma Grantha (Sacred Hindu religious text). The author’s name on the cover was blurred.