Nakul Sardar of Sutan is fast losing weight as he is an integral member of his village defence committee. Sardar has also been suffering from insomnia for the last three months but he has no choice. If he wants to sleep, it will be unfair to the 79 other members of the team busy protecting the village from Maoist attack.
Sutan has been able to prevent rebel raids. The remote Bankura village has showed that Maoists can be resisted without setting up harmad camps or using firearms. Members of the village defence committee are armed with traditional weapons such as bows and arrows and the district police admit that the rebels have started retreating from Barikul, Sutan, Malera, Khatam, Tilaboni, Majgeria, Murkum and Dhojuri.
Taking advantage of the situation, the CPI(M) has been able to campaign at Sutan for their candidate Debalina Hembram of Ranibandh assembly constituency. The situation could not have been imagined three months ago.
Sutan is about 90 km southwest from Bankura town. The topography of the village resembles a bowl with forests surrounding it, which makes it prone to Maoist ambushes.
On January 30, Maoists struck at night, killing Parameswar Mandi, a local businessman. Within an hour, the rebels tried to drag local CPI(M) leader Lakkhi Mahato out of his house. His brother, who took a bullet on his chin, saved the Marxist. The attack angered locals and was the genesis of the village defence committee.
“About 80 families live in Sutan. One male member from each family has to keep vigil at night. The hours of duty are from 6 pm to 6 am. The men are divided into five to six small groups. While some rest, others keep watch. Sentries are deployed at four strategic points. They do not carry firearms but only bows and arrows. The village defence committee is neutral and politics are kept out,” said villager Narayan Sardar.
Unlike their West Midnapore counterparts, hotheads are a rarity in the CPI(M) leadership in Bankura. Even after 600 Marxists became homeless in Bankura, there have not been any harmad camps. “When we told villagers to form village protection group, our workers asked for firearms. But we convinced them to apply the same tactics by which they drive wild animals away. We made them understand that bows and arrows in the dark are as lethal as firearms. If villagers keep vigil then there is no way that Maoists will attack since they do not like casualties,” said Amiyo Patra, the CPI(M)’s district secretary in Bankura.
Though the CPI(M) played a major role in setting up the village protection committees, many of the people are hostile to the ruling party because of scarcity of drinking water, absence of irrigation and no work under the National Rural Employment Generation Act (NREGA).
Scarcity of water is also a complaint in Bankura town. Sanjay Banerjee, who runs a car rental business, said, “Even when we are living in town, we have to suffer from the scarcity of drinking water in summer. There are two rivers — Dwarakeswar and Gandheswari — on the south and north of Bankura town respectively. Why did the government not come up with a project to solve the crisis?”
The outrage among the poor is far greater in CPI(M)-ruled panchayat areas. Take Kalpathar, a CPI(M)-ruled panchayat area 12 km from Bankura town. Bhaskar Bauri, a landless labourer from Gangtora, said, “More than four months have passed but I have not received any payment from the panchayat for work.”
Nirmal Mandi of Lepoam and Indranath Pal of Khejurkhenna said, “Sitting MLA Debalina Hembram is busy campaigning and is a regular at our villages. She is visiting us after four years.” Sanatan Hansda of Ghatpal said, “Trinamool candidate Falguni Hembram is campaigning hard. Ranibandh will witness a tough fight for the first time.