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Lalgarh village still sleeps in fear

india Updated: Jan 16, 2011 23:04 IST
Debjyoti Chakraborty
Debjyoti Chakraborty
Hindustan Times
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Pieces of 35-year-old Saraswati Ghorai’s skull are still scattered in the dust in front of the house where a bullet took away the top of her head on January 7. A wall still has a bullet mark with strands of her hair.

Police and forensic officials did their routine job and left the loose ends unattended to disappear with time.

Gayatri Kar (70) still bursts into tears describing the death of her neighbour’s son, Arup Patra (18), with two bullet wounds in the abdomen.

On January 7, inmates of an armed CPM camp opened fire on villagers at Netai in West Midnapore district of West Bengal and killed seven people and injured 29. One of the injured, Geetali Adak, died at a Kolkata hospital on Thursday.

But even more than a week after the massacre, fear rules the village. If the killers come back at night for more fun, there’s no one to stop them. There’s no trace of the police or the joint forces. Dusk comes here with death in its wake.

When this correspondent visited the village on Thursday, fear was still palpable. The villagers enthusiastically showed local CPM activist Rathin Dandapat’s two-storey house that served as the Harmad camp, the first-floor balcony and terrace from where the bullets came.

But when we were leaving a few hours later as it was getting late and the road to district headquarters Midnapore was not safe — with jawans of the joint forces retiring to their camps with the first signs of sunset, leaving the area domination exercise to Maoist bands — one could sense the fear among the men who saw us off.

Shaktipada Ghorai, who lost a 25-year-old son, said, “If the Harmads come back tonight, we will die defenceless, again.”

What triggered the January 7 massacre is still a mystery.

Villager Chanchal Goswami told HT that the inmates — mostly from Keshpur-Garhbeta, a stronghold of CPM minister Sushanta Ghosh — arrived about a month ago to set up the camp under a party leader from Netai, Abani Singh.

But it’s clear from their comments that Singh was some kind of a political commissar assigned by the party, while the hired goons had their commander — a tall, well-built, bearded man — whose name nobody knows.

The inmates used to force the villagers to do their domestic chores but when it came to sending 18 to 35-year-old bachelors for arms training, Netai’s women rebelled.

The reason: the brunt of the series of ‘occupation forces’ — first the Maoists, then the joint forces and finally, the Harmads — in the three western districts of Bengal, Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore, have been borne by the women.

The Netai women do not talk about it, fearing social stigma, but they didn’t want their sons and brothers to become armed rapists. When the villagers went to the camp to discuss the arms training programme, they could not gauge the risk they were taking. For, they thought Singh, one of their neighbours, would protect them.