There are no men or youths in this once-peaceful and relatively well-off Bengal village. There are only women and little children left in Salpatra, which is near the Maoist-dominated Jhargram area of the state’s West Midnapore district.
“Maoist terror forced my family to flee,” said 13-year-old Sheikh Sajjad who stays here with his
grandmother. His parents and three siblings migrated to a place 8 km from Salpatra, which he described as “this cursed village”. Sajjad’s grandmother, Rahiman Bibi, 60, like most women here, refused to speak on the subject when approached by HT.
The men and youths began migrating to or taking shelter in neighbouring towns and villages in the face of Maoist terror that began last summer when the extremists and security forces clashed for control of Lalgarh. “Very soon Salpatra will be a ghost village,” said Sarifan Bibi, 45, who shelters single women and their children during the night. “One can carry on with anything for a long time — except fear,” she said.
Matters got worse after Maoists killed local landlord Mehfuz Ali in January, ostensibly because he deprived poor people access to foodstuff at the government-aided fair price shop he used to run.
Ali’s family abandoned the village the very next day and left for an undisclosed location, leaving their house in the custody of their servant, Rishu Doloi. But the Maoists didn’t spare Doloi either. His body was found on the banks of the Kansaimati river 12 days after Ali’s murder. A poster left near Doloi’s body said he had paid for going against the Maoists’ interests and helping the police.
Maoists frequently hold rallies and meetings in and around the village to condemn the state government and police. It’s mandatory for every adult of either sex in the village to attend these meetings, for failure to comply invites the extremists’ wrath.
“They wanted every adult, including girls to attend their rallies and meetings. This was not acceptable to us,” said a mother of five grown-up children who did not want to be named. “I have sent my children to my brother’s house in Midnapore,” she said, vowing never to let them return.
Along with a diktat on attending rallies, the Maoists have issued other orders as well. Welcoming the police is a strict no-no here. People have been instructed to drive them away with brooms. Besides, paying a levy is a must. It ranges between Rs 500 and Rs 2,500 per month depending on family’s income.
The CPI(ML)’s Bihar-Jharkhand-Orissa Border Area Regional Committee Secretary Rakeshji, however, said Maoists don’t kill innocents.
West Midnapore SP Manoj Verma said the police have arrested several rebels from the affected villages and promised to initiate confidence-building measures among the petrified villagers.
But at the moment such measures seem distant and most of the 70 houses in Salpatra are likely to remain empty in the near future.