On Saturday, when police moved into Dhangori village and started beating up everybody — even women — Rinku Panda ran away with her husband and their 21-day-old baby. After walking more than 4 km through paddy fields, they reached a relief camp at Pirakata High School.
After three days of traumatic experience, 45-year-old Alo Mal of Pindraguli village finally managed to reach Pirakata relief camp. Her house has been partially damaged when police stormed her village. She barely had any food for the last three days. Left behind in the village, her husband, son and daughter-in-law are practically starving.
Life has been reduced to such situations for Lalgarh residents today. And despite not being a conventional war zone, Lalgarh is slowly heading towards a humanitarian crisis.
With police and central forces on one side and Maoists in the no-police zone, refugees at relief camps are increasing every day.
More than 1.37 lakh people have been affected across the 413 mouzas under Binpur-I block area, which is now a troubled zone.
Achinto Mahato, sitting at the Amdanga relief camp inside the no-police zone lamented that two days back, he had tried to find something to eat for his family, but was beaten up by the police as soon as he crossed the no-police zone and entered Lalgarh market. Now he and his family eat once a day at the camp.
“In almost all the villages inside the no-police zone, villagers along with the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) members have started organising relief camps. We collect rice from those who still have some and have begun community cooking so that all the people can at least have one meal a day,” said Ashok Mahato at Amdanga relief camp.
Outside the no-police zone, people are heading for relief camps at Pirakata and Koima.
“After police took control of our village, they started beating up the villagers while searching for Maoists and PCAPA members. Our homes were ransacked and our food and utensils thrown about,” said Subol Mahato of Malida village, sitting at the Pirakata camp. “We had no other option but to come to the relief camp.”
For the past 15 days, there have been no economic or developmental activities in Lalgarh, when violence erupted and central police personnel entered the area. Schools have closed, and so have markets, even chemists. The only health centre in Lalgarh town, with just one doctor, is busy treating jawans suffering from heatstroke.
West Midnapore district magistrate N. S. Nigam flew down on a chopper to Lalgarh on Tuesday. He acknowledged the people were in “extreme distress”.
“We will try to make the relief activity more effective from tomorrow. Though we had started distributing rice from yesterday, we couldn’t continue as all our stocks were exhausted,” Nigam said. “We will also try to reach those inside the no-police zone.”