Putting speculations about their being on the run to rest, Maoists in Bengal's West Midnapore district launched an attack on the officer-in-charge (OC) of Sankrail police station Uttam Debnath and snatched his AK-47 assault rifle when he went to raid a rebel den on Wednesday night.
"While Debnath sustained head injuries, a total of 17 policemen were injured in the clash," said Mukesh Kumar, additional superintendent of police (operations), West Midnapore.
West Midnapore is one of Bengal's three Maoist-dominated districts and has seen at least 200 deaths in Maoist violence in the past year and a half.
About 150 kms to the west of Kolkata, Sankrail police station is infamous for the abduction of OC Atindranath Datta on October 20, 2009. The incident left a heap of shame on the state administration as Datta was released two days later as a 'prisoner of war' with the CPI(Maoist) leader Kishenji presenting a long speech that was televised nationwide.
Uttam Mahato, a 45-year-old villager was killed in the incident after he was hit by a bullet. He is known as a labourer in a local factory and is survived by a family of five.
Seven villagers have been admitted to Jhargram sub divisional hospital, some of them with bullet injuries. One of the villagers injured is Deben Mahato, a homeguard who had come home on leave.
On Thursday noon, the village looked empty as the police detained about 50 villagers for questioning.
While OC Das lay unconscious in the Midnapore district hospital battling for life, the incident sent fresh tremors in the state secretariat at Writers' Buildings that was enjoying a brief lull in rebel violence.
Wednesday's incident occurred around 4 am when Debnath went to raid a meeting conducted by the rebels at Chunpara village. When police arrived at the spot 10 km from Sankrail police station, members of the Sidhu Kanu people's militia blocked their way and a clash ensued.
While the police fired, some of the rebels attacked Das with bamboos and beat him up thoroughly.
Police alleged that the rebels put women in the front making it difficult for the police to launch an all out attack.
But police was forced to open fire when the people turned violent.
"It is not clear at the moment who were the villagers injured by – bullets that police fired, or their own bullets," said Mukesh Kumar.
"Some people knocked on our door and entered the house forcefully. We also heard explosions outside and wailing women. Some villagers ran out of their homes. Some women were being put in a vehicle. My husband protested and was shot by the miscreants," said Monika Mahato, wife of Uttam.
Trinamool Congress MP Suvendu Adhikari visited the village and claimed Uttam Mahato was their supporter and was killed by the combined forces and the goons of CPI(M).
Adhikari also claimed the incident was a proof that the combined forces are acting in collusion with the CPI(M) cadres.