I do not understand politics. I want change for the sake of peace in my village. There should not be another Netai, said the elderly woman, sitting at the doorway of the two-storey house from where CPI(M) cadres had rained bullets on villagers.
Alo Dandapat (60) is the symbol of change that has already been ushered into the small village even before it came in Bengal.
For more than 20 days, Alo Dandapat, aunt of Rathin Dandapat, shared the house with the armed youths and was witness to the carnage. A devout CPI(M) supporter once, the incident changed her life forever. "I cannot forget the day. What happened is unpardonable. I still have nightmares. I saw so much blood. We need peace here," said Alo.
"So many days have passed, but to me it is just like yesterday. I saw those armed youths fire from our house. People started running, there was panic everywhere. I saw men and women I knew as neighbours drop one by one. There were cries in the air," said Alo, closing her eyes, visibly scared to speak to mediapersons.
Rathin Dandapat, the owner of the house, left the village and settled down in Jhargram. In December, the armed youths began staying there, converting the house into a harmad camp. The youths talked little and she avoided interaction.
The house seems to have changed, too. Gone are the CPI(M) flags and the halogen lamp at the entrance. The canvas cover on the rooftop is gone too.
"I do not know where Rathin is. I heard that the CBI and police are looking for him. After the incident, I stayed on in the house, looking after it. It was partially ransacked. Where will I go at this age? The villagers have allowed me to stay here," said Alo, the only inhabitant of the house.
When the HT team caught up with Alo, she was drying paddy near the house but she did not allow anyone to enter the house. "I just use two small rooms on the ground floor. I am scared to go upstairs, where they (armed cadres) used to stay." She said the villagers, even the families of the victims, do not blame her for the incident. "They understand that an old woman like me had no choice but to stay here with them. Like I am doing now." Alo said she has been surviving on the stocks of paddy and foodgrain in the house. She has also been getting help from neighbours.
Aware of the polls in Bengal, she was curious about the probable results. "Will Mamata Banerjee come to power in Bengal? You are a reporter, you must know. As for me, if I can gather the courage to vote, I will vote for change. I think it will bring peace here. That is all I want. Those who have lost their near and dear ones cannot get them back. But it must not happen with anybody else. There should not be another Netai."