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Midnapore school turns sanctuary for men at night

During the day, the building is a school, alive with 700 students. At night, it turns into a refuge for about 350 men of four neighbouring villages.
By Snigdhendu Bhattacharya | Hindustan Times, Salboni
UPDATED ON JUN 24, 2010 02:22 AM IST

During the day, the building is a school, alive with 700 students. At night, it turns into a refuge for about 350 men of four neighbouring villages.

For the last six months, villagers have been using Kalsibhanga Desbandhu High School in Salboni as a day school and a night sanctuary. Salboni is in Bengal’s Maoist-dominated West Midnapore district, 160 km south west of Kolkata.

“We don’t dare sleep in our houses at night. The ‘combined force’ (a euphemism for the central and state forces) is in search of Maoists and PCAPA (a front organisation of the Maoists) leaders. We can’t take the risk of staying alone at home,” Sameer Mahato, a villager of Baro Kalsibhanga, told HT.

His fear: being whisked away by the security forces and then killed as a Maoist.

After the clock strikes 10 pm, the houses in the villages are devoid of all able-bodied men. Only women, children, and old people remain there.

During the night the men in dhotis, lungis and pajamas troop into the school. It is converted into a massive bedroom. Those who come early grab the benches. Others sleep on the floors, the balconies and even the roof. Around 300-350 men from Baro Kalsibhanga, Chhoto Kalsibhanga, Patri and Majurkata villages gather there every night.

But as classes start early in summer, they vacate the school building by 6 a.m.

Lalmohan Mahato, a former CPI(M) panchayat member and now a PCAPA supporter, said it is easy for the security forces to pick up men from their homes at night, whereas it is not easy to pick anyone from a group of 300 men.

“We can resist the force’s attempts if we are together. Moreover, it might not always be possible to keep track of each and every house. But if someone is picked up from here, everyone will know,” Mahato said.

But the men still feel helpless about raids in their houses and the chances of women and children being picked up. “We can only hope that the forces do not conduct such raids. There is nothing more we can do about it right now,” said Kali Hembram of Majurkata.

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