Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lalgarh bleeds as Maoists, cops tussle

Nirmalya Banerjee & Sukumar Mahato, TNN 30 July 2009, 04:02am IST


LALGARH/BELPAHARI: "Why have you come here? How will you help me by taking my photographs?" demanded Jharna Mal of Pathardanga village, her anger
welling up from the bottom of her heart. "Come and see how I am surviving, how I am feeding my four children. What was his fault?"

Jharna, who is referring to her husband, fails to understand why he should be arrested while sleeping in his own house. "Where should he have slept if not in his own house? If my husband is such a bad man, then I too should be arrested."

Recalling the incident, People's Committee against Police Atrocities spokesman Chhatradhar Mahato said when police raided Pathardanga soon after entering Lalgarh town during the joint operations, all the men of the village had fled, except for Manoranjan Mal, who was sleeping in his house. They promptly dragged him away and slapped a few cases on him. Manoranjan has not returned since. Pathardanga, too, wears a deserted look.

There are others, in and around Lalgarh, who have suffered similary during the police operations. Santosh Mahato of Tarki village is one. Since July 24, he has been limping along a 4-km stretch of kutcha village road, from Tarki village to the hospital in Lalgarh town, twice a day, to take pain-killer shots. "I have no other way, there is no doctor in the hospital," he says.

His trouble started on July 24 morning, when police surrounded the village. "On seeing the police, most villagers fled. I was in my house. They called me out and asked me to take them to the house of a PCPA leader. When they did not find him at his house, they hurled me to the ground and a policeman stood on my chest. Then I was thrashed with rifle butts. My lower back aches so badly that I can hardly walk on uneven ground," says the 40-year-old villager, who works in a cattle shed in Jhargram town.

There is another side to the story, too, like that of Sushan Mahato, the mother of Shyamapada Mahato of Bhulabheda village in Belpahari. Shyamapada was murdered by suspected Maoists in April. The family's cultivable land lies untended and the scared family lives in a hut in a corner of the village. "There is no CPM member in this village anymore. There were five all were killed," says Sushan.

Congress leader of Belpahari, Subrata Bhattacharya, sums up the dilemma people in the Maoist-dominated areas face. "Terrorism practised by the Maoists is bad. But when the government practises terrorism, the implications are far more serious." He feels the way police are arresting people indiscriminately and slapping cases on them, the cause of the Maoists would be furthered. "Even when released on bail, in no way will these people be able to fight so many cases. They will have nowhere to go. Many of them will then join the ranks of the Maoists."

Dhirendra Nath Baske, who resigned as adviser to tribal affairs of the state government in protest against the police operations in Lalgarh, feels the division between tribals and backward castes and the advanced sections of these areas would deepen because of the operations. "The operations have broken the back of the economy of the tribals. Large tracts of paddy fields in these areas are lying uncultivated as people have fled their villages. At this rate, they will face starvation."

Chhatradhar Mahato said people could not sow paddy as villages were lying deserted because of police operations when the rains came. Now, there is no rain though people are returning to villages. "Collection of forest products is another mainstay of tribal economy. But tribals are too scared to enter the forests and immediately, they will be arrested as Maoists," he added.

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