Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lives derailed by Maoist bullets

Ganjabala Mahato (top) and Archana Pratihar. Pictures by Samir Mondal


Kantapahari (Lalgarh), Nov. 29: Several families who have lost members to Maoist bullets in West Midnapore are finding it difficult to earn their livelihood because other villagers are reluctant to deal with households marked out by the guerrillas.

As a result, Anadi Mahato’s family can’t harvest their crop, Gurucharan Mahato’s son can’t re-start his father’s business and Barun Pratihar’s wife can’t reopen her husband’s sweet shop.

No villager will harvest Anadi’s crop, no villager will sell sal leaves for Gurucharan’s son to make plates and no villager will buy sweets from Barun’s shop.

Early in the morning of September 30, CPM supporter Anadi, 45, was dragged out of his house at Ranja village in Salboni and shot dead.

His 72-year-old mother is at a loss over what to do with the aman paddy on their land. “My son had cultivated his five bighas (a little over an acre and a half). But no farmhand is willing to harvest the crop for fear of incurring the Maoists’ wrath,” said Ganjabala.

The land, on which the family grows paddy and potato through the year and vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower in winter, fetches almost Rs 5,000 a month.

“If the crop is not harvested by December, it would rot on the fields. We won’t have money to buy food,” said Anadi’s son Chiranjib, who is supposed to write his secondary exams in 2010.

Gurucharan, 50, was killed on July 11 because he had refused to pay Rs 50,000 to the Maoists. At Sirshi village, on the outskirts of Midnapore town, his machine to press and trim sal leaves into plates is gathering dust. No one dares to sell the leaves to Sulekha, 45, and her son Rabi, 28.

Rabi used to help his father, a CPM sympathiser, with the business, which fetched them Rs 10,000 a month.

“Whatever little savings that we had have mostly been spent,” the young man said.

The tribal women who supplied the leaves have told the widow and her son they should look for other suppliers.

Archana Pratihar tried in vain to reopen her husbands’ sweetmeats shop at Kantapahari near Lalgarh. “As if our sweets have suddenly ceased to be sweet enough for the villagers,” the 30-year-old widow said while narrating how villagers warned her that she would not find customers anymore.

Barun, 35, was shot dead on October 2 because the Maoists thought he was a police informer. “The Kantapahari police camp is near my husband’s shop and lot of policemen came there for sweets, singaras and tea. The Maoists branded him an informer. But how can I run the family if I can’t open the shop? My husband earned about Rs 5,000 a month from the shop,” said Archana.

She has been forced to take her nine-year-old son Pallab and six-year-old daughter Piu out of the local primary school and send them to her parents in Bankura district. “I sent them away because I am myself so insecure,” the woman said.

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