The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Villages seek safety in flag of fear

Chopra, May 4: The red flags on the rooftops are unmistakable from a distance.

At the Congress-dominated Moulani village in Islampur, every other house sports the hammer-and-sickle — the sign of terror for the families cowering inside.

But at a time when armed CPM workers are hounding out Congress supporters in village after village to avenge the killing of party leader Akbar Ali, the CPM’s flag offers “maximum protection”. Ali was killed last Wednesday allegedly by Congress supporters, setting off a wave of revenge attacks in this part of North Dinajpur district.

“All these flags have gone up in the last two days. This is the only way we can save our families from them,” Rubi Khatun, a housewife, said.

The fear of “them”— as the marauding CPM workers are referred to in hushed tones — stalks almost every village that dared to cast votes against the ruling party in the last panchayat elections. Many of them do not want to repeat the “mistake”.

“They came and told us to vote for the CPM if we intended staying on here. We told them we would vote for them this time. We don’t want any trouble,” Kohinoor Begum, another housewife, said.

Finding a man is hard in Moulani. Not just in the streets or paddy fields, but even in the homes. The male members of the panic-stricken families have all but disappeared, fearing reprisal. Some are reportedly hiding in Bangladesh.

Even age is no guarantee for safety. The four Congressmen hacked to death on Thursday were aged between 52 and 65 years.

Women and children, left in the village, have barricaded themselves in their homes, hoping the mob will spare them.

In the centre of the village, a door opened to a man hunkering down on the hardscrabble floor, his head swathed in a white cloth wet with blood.

A grave mistake had almost cost Sheikh Kapiluddin his life. He had forgotten to hoist the CPM’s flag, as his neighbour had done yesterday. A 100-strong mob attacked his home around 10 in the morning. “They just started beating me up, without asking anything,” the middle-aged man said, squirming in pain. They ransacked his house and set a haystack in the yard afire.

The thugs then dragged him out of his home and towards a field, where, he said, they had plans to kill him. In sheer desperation, Kapiluddin clutched the legs of his tormentors and promised to vote for the CPM from now on. “They relented and went away,” he said.

The next thing the man, bleeding profusely from wounds on his head, did was totter up and trudge to a neighbour. Borrowing a red flag, he installed it immediately on a bamboo pole in front of his house.

“I wish I had done this before,” Kapiluddin said.

No fresh killing was reported in and around Chopra today, but attacks continued on Congress supporters in the Islampur area. In some areas, Congress supporters retaliated, attacking the houses of CPM workers, police said.

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