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Going behind the mask
What makes a Maoist fierce to some, revered to others

Gurpana (Bandwan), April 15: What makes the 21st-century Maoist in Bengal's out- backs' What does he/she look like, think like, what is it in him/her that makes the Left Front, a coalition that has proved that it is the most stable and capable of winning election after election, go livid'

Only yesterday, at public meetings in Bankura and Purulia, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee thundered that he would not be cowed down, that he has the police and that they will fight fire with fire.

Who really is this fearsome figure' The police in Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore do not really have dossiers on each of them. But one who has earned notoriety is Gurucharan Kisku.

He is a Maoist who is absconding, lost in the forests of the Dalma range; he is a Maoist whose cover has been blown.

To get a fix on him we go to Gurpana, his village.

Gurpana is in the cusp of hills and forests 10 km from Bandwan town. The distance is misleading. It is a 40-minute drive, first along a metalled road and then on one that is partially built. The latter cuts through the Dhadka forest. Inside the forest, crickets buzz anxiety in midday.

It was on this route in the Katagora forest that former officer-in-charge of Bandwan police station Nilmadhab Das was killed.

A Claymore mine hung from a tree exploded as the officer and his men in their jeep got within range. They abandoned the jeep and survived the blast. But they were ambushed and Das was killed. That was on October 11, 2003.

Gurucharan Kisku had fled his village before that incident. That is how Gurpana recalls the event ' 'Gurucharan went into the jungles before the borobabu was killed'.

Gurucharan and his family lived in a cluster of three houses up a mound on the northern outskirts of the village. Before that is the more prosperous part of the village. Neat and clean Santhali houses with the mud walls painted brick red or a sky blue with a black band at window level. The road into Gurpana climbs up the mound. At the base there is a group of three men.

'Gurucharan' Who Gurucharan' Jani na bapu, don't know any Gurucharan,' one says. Later, he identifies himself as Sarat Murmu. His front teeth are knocked out. The bare-bodied man will shed some fear and talk about Gura soon enough. But the outsider is discouraged. 'Go there,' he points north. 'Go ask by the kusum tree.'

Gura's mother and father live in the first house. The houses do not have colours. The walls are barely there.

Gura's own hut is adjacent to the tree. It is destroyed and anthills climb up the mud walls. In the first house, his father Chhoturai Kisku lives with Gurucharan's mother. The father is too old to talk. The mother is too mad to make sense.

Gura's brother Ishwar lives in the third house with his wife and children. Ishwar is in the jungles hunting. His wife is reluctant to come out of the only room that is intact. It is too dark inside. When she finally does it is to shoo away. 'Don't know', 'What can I say', 'I don't know'.

Two of the young men from the group at the base of the mound drive by in a motorcycle. Minutes later they drive back again.

They park and say, come along with us. What is it you want to know' We head back to Sarat Murmu.

'We called him Gura and now we do not know where he is,' he says. No one is asking for Gura's whereabouts. Just about him. The police have done it before. Several times.

After Das's killing, there was also the media here ' 'at first we thought people were coming into our village with strange-looking guns that will incinerate us but they were television cameras'. The group around us laughs.

Gura went to Gurpana Primary School for some time. The teacher, Jadab Chandra Mahato, who comes three or four times a week from Madhupur isn't there now.

Then he went to Bandwan town. He is 'matric-fail'.

Dunurai Murmu gives a description of Gura. 'Must be a little younger than me.' How old is he' 'Must be 40 years. We are not literate, we cannot count,' he says.

Gura is dark with ebony skin and 'tej' (sharp) and rather big built. 'Not like me,' says Dunurai.

Dunu has the face of a 50-year-old and the body of an emaciated 30-year-old.

Gura partook in all our festivals. 'We are Santhals and we have a lot of them. I remember him in the three days of Baisakhi,' says Sarat. 'And he loved to play with a tennis ball,' adds Dunu. Titters in the crowd that has now swollen to include children and three women. Then we get to the story of Gura's love life.

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