Chhurimara (Belpahari), Nov. 23: A band of 70 Maoists led by a “tall young woman” sabotaged a showpiece road scheme at a West Midnapore village today as paramilitary jawans cowered inside their camp just yards away.
The squad — the largest seen in any guerrilla operation in Bengal — torched eight trucks and pay-loaders serving a Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojana project that would have given security forces better access to Maoist hubs.
Some 25 women were part of the group that arrived in pre-dawn darkness and split into two. One surrounded the India Reserve Battalion camp at Chhurimara, about 250 km from Calcutta, and the other advanced to the project labourers’ huts in the village’s Santhalpara locality.
“For two hours they fired at the camp challenging them in Hindi to come out and fight. Not one (among 70-75 jawans) stepped out. Even the sentries positioned behind sandbags scurried inside,” said labourer Priyanath Hansda.
At Santhalpara, Mailo Soren clearly saw “a tall and lean woman with cropped hair giving orders to her comrades in Bengali and Hindi”.
“We suspect she was Sabita Kumari, a girl in her early twenties from Jharkhand,” a police officer said.
Soren said the rebels, dressed in army fatigues, shook the labourers awake and assembled them on the roadside where barrels of diesel were stored. “They ordered us to empty the barrels on the vehicles and set fire to them.”
An officer said the Maoists wanted to stop the road construction. “The guerrillas use a forest corridor to travel to and from Jharkhand. If good roads are built, the forces can step up vigil.”
A shivering Duryodhan De, construction supervisor, said, “I will not stay here a minute longer. There is no question of continuing with the road construction.”
District police chief R. Rajsekharan said a landmine with a 50-foot wire had been found. Police will guard it till bomb experts arrive from Calcutta tomorrow morning.