| The deserted Ishwardaha village. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha See Bengal
Ishwardaha, Feb. 8: Every door here is either boarded up or has a padlock dangling from the latch.
The silence — broken once in a while by the mournful bleats of a goat and the leaf-rustling wind from the riverside — is as eerie as it would be when 3,000 inhabitants vanish overnight.
Not a soul was in sight across the length and breadth of the settlement where sub-inspector Sadhucharan Chatterjee was believed to have been lynched yesterday.
Villagers living in about 450 houses fled Uttar Pally of Ishwardaha, leaving the field open for rivals to strike.
Taking advantage of the exodus that began last evening, suspected CPM supporters moved in at night and demolished over 40 shops at Gangamore in Uttar Pally, the northern approach point of the village. Some villagers had ransacked a CPM office here last month.
In the morning, people from neighbouring areas looted packets of biscuits, washing powder and other merchandise from the flattened shops.
“It appeared as though bulldozers were used to flatten the shops. We were in the area patrolling till around 11 am. The attack must have happened afterwards,” said sub-divisional police officer Swapan Sarkar.
The body of Chatterjee, the district intelligence branch sub-inspector suspected to have been beaten to death, has not yet been found.
A big police force, led by Sarkar, raided various places in Ishwardaha and arrested about 25 people.
The police described one of the arrested, Gouranga Dolui, as the key accused. The police said the 45-year-old Dolui is a farmer from Ishwardaha and a leader of the Baastu Krishi Jomi Banchao Committee.
“We have interrogated them (those arrested). We feel that some outsiders from Nandigram (across the river) and adjoining areas were involved,” deputy inspector-general of police N. Ramesh Babu said.
At the abandoned stretch of Ishwardaha, other than the occasional appearance of a pet dog or a cow peeping from its shed, few signs suggest that the settlement was teeming with life 24 hours ago.
Clothes still hang on the lines outside some houses, while a stray plate flung in a courtyard tells the tale of a hasty departure.
“As we were going to the fields early this morning, we noticed several people fleeing the village in threes and fours. They were scurrying away in all directions,” said Ruparani Mondal of the neighbouring Banskhara Jalpai village.
The sole perceptible movement here today was by the police and the labourers hired to cut bamboo poles to pitch camps inside the village.
A police camp was set up inside the abandoned Uttar Pally Primary School, where around 60 policemen moved in this afternoon.
Officials said another 30 men would be joining them to keep vigil over the next few weeks and avoid the creation of another Nandigram that still has stretches out of bounds for the police.
“They (the villagers) cannot come back so soon. They’ve killed an official from the police administration. They’ll have to stay in hiding for months now,” said Shontu Mullick, a CPM supporter at a village nearby.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will visit Khejuri, adjoining Nandigram, on February 11 to attend an event to distribute deeds of cultivation rights to 1,200 landless persons.
In Calcutta, the chief minister described the suspected lynching as a “matter of serious concern”.