Nandigram, March 15: For a day and a half, Sandhya Maiti has been wiping away her tears but will not accept that her 30-year-old daughter could be dead.
Since yesterday afternoon, the 55-year-old has been shuttling between Nandigram and Tamluk, 60 km away, visiting the hospitals there, scanning the patients’ list and looking with trepidation at the bodies lying on the cold floor. But Kalyani isn’t there.
“We were together. When the firing began, someone pushed me into a pond. I heard people shrieking. Then, after what seemed ages, some order was restored and I came out of the water to look for my daughter,” the woman from Sonachura sobbed.
“But she was nowhere to be found. Since then I have been looking for her everywhere.”
Neither can Tapan Samanta of Garchakraberia find his 24-year-old brother.
“When the police began firing, we all ran for cover. Our eyes were burning from tear gas; our vision was blurred. But somehow I managed to hide behind a tree.
“I have since then been looking for Subrata. But he is nowhere — not on the list of the dead, not in the hospitals, not even in the morgues.”
His neighbour Abdur Rauf is certain that Subrata is dead. “I saw him get shot in the stomach. A few of us tried to drag him away but we finally had to let go and run to save ourselves,” Rauf said.
“So where can he have gone' He must be dead — the police have removed the body. We refuse to believe that only 14 people died.”
The inspector-general of police (western range), Arun Gupta, said some of the missing may have fled their homes.
But Rauf laughs mirthlessly. “Can Subrata, with a bullet in his stomach, have fled to a relative’s house in a different block' Would Kalyani disappear without informing her mother'”
Parbati Mondal of Sonachura agrees. “My neighbour Bharat Mondal died in police firing in January when we tried to resist the police,” she said.
“After yesterday’s firing, his 18-year-old brother Pushpen has disappeared. I am sure he is dead. There are so many others who are not on the lists of the dead and injured. What we are asking our- selves is, where can they have gone'”
But if those who disappeared immediately after the firing are not in hiding, many others who have vanished since last night are, including some at the forefront of the land movement.
The police camps in the six villages where the force marched in yesterday have left residents petrified that they would be picked up and tortured for information.
“I’m leaving for a relative’s place; I know how cruel the police can be,” said 55-year-old Sheikh Sahadat at Kalicharanpur. “When we were hiding in the pond during the firing, they kept chucking bricks and stones at our heads to force us out.”
Sahadat has a broken nose — he couldn’t duck quickly enough. “Many people got fractured skulls, they are in hospital.”
Other than these six villages, people are fleeing from neighbouring South Khali, Kalicharanpur and Garchakraberia. But another 18 villages are holding out — roads were dug up at fresh places in Amgachhia and Bhekutia today.
The BDO’s office was torched, prompting the police to fire in the air and lob tear gas shells. The Citu office at Nandigram bus stand, too, was burnt and the CPM zonal committee office near Nandigram market was vandalised.
But Mehmooda Khatun has had enough. She will be leaving her home in Garchakraberia by tonight.
“Two-thirds of my village is empty,” she said. “I don’t want any more bloodshed. What’s the point of a land movement if we lose our lives'”