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Exodus wheel turns: protesters storm in, supporters slip out
-Tears for mother and home

Nandigram, March 16: The men in khaki are very much in Sonachura two days after they left bloodstains on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s hands. But they are fewer in number. And they are lying low, cooped up in Kadambari High School.

The others have been moved to places from where paramilitary personnel have been sent for election duty in Uttar Pradesh. Which means it’s time for the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee supporters who fled on Wednesday to slowly head back to their village.

About 10,000 villagers opposed to the government’s land acquisition drive today marched back into Sonachura from Garchakraberia, with two bodies on a cycle van. The sight stirred such a groundswell of emotion in the area that the processionists gave vent to their collective anger by tearing off red flags from treetops and houses that came in their way.

“We have at last entered the place from where we were driven out by the police two days ago. This time, we will resist till death,” said Amrit Maity, 55, who came from Subhanichak near Kendamari.

Many of them, armed with rods and lathis, fanned out towards the other five villages — Adhikarypara, Maheshpur, Gangra, Jalpai and Mondalpara — where the police had entered that day, looking for CPM supporters.

As though by reflex action, villagers owing allegiance to the CPM began streaming out. They had been taking refuge at the Tekhali CPM camp since the January clash with the villagers opposed to land acquisition and had followed the police back into their villages.

By 11 am, an hour after the bodies entered Sonachura, the CPM supporters’ exodus back to the camp had begun.

Holding her year-old daughter in her arms, Chhabi Das, 20, could be seen scrambling along the village path near Bhangabera bridge. Her mother-in-law Janaki, 60, was following her, but was finding it difficult to keep pace.

In one hand, Chhabi held a bundle, containing clothes and other essentials. In the other was Shyamali, who kept whimpering because she was hungry.

“Yesterday, I had returned home after two-and-a-half months and just managed to clean up our house. This morning, I heard that thousands of villagers are marching towards Sonachura again. So I decided to go back to Tekhali,” Chhabi said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Chhabi and her husband Ramkrishna, who owns a two-bigha plot, had fled their home on January 7 after the clashes between the CPM and the Pratirodh Committee left seven people dead.

Yesterday, Chhabi washed the dust-caked utensils and this morning cooked some rice and dal for lunch. But as soon as she heard that villagers were marching into Sonachura with the two bodies, she fled, leaving the food untouched.

“I have not seen my husband in two-and-a-half months. The police had assured us that we could live in peace. But here I am, again on the road,” said Chhabi, helping Janaki along.

Whether Chhabi’s fears were justified or not is anyone’s guess, but several CPM supporters claimed the Pratirodh Committee villagers had turned on them in the morning. None of the committee supporters was available for comment.

Anil Bera, a ration dealer and CPM loyalist, said he was the first person targeted. He and his wife were apparently dragged out of home and their belongings looted.

“I was late and could not start for the Tekhali camp early. They beat me up and threatened me with dire consequences,” he said, alleging the house of a trawler owner, Bikash Mondal, was also looted.

Another group is believed to have set the Sonachura gram panchayat office on fire. The house of a primary school teacher, Tapan Jana, in Gangra was also targeted.

“I thought the police would control the mob. But I heard a huge crowd baying for CPM blood. Before I could escape, they were at my doorstep,” Tapan said.

Within an hour of the mob marching in, several hundred CPM workers and supporters, baggage in hand, were seen heading for Bhangabera bridge along roads lined with akashmoni and coconut trees.

About 700 CPM supporters had returned yesterday to the six villages, waving red flags. They lined the roads with party flags and planted them on rooftops.

Among them was Badal Jana, 28, a daily labourer. He, too, was today headed for the Tekhali camp with wife Tinku, 23, and daughter Buli, 4. “We waited for two-and-a-half months to return home but we could not stay for more than 24 hours,” he said.

The anti-acquisition villagers are firm they will not give up their land. Eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep, Jaliluddin Sheikh, 42, mumbled as much as he sat on a concrete slab in front of his house in Garchakraberia.

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