The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Return of natives in Khejuri

Nandigram, June 8: The first batch of land war refugees has returned to ravaged homes facing the daunting task of starting life afresh.

Police escorted 35 people, who had been forced to flee CPM-dominated Khejuri, back to their villages last evening.

On the other side of the divide, a group of CPM refugees was scared away by a Trinamul Congress procession in Nandigram, a reminder that any hope of a return to normal life was still only a glimmer in the horizon.

Satyaranjan Maity, 35, of Khejuri was in tears not because his house has been stripped of the furniture and utensils and the stacked-up rice has been looted. He was just happy being back after five months.

The owner of about an acre and a half of land and two ponds was a CPM supporter until last year.

Neighbours who support his former party made the homecoming sweet by providing food, which came with the unspoken assurance that the people wanted things to change.

“My four-year-old son had almost forgotten the house. The children are still not feeling at home,” the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee supporter said, standing outside his thatched house.

With wife Rekha, two daughters and son Subrata, Satyaranjan had fled to a relative in Trinamul stronghold Sonachura. His other daughter, Mousumi, the eldest, could not appear in her Madhyamik. She was sent to a relative in Calcutta.

Till December, Satyaranjan earned Rs 3,000-4,000 a month selling vegetables and fish.

“Our neighbours are sending food now. We don’t know how we will survive a couple of months on,” Rekha mumbled.

But thinking of life months on is a luxury the CPM supporters in refugee camps at Khejuri, Baharganj and Sherkhanchowk can ill afford.

Life in the camps, crammed with people, is miserable. “People are being taken ill everyday and there is no arrangement for proper treatment,” said Ramu Das of Tekhali.

They were so near home yesterday, yet so far. The Pratirodh Committee will not let police escort them.

“We were so happy, but…” said Pompa Das of Adhikaripara, who has been staying at Sherkhanchowk with her husband Anjan and one-year-old son since January.

The flicker of hope was evident in her voice: “Peace should prevail, at any cost. We don’t want anything else, but just to return home.”

CPM district secretariat member Ashok Guria said the party would try again tomorrow to send its supporters back to Nandigram. “We kept our word and allowed their supporters to return to Khejuri, they didn’t.”

If Pratirodh Committee leaders think like the happy-to-be-home Satyaranjan, the party might well succeed. “We have learnt the hard way how painful it is to be away from home,” Satyaranjan said.

Trinamul and committee leader Abu Taher said: “The police needn’t come with them. We’ll provide all help.”

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