|(Top) Chhitamoni Murmu, who cannot see properly since policemen hit her. (Above) The tribal women wait to be heard by officials in the circuit house in Midnapore town. Pictures by Swarup Mondal
Midnapore, Dec. 7: A group of tribal women recounted before government officials today how policemen had kicked them and hit them with rifle butts while looking for suspected Maoists after the landmine blast targeting the chief minister in early November.
Sitting uncomfortably on a cushioned sofa at the circuit house in Midnapore town, Chhitamoni Murmu, 40, said she was woken up on the night of November 4 by policemen hurling abuses and ordering villagers to step out. “I knew something terrible was happening. I opened the door and saw them dragging away Shamsher Ali by the collar,” she said.
A labour contractor, Shamsher visits the village twice a year with job offers and Chhitamoni said: “He is like God to us.”
“The women asked the po-lice to release him. But they refused to listen and hurled abuses at us. The police were adamant on taking Shamsher away and we gheraoed them. Then they went berserk. They started beating us… they hit us with their lathis and rifle butts and kicked us.”
A butt landed on Chhitamoni’s left eye. “I fell, realised blood was streaming from my eye and blacked out.”
She has not recovered yet. After several days at many hospitals, the vision in her left eye is blurred. “The lens was damaged,” said an ophthalmologist at Midnapore Medical College and Hospital.
Doctors have told her to protect her eyes from sunlight. For a woman from an impoverished family in a remote West Midnapore village that is a tough ask.
Three days after the alleged police torture started, the tribals formed the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities in Lalgarh and started digging and blocking roads to ensure the cops could not make it to the villages. Among their demands were an apology from the district police chief and a stop on night raids.
A team led by tribal welfare and backward classes secretary R.D. Meena went to Midnapore today to record instances of alleged police atrocities, particularly on women, during the raids after the November 2 blast. A group of 10 from Chhotopelia village, 190km from Calcutta, came to the town escorted by a leader of the people’s committee.
Purnima Murmu, 25, said she was “repeatedly hit” with rifle butts on the chest and stomach. “I still can’t do the chores because of pain,” she said and demanded a job.
The officials will have to go to the medical college hospital tomorrow to hear Panmoni Murmu, 25, whose head is still swathed in bandages.
The committee against police atrocities held a meeting today and decided to keep its agitation suspended for the time being. “But we will start again if the police torture resumes,” said tribal leader Chhatradhar Mahato.
In Lalgarh, district officials squabbled among themselves and almost came to blows following an altercation over procurement of paddy.
Villagers told food department officials led by block development officer (BDO) Chinmoy Mondal they wanted the exercise deferred by a week as many farmers were yet to husk the grain.
Mondal wanted the food officials to persuade the villagers to sell their crop today and an altercation started.
They were on the verge of exchanging blows when subdivisional officer Tanmoy Chakraborty arrived and intervened.