Balarampur (Purulia), Dec. 3: Two incidents of innocent human beings being fired upon and killed in the space of two months. In between, several instances of hot-headedness, arguments and even physical assault. The residents of Balarampur town are living in fear, especially those who live or work near the infamous joint forces camp at the converted Community Hall.
A day after an inebriated constable of the 10th India Reserve Battalion went on a shooting spree, killing a superior officer and a State Armed Police constable, the residents have come out with stories of aggressive behaviour and coercion by the battalion jawans. The situation is so bad that shops on either side of the road are closing down at 7pm instead of the usual 9pm, as people do not want to venture in the area after dark.
“We have to close our shops on either side of the highway as the public don’t want to cross the camp after 7pm. The jawans of the battalion are known to pick up fights and, being trigger-happy, it is a huge risk. Who wants to get killed or beaten up for no rhyme or reason?” asked Kashinath Dey, a wholesale trader whose shop and home are near the camp off NH 32. The highway, connecting Jamshedpur with Dhanbad, passes through Balarampur.
Netai Pal, who runs a provisions store just 200 metres from the camp, says that a few regular customers have shifted allegiance to other neighbourhoods to avoid going near the camp. “Even we the residents of the area hesitate to pass the Community Hall for fear of coming face to face with the jawans,” he said today. “Relatives and friends coming on visits are afraid to cross the camp from the station to my house, especially in the night,” he added.
One of the six companies of the battalion, deputed to Purulia from its base in Nagaland to counter Maoists, was stationed at the Balarampur camp since the middle of September. On October 1 night, a private car with two occupants going from Chandil to Bokaro was fired upon when it did not stop despite the IRB jawans asking it to.
The jawans, who were tense after purportedly mistaking bursting firecrackers as an attack on the camp by Maoists, thought the occupants might be fleeing rebels. The driver, Vikas Misra, was killed and his friend Ganesh Kumar Gupta was seriously injured. Just preceding this, several passers-by on cycle and on foot were dragged into the camp and beaten up, as the jawans sought information on the “attack”.
There have been a number of instances where the jawans have shown their bossy attitude, coercing shopkeepers to sell their wares at discounted prices. “Recently, a few of them had a meal at a dhaba near the petrol pump, about 1km from the camp. They demanded liquor and when refused, did not want to pay for the meals. There was a heated argument and the jawans threatened the owner,” said Bholanath Majhi, Balarampur block president of the Trinamul Youth Congress and a local resident.
“These personnel have come to help the people by fighting the Maoists. But instead, they are creating problems and harm by their obnoxious behaviour,” Majhi said. “We demand that they be relocated from the town so that the residents can breathe freely again,” he said.
The accused constable, Purlembo Ao, was produced in the Purulia court today and remanded to 14 days jail custody. He has been charged under Section 302 (murder) and faces either death or life imprisonment. The bodies of constable Sanjoy Bor and sub-inspector Kebrihom Dominique, killed by him yesterday, have left for the hometowns in Khejuri (West Midnapore) and Nagaland respectively. Bor was accorded a guard of honour at the 13th SAP Battalion headquarters in Simulia in Purulia.
In Calcutta, additional director general of police (law & order) Surajit Kar Purakayastha said the incidents are being examined in detail.
“A director general of police from Nagaland arrived today who, along with officers from the state, will probe the episodes and find out why they happened,” he said. “A decision on the platoon that still is stationed in Balarampur will be taken after that.”
After the October 1 incident, the company of about 100 personnel was relocated to other camps in Purulia, but a platoon of 30 personnel stayed on as the commanding officer of the battalion has his office at the community hall, a senior police official said.