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Village nuisance to brute, enforced rise of chief

Subalpur, Jan. 24: Balai Maddi must be the most infamous Bengali in the world since Wednesday, even if a newspaper in New York referred to him as Balai Mardi.

Ill-repute is not new to Balai, the morol or village headman who allegedly ordered and led the gangrape of a girl in Birbhum. In fact, he has thrived and reclaimed his position as the omnipotent village headman solely on the basis of the nuisance factor, according to some villagers who were willing to speak to reporters.

The accounts of the villagers, some of who may have been speaking out to distance themselves from the morol and escape legal action for aiding and abetting the alleged gangrape, could not be corroborated or cross-checked as Balai’s house was deserted today. Balai himself has denied the rape charge against him.

Several villagers told this correspondent that the 48-year-old Balai was “rude, arrogant, ill-tempered and a habitual drinker” and was removed as the village head eight years ago for his attitude. Such a record in a resume is unlikely to help anyone land the top job in most places but the liabilities appear to have stood Balai in good stead.

“Around eight years ago, the villagers removed him as morol and selected another villager, Bhoju Hembram. But Balai almost always used to interfere at the meetings called by Bhoju. Balai turned up at every meeting drunk, kicked up a row and insisted that he was the morol and his verdict should be adhered to. Unable to handle so much pressure, Bhoju quit. As there were no other takers for fear of him, Balai was again selected the morol,” said Sanatan Maddi, a 55-year-old farm labourer whose son Babu is among the 13 arrested in the gang-rape case.

With around 65 families, the village has a population of over 300.

A small farmer with two bighas of land, Balai worked as a labourer, too. The Maddi surname suggests that he figured high on the tribal hierarchy by virtue of the priestly duties associated with the name.

The headman appeared to have had an eventful, if not tumultuous, private life. Three wives divorced or separated from him over the past two decades, apparently because of his temper.

“Balai married thrice but could not run the family smoothly because of his temper. His last wife left him, leaving a seven-year-old son who is mentally ill,” said Manasha Hembram, a villager. Balai’s aged mother takes care of the child but no one was at home today.

“Balai always wanted to be the only leader in the village. He insisted that every villager should obey him and if anyone opposed him, he started misbehaving with him,” said a relative of Bhoju who was replaced as the headman.

Other villagers said as headman, Balai did not always show the zeal with which he had ordered the gangrape. Balai had a land dispute with his brother-in-law but the chief did not ever call a meeting as he himself was accused of grabbing a portion of the plot.

Balai, who was produced in Bolpur court today, told reporters later: “I am innocent. I did not rape anybody and neither did I give any order for a gangrape at the salishi.”

Ajoy Mondal, the local Trinamul Congress panchayat member, was present during the second round of salishi sabha (village court) that fined the girl on Tuesday afternoon after the gangrape.

Ajoy, in his mid-thirties, said today: “I was present at the salishi but I had gone to get the man (the mason who was caught and accused of having a relationship with the girl) released. I did not participate in their salishi sabha. I only told them to release the man as his family was ready to pay Rs 25,000.”

Asked whether he knew about the gangrape, Ajoy said: “I did not know them. No one told me. I came to know about it later when the girl phoned me. She told me she would lodge a complaint with the police and I asked her to do so.”