Labhpur, June 26: Zarina Biwi has started packing her bags — after spending all of four days here.
Four days at one place is too long a duration for a mother of five surviving sons to feel safe in Bengal.
Moving house at short notice is a skill she has honed in the autumn of her life. She has shifted homes not once but 20 times in the past four years — ever since three of her sons were hacked to death and another was left for dead by supporters of Trinamul MLA Manirul Islam who later publicly bragged about “trampling three to death”.
Birbhum, Murshidabad, Hooghly, Burdwan…
Zarina reeled off the list of her addresses since 2010. Then she paused. She has the presence of mind to realise that she may have to go back to the same shelters again once the headlines fade and her pursuers resume the hunt.
At 80, Zarina, who lost her husband to illness 35 years ago, has picked up other skills, too. “I have learnt a lot of things in the past few years,” she said.
Although Zarina has never been to school, she now knows what abbreviations and words like “FIR”, “CBI” and “summons” means. She knows how to travel alone. She knows how to use a mobile. She also knows it is more important to change phone numbers frequently — the universal signature of the hunted and a universal survival tactic.
“I had been to remote parts of Murshidabad, but the threats continued over the phone… I went to Burdwan’s Guskara, but the calls never stopped. Manirul’s people have been watching us everywhere,” she said.
“I am not scared of dying…. But I don’t want to die till I get justice,” she said, sitting outside the kachcha house in a dusty corner of Birbhum.
Her fight — and flight — started in the summer of 2010 when her sons were butchered over a dispute about the sand in the Mayurakshi, the river that flows along their ancestral village.
Zarina recounted: “After the post-mortem, the bodies of my sons were brought to the village and laid in front of me by the same people who had killed my sons in Manirul’s house. My other sons were not there as they had to flee.”
At the hospital, it had been found that Jamal, one of her sons whom the assailants had given up for dead, was alive. “They broke both his hands and legs and he became unconscious.… They thought that he had died,” Zarina said.
Zarina said the family was first forced to leave the village when her sons had refused to change their political affiliation from the Forward Bloc.
“But Manirul himself brought us back to the village and convened a meeting at his house to settle the (sand) dispute. During the meeting, my sons were again asked to give up their rights to the sand business but they were not ready to do so. Manirul told his goons to attack my sons…. It was all planned,” Zarina said.
Contacted this evening, Manirul said: “I don’t have anything to say on this.… As far as I know, they are not saying anything. A section of the media is conspiring to malign my image. The law will take its own course.”
Between then and now, Bengal has seen the rise and rise of Manirul. Named in the FIR and given bail because the police did not file a chargesheet on time, Manirul won a Trinamul ticket as well as the Assembly election.
Manirul has played a key role in expanding Trinamul’s organisation in Birbhum, once a Left bastion. Before the Lok Sabha polls, he was seen with Mamata Banerjee at some of her meetings in Birbhum.
Zarina and her surviving sons had moved the high court earlier this year, seeking a CBI probe. The case is pending.
“Manirul and his men are angry with us for moving court and that’s why they are threatening us…. We are running around to escape another attack,” said Sanwar, one of Zarina’s sons.
A daily earning of around Rs 1,000 from the sand business, farm produce from 100-plus bighas and the proceeds from fishing in the family’s ponds were enough to feed the 60-odd members and educate the children.
“Now we live like beggars. We are having problems getting two square meals,” said Zarina, adding that two of her grandsons had left the state to work as masons.
“I came here to Labhpur town four days ago to live with the families of my sons…. Manirul’s men have already started threatening me and I will leave this place shortly,” said Zarina.
Mazal, Sanwar, Jamal, Anarul and Saifuddin — her sons who survived the attack — have also been moving from one place to another. The families of two sons live in the house and the sons occasionally drop by at night to meet them and leave before daylight.
It was almost an hour since she had started speaking to this correspondent and her wrinkled face clouded over.
Zarina then recounted something no mother would ever want to remember but would be unable to forget.
“I cleaned my son’s bloodstained bodies so that they could be buried…. I can’t forgive Manirul and his men. I cry every time I think of that day. I pray to Allah so that they get exemplary punishment,” Zarina said.
Unable to hold back her tears, Zarina excused herself and stepped back into the home where the packing for the next destination awaited her.