Bandwan (Purulia), Oct. 15: During the day, it’s the apprehension that the police will come and take away the men folk for questioning; at night, it is the fear that those armed “people from the forests” will return and force them to attend another “indoctrination” meeting.
Four days after a purported People’s War ambush killed the Bandwan police station officer-in-charge and seriously injured five others, the villages surrounding the Kantajora forest, where the landmine blast took place, are living in fear.
Six more persons from the region have been arrested for “links with the incident”, taking the number of those held to 13 since Sunday. Over 30 villagers have been detained for interrogation.
The landmine blast and the hail of bullets that followed it after luring the police into a trap has unnerved the force, shocked the administration and continues to tell on the villagers, as a visit to Madhuban, Dulukdi and Lotajharna — all villages on the dirt road leading to the border with Midnapore — revealed.
“It was after darkness had fallen around 6 pm on Friday that a group of about 20 persons entered our village from the Lotajharna side,” said Aloka Rani Mahato of Dulukdi, 3 km beyond the site of the blast.
“All of them were carrying duffel bags and had guns slung on their shoulders. They walked through, and a little later, nine of them returned. Four of them were women. The eldest of them, aged about 35, spoke in Bengali along with a man about the same age,” she recalled.
They herded the villagers to an opening and, in between songs, said they were here for their development. “You are being robbed of your land and water, your produce is not getting the right price,” they said.
“Dhane poka jokhon lage, thokhon spray diye shorate hoye (when insects infest paddy, spray has to be used to remove them),” explained the woman, raising her gun as she spoke. This was on the eve of the ambush.
A similar meeting had been held about two months ago in Lotajharna, while posters had been put up in these villages seeking support for the movement against the enemies of farmers. In July last year, a meeting was held by a group affiliated to the CPI-ML faction of the People’s War. That was in Purano Ledam village near the Jharkhand border. But it did not elicit much support.
Over the last few months, however, the activities of these extremist groups had increased, and this was noticed by Nilmadhab Das, the slain officer-in-charge. He had been visiting the villages and telling the people not to fall for the enticements of these groups. He had even made video cassettes for distribution in the Bandwan area, thus becoming a thorn that had to be removed.
DIG (Midnapore range) Sadhan Mondal, who is camping at Bandwan, said the police had identified the type of persons involved in the attack. “They are the action squads of the PW and are highly trained. They work in groups of about seven members each. Some of them have specialised in explosives and landmines,” he added.
An additional company of RAF from the state armed police arrived here today and will be setting up camp about 3 km from the blast site.