Nandigram, May 10: Sheikh Ezahar Ali, 63, got up at the crack of dawn, crossed the Talpatti canal with his heart in his mouth, tiptoed into Ranichak and peered at the single-storey house he had fled 10 days ago.
He didn’t dare get too close, but the CPM supporter’s safe foray into the battle zone this morning led to excited chatter at the Baharganj relief camp, Khejuri.
A day after the government and the Opposition agreed to do everything to help those hounded out of Nandigram return home, Ezahar had decided to test the water early.
He is encouraged enough to go back tomorrow for a closer look.
“I was scared to set foot in my village. I was expecting attacks by the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee members who looted our house,” the labourer said. “But no one gave me a second look. Tomorrow, I’ll find out if the house needs repairs.”
Fellow inmate Syed Ali, 55, also undertook the 2-km walk to Ranichak. “I saw Mir Mahim, a Pratirodh Committee activist who took part in the looting, walking towards me. I was afraid but he passed by without a word.”
Ali was delighted to find his two goats tethered in neighbour Habib Ali’s backyard. “He has promised to return them once I go back to live in my village.”
That can happen only after the all-party meeting, whose date is yet to be announced, but this evening Ezahar and Ali were the centre of attraction at the camp, where 80-odd people from Ranichak have taken shelter. They sat round the two, immersed in the accounts of their recce.
“Listening to them gives us courage. I’ll visit my house tomorrow,” said Santosh Barman, 45, a farmer from Satengabari.
He would fetch his wife, son and daughter from a relative’s home when the situation improves and they would return home. “I own two bighas and I urgently need to prepare the land for this monsoon’s aman crop.”
The 700 at the camp are mostly from Satengabari, Ranichak, Takapura and Keyakhali, attacked on April 29-30. They feel encouraged to return by the police camps opened in Takapura, Kamalpur and Giribazar, which are within a kilometre.
But those at the Bhangabera and Sherkhanchowk camps are less wary. Many are from Sonachura, Kalicharanpur, Gangra and Garchakraberia in the interior, lying between 2 km and 9 km from the nearest police camp in Bhangabera.
“We won’t return without police escort and assurances of protection,” said Badal Jana, 30, of Sonachura.