Bankura, Nov. 23: Suspected Maoists forced a 13-year-old Bankura girl to carry landmines and kept her sleepless on night-long vigils after luring her with promises of a better life, police said today, claiming she had escaped from the rebels.
Bankura police chief Pranab Kumar, who held a news conference with the Santhal girl by his side, said that within a month of being drafted by the rebels this March, she was put through gruelling drills and had to learn how to use weapons like pistols.
The girl said she had decided to leave after a close shave in an encounter with the police on November 8. A bullet whizzed past my head. I hid my pistol and ran away. That day I decided I would escape, the girl said.
The police said they had rescued the girl on November 14, days after she had escaped and was going around villages in the area asking for food from residents who refused to help her for fear of being targeted by the rebels.
We got to know that a minor girl had fled from the Maoists and was hiding in the forests. With the help of her parents, we found her, Kumar said.
A source, however, suggested the girl was caught on the day of the November 8 encounter. She could not flee with the others. Since then she has been with the police, the source said.
The Maoists put the girl on sentry duty and made her carry heavy loads, including Challenger landmines that weigh up to 15kg, Kumar said.
It was in March that a youth named Chhotu — apparently a rebel recruiting agent — had first approached her in her village, Bagdubi, 310km from Calcutta. He said he would get her money and new clothes if she came with him and performed some tasks, Kumar said.
The girl is the eldest of five children. Her father cultivates his own small patch of land.
When Chhotu promised her a better life if she came away with him, she took the opportunity. But she didnt realise then that she was being recruited as a potential Maoist squad member.
When she came home (initially), she seemed happy and wanted to go back again. Later, we got to know that she was with the Maoists. We did not report the matter to the police for fear of reprisal by the Maoists, said her mother, who was also at the news conference.