Out of sight: army of youths Absence fuels fear of permanent insurgency

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By SUJAN DUTTA in Ramgarh
  • Published 28.06.09

Ramgarh, June 28: A whole generation of tribal youths is not in sight in villages the security forces have been through in Lalgarh, prompting fears that some could have taken shelter in forests and eventually become part of a “permanent insurgency”.

In relief camps at Pirakata, Kuldiha, Goaltore and Lalgarh, most people standing in the long queues to collect rice and cooked food are the elderly or women with children in their arms.

As security forces pushed into Ramgarh on Saturday from Goaltore, most villages on the way — Pingboni, Kadashole, Mohultola, Khartola, Tetultola, Kushmasholi, Chowkisal — are bereft of people except for the very old.

In the dash to Lalgarh police station through the Pirakata and the Jhitka forest on June 20, the scene was similar. Cows and goats tethered to vacant houses. Villages deserted except for people too weak or infirm to move.

Where are the tribal youths of Lalgarh? Have the Maoists taken them all? Where to?

Asked, the answers from those left behind are similar. Like the old woman sitting on a charpoy in Khartola on the road to Ramgarh. “Don’t know where they are, may have gone to relatives’ or to the forests.”

However, tribal youths with bows and arrows were around when Chhatradhar Mahato spoke last week. This afternoon, the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities held a meeting in Kantapahari — that is a target for the state — on the road between Lalgarh and Ramgarh. The day before yesterday, there was a rally in Dharampur, where youths had assembled and Maoist armed squad members were around with arms.

When the forces reached Ramgarh yesterday, the Maoists were just ahead of them, firing in the air, shouting slogans and burning down a CPI office. All along the route they left signs of their presence.

In retreat, the Maoist militia can withdraw to the villages in the forests and to the places between Ramgarh and Lalgarh — Boropelia, Chhotopelia, Kantapahari. The advance of the forces to Ramgarh and Lalgarh police stations by no means signals a total retreat by the militia.

The security forces that have reached Lalgarh and Ramgarh are now firmly in an area where the Maoists have influence among the tribals. There is not a moment when the forces can relax. The number of forces that the state will require to sanitise all the roads will be much more than the 50 companies already in use in the operations.

Parts of Bengal will then come to resemble zones of permanent insurgencies. In Chhattisgarh for example, there are 34 battalions — about 34,000 troops of armed state and central police — in Maoist areas. More than 80 per cent of the forces are deployed in just one district, Bastar, and the balance in Sarguja. Forces in Chhattisgarh have built up steadily since 2001.

On the strength of the Chhattisgarh experience, Bengal’s security forces will — after cutting through the 14km stretch between Lalgarh and Ramgarh where the going may be the toughest — have to settle down to fortify their camps. Securing the forces will become the primary task for the forces.

Maoist rebels have already indicated that they would attack the forces as they set out on patrols and for combing.