A village 33 km from the Palamau district headquarters has been living in fear of Maoists for at least 25 years now, with the residents’ demand for a police picket falling on deaf ears.
A visit to the village, Asehar, is an encounter with lives changed by the Maoist menace.
Like Anoop Kumar, whose father Anand Kishor Ram, the then Asehar mukhiya, was murdered by MCC guerrillas in 1994.
“I was then doing my BA from Ranchi College,” Anoop told The Telegraph. “By the time I rushed home it was all over; my father was by then cremated. I could not complete my degree as extremism changed the course of my life.
“My younger brother, Pankaj, was doing his Intermediate from JS College in Daltonganj. He screamed when the MCC extremists slit my father’s throat. The Maoists ran after him too but Pankaj somehow managed to flee and save his life.”
Anoop and Pankaj’s mother now runs the family.
“Things have changed since then. Now the extremists come on bikes, strike and retreat,” said Anoop.
Stroll through Asehar and you will be shown remnants of the conflict-scarred history of the area.
Like the house of the sister of a once-dreaded Maoist Nitesh, who was killed by police years ago.
Like the concrete bridge on the Hee river whose contractor Anwar Miyan was thrashed by rebels around two years back for levy.
Ask about more recent incidents, and few are ready to speak on record.
“I got my widowed sister married to a widower from Chatra district who works in a government office and a JJMP ultra named Mohan began to demand Rs 2 lakh for security of my sister and her husband,” said a woman who requested anonymity. “I have refused to obey the demand.”
She said JJMP rebels come and go at the village at will.
Another man said the Maoists extract 10 paise per brick from brick-kiln owners.
A month ago, sources said, JJMP rebels burnt a truck with kendu leaves worth Rs 5 lakh at Bhawardah, 2 km from Asehar. The case is registered with Panki police station, the nearest police presence 9km from Asehar.
“We all wish there should be a police picket here as Asehar has good road connectivity,” said a resident.
“It connects Manika of Latehar district. It goes down to Palamau’s Lesliganj. It also means an easy retreat route for the extremists and criminals.”
Asehar used to have a village bazaar two days every week, but now it is held only on Sundays for the fear of criminals.
A multi-crore hospital is coming up at Asehar, as is a power sub-grid.
“If there is a police picket set up here, the people will feel secure,” said Shashi Kant Singh of Asehar’s Terhi Tola.
The villagers said every time a crime or Maoist incident happens they plead with senior police officials to set up a picket.
Lesliganj sub-divisional police officer Anup Baraik, however, said that in the past months there has been no assemblage or movement of extremists near Asehar.
“The rebels have lost their base among the common people and those found indulging in any illegal work will be neutralised by the police with a very firm hand,” Palamau superintendent of police Ajay Linda said when contacted.
Palamau deputy inspector-general Vipul Shukla said the demand for a police picket at Asehar was being looked into.