Exodus from villages

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  • Published 21.06.09

Lalgarh/Goaltore, June 21: Over 35,000 people have fled their homes in the Pirakata-Ramgarh-Goaltore triangle since yesterday, fearful of police by day and the Maoists by night and certain that the impending fighting would engulf their villages.

Even this evening, families were grabbing a few articles of basic necessity and making for the homes of relatives outside the battle zone.

Tinboni, the paddy fields beyond which saw a gunfight yesterday, is home to 1,500 families. But only about 100 elderly people have stayed back to tend to the livestock the others could not take with them.

Several other villages — Bhaluk Khaina, Bansbera and Dhaniguri on the Pirakata-Ramgarh stretch and Kadamdiha, Dudhpatri and Murakati on the Ramgarh-Goaltore route — too are almost empty. People are fleeing from some 400 other villages and hamlets.

The exodus began yesterday morning after the villagers learnt of the security forces’ arrival in Lalgarh. This, to them, heralded the start of fighting.

Sheikh Malik of Pirakata, who left for Midnapore town with his wife and son, said: “I am neither a Maoist nor a People’s Committee (Against Police Atrocities) member. Still, when the police arrived two days ago, they barged into my home and ransacked it. If we stay, we will face far bigger problems.”

Ananda Roy, who works at a mobile service provider’s shop, left his home in Tirlakhali for fear of the Maoists. “They came several times and asked me to join their processions and meetings. I’m afraid of what they might do if I don’t. I have to leave,” the young man said.

When the police enter the villages, the Maoists hide. When the forces retreat to their camps at dusk, the rebels reappear to block roads and regain control over the villages.

Haradhan Murmu of Murakati said the Maoists had taken Rs 100 and 5kg rice from him and asked him to join their movement. “They said they would come back, so I have to flee.”

The scene at the Goaltore bus stand is chaotic. Hundreds break into a scrap for seats as soon as a bus to Midnapore or Salboni arrives.

“The men are being allowed only on the roof. The insides of the buses are jam-packed with women and children,” said Surjya Roy of Tinboni, who left for Bankura this afternoon.

The leaflets air-dropped two days ago also fuelled the exodus to an extent. Sujoy Deb Sinha of Madhupur left with his wife and son for Midnapore town today. “The leaflets said the Maoists might use people as human shields,” he shuddered.