Looking at the preparations for a feast at Baro Pelia, the village where began what is now known as the Lalgarh movement of 2008, provides a sense of how little has changed since then. As the meat was being prepared Saturday, villagers pointed out that it would be some time before they could begin the feast. There is still no water in the village to cook the food with.
In the eight years since the violent movement, the Left’s iconic red had been replaced with the TMC’s wild flowers. But the new water tower at the village, complete with what the villagers have been told is a Japanese-made solar panel, does not serve them yet. Its muddy offering is unfit for consumption while the older tube-well dried up years ago.
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No new jobs have come up, making it out of the question to buy spices. The simple fare of grilled meat and rice would have to be prepared using water from a nearby village. The genesis of the Lalgarh movement, too, lay in an evening of festivity. On November 4, 2008, three youths returning from a Baul festival at Katapahari were picked up by the police, as suspected Maoists.
The same night, police officers allegedly entered Baro Pelia in the dead of night, and beat up men and women. Chintamani Murmu, now in her sixties, was blinded when a lathi struck her in the eye. Enraged villagers surrounded the Lalgarh police station and the movement began.
On Saturday, Chintamani Murmu wasn’t at the feast. Like her three sons and most of the tribal population at the village, she continues to work as an agricultural labourer.
“Life has remained the same. What has changed? We are still as poor and my mother and I still work the fields every day for our daily food. Yes, we get rations now. But do I have a job? Can I get a job? The answer to both questions is no. All I want is all of this to end. All these questions. My mother had not wanted to become a symbol of a revolution,” said Khalin Murmu, 22.
Like many others once associated with the Lalgarh movement, Khalin remains reluctant to talk to “outsiders” on various issues, particularly about the elections. “I don’t want to even think about politics. No good can come of it,” he said, while making his way to the feast.
The feast saw men from different villages of Lalgarh get together at the forest range to hunt wild boar. Armed with long spears, the villagers of Baro Pelia were able to snare three wild boars — enough food for a week. A group of almost 10 men sat in a tight circle, cutting the meat into small pieces, to be divided and distributed equally among villagers. Some of the meat was smoked and prepared for later consumption. The women, meanwhile, waited — water had already been fetched earlier in the day.
“The problem isn’t the meat or the rice, but the water. The water in our village has dried up. Things are fine when it rains. But there is no water right now and there hasn’t been for months,” said Jagganath Hemra, another villager, while adding that repeated destruction of crops by a herd of elephants in the winter had made life even tougher for the village.
“Very few of us actually own any land. So, when even that little cultivable land is destroyed. We are completely destroyed. If you see it, you will feel like weeping,” he said. Another villager, 18-year-old Jatin Murmu added, “I have studied till class XII and I still can’t find any work. Many from the village have already left for different areas. Some have found work at Jamshedpur and I might do the same.”