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Three families hit by events of Jangalmahal’s violent years— for them, the pain isn’t over

The unrest led to the formation of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) that clashed repeatedly with police forces. Khalin’s father Gauranga, a labour hand, lost his job and has not worked since.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal |
Updated: April 1, 2016 4:34:08 am
west bengal, west bengal elections, west bengal maoists areas, bengal polls, 2016 bengal polls, bengal jangalmahal violence, 2008 lalgarh movement, west bengal news, tmc, left front, bengal news, india news, latest news Three families — a blind woman and her son trying to avoid the world outside, a sister mourning her slain brother and a convicted Maoist leader’s wife trying to get her son a job — face the elections with resentment and a sense of betrayal.

The memory of the violence that began in 2008 is fading in Lalgarh, which now presents a picture of new roads, water tanks and bridges, and cheap rice. But three families — a blind woman and her son trying to avoid the world outside, a sister mourning her slain brother and a convicted Maoist leader’s wife trying to get her son a job — face the elections with resentment and a sense of betrayal.

Khalin Murmu, 22

Asked what he wants to do in life, Khalin Murmu of Baro Pelia village gave a blank stare for a few seconds before replying quietly, “Nothing.” His mother, Chintamani Murmu, now in her sixties, was blinded after a police baton struck her on the eye during a hunt for suspected Maoists on November 4, 2008. This led to what is now known as the Lalgarh movement by villagers. “My mother hadn’t asked to become a symbol of the revolution. She wishes that none of this ever happened. What has changed in our lives since then? I still work in the fields, so does my mother,” Khalin said.

The unrest led to the formation of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) that clashed repeatedly with police forces. Khalin’s father Gauranga, a labour hand, lost his job and has not worked since. Khalin, then in his teens, dropped out of school that winter. “I am not educated and I know I will not get a job. All I want is for all this to end. I want to avoid the world. Nothing good comes of it,” he said.

Malati Tudu, 33

She doesn’t like talking to strangers, who “had only brought trouble”. “My brother was killed in 2008,” she said, at Nercha village. “They called him out and then gunned him down. There was never an encounter where shots were fired,” she alleged. Lalmohan Tudu was returning from home after meeting his school-going daughter. The PCPA had alleged he was killed at point-blank range in a written statement and asked for an investigation, first by the Left Front government and then by the Trinamool government.

“My niece didn’t go to school for years after. It’s only now that she has returned to school. But who will give her back those lost years? At times, I wonder what it was all for. Our lives are still the same. People from outside come here and they still see us as tribals, somehow less human. They look to exploit us. Earlier it was the Left, now it’s the new government,” she alleged.

While agreeing that work had been done in the area, Malati said, “But what of things specifically for us, like giving us a fair price for our forest produce, ending oppression by middlemen? All that is the same.”

Niyoti Mahato

“Wasn’t it a betrayal?” she said at Amliya village. “Mamata Banerjee entered Jangalmahal holding our hand. Before becoming chief minister, she promised us that the very word Maoist would be removed from the state’s vocabulary. Later, she arrested my husband,” said Niyoti.

Her son brooded beside her. He hasn’t found a job; the Army rejected his application for ‘medical reasons’.

Niyoti’s husband Chhatradhar Mahato, with whom Mamata had shared the stage in Lalgarh on February 4, 2009, and three others were found guilty under various charges under IPC and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. He was one of the accused held guilty for their involvement in an IED blast at Kantapahari in Jangalmahal in 2009. Calcutta High Court in September 2012 granted Mahato political prisoner status.

“We have exchanged one set of oppressors for another. The CPM government did what they did and now the TMC is doing the same,” Niyoti said. Yet she predicted that for people here, the scars of Left Front rule are still too fresh and the TMC’s many announcements would swing votes in its favour.

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