It has been 46 years since the Sainbai massacre but Rekha Rani Sain still wakes up to screams in the middle of the night.
On March 17, 1970, a mob of CPM workers had allegedly gouged out the eyes of her husband Naba Kumar Sain — the eldest son of the family — and killed his brothers Malay and Pranab in front of her eyes. Naba Kumar was killed a year later.
The centre of the attack, the Sain residence in Burdwan, is now in ruins. Its walls are covered with wild growth and the main entrance has been blocked by a wall to keep off on-lookers. Political leaders every year visit the one-storey house to garland a “martyrs’ dome” that has been constructed.
With the wound still fresh in in the hearts of the survivors, the electoral understanding between Congress and CPM has not gone down too well. The reason: CPM cadres had allegedly attacked the family as it supported Congress.
Rekha Rani, now 72, had left her residence at Pratapeswar Shibtala Lane — in the heart of Burdwan district — in 1978 and shifted to a rented apartment at Buri Bagan area nearby. Living at Sainbari would have meant reliving the incident every day.
“My brothers-in-laws Pranab Kumar Sain and Malay Kumar Sain and Jitendranath Rai, a private tutor who had come to teach the kids, were hacked in front of my eyes. I was 26. It all began at 7.30 am… people stared pelting stones on our house. Later, they set it on fire,” she said.
While a few thousand waited outside the house, dozens broke in and killed the three men.
“My mother-in-law, Mrignayana Devi, tried to stop the attackers but she was hit on her head. Two attackers mixed Pranab and Malay’s blood with rice and forced it into her mouth… She was taken to the hospital… she survived,” Rekha Rani said.
Asked if she would vote, Rekha Rani said: “I am not well. If my health permits, I might. But what is the point? My family was killed by CPM cadres for supporting Congress. Now, the same Congress has joined hands with the CPM.”
Accusing the Mamata government of using the tragedy for its gain, she said: “On special occasions, like July 21 Martyrs’ Day event in Kolkata, I had been displayed on the stage as a showpiece with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee handing over an envelope containing Rs 10,000… No one wants to find out how we are living in impunity, running from pillar to post… trying to gather funds for my treatment.”
Bijay Kumar Sain, the youngest son of the family, said the incident has been interpreted differently by different interest groups. “The ruling party wanted me to name people I don’t remember being present at the time of the attack. If I followed the diktat, I would probably have got a government job. On the other hand, those allegedly involved in the murders want me to say they were not there at the time of the attack…,” he claimed.
He added: “Many of my relatives have accepted jobs and monetary help from the ruling party… It is not possible to forget… but I would not want to cash in on the occasion.”
Active in the construction business, Bijay Kumar has built a building right next to Sainbari. “I am often invited to functions to mark the day of the massacre but I avoid the same. I garland the dome when everyone has left. I say my silent prayer,” he said.
Earlier, Bijay Kumar claimed a number of security guards used to protect his family. They were reportedly withdrawn by the Left Front government. “The Trinamool government has given me one security guard. It is only a formality… they want to show they have provided security to the Sain family. I urge them to take it back. There is no logic behind having one security guard. He has to go for his meals… What happens then?” he asked.
A daughter of the family, Swarnalata, lives at Badamtala. On the fateful day, the family had gathered for a function to be organised for her son Amrit Kumar Jash — then one month old. Amrit, now 46, said he and his mother were lucky to stay alive.
Udai Kumar Sain, Rekha Rani’s brother-in-law, stays at Sukantanagar. His wife Uma
Sain is the sitting councillor of Ward 34 in Burdwan Municipality. “Mamata Banerjee has promised there would be justice… The Congress-Left alliance is not acceptable,” he maintained.