'No photograph please!'

While facing the wrath of the
security forces in their operation to flush out the Maoist militants from ‘Jungle Mahal’, (another local name for Lalgarh), they apprehend the “return” of the ultras. If they incur the ire of the ultras for ‘aiding’ the forces, who have allegedly been ‘torturing them to confess’ their support to the extremists, it would be an existence the hapless tribals would love not to live.

“We’re unable to enter the forests for the past fortnight to collect leaves and firewood without which we can’t cook,” says Sukumar Hansda. “One of our neighbours who ventured, was arrested by police and mercilessly beaten up to extract a confession. Here everyone knows he is innocent,” say tribals of Jhurmuritala village, who have recoiled in horror at the sight of the thrashing given by CRPF and state armed police. “We prefer to skip one meal a day to the inhuman torture,” they confide.
Barely 18 km away from the Lalgarh police station, Maoist infiltration is pretty less here. “We’ve not even cooperated with the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) when they approached us for participation in their rallies. When they threatened, we pleaded with Chatradhar Mahato for sparing us as most of the men in the villages are suffering from various diseases,” said Laksmi Soren, 39, recovering from a nasty attack of bronchitis.

His wife Malati broke into tears once this correspondent tried to take a photograph of the family. “Please don’t, this (photo) might land up with police and we’ll be beaten up. They (forces) aren’t even sparing women, you see.”

These poverty-stricken tribals have been a happy hunting ground for exploitation and criminal neglect for the past few decades. Local village heads, who summoned a bit of courage to protest against the siphoning off of funds meant for tribal development, were silenced with dire threats by the CPI (M) local leadership. Very soon, it proved another maxim correct yet again - anger makes warriors of the meek. The state does not get it, Maoists do.

Raju Soren, a tea stall owner in neighbouring Bordanga village, is another victim. “I was watching TV when the police came to our village for combing operation. When I stepped out,  lathiblows rained on me for keeping the stall closed. I fell unconscious.” The tell-tale signs of the baton still visible all over, Soren asked: “If I turn a Maoist in future, can the state blame me?”

Interestingly, the Army is not keen on getting involved in the operation. Officials at the Eastern Command headquarters in Fort William here point out that the enemy in Lalgarh is not clearly defined. Maoists were not separatists like ULFA or Kashmiri Jehadis, who have vowed to part with India.

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