By Tusha Mittal
Balai Mandal, 45 Fish trader KULIPARA VILLAGE
WHEN NEWS reached Kulipara last October that Balai Mandal had died in hospital, gunfire was heard from a CPM camp across the river. “They fired seven rounds,” says his son Samir. “They wanted to celebrate his death.” Mandal, who transported fish and worked on farms for a living, had started attending TMC meetings after the 2009 polls.
From a window inside her hut, Basanti can see the home of those accused in the FIR of killing her husband. It stands out, a blue three-storey cement construction amid marshy land and tin roofs. It belongs to local CPM leaders Prafulla Mandal and Ranjan Mandal, who have been missing since the killing. She is dizzy with the fear that they will come back for her sons.
Already, the threats have begun. Of the 10 people named in the FIR, two have been arrested. Others roam free. “We’ve killed your father. We’ll kill the rest of you as well,” they warn Samir. Ever since, he has stopped walking alone after dusk.
With an income of about Rs. 3,000 a month, the Mandal family lives in a neighbourhood about 10 km from Kolkata’s swish Salt Lake suburb. One right turn off a smooth highway leads to the village of Kulipara that saw its first killing a few months ago.
It was around 7 am in October. TMC supporter Amol Mandal was playing cards when he suddenly saw leaves fall. It seemed like a bullet had hit the tree. When he turned around, he saw armed CPM cadres headed his way.
THE NIGHT before, the village had seen a scuffle. CPM men had invited their TMC counterparts to join in the immersion of idols. “Since they called, two of us went,” Amol says. “But they began to beat us for supporting the TMC.” When Amol returned, he collected other TMC supporters. They decided to spend the night near Balai’s home for fear of another attack.
Their fears weren’t misplaced. The next morning, armed CPM men marched towards Balai’s house, firing bullets in the air. People began scurrying in all directions, running for cover. Balai noticed his two grandsons playing in the yard, unaware. He rushed out to save them but caught a bullet instead.
The nearest police outpost is 200 metres away, yet the police arrived on the spot more than an hour after the incident. They asked the locals to pick up a bleeding Balai and wash the blood away. “Why should we destroy the evidence?” some women asked. The police beat them with lathis.
It took two hours after that to find an ambulance. The nearest hospital was 15 km away. Balai died a few minutes before the vehicle entered the hospital gates.