By Partha Dasgupta
Shaibalini Das, 35 Housewife SUNIA CHAR VILLAGE
SUNIA CHAR and eight adjoining villages were traditional CPM strongholds until the TMC won the panchayat elections in 2008. From early August, armed CPM cadres started gathering as the police clamped Section 144 in the whole area, allegedly to keep out the media.
On 22 August last year, around 95 men from Sunia Char were reportedly driven out at gunpoint by the Harmad. One of them was Nirmal Jana, who ran a small paan and grocer’s shop in Sunia and stayed in a small house with his wife and daughter.
The cadres, who used to buy from his shop on credit, demolished the shop and drove him away when he demanded his dues. He fled and is now languishing in a relief camp in Kamarda.
“I have not spoken to my family since and have no idea how they are doing,” he says, visibly distraught.
Laxmikanta Maity, who led the TMC in Sunia, was woken up at night and asked to leave right away if he valued his life.
“I had no choice but to flee. I have an ailing mother who needs treatment and teenage daughters, besides my wife. In the past four months, I have been able to speak to them only twice. They are miserable. Every other night, drunk cadres keep hounding my wife and daughters. They stay awake all night, with utensils as their only weapons in case of a Harmad break-in,” says Maity, now the caretaker of the relief camp that runs in Kamarda and houses 146 people — men, women and children.
PRADIP DAS also had to flee Sunia on that dreaded night with his son and daughter, leaving behind Shaibalini, his 35-year-old wife, whose right leg is polio-stricken, and who ‘walks’ on all fours. Shaibalini was alone and extremely vulnerable.
A couple of weeks later, a group of cadres accosted her and expressed their desire to spend the night with her. As night fell, Shaibalini dragged herself out, crawled through paddy fields and bushes for a good 3 km, rolled down the bank of Rasulpur, plunged into the water and waded to the other bank. Her wet clothes dried on her body through the night she spent under a tree.
Shaibalini picked herself up in the morning, found out where the relief camp was and crawled up to her family. Pradip could not believe his eyes. “I knew I could be killed at any point in time, but I refused to be raped,” says Shaibalini. “I’d rather die than be feasted upon by the Harmad. Don’t ask me how I made it here. It was some spirit that drove me along,” says the courageous woman.
In 2008, Subrata Das had three fingers of his left hand chopped off during the panchayat polls for opposing the CPM. This time around, it could have been his head, had he not fled for dear life.
This is the fate of a village that dared to vote for the TMC instead of the CPM.