Her son and daughter-in-law had fled to Midnapore town on June 15, the day when Maoists torched Ramgarh police station. But septuagenarian Renu Ray refused to leave her homestead land at Amladanga. Since then, the old woman is living by herself, with hardly anything to eat.
Her eyes glistened with hope as security forces marched past Alamdanga, the village close to Ramgarh. She welcomed the forces, but at the same time, was afraid of the consequences after they withdrew from the area. "I am cut off from my family, and the world outside. My landphone is dead and BSNL employees don't tread to this dreaded place. I am here taking care of the cattle that my son has left behind. The Maoists have been a curse upon us. Grocers won't open the shops lest PCPA men charge them hefty amounts. Some upped the shutters only today, when news spread that the central forces were coming to the area. But that was only for half an hour. They were closed as soon as the Maoists arrived at the market. I walked all the way from home to buy rations and didn't get any," Ray said.
This seems to be the other facet of the Maoist-dominated People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), that had unleashed a reign of fear in the area to counter police terror. The disgruntled opened up only after the security forces marched into the area.
Another retired government employee, living in the area, grumbled over the extortions going on for all these months. "I am a retired government employee and survive on pension. These men would not spare me even. I had to give Rs 500 every month to these people who came to my house with guns. It's good that the forces have come to our rescue. They will come back again when forces leave the place," the retired employee said.
This was the common refrain among the womenfolk who were left at the mercy of PCPA, while the youths in the families fled from the villages. Jharna Das of Amladanga recounted how PCPA men forced them to join their meetings. "They won't allow us to venture out after sundown. The PCPA took control of the villages in the evening and asked us to join their meetings. They rebuked us if we didn't turn up in the meeting. Such was the rule. Our relatives stopped coming to our place," said Das.
Meet Sukumar Soren of Mohultol. A jawan of the state armed police posted at Barrackpore, Sukumar is now under cover. "I have not disclosed my identity here. What do I do? I have sent my wife and children to Sarenga. I am living here alone to protect my home and cattle. I don't want any confrontation with PCPA," said Soren.
There is no one to care for elderly residents such as Lakshmi Tudu (70) of Shiertola village, left to fate with her ailing husband for the last fortnight. "We are surviving on forest roots and kalmi sag. Buses have stopped plying since a fortnight. I can't take my husband to Goaltore, 10 km from here. Two days ago I pleaded with the local grocers to give me some rice. They refused, out of fear," Lakshmi said.
As the security forces approached Ramgarh after fighting off Maoist ambushes, they saw hordes of villagers mostly women gathering at the outskirts. The jawans tensed for another human shield. When they marched closer, however, they saw smiles on the villagers' faces, and tumblers of water in their hands.
A cheer went up as the forces entered the rain swept lanes of the village. Every policeman was served a glass of water, food and sweets by villagers. And, there was no trace of the PCPA.
It was the huge number of women gathering in the fields that set the forces on the edge as they approached Ramgarh. Resistance with the use of human shields was, after all, too fresh on their minds, having encountered such situations during operations in Kadashole, Amladanga and Shiartola. Not liking the prospect of fighting villagers yet again, they advanced cautiously for the last 1 km, with an obvious show of strength, hoping to scare the mob' into retreating.
Only when they came to within 200 metres did the security forces realize that none in the waiting crowd was armed. Instead of resisting them, the villagers welcomed them with open arms. People lined rooftops, waving and cheering at the forces. The water, food and smiles were a welcome relief for the weary and hungry police and paramilitary personnel.
They were surprised because the people of Ramgarh were initially with the PCPA. Its leaders lured them to their cause with the promise to fight against lack of development. Chhatradhar Mahato and other PCPA leaders rallied the villagers with the call to liberate Ramgarh from government's control'.
"When the PCPA first asked us to fight against economic deprivation, many in Ramgarh voluntarily participated in their movement," said a villager. But the people soon realized that there was no difference between the Maoists and the PCPA. They even accused PCPA of unleashing the Maoists on them.
People are now very angry and disillusioned with PCPA, but none would divulge their names while speaking to TOI, fearing that Maoists would target them. Seventy-year-old Satya Ray, the lone villager who spoke on record, accused Chhatradhar Mahato of amassing money. "He (Mahato) extorted huge sums of money from traders, government officials and even poor villagers and helped Maoists get a foothold in Ramgarh. We have been living in fear for eight months. Many PCPA activists moved around with arms," said Ray.
The people PCPA allegedly targeted for extortion were given handwritten notes Rs 10,000 for government employees and Rs 50,000 for traders. When the owner of a fertilizer shop at Barapelia refused to pay up, he was brought to a meeting at Sarasbedia where he was forced to hand over the money.
Now, villagers have stopped paying money to PCPA voluntarily, though its leaders continue with their extortion activities, Ray added.
What turned the tide against PCPA were the murders of two tribal youths in Kharanutu village in mid-May. The incident created panic across Ramgarh and no one would venture out for over a month. Even schools and markets rarely opened. Ramgarh was completely cut off after Maoists captured the phari on June 15. Teachers of Ramgarh College were threatened not to report to work.
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