Sunday, June 10, 2007

Residents return to Nandigram

Return of natives in Khejuri

Nandigram, June 8: The first batch of land war refugees has returned to ravaged homes facing the daunting task of starting life afresh.

Police escorted 35 people, who had been forced to flee CPM-dominated Khejuri, back to their villages last evening.

On the other side of the divide, a group of CPM refugees was scared away by a Trinamul Congress procession in Nandigram, a reminder that any hope of a return to normal life was still only a glimmer in the horizon.

Satyaranjan Maity, 35, of Khejuri was in tears not because his house has been stripped of the furniture and utensils and the stacked-up rice has been looted. He was just happy being back after five months.

The owner of about an acre and a half of land and two ponds was a CPM supporter until last year.

Neighbours who support his former party made the homecoming sweet by providing food, which came with the unspoken assurance that the people wanted things to change.

“My four-year-old son had almost forgotten the house. The children are still not feeling at home,” the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee supporter said, standing outside his thatched house.

With wife Rekha, two daughters and son Subrata, Satyaranjan had fled to a relative in Trinamul stronghold Sonachura. His other daughter, Mousumi, the eldest, could not appear in her Madhyamik. She was sent to a relative in Calcutta.

Till December, Satyaranjan earned Rs 3,000-4,000 a month selling vegetables and fish.

“Our neighbours are sending food now. We don’t know how we will survive a couple of months on,” Rekha mumbled.

But thinking of life months on is a luxury the CPM supporters in refugee camps at Khejuri, Baharganj and Sherkhanchowk can ill afford.

Life in the camps, crammed with people, is miserable. “People are being taken ill everyday and there is no arrangement for proper treatment,” said Ramu Das of Tekhali.

They were so near home yesterday, yet so far. The Pratirodh Committee will not let police escort them.

“We were so happy, but…” said Pompa Das of Adhikaripara, who has been staying at Sherkhanchowk with her husband Anjan and one-year-old son since January.

The flicker of hope was evident in her voice: “Peace should prevail, at any cost. We don’t want anything else, but just to return home.”

CPM district secretariat member Ashok Guria said the party would try again tomorrow to send its supporters back to Nandigram. “We kept our word and allowed their supporters to return to Khejuri, they didn’t.”

If Pratirodh Committee leaders think like the happy-to-be-home Satyaranjan, the party might well succeed. “We have learnt the hard way how painful it is to be away from home,” Satyaranjan said.

Trinamul and committee leader Abu Taher said: “The police needn’t come with them. We’ll provide all help.”

First trickle of a homecoming
- 18 pro-CPM families back in Nandigram after five months

CPM supporters on Tekhali bridge on the way back to their homes in Gokulnagar on Saturday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Nandigram, June 9: As Manindranath Das stood before his house at Simulkundu, its doors and windows ripped off, the asbestos roof shattered and everything inside looted, the CPM supporter’s eyes brimmed with tears of joy.

“I am ready to start life all over again. I can’t believe I have returned home after five months,” the 45-year-old marriage registrar said.

Nandigram’s bumpy road to peace became a two-way street today with the return of the first batch of 18 families out of the 3,600 CPM supporters driven out since January.

On Thursday, 35 refugee families from the other side of the divide — supporters of the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee — had crossed the Tekhali bridge with police escort to their homes in Left-dominated Khejuri.

A few pro-CPM families, too, had set out from their camps but the committee wouldn’t let them enter its pockets if the police accompanied them. Last evening, the committee relented.

“We persuaded the local people to let the refugees back in the interests of peace,” said committee leader Abu Taher.

Some may have braved the journey without escort: while the police said 18 families with 88 members had returned home to Simulkundu, Gokulnagar and Ranichowk, district CPM secretary Ashok Guria claimed the number was 24.

The number of those yet to return is still 3,500 from the CPM’s side and another 500 from the Opposition’s.

Of the CPM refugees, only 1,200 are staying at the three camps in Bhangabera, Sherkhanchowk and Baharganj while the rest are scattered at relatives’ homes outside Nandigram.

Das plans to get three of them back soon. “I shall put a polythene sheet on the roof tomorrow and bring back my wife and two daughters who are staying with my in-laws in Khejuri.”

“The homecomings happened only because of the initiative taken by the local leaders,” a senior police officer said. “They met at the Nandigram police station eight days ago. Then they exchanged lists of refugees through us.”

But the political battle continued in Calcutta. The Trinamul Congress, which is leading the Opposition in Nandigram, held an hour-long chakka jam from 5 pm on the issue of forcible land acquisition anywhere in the state. The protest disrupted traffic in parts of Moulali, Entally, CIT Road, Hazra, Brabourne Road and Tollygunge.

Some of those who returned were cagey. “I am happy but I don’t know how long I shall be able to stay. There is so much uncertainty,” said 50-year-old Narain Debnath at Gokulnagar.

Debasish Boral, additional superintendent of police, Haldia, said there was no reason to worry. “Pickets have been posted in these villages and patrolling intensified.”

But late at night, Guria alleged that bombs were being burst on the Tekhali bridge and at Ranichowk, where four families returned today. “They are trying to scare these families,” he said.

Das had a pleasanter welcome. His neighbour Lakshmi Rani Samanta, whose family supports the Pratirodh Committee, was waiting for him.

“Kemon aachhen? Shob thik hoye jaabe, chinta korben na (How are you? Everything will be all right, don’t worry),” she said as Das gripped her hands and began sobbing.