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Rewind to 1967-Deep Focus

Posted by Indian Vanguard on May 21, 2007

Some memories are like fireflies gently twinkling in the dark. But for Paban Singh of Bengaijote village, memories of that sunny May afternoon are like pieces of a broken mirror. The shards each telling their own story. It’s a tale that goes back to May 24 when hundreds of peasants and tea garden workers, agitating for land ownership in the Naxalbari region, killed a police inspector with arrows in Boro Jhorojut village, barely seven km away.

The next day women activists, says Paban, had organised a secret meeting by the Mechi river on the Nepal border. “Some informer must have told the police because when they came back to Prasadojote village, the police was waiting,” recalls Paban, who was in neighbouring Bengaijote village, just a kilometre away.

In the book, In the wake of Naxalbari, Sumanta Banerjee writes: “While the police version of the incident was that the rebels had attacked them from behind a wall of women and children, forcing the police to open fire, the dissident Marxist leaders alleged that the police deliberately killed the women and children.” Kanu Sanyal of CPI(ML) says, “It was a revenge killing.”

To this day, Paban can hear the sound of those gunshots. “I immediately picked up my bow and arrow and ran towards the twin oak trees in Prasadojote. “On my way, I saw Gaudrau Shaibani and a child being hit,” he recalls. Manoj Saha, whose shop is barely 100 yards from the spot, recalls his father, a migrant from Bihar’s Madhepura district, telling him that he hid under the bed on hearing the gunshots.

By the time Paban reached the spot, most agitators had run away. But the injured and the dead were lying on the ground. “I saw Ishwara Boudi lying on the ground and screaming. She was struck by a bullet on the lower part of her leg. I could see the bullet and tried to pull it out. But it wasn’t easy doing that. She was screaming.”

At this point of time, says Paban, he just wanted to find out who was hit and who had died. He found his mother Dhaneshwari Devi lying beside a muddy pathway off the road a few yards away from the twin oak trees. “She was dead. I went around in the village looking for a piece of cloth to cover her. I found a sack cloth and covered her. That’s all I did. There was a warrant against my name. I left the spot.”

“Much later, I learnt that the police had come back the next day. They arrested everyone injured and took away the bodies. I don’t know what they did with the body of my mother: whether they burnt her or just dumped her in the river.”

In all, 11 people were killed, including six women and two children. Naxalites now commemorate May 25 as Martyr’s Day. The names of the dead are inscribed on a marble slab next to Bengaijote Primary school.

The Times of India


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