Saturday, October 24, 2009

'We were jailed by cops on false charges'

JHARGRAM (WEST MIDNAPORE): They came out of the prison and looked around in awe at the army of journalists, totally unaware of the high-tension drama that took place over the last three days that led to their release. One of them, a 70-year-old widow, stepped back in fear and clutched the woman who was helping her walk. She is accused of trying to murder police personnel. 

After being locked up in jail for nearly one-a-half months on serious charges — ranging from attempt to murder to sedition and waging war against the state — the tribal women didn't quite know how to react to their freedom. Like their arrest, their release was also a mystery to them. They were not aware that the Maoists had negotiated their release.

The Lalgarh women's first worry was how to get back home. No one had any money for the bus fare. And no family member had come to meet them — they are all hiding for fear of being branded Maoists as well. Most of the 23 women bailed out in exchange for the release of abducted sub-inspector Atindranath Dutta had never left Lalgarh before this and were on the verge of tears.

Their lawyer Mrinal Chowdhury stepped in, in the nick of time, gave them some money and helped them catch the right bus home. This group of 14 tribal women, released at noon on Friday, were arrested from Bansber village near Kantapahari on September 3, 2009. Their ages range from 22 to 70 years and all of them resembled the simple village folk from this impoverished part of the country. They were hesitant to speak at first. When one opened up, they all did, in a flood of emotion.

"Security personnel regularly ransacked our homes in the name of 'search operations'. Do we look like Maoists? But we never objected. They would verbally abuse us and damage whatever little we owned. By the time they left, we would not even have our earthen pots and pans to cook a meal. Police would keep asking about the 'people from the jungle'. How were we to know their exact location? When we told them this, they dragged us away. They claimed that we had tried to beat them up," said 22-year-old Phoolmani Soren.

It is difficult to visualize this frail, undernourished woman attacking heavily-armed securitymen. When arrested, she left behind a two-year-old son with her husband — a daily wage-earner. "I don't know how my husband managed. He may have left the child with neighbours when he went out in search of work," she said, wiping away tears.

Beside her stood 70-year-old Sudharani Baske, who cannot walk properly due to her age and lack of medical attention. She has been charged with attempt to murder for 'trying to assault' security personnel. She was in no position to even understand the questions thrown at her. The plight of others — like Pratima Patra, Nilima Hansda and Padmarani Baske — was similar. While in prison, nobody from their families could come to serve them food or ask about their well-being. One of them pointed to a piece of clothing that a fellow inmate had given her out of pity.

"You cannot imagine what we are going through. Our men cannot stay in the villages for fear of being picked up by the securitymen. If they enter the forests, they will be branded Maoists and arrested," one of them said.

Source: The Times of India 24 October 2009

No comments: