By Praveen Swami
|Killing campaign focused on eliminating CPI(M) activists and other political opponents|
JHARGRAM: Little pieces of glass still lie embedded in dry earth next to the cot where Abhijit Mahato fell.
On the morning he was executed as an enemy of the people, Mahato had been drinking a cup of tea at the end of an eight-hour night shift guarding trucks parked along the Kharagpur-Ranchi highway — the job that paid for the college classes he would have made his way to an hour later.
But then, six men arrived on motorcycles at the truck-stop, carrying automatic rifles. They announced to bystanders that Abhijit Mahato and his friends, Anil Mahato and Niladhar Mahato, were members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The punishment for this crime, the men announced, was death.
The June 17 murder of Abhijit Mahato and his friends didn’t make it to the national press — or draw the attention of the growing numbers of human rights activists, who have arrived in West Medinipur district to investigate the ongoing confrontation between the West Bengal government and Communist Party of India (Maoist) operatives in Lalgarh. But the killings — and dozens like it — are key to understanding the still-unfolding crisis.
District police records show that 111 West Medinipur residents have been killed by Maoist death squads since 2002. Most of the killings were concentrated in the twin blocks of Binpur and adjoining Salboni — the heartland of the Lalgarh violence.
Seventy four of the dead were targeted because they were cadre or supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Twenty-three of the victims were police personnel; five were adivasis community elders; one belonged to the Congress; another was a former Maoist who had left the movement in disgust. Seventeen CPI(M) workers have been executed by Maoists since November alone.
It is instructive to compare the murders in West Medinipur with those in India’s most violent State — Jammu and Kashmir. In the years from 2003, Jammu and Kashmir Police records show, 71 political activists from all political parties have been killed by jihadists. More lives have been lost in attacks by Maoist death squads by one single party in one single district of West Bengal.
The data also shows the contest has been uneven: not one Maoist operative has been shot dead in West Medinipur until police moved into Lalgarh last week, either by the state or their political opponents.
Most of those killed by the Maoist death squads come from the ranks of the rural poor; many of them from the same adivasi communities whose name the Maoists have invoked to legitimise terrorism in Lalgarh.
The only son of his widowed mother, and one of five children, Abhijit Mahato was the first member of his extended family to succeed in gaining admission to a college degree. In photographs his mother, Savita Mahato, recently had taken at a local studio, to be shown to the families of prospective brides, Mahato can be seen posing against a movie set-like backdrop.
“I cannot understand”, Savita Mahato says, “what kinds of people would kill a boy who did them not the slightest harm”.
Many others have died in similar circumstances. Karamchand Singh, a noted chhau-dance performer, was executed in front of his primary school students at Binpur last year. His crime was to have campaigned for the CPI(M) despite Maoist warnings to dissociate himself from the party. Pelaram Tudu, a locally renowned football player who supported the CPI(M), was shot dead in another death-squad attack. So, too, was Kartik Hansda, a folk artist.
Honiran Murmu, a doctor working in the Laboni area, was killed along with staff nurse Bharati Majhi and driver Bapsi in October, after an improvised explosive device went off under their car. No explanation was offered by Maoists for the attack, why the vehicle was targeted, but Laboni residents say the attack was intended to punish Mr. Misir for renting out vehicles to the police.
In May, Maoists executed Haripada Mahato as he was bathing in a pond outside his home in the village of Bhumi Dhansola. A former activist with the Maoist-affiliated Kisan Mazdoor Samiti, Haripada Mahato had left the movement in disgust a decade ago. He had since then worked as a night watchman and polio-immunisation campaign volunteer at the Medinipur Medical College.
“The Maoists said he was an informer for the police”, says Haripada Mahato’s wife, Padmavati Mahato, “and we swore he wasn’t. But who can win an argument with a gun?”