Firing in air, shooters escorted to safety
Netai, Jan. 8: A convoy from two CPM party offices reached Netai yesterday and escorted to safety the armed cadres who had opened fire and killed seven villagers, two witnesses and other sources told The Telegraph today.
The caravan of three jeeps, one pickup van and more than a dozen motorcycles rode to the scene of bloodshed in front of a CPM leader’s two-storey house in the Lalgarh village around 11.30am, half an hour before police reached the spot.
Sources said the convoy had started out from the CPM party offices in Lalgarh and Dharampur, separated by around 11km, after receiving desperate appeals for help from the cadres who had earlier been besieged by villagers infuriated by demands to help run and man the armed camp.
As soon as the convoy reached the site, the “rescuers” cordoned off CPM leader Rathin Dandapath’s house from which the shots had been fired.
The cadres came out, virtually emptying the house. They carried out firearms that included both improvised and sophisticated weapons, and gunny bags stashed with ammunition of different bores, and loaded it all into the pickup van.
The group then got into the three jeeps and left the village with gun-toting men riding the two-wheelers. The men fired in the air, apparently to keep the villagers at bay.
“Pulish ashar adh ghonta agey ora chole gelo. Motorcycle-e boshe shunye guli chalate chalate ora harmad-der pahara diye niye gelo (they left the village 30 minutes before the police arrived. They were escorted by cadres who fired in the air while leaving),” said homemaker Tumpa Dandapath, who lives in a house adjacent to that of Rathin Dandapath.
Tumpa was so afraid that she did not dare open the door of her house. “I saw them through a narrow gap in my window. I could not recognise any of those who had come out of the house. All were outsiders,” she said.
The CPM cadres did not run into any resistance while leaving the village.
The suspected Maoists who had organised the mass protest against the armed camp had by then left the village and headed towards shelters located deep inside the forests of Kantapahari and Chhotopelia.
“The villagers were afraid after they saw their neighbours lying on the moram (unpaved) road with bullet wounds,” a Maoist source said.
“We were busy sending them to hospital. We left the place because we were not in a position to get involved in a gun battle with the armed cadres. They have superior firepower than us. We also feared that if we stayed back longer in the village, the blame for the killings might fall on us.”
Conflicting versions have arisen about the involvement of Maoists. Intelligence sources said they were yet to come across any evidence of Maoist involvement.
But the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), closely allied with the Maoists, said it had organised yesterday’s protest. “Our aim is to destroy the armed camps of the CPM in Jungle Mahal, and yesterday’s incident was our first effort,” PCPA spokesperson Dilip Hansda said.
West Midnapore SP Manoj Verma submitted a report to the home secretary that said there could be a Maoist hand in organising the rally at Netai.
Local CPM sources said the besieged cadres had had no option but to fire. “Do you think the villagers would have spared us if they had caught us?” said a CPM cadre who has taken refuge in a Dharampur camp.
“Their mentors (the Maoists) would have abducted and killed us, or we would have been lynched. We were not bothered about the implications of firing at the villagers. We were concerned about our lives.”
The besieged cadres had made frantic calls to Lalgarh and Dharampur seeking immediate assistance.
Recounting the escape of the armed cadres, Alo Dandapath, another neighbour of CPM leader Dandapath, said: “The (CPM) reinforcements that came from Lalgarh parked the three jeeps and the pickup van in a field, 100 metres from Dandapath’s house. This was because the road in front of the house was a narrow one and taking a U-turn would not have been possible. The motorcycles came up to the house to assure the armed cadres that they were safe.”
“Ora chitkar kore bolchhilo harmad-der beriye ashtey. Amader shobaike ghare thaktey bolchhilo… dhamak daey je berolei guli korbe (they were calling out for the harmads to come out. They told us to stay indoors and threatened to fire if we stepped out),” said Alo, who is in her early fifties.
She said the rescuers fired in the air to keep the villagers at bay when the cadres were being rescued.
The police arrived half an hour later. “The police dismantled the sandbag bunkers set up on the terrace and removed the tarpaulin sheet that used to protect the armed cadres from the cold. The police took out an explosive device from the house,” said Naren Singha, a villager.
Courtesy: The Telegraph