Lalgarh: Where Have All the Young Men Gone?

It is an intriguing mystery, one that is preventing the police, the joint forces, and the West Bengal state government from having a peaceful night’s sleep, despite the fact that many of the trouble-torn areas of the political volcano called Lalgarh in West Midnapore are already free from the Maoist siege which started in Mid-June. Successfully captured the occupied areas they have, but the forces have noticed a large number of young tribal men of the area to be missing, (most of them supporting the Maoists) as they seemed to have left the villages and retreated into the jungles to strike back soon.

According to local estimates, about 10,000 youths have left the villages in the Lalgarh area. The remaining populations, mostly tribal women, have shown remarkable grit and have consistently refused to provide any information regarding the men. The joint forces have not been successful as yet in arresting any of the significant Maoist leaders, including Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader of the supposedly Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities. Senior police officers are of the opinion that the Kadashole-Mahultala and Jhitka areas have produced at least 500-600 youths trained in guerrilla warfare by the Maoists, all of who are hiding. In light of this, the huge estimates of the number of Maoists in the area referred to occasionally by West Bengal ministers come into question…. If there are so many of them, why did they let Lalgarh slip out of their hands so quietly, despite rumors of a possible ambush awaiting the forces in the jungles?

What has been allegedly happening in the Lalgarh area in the name of police-protection is constant harassment of the villagers in the hands of the lawmen. Local residents have accused the police-force of making “random arrests” of men who have stayed back in the villages, and what is even worse, physical abuse on the village women. Some women in the area have also indicated that they have asked their sons and husbands to leave simply because of their fear of police atrocities. They themselves have flocked to the relief camps from their homes.

Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress supreme and Railways minister Mamata Banerjee has demanded an immediate suspension of operation in Lalgarh as it is her view that CPI (M) cadres have infiltrated the Lalgarh area alongside the forces in the name of the joint operation. The ruling party has, according to her, staged an elaborate drama about a completely false Maoist presence in the tribal area, and now, in the garb of a joint operation, they have joined hands with the ultra-Left outfits to regain ground lost during the primarily tribal uprising.

Banerjee’s accusation of the whole Maoist theory being fabricated, despite being slightly incredible, does in fact have a ring of truth in it. Fact is, the 22 villagers arrested during the Lalgarh operation were all declared as not being “outright Maoists” by West Bengal government official Ardhendu Sen. And constant complaints of needless police interference from the tribal areas of Lalgarh are also constant indicators of how out-of-proportion the whole operation might possibly be. What is clear from the current situation is that the CPI (M) are in a no-win situation as far as Lalgarh is concerned—the popularity of the party with all quarters of the Bengali population would suffer either way.


Promona Sengupta

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