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5000 Lalgarh Villagers Raze Government Building to Keep Cops Out

Nearly 5,000 tribals in Salboni, wielding shovels, axes and hammers and allegedly led by Maoists, today demolished a government building that till last week was a police camp. The structure at Kalaimuri near Lalgarh in West Midnapore — the first government building to be torn down by the tribals — took three hours to destroy.

Chhatradhar Mahato, who leads the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities that is at the forefront of the Lalgarh tribal resistance, said: “We had appealed to the villagers not to demolish the building as we planned to set up a health care centre there, but we could not persuade them.” He added: “The people have lost faith in the police and they feared the security forces would return.”

Today, neither Chhatradhar nor the secretary of the committee, Sidhu Soren, was present at Kalaimuri when the villagers rained blows on the building.

One of the tribals who helped bring the building down was 35-year-old Paritosh Mahato, a farmer from Gadra near Lalgarh. “When we started our agitation in November last year, the police withdrew several camps, including this one in Kalaimuri. But the camps started functioning again in December,” Paritosh said. “Had the building remained standing, the police would have returned with reinforcements. That’s why we demolished it.”

Bimal Tudu, a 40-year-old labourer who too was in the demolition team, echoed Paritosh’s fears. “Now the police won’t be able to return to Kalaimuri,” he said.

The policemen stationed at the camp used to patrol parts of Lalgarh, an area the tribals have made inaccessible to the force after alleged excesses on villagers following a blast on the chief minister’s convoy route last year. The 90 policemen stationed at the camp left it on April 27 after the tribals pushed them to the brink of starvation by preventing them from buying provisions for several days.

Manoj Kumar Verma, the West Midnapore superintendent of police, said he had received news of the demolition and had informed his superiors. We will not move into Kalaimuri now because it may lead to untoward incidents. We don’t want a confrontation with the villagers at this moment. Today’s demolition of the camp was led by Maoists,” he said.

The police said that around 11am, a group of Maoists gathered in front of the camp, one of four in Salboni. “They (the Maoists) contacted people in the neighbouring villages and asked them to assemble near the camp,” a police officer said. “Nearly 5,000 villagers with bows, arrows, axes, iron rods and shovels gathered within half an hour. Some in the demolition squad were women.”

The officer added: “The Maoists held an hour-long meeting with them and the demolition began around 1pm. The camp building was completely destroyed by 4pm.” Police sources said the tribals had come from about a dozen villages.

Sanhati, May 2009