Bogtui: An eerie silence pervades Bogtui, where eight people were burnt alive earlier this week.
The village near Rampurhat town in West Bengal’s Birbhum has become a ghost town as many residents have fled to unknown locations fearing the cycle of violence which started with the killing of local TMC leader Bhadu Sheikh and led to the carnage which shocked the whole country.
Not only have most residents of Purbapara, where the killings took place in the early hours of Tuesday, left their houses in a hurry, even those of neighbouring Paschimpara and Mayerpara hamlets in the village have also followed suit. The only state-run school in the locality is also nearly empty while the Anganwadi lies vacant with unbolted doors.
Locked doors welcome the many journalists, officials and policemen, who have invaded the village. A peep into the charred houses, through broken window panes reveal the condition in which the escapees fled their dwellings occupied for generations.
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Utensils lie hither-thither on the floor, clothing hang on ropes and uncooked vegetables lie scattered in the courtyard of Saddam Sheikh’s house. This hastily left behind house is next door to that of Sonu Sheikh whose house was burnt down and from where seven charred bodies were found.
Neighbouring houses of Rezaul Sheikh, Babar Alam, Pintu Sheikh, Nur Sheikh and Saddam Ali Mollah were found locked despite Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who visited the village on March 24, assuring them of full security.
The only woman seen in the vicinity cooking food is the wife of Sahe Alam Sheikh, a maternal uncle of Sonu Sheikh.
”We have no idea where they have fled to. They did not have any other option. Even my sons are not here. They are staying at my relative’s place outside the village,” Sahe Alam Sheikh told PTI.
An eyewitness to the carnage, Alam, however, remained tight-lipped about the incident.
”I can only say that it was a revenge killing. We have seen everything from inside our houses. We ran into our dwellings on hearing a mob approaching Sonu’s house and hurling bombs. After that, I don’t know anything,” he said.
His three sons have gone into hiding with their families and are still ”unwilling to return home”.
Alam also welcomed the Calcutta High Court’s handing over the probe into the carnage to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
”This may help the investigation,” he said.
A huge police contingent is guarding at least 15 houses in the village, which has a population of around 7,000.
Mumtaz Begum, owner of the only stationery shop open in Purbapara, echoed Alam.
”My sons are also in hiding. We don’t know where all the villagers have gone. I don’t want to talk. We are all worried about our lives,” said Mumtaz, who has stayed back to take care of her 90-year old paralytic mother-in-law Nasima Bibi.
”I pray to Allah that everything normalises. My sons are outside the village. Hope everything normalises soon,” Bibi said.
However, those who have fled the village are not very optimistic.
”How can we return? We are scared for our lives. What will happen when police leaves the village?” a relative of Sonu Sheikh told PTI over the phone from an undisclosed location.
Residents of neighbouring Paschimpara and Mayerpara localities have also deserted their homes. E-rickshaw drivers, the only few locals living in the adjacent areas, avoid using the road through Purbapara to reach Rampurhat town.
Nur Mohammed, the teacher of the lone state-run school in the area, said, ”Very few students are turning up in the last few days. Most of the families are not in the village, hence the high absent rate. I think this situation will continue for quite some time.” The school, located in Paschimpara, also has students from Purbapara and Mayerpara.
The Anganwadi centre, located in Purbapara, is also lying vacant with doors thrown open and nobody to look after it.
The carnage took place after local TMC leader Bhadu Sheikh was assassinated by unknown people on Monday evening.
The incident has triggered a political firestorm in the state with BJP, Congress and the Left Front attacking the ruling dispensation, even as the chief minister directed the police to nab all the culprits and hand out “strictest punishment” to them.