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A ghost village

A ghost village

Author: Santosh Singh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: June 20 2008
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/325094.html

Introduction: 21 years after a Naxal massacre, an Aurangabad village has fallen off the map of Bihar. Its twin village, Dalelchak, is left with six houses

A massacre and 21 years later, Baghaura has turned into a ghost village. Its twin village, Dalelchak, which shared the tragedy that night, is falling off the map too.

On the evening of May 29, 1987, Naxalities killed 42 upper castes villagers in Baghaura and Dalelchak, 25 km from Aurangabad. The massacre was in retaliation for the murder of seven OBC men at Chukti-Chechani, a village barely three km away from the twin villages, earlier that year.

In Baghaura, where 26 people were killed, about 40 Rajput families have fled the village over the years. Now all that's left of the village are deserted houses and acres of unclaimed land.

Vinay Singh, 44, who escaped the massacre, now works as a government clerk in Aurangabad, a job he got as compensation after losing 20 members of his family in 1987. He fled the village soon after the massacre but his mother stayed on. He would visit her infrequently but in 1992, after the Naxals attacked him again, he decided to leave. "They attacked me and took away my licensed revolver. I finally left Baghaura because life was more precious than anything else," he said.

Recently, Singh took his mother with him-she didn't want to leave their ancestral home and 25 bighas of land but Singh wanted her to "spend her last days in peace". His mother, according to Singh, was the last to leave the village.

Stray cattle and dogs wander in the courtyard of what was once Vinay Singh's house. Just ahead of the gate, a plaque with the names of the 20 slain family members is hardly legible.

Vinay Singh's house is among the few that are still standing. Most of them have been ransacked, with their rooftiles and bricks removed. He has stuffed thorny babul twigs into the windows as a desperate attempt to keep out encroachers.

But the Naxals let two lower caste families stay on. Lakhan Choudhary, in his late 70s, is among those who were allowed to stay. "After that scary evening, all of them left the village one by one. Some settled with their relatives in neighbouring villages while others went to Aurangabad and Arwal," he said. Some others, Choudhary said, just walked out of the village-they were scared the Naxals would follow them to their new addresses.

"Nayka sarkar (Maoists) ki baat maanat hi hum log (We have to listen to their diktat to be able to stay here)," said Choudhary, who says he knows of no other government except that run by the Naxals.

People from an adjoining village said the Naxals wouldn't let anybody cultivate the unclaimed land. Over 70-80 bighas of land in the village lie untouched. The Naxals have also banned people from buying this land. The vast stretches of uncultivated land serves as grazing grounds for animals that stray in.

People from nearby villagers-they were too scared to give out their names-said Naxals in khakhi crossed the area once or twice a year and asked them to prepare food for 500 people.

A km away from Baghaura, Dalelchak has a similar story. Dalelchak had over 20 houses before the tragedy; now there are six. Sixteen people were killed on the night of 1987.

Arun Singh, one of the two college-going students in the village, said, "The government employed five members of the victims' families. But they did nothing to protect us."

The police picket near the village was removed in 1999. In the only school in neighbouring Khutidih village, teachers play truant. Midday meal is cooked only 10-15 days a month, alleged Dharmendra, who studies in an Aurangabad college.

Recently, the villagers called Ramchandra Mahto, a resident of Guraru, to settle down in Dalelchak. "I found enough land to raise a house here," said Mahto but now he is not sure how long he'll stay on in Dalelchak.

His fears are not without reason. Villagers said they are often threatened for venturing out after 6 p.m. and asked not to use their mobile phones.

A villager said a forest department official had to recently remove his beacon and number plate from his official vehicle before entering Madanpur, under which Dalelchak-Baghaura falls. Villagers say politicians do not bother to visit the area since they have no votes to worry about.

Back in Aurangabad, Vinay Singh said he still gets threats from Naxalites. "I asked for a transfer to the SDO office in the district headquarters for safety reasons."

Based on Singh's testimony, the Aurangabad court had in 1999 sentenced eight supporters of the MCC to death. The Supreme Court later converted the punishment to life terms. Over 153 Maoists and their supporters were acquitted for lack of evidence.

JD-U spokesperson Anil Pathak admitted there was little the government could do little about the exodus. "It was the duty of Congress and Lalu-Rabri governments to stop the exodus. But our government has been creating employments for Naxal-hit areas to help prevent similar incidents," said Pathak.

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