Bogtui/Kokata: Najira Bibi was fast asleep with other family members in her mud and brick house, when suddenly she heard loud bomb bursts outside.
After that it was mayhem as flames licked the frame of her house and sparks from neighbouring burning houses set her roof aflame. Screams and shouts ripped apart the stillness of the night as desperate people tried to escape the smouldering inferno.
Bibi, a middle-aged woman, told PTI from her bed in Rampurhat hospital where she had been brought by villagers, My husband was away on work. We were sleeping when suddenly we heard the sounds of bombs exploding.
Some ten houses in all in the packed para’ (locality) caught fire as the hand-made explosives burst on their doors and walls, with the roofs which were either thatched or had tin coverings providing easy fodder for the inferno that Bogtui turned into.
Our houses were set on fire by the miscreants. I managed to escape, but don’t know what happened to others in the family, a traumatised Bibi said.
The firing of the houses in one part of the village happened within hours of the murder of a local leader Bhadu Sheikh at a turn in the highway which sweeps past the village.
Bhadu was a deputy Panchayat chief and locally a powerful man, owing allegiance to the ruling Trinamool Congress. Locals suspect a falling out between fellow villagers led to both the initial murder and the deadly attack on families which were seen as rivals to the slain leader.
Najira Bibi’s `para’ had a desolate look as many houses had emptied out with people moving out fearing worsening of the violence which had gripped the small hamlet near Rampurhat town in the tribal district of Birbhum.
Television channels which invaded the village after being initially stopped in their tracks by police pickets could be seen interviewing villagers.
One of them, 60-year-old Usman Sheikh described the fateful night as one which was rent by wails of men, women and children seeking help.
I could do little and stood mute spectator as sweeping flames reduced the houses to ashes in no time. These scenes will continue to haunt me for the rest of my life” said Sheikh to a Bengali television channel.
Villagers tried to douse the flames but the attempts did not bear fruit and the fire brigade which arrived soon after took till morning to turn the `para’ into a sodden, smouldering remains of houses from a happier time.
The police force which also drove in strength into the village in the wee hours of the morning set up pickets to stop any further violence.
DGP Manoj Malaviya told reporters in Kolkata that the situation was under control.
“The situation is now under control, and a police picket has been established in the village since last night. We are investigating how the houses caught fire and whether the incident is related to the death of the panchayat deputy chief of Barshal village,” he said.
However, Bogtui residents fear the situation will never be normal again. Fear and enmity have replaced what till now was an idyllic life in a small village of 100 houses. It will never be the same, said Bibi.
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