“Didi, chhele hoyechhe!” It’s a boy! She squealed with delight and excitement over phone from the hospital bed. That was a few days back. Now, Suchitra Mahato is back home from hospital with her seven-day old baby. Elated, full of intense, frenzied energy, just like any new mother. The child was born on October 4. Husband Prabir Garai is taking good care of her, she says.
Suchitra Mahato – the name that used to be treated with dread and awe during the Lalgarh movement in Bengal (that originated in 2008) – has changed dramatically since 2011. One of the most prominent squad members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Bengal, Suchitra Mahato had surrendered before West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee in March 2012.
She worked as a Maoist for over a decade, and had played a key role in mobilizing women in Jangalmahal during the Lalgarh movement. Suchitra was hiding in the forests of West Midnapore along with Maoist politburo member Kishanji, and he was eventually killed in an encounter with the police in the Burisole forests in November 2011. This death almost symbolically put an end to the Maoist movement in the state. Despite sustaining a bullet injury, Suchitra had somehow managed to escape.
There was no news of Suchitra in the public domain till she surfaced dramatically at Writers’ Buildings in March 2012, newly married to Trinamool functionary Prabir Garai. Garai himself had been earlier associated with the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) – said to be a frontal organization of the CPI(Maoist) that was the driving force of the Lalgarh movement. Questions were raised on whether this was actually a surrender, or had she been “intercepted” a few months earlier and shown to have surrendered before the CM? Suchitra was earlier married to Sasadhar Mahato, a Maoist commander who was killed in an encounter with the combined state and Central paramilitary forces in March 2011.
I had met Suchitra Mahato several years back, while working on my book, Out of War: Voices of Surrendered Maoists (published by Speaking Tiger, in 2016).
She had joined as a home guard with the West Bengal Police, rather reluctantly. She was not keen on taking up the job initially because it meant belonging to the same police force that she had fought against for ideological reasons for over a decade. She continues to get police protection like other top Maoist leaders across the country who have surrendered before the government.
Born in a poor family in the Binpur area of Jhargram, Suchitra’s parents used to collect wood in the forest. They had to struggle to survive. After she joined the Maoists, she rose in the ranks due to her unusual leadership qualities, mental and physical strength. And then she was part of the Lalgarh movement in Bengal that took place over several years since November 2008 – turning into an armed tribal movement against police and government atrocities on villagers. Fuelled by people’s anger and with backing of the Maoists, Lalgarh movement became a people’s movement with active participation of villagers. Suchitra Mahato was one of the movement’s topmost leaders.
Eventually, after her surrender and induction into the police force, she has repeatedly tried to explain that she had not given away information to the police that led to the killing of Kishanji. She had sustained bullet injuries and in her own words, “I could have died myself in the police firing. If I gave away information about our location, wouldn’t I have ensured my own safety first?”
All that is now a matter of the past. Suchitra has long been living a quiet life in the Bankura home of her husband, Prabir Garai. Undergoing medical treatment for her bullet injury, Suchitra says she has long suffered and yet, never given up trying to be happy. Her courage, poise, confidence, makes her a truly remarkable woman, whose very presence is arresting. And now wants she wants to start a new phase in her life as a mother with the same grace, strength and hopefulness that characterises her.