Eleven years after she got married, Sushma Maity of Southkhali Jalpai village in Nandigram is neither a wife nor a widow. Her husband, Bhagirath Maity, went missing on November 10 two years ago when goons attacked a rally staged in protest against farmland acquisition for Special Economic Zone at Gokulnagar in Nandigram.
Bhagirath is one of the twelve persons officially reported missing since trouble began in Nandigram two years ago.
"I wear vermilion on the parting of hair and conch bangles on my wrists in the hope that my husband is alive," says Sushma, who has been living in a dilapidated mud house since her husband's disappearance nearly two years ago.
Vermilion and conch bangles are marks of a married Bengali Hindu woman who stop sporting them after husband's death. On the day when Bhagirath went missing, armed goons charged on a rally of more than a thousand men and women and took them hostage in the stronghold of Khejuri on the other side of Talpati canal, police sources say.
"I have been waiting since then. On November 11, when nearly 500 people taken hostage returned home with bowed heads, I looked for my husband. The procession went on, but he did not turn up," she says clutching her minor daughter close to her.
Sushma recalls, "He told me to cook rice in the morning for lunch before going to the rally. I was late. He told me that he would return at noontime and eat. But he did not come."
These incidents have turned upside down the world of other women like Sushma. Sushma, aged 28, fends for herself, a minor son and a minor daughter by cooking in an ICDS centre, a job given to her by the gram panchayat.
"But, how long can we help them? These families of landless agricultural labourers or wage earners are living in dire poverty.
The women know only how to cook. The men used to do odd jobs to feed the families," Ratan Dolui, elected representative of the village in Sonachura Gram Panchayat said.
The panchayat is trying to provide them concrete shelters under Indira Awas Yojana and jobs like cooking in ICDS centre or schools, he says.
Choten Dhendup Lama, district magistrate of East Midnapore where Nandigram is located, says, "More than Rs 1 crore from the chief minister's relief fund has been doled out for the affected people. Houses were reconstructed, women were given kitchen items and utensils and other essentials. More than 99 per cent of the money has been spent to bring these people back to normal life."
One thing which is common in the lives of all these women is poverty. The signs of poverty and absence of a male member are evident in all their houses. A part of Sushma' s house has collapsed, allowing sun to throw rays on the floor of the mud house.
"If there was a male member around the house it would never have been in such a dilapidated condition," says Sushma, as her daughter who was four-month-old at the time of her father's disappearance looks on. For other women, it amounts to missing a good companion who would stand by the side during good and bad times.
"My rickshaw-puller husband, Satyen Gole, haunts me all the time. I've been popping sleeping pills for the last two years to normal my life," says Durga Rani Gole, whose husband also went missing in the same incident.