The first thought that ran through Tapan Chakraborty’s mind when he heard the gunshots was that his granddaughter could be headed home from school. Ignoring his wife’s appeals, the 60-year-old rushed out to ensure the six-year-old was safe. He had gone barely 50 metres when he was shot.
Sitting next to his body, lying on the floor, with a folded piece of polythene for a pillow, a distraught Bina says, “I pleaded with him not to go, but he was worried about Trishna, who studies in a school nearby. Sensing trouble, I followed him just a few minutes later. But I found him lying in a pool of blood, gasping for breath. I ran home, got some water and made him drink a few sips. I also began to shout for help, but all I saw were people running to safety.”
Chakraborty, who made a living occasionally selling vegetables in the Balajan Tiniali market here, was among the 14 people killed when unidentified militants opened fire at the weekly market here Friday afternoon.
Hearing Bina’s calls for help, some CRPF jawans stopped, and rushed the bleeding Chakraborty in their vehicle to Kokrajhar town 12 km away. It was here that Raju, the younger of Chakraborty’s two sons, found him much later. “I was stuck inside the shop where I work as a salesman-cum-driver during the firing. It was only about an hour later that I came to know of my father. By the time I rushed to Kokajhar town and located him in the government hospital, he was already dead,” Raju says.
Rafal Machahary of Natun Haltugaon village lost both his father Shuren and uncle Nibaran in the firing. The two, who worked as barbers, had expected to make good money on Friday as it was market day. “My father and his elder brother left for Balajan Tiniali about 9 am. I was told both were killed inside their saloon. The two customers whose hair they were cutting at the time were also killed,” says the 21-year-old who never went to school because of his physical disability.
Kishore Basumatary, who also belongs to Natun Haltugaon village, had a narrow escape. “I was selling plastic ropes and sheets by the roadside when I heard gunshots. I saw a man with a gun firing in different directions. I saw him clearly; he was wearing a black dress and trousers with many pockets, and had a black cloth tied around his head. When one bullet hit a Muslim onion vendor right in front of me across the road, I ran away, leaving behind everything, my mobile phone, money, whatever I had to sell,” says the 40-year-old.
The eyewitnesses say the two militants didn’t appear to have any particular target. “They fired randomly. I saw one of them lob a grenade at one of the shops. The fire reduced at least six other shops to ashes,” says Rashinath Sarma (43), a grocer who also managed to flee.
When he returned two hours later, the shops were still smouldering, he says. “The vegetables and other items the fleeing vendors had left behind lay scattered on both sides of the road.”
“Unlike earlier attacks by the NDFB(S) when they targeted people of a particular community, the victims this time belonged to various communities. The list of dead includes seven Bodos, four Muslims, two Bengali Hindus, and one Assamese,” said Bodoland IGP L R Bishnoi.