“They were engaged for a year, but married for only five days,” says Rakesh Sahu, talking about her sister and her husband.
On February 23, two bombs allegedly kept in a gift they received for their wedding went off, killing Soumya Sekhar Sahu (26) and leaving his bride Reema (23) severely injured. Soumya Sekhar’s grandmother, who was with the two at the time, was also killed.
Attending to Reema at the Cuttack government hospital where she was brought after the incident at Patnagarh town in Bolangir district, Rakesh says she is still in the dark on the death of her husband, a software engineer from Bengaluru. “She remembers the blast, but we have not told her about its consequences,” the brother says. Reema took the impact of the blast on the left side of her body, and Rakesh says hearing in her left ear is affected. “Most of the burn injuries are on her left side,” he adds.
Forensic examination is underway to ascertain the nature of the explosives. The Patnagarh Inspector in-charge Bareni Das and Bolangir Superintendent of Police K Siva Subramani refused to talk about the investigation. Other officers speaking off the record said they had “significant leads”.
Dr Anada Patnaik of the Plastic Surgery Department of SCB Medical College, where Reema is being treated, says, “The blast has inflicted 30-35 per cent burns. Additional problems like fume inhalation, splinters need care. She is being looked after by an inter-departmental medical team, comprising ophthalmologists, ENT specialists, and pulmonary medicine physicians.”
Both families deny any reason to suspect anyone for the crime. The family friends of Reema, who is a graduate, say her parents spent roughly Rs 9 lakh on the arranged marriage, and were happy she was going to start a new life in Bengaluru.
After the wedding, on February 18, Reema and Soumya Sekhar had been staying at his parents’ house in Patnagarh.
His parents, who are in their 50s, are in a state of shock. Family friend Abhinash Mallick says, “Sekhar’s grandmother was standing in the kitchen with him when he opened the gift parcel with a knife because it was packed tightly. Reema had followed both into the kitchen. Sekhar’s father was away in Delhi seeing his daughter off to Kazakhstan, where she is pursuing a bachelors in medicine programme. Sekhar’s mother, a college principal, was at work.”
Soumya Sekhar’s grandmother, who was in her mid-80s, died at the Patnagarh government hospital. “Sekhar died on way to Burla (to the Veer Surendra Sai Institute of Medical Sciences and Research),” says Rakesh.
Sekhar’s father Ravindra Sahu, a geology lecturer at Jawaharlal College in Patnagarh, says he and his wife have moved out of their house, whose walls are cracked due to the force of the explosion. A family friend says that while the explosion ripped apart the kitchen cabinets, the gas cylinder miraculously did not explode. A neighbour who rushed to the house on hearing the explosion and seeing the smoke billow out says, “The impact of the explosion could be guessed just looking at the living room.”
The gift that is believed to have contained the bombs was delivered by courier. The Patnagarh branch manager of the courier delivery service, Dilip Kumar Dash, says, “The package made its way from Raipur to Sambalpur, and then to Bolangir and Patnagarh. One of our delivery boys handed it over to the family at roughly 12:30 pm (on February 23). The package looked ordinary. The wrapper seemed to enclose a cardboard box, the kind people use to send medicines. The package weighed 2.001 kg.”
Dash says he had handed over the receipt of the gift to the Patnagarh Police Station. Indian postal rules prohibit anything “sent in contravention of any enactment for the time being in force”. This includes items such as explosives, inflammable goods, obscene content, and gold coins of value exceeding Rs 20,000. Courier services refer to recommendations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations, which classy nine classes of dangerous goods. Explosives, of various types, are the first class of goods banned in this list.
Dash admits that their courier service had “no scanning equipment” for detection of explosives.
Trying to understand how a festive occasion ended so tragically, Rakesh, who runs a garments business in Odisha’s Boudh district, says, “We have no rivals in our personal or professional lives. Sekhar had none either.”