On Thursday, around 7.20 pm, six men wearing military fatigues and carrying assault rifles arrived on two motorcycles at Bisonimukh village, in Dhola area of Tinsukia district, on the banks of the Brahmaputra river. They rounded up six Bengali-speaking men — three from one house, two from the main road, and one from his shop — took them to a nearby bridge over a stream, told them to face the stream, and sprayed bullets from behind.
“At least 38 empty AK-47 cartridges were recovered from the spot,” Sadiya Superintendent of Police P S Changmai told The Indian Express. Five men died in the attack. The sixth, Shadeb Namashudra (17), survived as he fell into the stream, and the gunmen left him for dead.
The victims have been identified as Shyamlal Biswas (60), Ananta Biswas (18), Abhinash Biswas (25), Subal Das (60) and Dhananjay Namasudra (23). Shyamlal was the paternal uncle of brothers Abhinash and Ananta. All the five men were primarily vegetable farmers, although Shyamlal ran a grocery store and Abhinash had a mobile recharge shop.
While police officers said they suspected the involvement of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent), the militant outfit on Friday denied its role.
Besides Shadeb, the other eyewitnesses are Abhinash’s wife, Urmila (21), his younger brother, Sushen (22), and a woman who was visiting the Biswas family, Junmoni Sonowal Nayak (20).
According to Nayak, four men entered the house, and told Ananta and Shadeb, who were in a room that functions as a mobile recharge shop, to follow them. “The men spoke in Assamese, they said they had something to talk about. They said the two would be allowed to return after they talked to them,” said Nayak.
Abhinash, who was outside with his two-year-old daughter, Tanisha, was also asked to follow the men. “My husband handed me our daughter and left. Everyone thought they were soldiers because they were dressed that way,” said Urmila.
Urmila, Nayak and Sushen ran after the men. “They threatened to hit us with their guns… They told us to go back. We got scared and ran back indoors,” said Nayak.
They woke up Mohanlal, father of Abhinash and Ananta. “I took my torch and ran towards the gate, but saw nobody. They had probably reached the bridge. A few minutes later, we heard loud sounds, like firecrackers,” recounted Mohanlal, in his 70s.
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Meanwhile, villagers said, Shyamlal was picked up from his grocery store, a few metres from the Biswas family’s house, while Subal and Dhananjoy were rounded up from the road.
“Some villagers gathered and started walking towards the bridge. We found three of the men dead, while Shyamlal and Subal were bleeding. Shadeb was lying unconscious in the stream,” said Mohanlal. “My brother Shyamlal had four bullets in his body,” he added.
One of the villagers called up Shyamlal’s son, Arjun. “My father just said, ‘Arjun, come soon’. But I could not make it,” said Arjun.
All the five bodies were handed over to the families on Friday evening after post-mortem. The cremation was to be held later in the night, near the bridge where they were killed.
Three top Assam Police officers, including Director General of Police Kuladhar Saikia, met the victims’ families on Friday. A senior police officer said they had received intelligence inputs about a possible attack in Bengali-dominated areas, but there was nothing specific. Bisonimukh village is a Bengali-dominated area, mostly comprising farmers and daily-wage workers.
Sadiya SP Changmai said there has been no recent recruitment by the ULFA (I) in the area. According to intelligence inputs, cadres of the ULFA(I) and other militant outfits are known to cross over from Arunachal Pradesh to Assam through the border district of Tinsukia.
Meanwhile, Bengali organisations have pointed to the recent discourse in the state over the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). “This is the result of hate-mongering against Bengalis. Poor people have paid the price. ULFA(I) has denied any role in the killings, so that raises the question who is behind it? The gunmen carried rifles,” said Bijoy Chanda, organising secretary, All Assam Bengali Youth Student Federation.
While a manhunt has been launched to track the gunmen, police said two ULFA pro-talk faction leaders, Jiten Dutta and Mrinal Hazarika, were arrested on Friday.