Updated: April 26, 2021 9:53:44 pm
Nearly a week into the abduction of three Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) employees by the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) (ULFA-I) from Assam’s Sivasagar district, the search for the third is still on. While it took only 72 hours for the state security forces to rescue Mohini Mohan Gogoi and Alakesh Saikia from the forests of Mon district of Nagaland near the India-Myanmar border on Saturday, the family of third — Retul Saikia — has spent sleepless nights since.
“I can’t explain how I am feeling,” said Shatabdi Hazarika, Retul’s wife, breaking down on the phone from Jorhat district’s Borholla, “Probably only those who have been through something like this will.” Shatabdi last saw her husband at 4 pm on Wednesday before he left for his shift. “It is sadder because the others have been rescued, and he has not,” she said.
Mohini (32), Alakesh (28) and Retul (38) — who work in the production department of ONGC — were abducted from a rig site in Lakuwa field in Sivasagar while they were on night duty. The Assam Police later confirmed that the ULFA-I was behind the abduction and arrested 14 “linkmen”. On Monday, the police arrested three more persons, including a constable of Assam Police Battalion (APBn), for their role in the abduction.
“The search is on and we have been sincerely trying to rescue him, leaving no stone unturned,” said Assam DGP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta.
Sources in the Assam Police said that extensive searches were carried out in and around the area the other two were rescued from but “no body, nor a trace of blood has been found.”
However, these assurances mean little to Shatabdi and other members of Retul’s family. “We had a baby boy just four months back,” said Shatabdi (21), “My only wish is that I get some update…any update that he is okay…if only they [ULFA-I] would let us know he is safe.”
What has made things worse is a statement from ULFA-I issued on Saturday that said that Retul was not in their custody. They claimed that they “released all three ONGC employees in good health” in Tokok Singkhu village in Nagaland’s Mon district. “We suspect he has either been killed by the bullets of the forces, or they have kept him in hiding,” said the statement.
While the police have rubbished these allegations, the family cannot help but fear the worst. “Right after the statement was aired on local news channels, there was chaos in our house,” said Debo Saikia, Retul’s younger brother, “We had to ultimately cut off the TV connection because we cannot bear to watch the news any more.” He added that his parents are aged and unwell and the news has “broken them down completely.” “My mother cries all day, does not want to eat and has become extremely weak,” he said.
Rantu Saikia, Retul’s cousin said, “The ULFA is a spent force and we barely hear about them now…sometimes we hear about incidents in Sivasagar or even Tinsukia, but here in Jorhat district, it is rare. So we are really shocked that something like this has happened.”
He added that he did not believe the ULFA’s version of events. “They never claimed responsibility when the abduction happened, but as soon as the other two were rescued, they put out this hasty statement. It does not add up. That is why I still have hope,” he said.
Retul came home three days before he was abducted on April 18, where he celebrated Bihu with his family. “We danced to Bihu songs and we all were so happy. Never did we think that this would follow,” said Rantu.
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