I still can’t believe that one of my friends has been beaten to death on suspicion that he was a child abductor. The reality is Nilotpal Das wouldn’t even hurt a fly.
With Nilotpal based in Goa and I working in Delhi, we had not met in a long time. He could not attend my wedding but he had promised to meet me when we spoke last.
A sound engineer, Nilotpal liked to travel to far off places in search of previously unknown or little known musical instruments. His spiritual values saw the world as one.
Little would he have even remotely thought that he would be beaten to death by people in his own state, along with a friend Abhijeet Nath, thanks to rising intolerance and lack of faith in law.
It was barbarism of the worst order — and it consumed my friend on June 8.
Nilotpal and Abhijeet were on their way to witness the scenic Kangthilangso waterfall located in a remote area in the tribal majority district of Karbi Anglong. It would be their last trip to anywhere.
They were unaware that rumours had spread in the area that ‘xopadhora’ or child lifters were on the prowl.
When the two were returning in the evening, a mob in Panijuri Kachari village stopped their vehicle and started asking a million questions mainly because the boys’ appearances (Nilotpal had dreadlocks and Abhijeet was driving the SUV) made them suspicious.
Instead of handing them over to the police, the mob decided to take the matter into their own hands. They dragged the two out of the car and thrashed them with bamboo sticks, rods and machetes.
A bloodied Nilotpal kept pleading: “Moi Asomiya hoi, muk nemaribo. Mur deutar naam Gopal Chandra Das aru mur maar naam Radhika Das… muk nemaribo… (I am an Assamese, please don’t hit me. My father’s name is Gopal Chandra Das and mother’s name is Radhika Das Please don’t hit me.)”
His pleas went unheard. Onlookers captured the horrific incident. No one called the police.
Now there’s widespread anger and condemnation on social media. Locals have also organised a protest in Guwahati. Bereaved friends and well wishers are condemning the entire Karbi community. But will mere pinpointing bring the victims back?
According to a Karbi Anglong Police official, Nilotpal and Abhijeet should have informed the authorities that they were traveling to the remote location.
When did the need to alert the police to travel around one’s own state or the country become necessary?
According to political commentator Abhinav Borbora, the regional politics of Assam has become increasingly exclusive, seeking to identifying the other as the outsider.
Borbora told IANS that incidents like these were indicators of a criminal justice system that was increasingly failing to inspire confidence among citizens.
Nilotpal’s close friend Sugata Robin Talukdar says the killer mob also included a few Bengalis, Kachari and Bodos besides the local Karbi people.
Independent research consultant Minakshi Bujarbaruah says it is a shame that rationality has been doomed to give way to anomie and normlessness.
Nilotpal, who I first met in school, was a law-abiding person who never showed any aggression. His passion was travelling. This time, he had driven a motorcycle all the way from Goa to Assam.
He may not have done that if only he knew that our quest for a better and a safer society is still very elusive and unattainable.
(Karishma Saurabh Kalita is an IANS journalist and can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are personal)