Pokhriguri victims recall dreaded day

Scars of fateful evening still fresh in their minds

December 23 began like any other day for 34-year-old Som Hansda of Pokhriguri village in Kokrajhar district in Assam.

He was finishing the day’s work at home when he suddenly heard gunshots. Everything else after that was a blur.

Within minutes, his happy domestic life had come to an end: There would be no more Christmas celebration in the Hansda household for years.

Som lost his wife Mariam and 13-year-old son Stephen on that day. He still feels the fright every evening, and sleeps at a nearby refugee camp at night. During the day, he returns home to stare blankly at the bloodstains—dark brown after almost five days—on his courtyard.

On Monday afternoon, Som was found staring listlessly at his thatched hut’s bullet-riddled walls.

“Around 14-15 men in Army fatigues suddenly appeared from the side of the road that leads to Bhutan, and opened fire on my house. My wife was cooking dinner, and my son was inside the room, making a paper star to be hung at the gate on Christmas Eve. I fled when they opened fire,” he said, holding back tears.

Thinking that Bodo militants would kill him but spare his family, Som had run and hidden in the dank water of the drain for more than an hour. He returned to find his wife shot several times. Mariam had tried to shield herself with the wall behind the kitchen, and dragged herself there after being shot, leaving a trail of dry blood. Stephen was shot a number of times, in the head.

Som rushed both of them to a nearby hospital. Stephen died on the way and Mariam soon after reaching hospital.

Som’s neighbour Charles Murmu, who lives on the other side of the road, had a similar tale to share. Charles is currently admitted to a state-run hospital with a bullet wound on his left leg. He was feeding his two cows when he heard the gunfire. As he ran to the courtyard, he saw some armed men shooting indiscriminately at his house. The first to be hit were his 13-year-old son Somoy and daughter Mary, who were decorating the courtyard for Christmas.

“They shot both my son and daughter. They also shot my wife, Philomena, and daughters-in-law Sunita and Anisthea. They didn’t even spare by three-year-old grandson Bonipas,” he said. The toddler is recuperating in hospital.

Charles still shudders at the thought of that evening. He is waiting for his eldest son John to return from Gujarat, where he is employed as a construction worker.

Charles lamented from his hospital bed that he had not been able to visit the graves of his kin. Others in the village consider themselves lucky, but are still questioning why the Bodo militants targeted only three houses. They are seething with anger.

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