Family recounts horrors of 1994

Family recounts horrors of 1994

5 men, suspected to be ulfa militants, were killed in "fake encounter"; Army men responsible were prescribed life sentences

A sigh board in Assamese in Tinsukia district, Assam, terms the five victims of "fake encouter" as pancha swahid (five martyrs).

The Biswas family can never forget the 'horrific' night of February 18, 1994, when Ulfa militancy was at its peak in Assam.

Every single attack or abduction by suspected Ulfa militants in the tea-rich Tinsukia district, an Ulfa stronghold, followed arrests or detention of local youths by security forces.

"We heard sounds of army cars and knocks at our door minutes later. My brother was picked up and taken away in an army jeep," Debasish Biswas, elder brother of Debajit Biswas, a youth of Balibazar village in eastern Assam's Tinsukia district told DH on Monday over phone.

"The Next day we came to know that he was suspected an Ulfa militant and was held responsible in the killing of a tea garden officer a few days ago. He was an innocent boy but the armymen did not even let us know where he was," he said.  

Debajit was one of the five Assamese youths who were picked up by personnel of 18 Punjab Regiment based at Dholla on the night of February 18, 1994.

Debajit and four others— Pradip Dutta, Akhil Sonowal, Bhaben Moran and Prabin Sonowal— were reportedly killed by the armymen inside the Dibru Saikhowa reserve forest four days later, despite a Gauhati high court order to produce them before a magistrate.

Two days after an army court martial recommended life sentences to seven army men including a retired major general for killing the five men in a "fake encounter," family of the deceased feels that it not just brought justice to them but also proved that the five were innocent and not Ulfa militants as claimed by the army.

Deabjit, about 30 then, studied till class XII and used to supply goods in several local tea gardens.

Such unemployed youths or those having less income continue to be lured by Ulfa militants even now.

Ulfa have been demanding for a "soverign Assam" since 1979.

Although security forces labelled them as Ulfa militants, All Assam Students Union (AASU) led by Sarbananda Sonowal, now the state's chief minister, lauched a massive protests across the state demanding justice for the families.

Sonowal was AASU president then and Jagadish Bhuyan, vice-president of the union then moved Gauhati high court, which found the armymen guilty and ordered for a CBI inquiry and later a conviction.

AASU named the five "Pancha Swahid" (five martyrs) and put up sign boards highlighting the "army atrocity."

"I met Sarbananda Sonowal during the post-mortem of my brother's body. He assured us help and today we are thankful that we got justice because of Bhuyan and Sonowal," Debasish, who is also a supplier in a tea garden, said.

"Now that he is the chief minister, we just hope he will do something for the family. A government job to anyone in our family will be a big help," he said.

A relative of Akhil Sonowal said that Akhil was picked up by army from a tea garden quarter, where he used to live with his elder brother Tarun Sonowal.

"All our neighbours knew that Akhil was innocent but now it has been proved legally, although 24 years later," he said. 

A summary general court martial at Dinjan army camp in Tinsukia, had recently convicted then Major general A K Lal, Col. Thomas Methew, Col. R S Sibiren, Capt. Dilip Singh, Capt. Jagdeo Singh, Naik Albindar Singh and Naik Shivendar Singh.

It prescribed life sentences and dismissal of services of the seven.