Jalpaiguri, Feb. 24: Throwing rocks and shooting arrows, a 300-strong mob attacked a police team that raided the Changmari tea estate to capture the accused in an old case in this north Bengal district today. The police retaliated, firing bullets and killing two labourers on the spot.
This is the second time in less than a year that the police have opened fire to disperse violent mobs in tea gardens in north Bengal. Last June, two labourers were killed when police fired at them at the Chandmoni tea estate on the outskirts of Siliguri. The Changmari garden is at Nagracata, about 80 km from the Jalpaiguri district headquarters.
Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Siddh Nath Gupta said the mob showered the police with rocks and arrows, wounding 16 of them. “We were forced to open fire after the mob turned violent and attacked us.”
Gupta said the police fired six rounds to disperse the mob. He said the firing was ordered after 10 rounds of teargas failed to quell the violence.
The blood-splattered bodies of the two labourers, identified as Ashok Karmakar and Kisu Induyar, were taken to Malbazar Hospital, where they were declared dead. The bodies were later sent for post-mortem.
There was no official word on how many people were injured in the firing, but tea garden sources put the number at 10. A total of 35 people were arrested for attacking the police.
Trouble started at the tea estate in Jalpaiguri on February 9 when two groups of workers, reportedly belonging to rival CPM factions, clashed. In the ensuing violence, 12 houses and a motorcycle were burned down. Ten people from both sides had suffered injuries in the raging violence.
Gupta said they raided the tea estate today mainly to capture the accused in the February 9 case.
Drawn from the three police stations of Metelli, Nagracata and Malbazar, some 80 policemen, led by additional superintendent H.K. Kusmakar, arrived at the tea garden around 4 pm. As they tried to arrest some of the accused in the February 9 case, around 300 people surrounded them and pelted them with stones.
As the policemen fired teargas shells, mobs of people hiding behind tea bushes shot arrows, injuring the policemen and forcing them to open fire.
Manik Sanyal, CPM’s Jalpaiguri district secretary, refused to acknowledge that a rivalry within the party was behind the trouble at the tea garden. “They don’t belong to the CPM at all. They are all local goons extorting money from residents and the truck drivers in the name of the CPM.”
Sanyal said the CPM’s Nagracata committee was actually fighting the goons at the tea garden. He said he had asked the local committee to step in since “these thugs were using our party’s name”. Sanyal said the CPM had repeatedly asked the police to crack down on the extortionists at Changmari. “Today’s raid was conducted at our insistence as we wanted these anti-socials arrested.”