| Commandos patrol the tea garden on Friday. Picture by Biplab Basak
Nov. 7: The dark blood patches on the courtyard, the hacked trees and the smoke-stained walls are a chilling reminder of the mob fury that charred to death 19 people who were inside the house of Tarakeshwar Lohar.
Twenty-four hours later, the stench of smoke and charred bodies is still strong.
Police sources said identification of the bodies had not been possible even after post-mortem. The district police are likely to take the help of forensic experts.
Two more persons were arrested today during intensive raids on the garden, taking the number of those in custody to 109, among whom are 27 women. All of them were produced at the subdivisional judicial magistrate’s court in Alipurduar.
Yesterday morning, a mob of several hundred people attacked Lohar’s house and set it on fire. The immediate provocation was the recruitment of three outsiders for clerical posts, in which Lohar, a former Citu leader of the Dalgaon tea estate, allegedly made money.
Lohar, who was unharmed in the attack and taken into custody, arrived in a separate car.
The court today granted him bail in a case dating back to 1992 but remanded him in custody for five days in connection with yesterday’s incident. The union leader, from whose house a bullet was apparently fired, triggering the mob fury, has been charged with attempted murder and possession of arms.
“I was not in the house at the time of incident and the charges brought against me are completely false. The people who were inside my house were friends and relatives and not criminals as has been portrayed. I have also learnt that most of the people who attacked me were not from the garden. They would have killed me had I not surrendered,” Lohar said in the court.
Asked whether he knew what had incited the mob, he said: “The workers of Dalgaon tea estate had become jealous since I was involved in supplying goods to other tea gardens and was earning quite some money.”
He, however, remained silent when asked how a shot was fired from his house. Lohar’s plea to be kept in a separate cell was granted by the court for safety reasons.
“Lohar has given us the names of 56 people, of whom we have arrested 51. There are complaints from Lohar and from Sonik Kachua, the labourer who sustained a bullet injury yesterday and is now at Jalpaiguri Sadar Hospital. While we have booked 108 people under charges of murder, conspiracy, rioting and a few other heads, the main charge brought against Lohar is attempt to murder,” said Siddh Nath Gupta, the Jalpaiguri superintendent of police.
Lohar’s family members have been kept at safe places. “His wife Sugi, sons Rahul and Rohit and daughter Uma are safe. We are taking care of them,” a police official said.
An uneasy calm hung over Dalgaon tea estate this afternoon. The labour lines, or the Godam line as it is known, looked empty except for a few old men.
Senior assistant manager of the estate S. Ojha, however, said the situation was almost normal and administrative work was conducted. “The workers are probably not returning because they are fearing arrest. We are trying our best to restart operations.”