| Graves of the 19 carnage victims on the bank of Birparajhora. Picture by Biplab Basak
Jalpaiguri, Nov. 10: Tarakeshwar Lohar is to Citu what Citu at times is to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — difficult to live with but hard to part with.
Red flags, bearing the hammer and sickle, fluttered atop the mounds of earth where the 19 people who were burnt to death in Lohar’s house in Dalgaon tea estate last Thursday have been buried. But that has not settled the question if they were Citu activists.
Labour minister Mohammad Amin, travelling in the region, denied knowledge of their identity: “I can’t say who they were.”
“They were our people,” said Manik Sanyal, the Jalpaiguri district secretary of Citu and CPM, who has changed his version several times since the morning when Lohar’s house was attacked by a mob of several hundred and set afire.
First, the district leadership said the dead were innocent labourers, then described them as criminals and now recognises them as Citu supporters.
Labourers of the tea estate, about 70 km from Jalpaguri town, have called them members of the Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union, a Citu affiliate, from the first day and police have agreed.
Three members of Lohar’s group who were present at the spot that morning have surfaced, reinforcing this view. George Kuzur, Etoa Indowar and Jongin Budhu returned to their homes and gave themselves up to their fellow labourers, seeking forgiveness for past cruelties.
Thursday morning’s attack has been described by some labourers as retaliation for the torment they had suffered at the hands of Lohar and his gang.
Kuzur was in Lohar’s house on the morning of November 6, having been called there by one of his associates, Munshi Marandi. “As I went inside, Marandi handed over a pipe-gun, asking me to keep a watch as a meeting was going on in the nearby football field. As the mob started rushing towards Lohar’s house, Marandi asked me to shoot. I fired in the air and dropped the gun as the mob was entering the house. Then I ran as fast as I could.”
The accounts of the other two, who said they were members of Lohar’s group, were similar, though Indowar, a chowkidar in the garden, fled before he reached the house. “I was carrying a kalamchuri (a long knife used to cut tea bushes) and a stick. Suddenly, I saw thousands of people rushing towards Lohar’s house. I also heard gunshots.”
He fled. Among the dead, there could be known troublemakers who had been arrested for being involved in a murder. A member of the Dalgaon gram panchayat might also be dead.
Labourers said they had seen senior police officials and Citu leaders at the burial of the 19 charred bodies on the bank of Birparajhora. Asu Toppo said: “We have seen people thronging here on Saturday afternoon. Along with the family members and labourers of the garden, Citu leaders were present.”