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‘They butchered my parents’

- Autri Bhattacharjee recalls mother’s terrified plea for help over phone

Guwahati, Dec. 28: “Do something Autri, they are attacking us.” Those were the last words Autri Bhattacharjee heard from his terrified mother as her voice crackled over the phone in Calcutta, pleading that her son somehow get her and her husband Mridul Kumar Bhattacharjee out of the bungalow.

“After that I kept calling but her phone was dead,” he told The Telegraph today from Tinsukia. “They butchered my mother and father.”

“I called additional director-general of police (special operations unit) Pallab Bhattacharya in Guwahati, desperately asking for help. He said he would inform the SP of Tinsukia. But obviously it was too late,” Autri Bhattacharjee said.

He said a group of 600-700 workers had first attacked his father and mother, Reeta, in their bungalow at Konapathar tea estate, 50km from Tinsukia town in Upper Assam, bordering Arunachal Pradesh, on Wednesday evening and then set the bungalow on fire with them inside. Two charred bodies were later recovered from the bungalow, the insides of which were completely burnt.

The attack is believed to have been triggered by the arrest of two garden labourers earlier that day.

Bhattacharjee, who is a director with Konapathar, said his father had been made out to be someone who was cold-hearted and ruthless and who ill-treated his workers.

“We now have some in the media making it out to be like my father provoked the people who attacked them. Tell me this: my father had high blood pressure, high sugar and cataract. He was supposed to go back to Delhi to get his cataracts removed. Earlier the doctors had refused to put him through the operation because of his high blood sugar. He was born in 1942 and was 70. What provocation could you have expected from a man who was in that condition?”

Asked about the Rani tea estate incident when his father had shot at and killed a young boy in 2010, Autri said his father had a licensed weapon. “Would you call it murder if someone fires in self-defence after people have attacked him?”

At Konapathar, however, his father didn’t have his gun which could have saved his life and his wife’s. “The police had seized the gun after the Rani incident,” he said. Rani tea estate, near Guwahati, also belongs to the family’s tea company, MKB (Asia) Private Ltd.

“And please understand that my father had bought land at Konapathar and built this garden from scratch, at a place where there aren’t even decent roads. But enter the garden and you will see it is like one owned by maybe Magor’s. It is that good,” he said. “Tea gardens have to follow government rules and there is the Labour Act to abide by and there are the labour unions. Do you really believe that my father could have successfully run Rani and Konapathar and turn them into highly profitable organic gardens had he been one who would not care about rules and laws? This isn’t an act of 700 labourers. This has to be an act by someone with a motive. The truth has to come out.”

Still waiting for his siblings — brother Rishi from Canada and sister Sreejaya from the US — to arrive, Bhattacharjee said he was consulting the purohit about the rituals to be held. “We may have to have both the 10th day rituals and the shradh the same day as this is an unnatural death,” he said.