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Held hostage for four months

Telecom engineer Deep Mandal was “back from the dead” in Aizawl on Sunday afternoon after 119 days in militant captivity in Bangladesh.

Cousin Arnab, who was in the Mizoram capital to receive him, said: “My cousin is back from the dead.”

Deep, a 23-year-old Shyampukur youth, was kidnapped on November 23 last year along with two Mizo drivers on his first assignment outside his state for his Noida-based employers. They were whisked away from Tuipuibari in Mizoram’s Mamit district bordering Bangladesh while they were returning from a site.

His kidnappers, the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram (BDFM), released the drivers on January 21 but kept him hostage through the winter in their Bangladesh jungle hideouts. He was freed on March 22 and was handed over to Mizoram police at 5.48pm on the border.

Deep will fly home on Monday. “I am waiting to hug my son. He will come to Arnab’s house from the airport,” said father Nikhil who stays in Bankura.

The jungles, long walks, sleepless nights on a half-empty stomach, an overwhelming uncertainty and fear were written all over him as he alighted from a van at the Aizawl police HQ around 3.30pm in a pair of pajamas and a T-shirt. He had managed a quick shave before his reception at the police HQ.

The additional superintendent of Mizoram police (CID), H.L. Thangzuala, said Deep was in good health despite his long captivity in hostile conditions.

He was on a frugal diet of rice and dal in the jungles. “We ate rice and dal most of the times. Sometimes we ate chicken, mutton and beef but I never touched the dog meat they cooked,” he said. “We were constantly on the move, rarely staying at one hideout for more than a week. I was in pain from all the walking.”

Deep said he walked past Rangamati, Kamalapur before reaching Tarapur. “The signboards told me I am in Bangladesh. The Mizoram border is a three-day walk through jungles from Tarapur. Some places are so dense with foliage that even the sun cannot penetrate,” he said.

He said there were not enough blankets and he had to make do with a shawl in the winter cold. “Many a night we slept in the open… and mostly in makeshift camps.”

“I was guarded by four to five men armed with AK-47 rifles all the time. Some were polite, others rude. They spoke Bru and Bengali. They named their locations Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.”

They thrashed him twice — on the day he was taken hostage and when he broke a plate while washing dishes.

The militants had threatened to kill him for his company’s refusal to pay the ransom, apparently Rs 5 crore. Deep said he has no idea if the demand was met.

Deep never tried to escape during his four-month ordeal. “Where would have I run in the jungles and hills? There could be tigers since the area is adjacent to the Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mizoram,” Deep said.

He thanked the NGOs, the church, the Mizoram government and Lalzamliana, one of the kidnapped drivers. “When they asked me to fetch water, I could not carry a bucket in the difficult terrain. Lalzamliana helped me a lot.”

Would he visit Mizoram again? “No, no, no!” Perhaps not until he overcomes the fear and the trauma.