| The Maliapota church. Picture by Amit Datta
“They came inside one by one and surrounded us. I sat there dumbfounded as they slashed my friends with choppers and fired in the air to scare those present inside. I watched in horror as they harassed women and flung the children away.”
Lawrence Biswas, 22, could only watch mutely as the dacoits unleashed terror because a pipegun was pressed against his temple. Lawrence had found a seat in a corner close to the doorway minutes before the gang burst in.
“They snatched whatever they could lay their hands on. Hurling abuses, the dacoits ran riot inside the church,” recounted Lawrence, shaken from the harrowing experience.
Lawrence’s friend, Bernard, said he saw the dacoits split into smaller groups and force their way into the rooms in the adjacent office building. They broke open the almirahs and took whatever was inside.
“Apart from cash, they took out blank cheques and made the profusely bleeding Father (T.J. Abraham), who was slashed with a chopper, sign them. They were slapping and abusing him also,” recalled Bernard.
Priest Sukumar Mondal thought he would be killed when the dacoits pulled him out of the prayer room. “They dragged me out and ordered me to show the way to Father Abraham’s office. There was no way I could refuse,” said Mondol, pointing to his bruises.
“In front of my eyes, the dacoits dragged four priests to the room where the almirahs were kept. They broke the locks easily, ransacked the papers, broke open the cash box and took out the money,” said Mondol.
They smashed Abraham’s personal computer and shouted: “We want more money.”
Some of them repeatedly slapped Abraham and asked him to reveal where the bags containing the money were kept. “Bol takar bosta kothay,” they kept asking, kicking and punching whoever they laid their eyes on.
“We were all screaming but no one dared to resist them,” Mondol added.
At this point, Sister Swapna Mondal, unable to bear the agony, cried out: “Who are you' Where are you from' Why are you doing this to us'”
“Shut up!” roared one of the dacoits as he came charging towards her. “If you don’t stop, we know how to shut you up. And try to chase us, we are going over to the other side.”
After the long, agonising minutes of madness were over, the dacoits left the church in batches. The terrorised congregation had dared not move as long as they were there.
But once the robbers melted into the dense fog, Bernard and Lawrence rushed to a nearby phone. “Please come to the church, the Father needs to be shifted to the hospital,” Bernard had said breathlessly.
The policemen told them curtly they did not have cars to travel four km to the church, the duo said. “We were stunned to hear that. When they eventually arrived it was 1 am, about 45 minutes after the incident,” recalled Lawrence.