| A police officer looks into the burnt house. Picture by Biplab Basak
Jalpaiguri, Nov. 6: “Tarakeshwar, come out. Or we will get you.”
Sudhamani Lakra was washing clothes when she heard someone yelling out for her next-door neighbour, Tarakeshwar Lohar, a leader of the CPM’s labour arm Citu and target of the morning attack.
“I was busy working in my house when I heard people shouting and rushing towards his house. I saw Lohar and some others standing in front of the house. They rushed inside as they saw the mob heading towards them,” she said.
Sudhamani’s first concern was her husband, who is admitted at the adjacent garden hospital with a broken leg. “I was scared as I thought that the mob would also attack our house. I left the house and ran towards the hospital.
“As I made my way, I saw hundreds of people. They had already surrounded Lohar’s house and the mob was swelling all the while. They were screaming and baying for blood.
“I did not wait and took shelter at the hospital. After a while, I saw smoke coming out of the house and heard cries for help,” said Sudhamani.
But so stunned and afraid was the woman that she did not have the courage to budge from her husband’s side. “I looked out of the window and saw the police come and then the fire brigade. The garden officials joined them. The police dispersed the mob and arrested many... many of them. It was then that I came out of the hospital.”
This correspondent saw a trembling Sudhamani come out of the hospital. “Is the situation all right now' Can I go home'” she asked, fear written all over her face.
The labour lines were deserted by the time The Telegraph team reached the estate. Apart from Sudhamani and a few women and an elderly man, there was no one who could narrate what happened. The few who were there were too scared to narrate what they had seen last night, or before that.
Bhola Oraon, an elderly man who stays in a hut close to Lohar’s home, said: “I have no place to go. Everyone else has left. I saw some people coming to Lohar’s house in the morning and then heard sounds of bombs and people crying for help. But I am too old to help anybody. So I stood here, motionless, thinking of the consequences. Later, I learnt that 19 people had died.”
Sudhamani said she had seen youths assemble at Tarakeshwar’s house over the past few days.
Officials of the Dalgaon tea estate, who reached the spot shortly after the incident, found Lohar’s house burning and the mob crowding there.
“We had informed the police but had no idea that an incident of such magnitude would happen. He was a popular leader. When we reached the spot, we found that the house had been set on fire and the mob was running away from the police,” said M.R. Choudhury, the assistant manager of the garden.