June 12: Rajat Agarwalla jumped out of the three-wheeler as it came to a halt in front of his house and ran inside, crying out “Ma…Ma” before melting into his mother’s waiting arms. It will be a while before Debasish Kakoty can do the same, but the sense of relief and joy in the Kakotys’ home today was no less than in the Agarwallas’ residence.
Taken hostage thousands of miles and a couple of weeks apart — one near Sonari town of Assam and the other in Nigeria — 13-year-old Rajat and 32-year-old Debasish were freed within 12 hours of one another. The happy coincidence was not just in the timing of their release, but also in the fact that both their families are based in Sivasagar district.
Rajat returned in much the same manner he left home for school on June 8 — in fresh clothes and on an autorickshaw. Police said the kidnappers blindfolded the 13-year-old schoolboy and put him on a bus at Tingalibam, close to the trijunction of the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh-Nagaland border, this morning. He got off the bus in Sonari town and took a three-wheeler to nearby Towkok tea estate, where the Agarwallas stay.
“He is safe and back with us. Nothing else matters,” Rajat’s mother, Rekha Devi, told reporters curious to know whether any ransom was paid.
In Sivasagar town, 48 km from Sonari, Ajit Kakoty could barely hold back the tears as he announced that his engineer son was freed “late last night”. He got the news from Nigeria around 9.30 am.
“A representative of Indorama (the oil company Debasish works for) conveyed the message to my buari (daughter-in-law) Lata, after which she was allowed to speak to my son. Lata broke the good news to us over the phone,” the retired college lecturer said.
Lata also informed her father-in-law that Debasish was weak from the ordeal — he was abducted along with another Indian from Port Harcourt on May 25 — and would be under medical observation. “I am very relieved today. I and my wife Kumkum suffered every moment he was in captivity,” Ajit said.
Indorama struck a deal with the group that kidnapped Debasish and his Maharashtrian colleague Sunil Dave, though it is not clear how much money exchanged hands. The wives were in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, when news of their husbands’ release came.
Both Ajit and his wife said they would not pressure their only son to take a decision on whether to continue working in Nigeria.
It could have been Rekha Devi speaking when Kumkum said all that mattered to her was that Debasish was safe. “I am just thankful to the Almighty and everybody who helped in securing Basa’s (Debasish’s pet name) release. I am awaiting his return.”
While neither the Kakotys nor the Agarwallas desire anything more, the police are not closing the Rajat abduction case yet.
Subdivisional police officer Jayanta S. Bora said in Sonari that the kidnappers had been identified and would be picked up in a couple of days. “We were very concerned about the boy’s safety, which is why we exercised restraint while carrying out a search operation. Now that he is back home, we will go after the kidnappers.”
Unlike the Kakotys, who were informed yesterday itself that Debasish could be freed “any moment”, Rajat’s family had no inkling of his release. “We pinched ourselves when his voice rent the air,” his mother said.
When the hugs and kisses were over, the schoolboy was put on saline.
“We gave Rajat a bottle of saline and took his blood sample to check for malaria,” subdivisional medical officer P.S. Dehingia said.
A student of Class VII at St Joseph’s School, Rajat was with his sister Payal and four other children when the kidnappers stopped the autorickshaw that was taking them to Sonari and took him away. He was shifted from one location to another and blindfolded most of the time.
“He was kept in a hut, fed mostly rice and given a bed of tokou (palm) leaf to sleep on. He was not tortured,” a family member said.
Rajat’s businessman father Dilip Agarwalla is in New Delhi for medical treatment.