| The Bhangabera police camp OC, Prabhat Sarkar, being brought to SSKM hospital. Picture courtesy: STAR Ananda
Nandigram, June 15: The night had been long and tiring, and Nirmal Das could barely keep his eyes open.
Having patrolled the Khejuri refugee camps all night, the 33-year-old had fallen asleep minutes after returning to the police camp at Bhangabera in the morning.
Suddenly, a noise jolted him out of his sleep. It sounded like gunfire but the bleary-eyed Nirmal couldn’t be sure.
But when it went on and on, he knew there was trouble.
“I quickly got up and checked what was happening,” the policeman said. “Close by, near the Bhangabera bridge, I noticed about a thousand people rushing towards our camp, firing at us. I panicked. I rushed out and started fleeing. I knew we were outnumbered.”
What seemed like a 1,000-strong mob to Nirmal was, in fact, a group of about 250 people, 60 of them armed and leading the charge.
“We were terrified,” Nirmal said. “We are a camp of only 35 to 40 policemen and there were a thousand people rushing at us. I knew that we could not put up any resistance, and running away was the wisest thing to do. I wasn’t the only one running for my life.”
But sleep proved costly for the cop. The Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee mob soon caught up with him.
“Suddenly I found myself being hit by stones and bricks,” Nirmal said. “I stumbled and fell after being hit on my legs. But I picked myself up and kept running till I made it to safety.”
When he turned back, the policeman saw why his pursuers had given up — they were busy ransacking the police camp.
With no policemen there, they tore the tents to shreds and destroyed whatever there was in the camp.
Constable Asit Das, who was also in the camp with Nirmal, thanks his lucky stars that he is still alive.
“There was total confusion in the camp,” Asit said. “We decided to run, realising that there was precious little we could do by staying behind. We were all running in a group. I fell down and hurt my left hand. But I had to keep going to save myself from being lynched by the mob.”
“We were caught totally off-guard,” Asit said. “It’s a wonder none of us got killed.”