Sunil Sarkar didn’t just guard a bank, he was the custodian of his neighbourhood.
Residents of Ichhapore, the North Barrackpore locality where the soldier-turned-SBI guard lived, find it inexplicable that someone who had formed a local resistance group against crime would turn his service rifle on a fellow sentry and a cashier at the Bhowanipore branch of the bank.
“We looked up to him. He was active in the Debitala resistance group and would supervise regular night vigil. Who could have thought someone entrusted with security was a potential threat himself?” said an acquaintance who didn’t wish to be named.
Sunil, 57, had served in the army through a short service commission before taking up a guard’s job with SBI. His neighbours at Debitala, in ward number five of North Barrackpore Municipality, can’t recall a single instance of the former soldier raising a hand, let alone pointing a gun at someone.
“I have seen him cleaning his gun at home but he would never flaunt it except while carrying it across his shoulders while leaving for Bhowanipore,” a resident of the area said. “As far as we know, he had permission to carry a licensed gun while taking a train to and from work.”
Sunil would step out of his single-storey residence at 9 in the morning, take a train from Ichhapore to Dum Dum and then the Metro to Netaji Bhavan station. After returning from duty by around 7pm, he would occasionally visit the night guards’ post a few metres from his house to check attendance and offer advice, if needed.
In the 18 years that he has lived in Debitala, Sunil was the one person everyone looked up to for resolving a dispute. “There was once an issue concerning the common passage that he shares with one of his neighbours. If the passage were to be bifurcated, it would have shrunk to barely two feet. Sunil voluntarily gave up his claim so that it remained a common passage four feet wide,” a neighbour recalled.
Jaya Saha, who lives next door, said she had spotted Sunil removing garbage from the neighbourhood on several occasions.
Wife Shipra and the couple’s two children — the daughter is doing her postgraduation and the son is an undergraduate student — declined to comment on what might have prompted Sunil to shoot two colleagues.
“We are in a state of shock. We cannot say anything,” the arrested bank guard’s son said.
“I met his family members and they are as clueless as we are about the trigger behind the incident,” said Moloy Ghosh, the chairman of North Barrackpore Municipality.
A team from Noapara police station visited Sunil’s house around 3pm.
The slain cashier
A television ticker identifying one of the two victims in the bank shooting as “Manab Ghosh” briefly kindled hope, only for an unanswered phone call to snuff it out.
Young Soham Bose next dialled a colleague of his father at SBI Bhowanipore, who confirmed the bad news. Bank guard Sunil Sarkar had shot dead Manab Bose, not Manab Ghosh.
Soham, who studies engineering in Jalpaiguri but is presently in Calcutta, was stunned into silence. Mother Soma, an official in the labour department, went to receive her husband’s body at SSKM and fainted.
Manab, 56, had bought his first car barely three months ago but he has for long been the driving force behind community work in the neighbourhood of Ukil Para in Paschim Putiary, where he lived with his family in a two-storey house adjoining the residences of several other SBI employees.
The slain SBI cashier is credited with setting up the first health clinic in this locality on the southern fringes of the city.
“Manabda came to live here in 1997. He knew some doctors at SSKM who had accounts with SBI and requested them to help set up the first clinic of our locality,” recounted next-door neighbour Shyama Prasad Chatterjee. “Only someone as enterprising and thoughtful as Manabda could have come up with an idea like this and seen the project through.”
Manab had joined SBI Daspara at 23 and served in branches across Howrah before being transferred to Hazra Road and then to Bhowanipore in 2006. He was the unit secretary of the SBI Employees’ Association.
Parimal Ghatak, who had worked with him in Daspara and later became a neighbour, said Manab was always interested in social work and cultural events.
“He was an outgoing person, passionate about carrom and regularly played a couple of boards before heading home from office,” he recalled.
Shouts of “Manab Bose amar rahein (long live Manab Bose)” and the large gathering outside his residence on Friday evening confirmed the popularity of the bank cashier for whom life beyond the teller counter was all about amassing the riches of goodwill.
The slain guard
Sagarika Mondal, 37, received a call from SBI Bhowanipore around 1.30pm, informing her that husband Radhakrishna, 45, had taken ill and she should rush there with at least three persons to take him back home.
Sagarika, who was then at home in Kalyani 52km away, dialled her husband’s mobile phone several times. He didn’t take any of the calls. She next called her younger brother Surajit, who was at work in Barrackpore, and asked him to head for the bank to check on his brother-in-law.
“I went there thinking he must be feeling a little unwell. I reached around 3.30pm and the sight of a crowd at the entrance to the bank told me something bigger had happened,” Surajit said.
Someone told him that a guard called “Sarkarda” had killed a cashier and a colleague with the surname Mondal. “I froze. A policeman later took me to the SSKM morgue, where I identified the body,” Surajit recounted.
Like his assailant, Radhakrishna was a former soldier. He had retired in 2004 and was appointed a permanent guard at the Bhowanipore branch of SBI a year later.
Daughter Puja is a first-year BA student at Rishi Bankim Chandra College in Naihati and her brother is a student of Class VII.