Goalpara/Tezpur, May 21: Eleven persons, including singer Suman Mahanta, died in a road accident at Dhupdhara in Assam’s Goalpara district in the wee hours today when they were returning from a late-night Bihu performance.
Police said nine persons died on the spot when the Tata Winger (AS 01-CC 8435) they were travelling in collided head-on with a truck (BR 01-DG 0744) on National Highway 37 at Dhupdhara, 70km from Guwahati. Two died in Goalpara civil hospital. The Winger had 12 passengers, including the driver.
Nine of the deceased were artistes — Suman Mahanta, a 25-year-old singer from Dah-Parbatiya in Tezpur, Jagadish Boro, Mukul Barman, Dipak Rabha (guitarist), Raju Bora, Nripen Sarma (keyboard player), Debobrata Das, Mun Ray and Bijoy Ray. Debobrata, Dipak and Nripen were music teachers of South Point School, Guwahati. Pranjal Saloi, a resident of Matia who accompanied the artistes, and driver Rajib Kalita, also died.
The group had travelled just 100km from Matia, where they had performed last night, and reached Dhupdhara around 5.20am when the accident took place. Gautam Sarma, a sound arranger, who was seriously injured, was rushed to Gauhati Medical College and Hospital. GMCH superintendent Ramen Talukdar said his condition was stable. Bobita Sarma, who had performed with Suman at the programme, travelled to Guwahati in another vehicle.
The police said preliminary investigations suggest that one of the vehicles lost control, leading to the collision. “We are trying to find out which vehicle lost control and why. But we can only say that both the vehicles were speeding,” a source in Dhupdhara police station said. The police have seized the truck and admitted its injured driver Sajjad Khan to a hospital.
Goalpara deputy commissioner Preetom Saikia has ordered a magisterial inquiry. He said the administration would provide an ex gratia of Rs 5,000 each to the kin of the deceased.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi offered his condolences to the bereaved families and wished the injured speedy recovery. He said the government would provide compensation to the kin of the deceased. Assam governor J.B. Patnaik and state cultural affairs minister Pranati Phukan also condoled the deaths.
A pall of gloom descended on Tezpur town as the news of Suman’s death broke this morning. Suman was the only son of Harin Mahanta, a retired employee of the state agriculture department, and Pari Mahanta. Members of several organisations rushed to his house, 5km from Tezpur town, to offer condolences.
“He was a student of Darrang College and had won several best singer awards. He was also honoured as the best singer by S.B. Deorah College, Guwahati,” a neighbour said.
Hundreds of people expressed their grief on Facebook. Wrote Singer Angaraag Papon Mahanta: “Heard about the tragic accident of a troupe of musicians traveling back from a 'bihu show'! A bit disturbed even after a grand and massive show last night in Sivsagar! This is not the first time that we have lost life due to late night travels, fatigue, and need to meet deadlines next day for Both artists and the audiences during the bihu season! I have been trying very hard to change the scene and request bihu committees to end bihu shows by midnight! I have almost fought with committees in last couple of years and cut down my show time in protest of the old fashioned notoriously late shows!!! Some of them blame me for that but with my whatever lil experience of traveling the world over for shows I have never seen such late shows anywhere in the world! I don't see any positives out of it!!! Rather only see an ugly side of people and so called cultural activities! I again want to request and remind the organizers and the people to start and end the shows in decent time! I also am thinking of not doing bihu shows next year if this goes on! Hope some sense prevail and we can move forward as a community and bring about a change to make this beautiful festival go forward! (sic)” Wrote Ujjal More, a Suman fan: “You all are always in our heart... will miss you all......May your souls rest in peace.”
“I understand how hard it is to lose such a loving, caring and an adoring brother... I can recall the days when we all used to play together. We are praying for his peaceful soul. You are not alone; we are with you during this difficult time... Life ends but relationship stays forever!! Rest in peace Dhon,” wrote Dristee M. Mahanta. “I can’t believe this. Please Suman come back,” wrote Juri Deka. The bodies were later taken to Bhupen Hazarika’s xomadhi sthal in Jalukbari where artistes and well-wishers paid their last respects. “The bodies of Debabrata, Dipak and Nripen were brought to our school where teachers, students and staff paid their last respects. We have declared a holiday tomorrow as a mark of respect for the departed,” K. Chanda, principal of South Point School, Guwahati, told this correspondent.
The All Assam Students’ Union will hoist black flags in Goalpara town to condole the untimely deaths.