Assam Lynching: Nell, ask me for Cha & Chakhna once more…
Needless, senseless and totally unforgivable
It is strange that just a few minutes before the news of his death, I was humming Bhai Re–a song by Shubha Mudgal, (the beginning of which starts with a deep rustic baritone in Bangla) and remembered Nell –Nilotpal Das—my son’s batch mate at Mumbai campus of the College of Sound and Audio Engineering in 2010. Alas –Nell will never be around to start that song for me again as he used to, or correct my broken Bangla when I attempted it on my own.
That reality sunk in just a few minutes later with a phone call that made my hands numb and heart sink. It was my son Sahil at the other end from Lucknow. Wracked with sobs he could just say a few sentences—“Mom, Nell is dead. They killed him.”
Amidst his heart breaking sobs, all I could gather was that somewhere deep in Karbi Anglong district in Assam on Friday evening, Nilotpal and his friend Abhijeet Nath were lynched to death by villagers, mistaking them to be child lifters.
I am still to come to terms with the bizarre incident. The two sound engineers from Guwahati were on a day’s vacation to the hill district of Karbi Anglong and fell victim to fake social media reports on child-kidnapping or child lifting. They are accosted by locals on suspicion of being child-lifters and started thrashing them. The fatally injured youth later succumbed to their injuries.
Nell—a child lifter? Who could have ever mistaken him for one? He was such a gentle soul. I still remember him walking into the house, heading straight for my son’s room where he and a few other friends would gather every evening to jam together and create fusion music on their electronic synthesizers. And then it was always Nell who would come up to the kitchen, put his arms on my shoulders, press gently and say in his endearing voice, “Aunty—Cha (Chai/Tea) and chakhna (snacks).” My son and his friends all knew I would never refuse him anything—so Cha and Chakhna it always was—over hours of good music and hearty laughs.
This was virtually an every evening routine and I grew to love this maverick boy with his Bob Marley dreadlocks. His beautiful voice, in which he would sing folk and Baul songs, reverberated with the earthiness of a monsoon deluged river, the plaintive cry of the boatmen of Bengal and Assam. Often he would pick up a kitchen pan and use it as a percussion instrument, creating perfect beats to his music, till he saw me stretching my hand to ask back for it. Sometimes he carried his own Bongo, his fingers nimbly skimming across the same. Though he played many instruments, percussion instruments – many times improvised –were always his favourite!
When I wanted to mark my 45th birthday with a tattoo, it was Nell who helped me choose the design, my Sunsign—A ram—and etched it on my right arm for me. It remains there now forever—a reminder of this gentle music maverick, with memories of him blowing on my bloody skin to ease the pain as he deftly went around his work, my son and his friends as onlookers waiting for me to start howling in pain. But so gentle was he with his hand that I did not utter a whimper and afterwards, Nell rewarded me with a compliment in his broken Hindi “Aunty, Brave girl, ba(h)adur bachcha” making us all laugh at his terminology.
It pains me to see the video of his attack (now viral on social media) recorded by one of his murderers. It shows Nilotpal pleading before the murderers that he is an Assamese and from Guwahati. With folded hands, Niloptal is heard pleading for life, “Don’t kill me…please don’t beat me. I am an Assamese. Believe me, I am speaking the truth. My father’s name is Gopal Chandra Das and mother’s name is Radhika Das…please let me go.”
The mob, as seen in the video, did not stop but continued to beat Nilotpal and his friend Abhijit Nath, with bamboo sticks and kicks. The incident happened at around 7.40 pm on Friday evening under Dokmoka Police station where the two friends had gone for a day. According to reports the two had earlier in the day asked some local villagers for directions to Kangthilangso. Few of them suspected them to be child lifters and alerted others in the area. Hours later when they were returning home, they waylaid their vehicle and beat them to death. A friend of Nilotpal from Guwahati called him at around 8 pm, but the phone was picked up by a different person who said that Nilotpal has been killed and they could watch the new in television the next day.
Apparently the attack was a result of a fear psychosis that has gripped various parts of Assam following fake news circulated in social media about child-lifters sneaking into small pockets of the State. According to police, it was the handiwork of some unscrupulous circles to spread terror and panic through fake news in social media.
Assam Police have urged the people not to panic and get swayed away by such fake news on social media. But it seems akin to a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
No amount of warnings or assurances will bring back the young lives. A promising artiste has been taken before his time—and all on a rumour. There isn’t much that the friends and families of these young boys can do except rally for justice for their family and stringent action against those that have brutally killed them in cold blood.
However, it does make one wonder at the state of governance in the country. What type of a primitive nation we are living in? And all the promises of Sab ka Saath Sabka Vikas (Development for all) and Acche Din (The Modi government promise to usher good governance) seems like the biggest joke on the Indian public.