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Monday, October 05, 2009

The Eyewitness

Manas Uncle, Dad and me form a mutual admiration society. He writes very effortlessly and his articles in The Times of India have always worked up a voracious appetite, making me want to read some more.

Recently, Lancer Publishers (www.lancerpublishers.com) published his book The Eyewitness - Tales from Tripura's Ethnic Conflict; ISBN 1-935501-15-1.

Here is an excerpt from one of the two incidents that feature Dad.

Out of the jaws of death
“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings.” 

-Shakespeare

On July 5, 1984 the sun had risen burning bright and the mood was happy. Despite the summer heat that was already in the air and would evidently set in with searing fury as the Thursday morning would proceed to noon, Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) of Amarpur Amitabha Kar needed to travel to Ompi to verify information about movements of militants in Ompi-Amarpur area and plan his operations. There were reports of TNV militants’ movements and the 26 kilometer stretch between Ompi and Amarpur was indeed dangerously replete with ambush points, but then, the duty calls. Besides, the SDPO posted here for the last two years had himself driven from Amarpur to Ompi several times and he knew the road with all its treacherous ups and down, bends and turns well enough -like his own palm. Today however he would not be alone. His new found friend Vinod Kumar Khullar, Assistant Commandant of 13th battalion of CRPF wanted to accompany him to Ompi where he would visit his own camps.

The visit to Ompi was important as only on June 28, 1984 TNV militants had set aflame Laxmicherra market under Baikhora police station and waited to trap the advancing police. The militants were successful as they way laid and killed a Sub Inspector Dinesh Ghosh - the first casualty of an SI ranking officer in the militancy related incidents in Tripura. Two days later reports of militants’ movement poured in from Sarbong area under Amarpur police station where they had killed a non tribal and waited for advancing police to ambush. This time, however, police did not fall into the trap.

Kar and Khullar set off with two jeeps. Kar was in the lead followed by Khullar. In those days shortage of vehicles was a serious problem for counter insurgency operations. Almost all the police jeeps were diesel run and old that would roll down the road with too much of sounds but virtually with no speed. However, only recently the then SP South Tripura AC Rama Rao had given Kar his own jeep as the SDPO was almost always on the move hunting the militants in remote areas. But Khullar was traveling on an old diesel jeep that was evidently finding it difficult to keep the pace of SDPO’s vehicle.

Kar said:

At 9.10 am we crossed Tetuibari and saw some tribal women were working in a patch of paddy field on the western side of the  main road. The road ran straight through paddy fields and then steadily went to upland. As our vehicles passed the women in the field they looked up and smiled to us. I felt something amiss in their smile and had an uncanny feeling. I took out my 9 mm pistol and kept it ready in firing position. I did not know why as I never, in my life, had such an uncanny feeling. We hit the hills and moved. We were near the 21 kilometers point and only five kilometers were left to reach Ompi. And then there were hail of bullets from road side raining down on us. My first reaction was –‘so, the nightmare has come true. I ultimately got trapped and ambushed facing the death’. Instinctively I kept on firing on my left though I could not see anyone there.

My two personal guards were instantly hit by flying bullets before they could retaliate. But by this time my driver Manoranjan Debnath despite being caught in the storms of bullets flying from every side did not lose his nerve and just pressed the accelerator with all might. Later I found that my jeep was damaged in the front beyond recognition but as the luck would have it the engine was on. We whizzed past the ambush site and took a turn taking us out of ambush coverage. My guards were injured but none killed.

But unfortunately Khullar’s jeep which was already showing problems could not pass. His one body guard was instantly killed. Khullar – later we found- tried to fire back from his pistol but it seemed his pistol got stuck and as he was trying to clear the pistol lock by taking out the magazine he received brush fire from LMG and the magazine fell on the jeep floor. He was also killed on the spot. He, in fact, took all the LMG burst in his stomach and right arm.

His driver also armed could not fire back. He however tried to zoom past but was hit. Khullar’s jeep in terrific speed skidded off the road and banged down on the road side milestone. In fact, later we found that the jeep had almost tumbled head on over the militant who was firing from the LMG. The LMG tripod mark was only about a foot away from the jeep.

What was intriguing was that the militants ambushed from under the deep cover of deep and dense roadside bushes. They were lying almost parallel to the road. It was not at all a conventional ambush point but in guerilla warfare you are to expect the unexpected only. The militants succeeded in killing a senior CRPF officer for the first time. Meantime, two of the Khullar’s body guards did something spectacular which can only be dreamt of in films. Trapped in the hailstorm of bullets they reacted in a manner that even stunned the militants. The ran straight through the several meters of ambush stretch dodging automatic gunfire, now directed at them, and jumped on to a ditch at the other side of the road. From there they opened up their SLRs and fired back to the militants. One CRPF jawan was hit and died. The other jawan did not loss courage and continued firing. He emptied his own magazines and then picked up the slain jawan’s magazines and kept on firing.

By this time, Kar reached Ompi and regrouped security forces so fast that when they returned to the ambush site the militants were still there. Kar came back to the site with CRPF personnel posted in Ompi police station. Reinforcement from another CRPF camp at Tehshil Kachhari also rushed to the spot. Officer In charge of Ompi police station Haripada Bhattacharjee also ran to the spot with one jeep and one 3-tonner vehicle with his policemen.

There was a Rajasthan Armed Constabulary camp –about one kilometer from the site. The RAC jawans did not come out but started blind firing from the camp

As we reached near the ambush spot we could hear the gunshot still reverberating from the ambush point. The militants were firing at the lone CRPF jawan who continued with his encounter. But when suddenly there were firing sound from the side of the RAC camp we were befuddled. We thought this could be another group. But soon as we understood it was the RAC we climbed a hillock overlooking the ambush point and sought to fire at the militants. In the mean time the CRPF reinforcement arrived and it fired a grenade from a grenade firing rifle. The brave CRPF jawan fighting from the ditch shouted for not firing grenades and there was eerie silence from the side of the militants. The militants by then started slipping out though we could not see any movement in the jungle. Our prompt reaction however prevented the militants to loot the two SLRs from the CRPF personnel. Though Khullar’s pistol was found missing.

By this time as the news of TNV ambush on us spread police forces fanned out from all directions. SP Rama Rao also proceeded to the spot and in fact saw the militants crossing a paddy field near Nagrai. But they were out of firing range, Kar said.

The ambush on the SDPO and the CRPF Assistant Commandant was led by Kripasadhan Jamatia. Later, it was found that the militants were actually way laid the Education department’s jeep that was expected to travel on the road with employees’ salaries. During this time it was always on the fifth day of the month that the education department salaries for Ompi were taken from Amarpur. It happened to be that the SDPO and CRPF officer appeared in the scene before the Education department vehicles.

Many years later Kripasadhan Jamatia came to Kar for a personal help. Jamatia after surrender got a vehicle which was rented out to the police. The former militant visited Kar –then Commandant Provisioning - for early payment of his bills.

Looking at him I was just thinking ‘you had almost killed me and now you are here asking my help’. But, well, this the way of life of a policeman” said Kar, now IGP.

He still feels it was for Rama Rao, the then SP he was saved.

“Had not the SP given me his new vehicle I would have been killed like a sitting duck in the ambush. He saved my life. When I thought of my friend Khullar a jolly good Punjabi with two angelic daughters I feel depressed till date. It feels like escaping the near death was guilt on my part when my close friend got killed. Khullar’s wife was later inducted in the CRPF as die in harness case.

Book review at tripurainfo.com


5 comments:

sejuti said...

wow....i got nothing to say

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brill.... just brill!

Reena Batra said...

I happen to be the heroic soldier Late V.K.Khullar's daughter. This story was passed on to me by my sister. Tears were uncontrollable as I read about the valour my father exhibited while fighting for his country. I am truly proud to be his daughter. Thank you Aparna for sharing this piece.

Unknown said...

This has brought tears into my eyes I knew him so well a jovial and very nice human being who married my childhood friend. It has been explained so well as if you can see it happening in front of your eyes.