Murder in a tea garden

NAT

Fear and uncertainty loom over the Konapathar tea estate in Assam where the owner and his wife were recently hacked to death, writes Samudra Gupta Kashyap

A December day in the tea estates of upper Assam is usually foggy and December 26 was no exception. For Mridul Kumar Bhattacharjee, a tea planter, and his wife, it was going to be a turbulent day. Two labourers, Suraj Mura and Ajit Mura, who were dismissed from work about six months ago on charges of theft, were arrested by the police around 11 a.m. Bhattacharjee was expecting some trouble over the arrests but probably nothing had prepared him for what came next.

Bhattacharjee, who was based in Guwahati, had come to Konapathar, his 900-acre tea estate located on the Assam-Arunachal border, 90 km south-east of Tinsukia, just a week ago. "He had come here the previous Saturday (December 22) to take stock of the estate," says Mansit Bagh, president of the Konapathar unit of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), the apex body of tea labourers in Assam.

Bagh was working at the compost site when he heard loud shouts coming from the director's bungalow around 2.30 p.m. "When I reached there, a large crowd had already gathered and they were stoning the bungalow which was on fire. I knew our director and his wife were inside. Some of us tried to stop the crowd, but we failed," says Bagh.

Around the same time, Priyanka, wife of Bhattacharjee's eldest son, Autri, received a call from her mother-in-law, Reeta, at her Kolkata home. Priyanka called up her husband immediately. "As soon as my wife told me about the attack, I called up my mother. I could hear her shouting for help. I informed the Assam Police ADG Pallab Bhattacharyya in Guwahati," says Autri.

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