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1994 Assam Fake Encounter: The Knock That Broke Their Peace, a Family Remembers

The Army men can file appeals against the verdict before the armed forces tribunal and the Supreme Court.

PTI

Updated:October 15, 2018, 6:23 PM IST
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1994 Assam Fake Encounter: The Knock That Broke Their Peace, a Family Remembers
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Guwahati: A persistent knock broke the silence of the winter night, jolting the Duttas awake at their home in Assam's Tinsukia district and marking the beginning of a 24-year ordeal, the family of Pradip Dutta, who was taken away never to be seen again, said Monday.

It was 2 am on February 19, 1994.

The Army had come calling for the 33-year-old businessman, who had been married just a month earlier, in connection with the killing of a tea estate manager by ULFA militants, his elder brother recalled.

"We never saw him again," Deepak Dutta, a manager with the United Bank of India in Guwahati, told PTI.
Pradip was picked up by an Army team along with four others and killed four days later on February 23, 1994 in what has come to be known as the Dangori fake encounter case.

The Dutta family's nightmare saw some fruition on Saturday with a court martial sentencing seven Army personnel, including a major general, to life imprisonment in the case.

The summary general court martial looked into the extra-judicial killing of five people in February 1994 after a unit of the Punjab Regiment picked them up along with four others from different places in Tinsukia.

The memory of Dutta's tortured body that was returned to them continues to haunt the family.

Pradip, who had been married just a month when he was picked up, was the second of the five children of Bupeswar Dutta, a resident of Talap in Tinsukia district.

"The Army men searched our home and when they saw some wedding gifts which were yet to be opened they asked who they belonged to. My brother told them they were his. After sometime, they took him away and we never saw him again," Deepak said.

When there was no information for 24 hours, the family moved the Gauhati High Court on February 20, 1994 and filed a habeas corpus seeking his immediate production before a magistrate court.

"My lawyer was Hrishikesh Roy, who is now chief justice of the Kerala High Court. The Gauhati high court order directing the Army to produce Pradip in a magistrate court was given to the Army. But there was no result," Deepak said.

Pradip's bullet riddled body, along with four others, was handed over to the respective families after they were killed on February 23. The Army officials then claimed they were ULFA militants and killed in an encounter.

"Pradip had no links with any organisation. He was a simple guy doing his own business. But he was killed in a very brutal manner. All his nails were removed and the whole body had injury and burn marks which, we suspect, were due to electric shocks given to him," Deepak said.

Overcome by grief, Pradip's father passed away after a few years. His mother, Subarnalata, also fell sick.

"Our mother, who is 80 years old now, still weeps remembering Pradip. It is still incomprehensible for me how some people of the Indian Army, whom we all are proud of, can be involved in such barbarism," he said.

Those found guilty are Major General A K Lal, Colonels Thomas Mathew and R S Sibiren and JCOs and NCOs Dilip Singh, Jagdeo Singh, Albindar Singh and Shivendar Singh.

The verdict will have to be confirmed by the "higher competent authorities" like the Eastern Command in Kolkata and the Army Headquarters in New Delhi.

The Army men can file appeals against the verdict before the armed forces tribunal and the Supreme Court.

The Army detained a group of nine at the Dhola Army camp after the general manager of Assam Frontier Tea Limited at Talap Tea Estate, Rameswar Singh, was killed by Ulfa militants.

Five of them were later killed in the infamous Dangori fake encounter case on February 23, 1994. They were Prabin Sonowal, Pradip Dutta, Debajit Biswas, Akhil Sonowal and Bhaben Moran.
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