Mob lynching

‘We have killed the boy’: Assam lynching victims’ families and friends recall a night of horror

Abhijeet Nath and Nilotpal Das were beaten to death by a mob in Karbi Anglong on suspicion of being child abductors.

“We have killed this boy. Watch him on [the] news channels tomorrow.” The voice of a stranger uttered these ominous words when a friend called 28-year-old Abhijeet Nath on his mobile phone at around 8 pm on Friday. The friend immediately informed Nath’s father, Ajit Kumar Nath, in Guwahati and he in turn frantically started dialling his son’s number but found it had been switched off.

At around the same time, a friend of 29-year-old Nilotpal Das informed his elder sister in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, that her brother had met with an accident near Dokmoka town in Central Assam’s Karbi Anglong district. Das’ father, Gopal Chandra Das, had been calling his son since early in the evening and when he had failed to get through, he had telephoned his daughter in distress.

At around 9.30 pm, the two fathers ran into each at the Dispur police station in Guwahati. Both had received a call from the police around 15 minutes before. They were told their sons had been in a major accident in Karbi Anglong, the place they had set out for early on Friday.

It later emerged that a 100-strong mob had beaten Das and Nath to death in Panjuri Kachhari village in the district on suspicion that they were child abductors. Das was a musician and Nath a businessman and builder. They had driven to Kanthe Langshu, a picnic spot 15 km from Dokmoka, to look for exotic fish for Nath’s collection.

According to news reports, some villagers spotted Nath and Das near a stream and again in their SUV when they stopped at a junction to ask for directions. The mob waylaid them when they were heading back to Guwahati.

A day later, a video purportedly of the lynching did the rounds of social media. In it, Das is heard pleading with his attackers, “Do not kill me… please do not 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.” But the mob continues to beat him with bamboo sticks and wooden planks.

On Sunday, the police said they had arrested 15 people in connection with the crime and one for spreading misinformation on Facebook about child abductors in the area. The first information report, accessed by Scroll.in, showed a case of murder registered against unidentified persons.

A father’s intuition

Waiting in the police station for news of his son on Friday night, Gopal Chandra Das spoke of the dread he felt. “I wanted to rush to Dokmoka immediately though I had never heard the name of the place before,” the retired railway audit officer said. “Mr [Ajit Kumar] Nath stopped me. He told me that there is no point rushing there. He told me that his intuition said that both our sons were dead.”

When the families reached the police station in Dokmoka the following morning, Das recalled catching a glimpse of jeans-clad legs in the back of a police van and immediately recognising his son’s body. “I realised then that Mr Nath had been right,” he said.

The families later followed the police van to a town called Diphu where a post-mortem was conducted, after which the bodies were handed over to them.

The parents of both Das and Nath said they had warned the two friends against going to Karbi Anglong, especially without a large group. They said their apprehension stemmed from frequent reports of violence in the district on local news channels.

Protests in Guwahati against the lynching of Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath. (Credit: Abhishek Dey)
Protests in Guwahati against the lynching of Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath. (Credit: Abhishek Dey)

Talented musician, animal lover

Nilotpal Das had come home only last month, according to reports. He was based in Mumbai and travelled to Goa often for work. His relatives said he had taken up music while in college in Delhi and trained in a range of instruments from across the world. A few years ago, he had learnt to play the gogona, an Assamese reed instrument used in Bihu music, said his father.

“He made tattoos, he decorated pubs, he was the most talented among us,” said a family friend at the Das home. Muffling his voice as Das’ mother Radhika Das, a retired school teacher, entered the family living room, he added, “And he looked so unusual with his dreadlocks, which he got done when he started living in Mumbai a few years ago.”

Along with his parents and his sister, Das is survived by an older brother who lives in Ahmedabad.

At the Nath home in Guwahati’s Six Mile area on Sunday, relatives spoke about his unique hobby. Pointing to a huge aquarium, Kumud Deka said his nephew, who was also an only son, had always been an animal lover.

As the clock struck four, one of Nath’s cousins entered the living room and announced that a demonstration against the killings had been scheduled for later that evening.

At around the same time though, students and civil rights activists were already gathered in the Chandmari area and raising slogans demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. By 4.30 pm, the protestors had clogged the intersection near Gauhati Commerce College while police personnel blocked most arterial roads leading to the spot. Condemning the lynching, many protestors also cautioned against the anti-tribal sentiment they said was building in the wake of the killings and called for society to remain united.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.