“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)

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.