How a Rumour Killed Two Friends in Assam’s Karbi Anglong

How a Rumour Killed Two Friends in Assam’s Karbi Anglong

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Cameraperson: Anjana Dutta

Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui

“I am an Assamese. My father name is Gopal Chandra Das, my mother’s name Radhika Das.”

These were the last words Nilotpal Das was seen saying in a video which was being shot while a mob was lynching them. Sometime later he and his friend Abhijeet Nath were allegedly killed by the mob in Panjuri Kachari village in Karbi Anglong district of Assam.

The incident that happened on 8 June 2018 was fueled by a rumour about ‘hopa dhora’ or child-lifters in the area. A message which spread like wildfire said that the ‘hopa dhora’ had long hair and they were out to abduct children.

The police allege that a local resident had made calls to other villagers after a confrontation with Nilotpal and Abhijeet, saying they were child abductors. But in reality Nilotpal was a musician based out of Goa, while Abhijeet was a businessman.

Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath were lynched in Karbi Anglong. 
Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath were lynched in Karbi Anglong. 
(Photo: Justice for Nilotpal and Abhijeet Facebook Page)

The Fatal Journey to Karbi Anglong

Kangthilangso waterfall in Karbi Anglong district of Assam is popular with local tourists, especially during winters when most people go there for picnics.

The area is quite deserted and hardly anyone goes there during the summers.

On 8 June, Nilotpal and Abhijeet travelled to Kangthilangso all the way from Guwahati in a black SUV. Apparently they undertook the 250km long journey to catch some ornamental fishes for Abhijeet’s aquarium. It was just a normal guys-day-out for the two friends.

Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath had travelled to Kangthilangso waterfall in Karbi Anglong district of Assam
Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath had travelled to Kangthilangso waterfall in Karbi Anglong district of Assam
(Photo: The Quint)
The two boys had stopped at my shop. They bought some chocolates and paid Rs 70. They didn’t look like child abductors, in fact they looked quite well off.
Naikrom Subba, Shopkeeper in Panjuri Kachari     

The ‘Hopa Dhora’ Rumour

As Nilotpal and Abhijeet headed deep into the jungle towards Kangthilangso waterfall, they were unaware that the area was under the spell of a rumour which had spread through social media. Suren Kramcha, the principal of a local school, says that for the last few days everyone was talking about child lifters.

I kept telling people not to believe in the rumour. Not a single child was missing from the area. But no one was ready to listen. The villagers had even formed groups for night vigil.
Suren Kramcha, Principal, Bithilangso ME School     

In the evening while returning, Nilotpal and Abhijeet’s SUV was stopped by a mob of locals at Panjuri Kachari village.

The car was stopped and everyone was screaming ‘hopa-dhora’. Some people started hitting the electricity poles to summon others. Calls were being made that the locals had caught two child abductors and there was a child in the SUV. Soon hundreds had assembled at Panjuri Kachari. They were armed with machetes, knives and sticks.
Sushila Soriati, Resident, Panjuri Kachari       
Downstream of Kangthilangso waterfall where Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath were lynched. 
Downstream of Kangthilangso waterfall where Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath were lynched. 
(Photo: The Quint)

The Killing

The police say that Nilotpal’s dreadlocks and the fake news that there was a child in the SUV provoked the villagers. Both Nilotpal and Abhijeet kept pleading that they were local Assamese from Guwahati but the mob which numbered around 250 kept attacking them. Someone called the Dok Moka police station, the police rushed to the spot which was almost 18kms away. On the way they also called an ambulance.

The public who was doing this act was resistant to provide police the access. When police tried to enter, some people even pelted stones. Some of our policemen have even got injured. It was tough because the crowd had outnumbered the police. The police had gone in good numbers for this kind of fast response but the number of people was still higher.
Dr GV Siva Prasad Gangawala, SP, Karbi Anglong

The police finally managed to bring out Nilotpal and Abhijeet but they were declared dead at the local hospital.

The damaged SUV in which Nilotpal and Abhijeet had driven to Karbi Anglong is parked at the Dok Moka police station. 
The damaged SUV in which Nilotpal and Abhijeet had driven to Karbi Anglong is parked at the Dok Moka police station. 
(Photo: The Quint)
Musical instruments recovered from Abhijeet’s SUV. 
Musical instruments recovered from Abhijeet’s SUV. 
(Photo: The Quint)

The Aftermath and the Penance

Since the killing, thousands have taken to the streets demanding justice and punishment for those involved in the killing.

The Indian Express reports that “the police have arrested 28 people for the lynching, and five for sharing on social media the video of the killing.”

According to the police, the prime accused is Alphajoz Timung, a local resident of Panjuri Kachari. He allegedly had the first confrontation with Nilotpal and Abhijeet and called others to say they were child-lifters.

Police are arresting both the guilty and the innocent. Since it was a mob no one knows who will get arrested. Out of fear many men have fled the village.
Sushila Soriati, Resident, Panjuri Kachari       
A memorial service for Nilotpal and Abhijeet organised by the villagers of Panjuri Kachari. 
A memorial service for Nilotpal and Abhijeet organised by the villagers of Panjuri Kachari. 
(Photo: The Quint)

At Panjuri Kachari, the spot where Nilotpal and Abhijeet were lynched, the local villagers organised a condolence service. For the wrongs of a faceless mob they are paying the penance and praying that the killings don’t rip Assam apart.

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