Bhaago (Run), they barked. Not without my father, cried 18-year-old Poonam Rai, before the other terrified women began dragging her away. A few paces from the bus they were pulled out of, she turned her head hoping to see her father for the last time. She couldn't, but what she saw was macabre — a machete slicing the neck of a passenger later identified as SC Barman — one of the eight non-Bodo (tribal) passengers of the bus killed in Assam on Monday.
“We kept running and didn't look back. The gunshots started seconds later. It was as if they had wanted to pour all their hatred on my father and the other passengers,” said Poonam after the body of her father Sakal Deep Rai, 56, was consigned to the flames on the banks of river Pakke at Seijosa.
A town on the border with Assam, Seijosa in Arunachal Pradesh is inhabited mostly by Nyishi tribal people. It has a sizeable population of non-locals working in Central and state government departments. Rai, from Kaila Jalalpur village in Bihar’s Vaishali district, was a BSNL employee at Seijosa.
Poonam recalled the ill-fated bus being stopped barely 2 km before it was to reach Seijosa from Tezpur in Assam. “Six men, two brandishing daos (machetes) and four carrying assault rifles hopped in, snatched all the mobile phones and began asking each passenger about their ethnicity. My father and I were on the first seat,” she said.
The assailants — National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) rebels — ordered all 25 passengers out of the bus. They separated eight non-Bodo (tribe) men from the rest of the passengers and let the local men, women and children go.
Poonam thought Barman, an Assamese engineer who served in the Arunachal PWD, was hacked because he protested being lined up on the road 'illegally'. Her father too had met a similar fate. One of his limbs was chopped off and his head smashed and his torso riddled with seven bullets.
"Inhuman is too mild a word for this. Why torture defenceless people who they could have killed with one shot?" asked Rai's colleague and fellow-villager BP Singh. "All four bodies were dismembered and shot almost beyond recognition," he said.