Twenty one years back, May 17 had started like any other normal day that summer. However, what transpired later in the day changed Assam forever. In what can be called as one of the darkest afternoons in the history of Assam, four gunmen pumped 13 bullets from their AK-47 in the body of Parag Kumar Das, one of the most fearless and incorruptible journalist to have graced the country. This happened in broad daylight when Das had gone to receive his young son from school in Chandmari.
As the news spread like wildfire, both Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and ULFA (I) Chief Paresh Baruah vowed to hunt down the killers and punish them within 48 hours. Twenty one years have passed since and the bereaved soul of one of the famous crusader of the pen still awaits justice.
Avenging the death of Parag Kumar Das
It is not that the assassination of Das was not avenged. Four SULFA members – Mridul Phukan alias Samar Kakati, Diganta Baruah, Tapan Dutta alias Biswajit Saikia and Nayan Das alias Guli were accused for killing Das. In 1998, ULFA managed to kill Tapan Dutta in Zoo Road despite tight security.
Strangely, ULFA declared that Tapan Dutta was killed because he had stolen Rs 5 Crores from the outfit in the past and so was given capital punishment. It is however assumed that this was a strategic ploy from ULFA, so as not to alert the actual men behind the killing. However ULFA too had to pay some price because of this. Publicity Chief of ULFA Mithinga Daimary, who had issued the press release on behalf of the outfit, was targeted. That very night, secret killers broke into the house of Mithinga Daimary alias Deepak Das’ house and shot dead his innocent parents, elder brother Dr Dharani Das, wife of Dharani Das and sister Latika Kachari at night. Son of Dr Dharani Das, Bhaskar Das escaped unhurt somehow that day. Mentionable that Bhaskar Das was aged 4 years at the time of that incident. This was the beginning of the secret killings in Assam and many were to follow this.
The second suspect Diganta Baruah was also killed near Zoo by ULFA in 1999. The third accused Nayan Das was hacked to death by a mob in Dibrugarh in 2003. Mridul Phukan was the only surviving member among the accused. However, after 13 years, on July 28, 2009, Justice Dilip Kumar Mahanta, District and Sessions Judge, Kamrup, acquitted the prime accused citing lack of solid evidence.
Mass outrage followed the verdict as human activists and supporters of Das claimed that the key witnesses were not interviewed, some were intimidated, related materials were tempered to ensure the acquittal of the accused and cover up the state machinery’s role in the case. It has been called a betrayal of the CBI and police.
The legacy of Parag Kumar Das
Born to Durga Dhar Das and Anupama Das in Shillong on February 24, 1961, Parag had shown sparks since an early age when he won prizes in the essay writing competitions in school. After graduating from St. Stephens College in 1983 with 1st class honors, he joined Delhi School of Economics for post graduation in Economics. Even though starting to work as a banker and flourishing in that field, his passion for writing got the better of him. Quitting a lucrative job of the General Manager of Guwahati Stock Exchange, he joined full time journalism by becoming the Executive Editor of Asomiya Pratidin in 1995. He gave real meaning to the word ‘investigative journalism’ in Assam. He became a terror for the corrupt system with his bold writings. There were several attempts to stifle his pen and when everything failed, he was brutally murdered.
Parag Kumar Das had dreamt of a better Assam. His legacy lie in his books like Sanglat Fenla (Freedom Fighter), Swadhinatar Prostab (Proposal of independence), Nisiddha Kalam Aru Anyanya (Banned Pen and others), Aami Ji Kotha Koisilo(Things We Said), Rashtradrohir Dinlipi (Diary of Anti-State), Mok Swadhinata Lage(I Need Freedom) and Swadhin Oxomor Arthaniti (Economy of Independent Assam) which are testimony to his dream.
Even after Das, fourteen journalists have been killed across Assam. Many of them are still awaiting justice. We will be able to pay a proper tribute to bravehearts like Parag Das only when we build a society where journalists can wield the power of pen without any fear or pressure.
Words- Nabarun Guha