The martyrs who got short-changed

by B.K. Karkra

Our Bodo tribesmen have their settlements sparsely dotting the Himalayan foothills in Assam. They have been agitating for quite a while to have a separate state of Bodoland. Their biggest concentration is in Kokrajhar. Their struggle till the early part of 1974 had been peaceful. Somehow, they felt that they had not been making much headway through peaceful means. So they suddenly decided on a violent course to achieve their aim.

I was then the second-in-command of the 21st Battalion, CRPF, located in the area and my commandant, A.K. Bandopadhyay, was away on some assignment. I received a wireless message from the town of Sidli that our men had suffered a surprise attack by the Bodos and two of them had fallen martyrs. Many others had been injured and one of the injured was in a critical state. I rushed to the place to be among them in the hour of their grief.

I learnt on the spot that the Bodo agitators had gathered in the area in quite some number with a violent intent about which nobody had any clue. In fact, the local S.H.O., a well-intentioned old man, got into their midst to argue with them about their dispersal. He did not realise that they had not gathered to disperse peacefully. When he persisted, they fell upon him. Finding him in grave danger of being cruelly lynched, three C.R.P. F. men waded through the violent mob to rescue him.

Finding no other way to save the man, constables Purnima Munda and Hridaya Narain provided him body cover and another constable Kesho Rao Pattar also made a desperate effort to reach him. Munda and Narain had their helmets removed and given mortal blows on their head with ‘daos’. Pattar also had his skull badly fractured, but he survived to our pleasant surprise. However, my other boys, though also under assault, recovered quickly and fired a few rounds to make the blood-thirsty mob disperse.

While camping at the site, my Commandant and the D.I.G. also joined me. We were of the view that it was not merely a case of gallantry but of martyrdom on the part of Munda and Narain. We made out a case for the award of Ashoka Chakra to them posthumously, while Pattar was proposed for the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry. The Assam government put its entire weight behind our citations.

Sadly, however, a discriminatory rule happened to be in place that said that those authorised Police Medals (that have woefully low precedence) could not get higher awards like the Ashoka, Kirti and Shaurya Chakras. This deprived the two C.R.P.F. martyrs of their due and they ended up with the President’s Police Medals for Gallantry, along with Pattar. Our Force was thus left poorer by two highly cherished Ashoka Chakras merely because of an irrational stipulation, somehow escaping the government attention.

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