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'Both vehicles completely charred': Two CRPF jawans from Assam recall the horrors of Pulwama terror attack

Guwahati: Forty-two Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel died on Thursday after terrorists targeted a convoy of 78 vehicles with a car bomb at Awantipora in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Called the worst attack ever on security personnel in the state, the car was carrying nearly 350 kilograms of explosives, as per several media reports.

Senior CRPF officials visited the home of Maneshwar Basumatary, a soldier from Tamulpur in Baksa district of Assam who died in the attack, to offer condolences to the family even as a state of anger and despair was evident across the district on Friday. The last rites of Basumatary, survived by his wife, son and daughter, will be performed in his village Saturday. According to reports, another soldier from Assam, identified as Kanak Kalita from Khetri in Kamrup district, was injured in the attack.

 Both vehicles completely charred: Two CRPF jawans from Assam recall the horrors of Pulwama terror attack

Maneshwar Basumatar, who died in the Pulwama attack, and his wife. Image courtesy: Syeda Ambia Zahan

Hitesh Chandra Sarkar and Pabitra Barman, from Assam’s Bongaigaon district, survived the attack. Sarkar and Barman were returning to their camps from Jammu after a month-long leave.  Barman, attached to 115 Battalion of CRPF, one of 2,500 soldiers traveling in the convoy, said, “We were just an hour away from our destination when the convoy came under attack: a blast rocked the bus right behind mine. Those who witnessed it from afar thought my bus had exploded. Soon, news that I died in the attack went viral.”  However, Barman later posted on Facebook that he was alright: “Hi friends, I am full safe and sound...”

“I didn’t see the blast clearly as our driver diverted our vehicle as soon as he heard the explosion. We entered the closest camp and stayed put. There were strict orders that no one was supposed to go out,” Barman added. Hitesh Chandra Sarkar, attached to 61 Battalion of CRPF, was in a bus far ahead of the one that was attacked. Sarkar, a resident of Bidyapur in Bongaigaon, said, “When leave ends, all jawans gather at the transit camp in Jammu; from there, the vehicles set off together to take us back. I was in the convoy. We came under attack sometime between 2.30 pm and 3.00 pm, I think."

Sarkar said there were eight vehicles between his and the one that came under attack, "Barman's vehicle was in front of the one that was attacked. His bus was fired at too, but they escaped unhurt. A car that rammed into the bus exploded; we call it phidai nepek: it means the attacker will kill and die. Both vehicles were completely charred. We were saved as our bus was bulletproof, but theirs wasn’t."

Sarkar added that right after the blast, their driver put the vehicle in reverse and entered the closest camp. The other buses did the same and entered whichever unit was closest to their location. "My bus had entered 130 Battalion, which is three to four kilometers from the incident site," he said.

"The media thought Barman died in the attack and flashed the news. For a while, even I thought it was true, but I kept trying to reach him. Thankfully, I managed to reach him by nightfall and found he was fine. I told him about the false news circulating and asked him to call his family immediately. Then, news channels from Bongaigaon and Dhubri started calling me, so I told them he was fine," said Sarkar.

Sarkar added that the vehicles from the convoy left the respective camps they had taken shelter in and reached Bakshi stadium in Srinagar around 10 pm, where a headcount was done and names were crossed off lists to mark personnel’s presence. "Finally, at 1 am, we were sent to our respective units."

Protests against attack

In Assam, various organisations staged protests on Friday against the attack. Bajrang Dal's Assam unit staged demonstrations against the attack across the state and burned the Pakistani flag while shouting anti-Pakistan slogans. All Bodo Minority Students’ Union of Assam burned an effigy of Masood Azhar, chief of the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad, which claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the capital city of Guwahati, organisations such as Assam Goria Moria Youth Student’s Organisations and Krishak Shramik Unnayan Parishad burned the Pakistani flag in protest. Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik accepted that intelligence failure was partly responsible for the attack as loading and movement of the explosive-laden vehicle on the highway could not be detected.

The author is a Guwahati-based reporter and a member of 101Reporters

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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2019 17:12:48 IST