GUWAHATI, Oct 15 - A persistent knock broke the silence of the winter night, jolting the Duttas awake at their home in Tinsukia district and marking the beginning of a 24-year ordeal, the family of Pradip Dutta, who was taken away never to be seen again, said on Monday.
It was 2 am on February 19, 1994. The Army had come calling for the 33-year-old businessman, who had been married just a month earlier, in connection with the killing of a tea estate manager by ULFA militants, his elder brother recalled.
�We never saw him again,� Deepak Dutta, a manager with the United Bank of India in Guwahati, told PTI.
Pradip was picked up by an Army team along with four others and killed four days later on February 23, 1994 in what has come to be known as the Dangari fake encounter case.
The Dutta family�s nightmare saw some fruition on Saturday with a court martial sentencing seven Army personnel, including a Major General, to life imprisonment in the case.
The summary general court martial looked into the extra-judicial killing of five people in February 1994 after a unit of the Punjab Regiment picked them up along with four others from different places in Tinsukia district.
The memory of Dutta�s tortured body that was returned to them continues to haunt the family.
Pradip, who had been married just a month when he was picked up, was the second of the five children of Bupeswar Dutta, a resident of Talap in Tinsukia district.
�The Army men searched our home and when they saw some wedding gifts which were yet to be opened they asked who these belonged to. My brother told them these were his. After sometime, they took him away and we never saw him again,� Deepak said.
When there was no information for 24 hours, the family moved the Gauhati High Court on February 20, 1994 and filed a habeas corpus seeking his immediate production before a magistrate court.
�My lawyer was Hrishikesh Roy, who is now Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court. The Gauhati High Court order directing the Army to produce Pradip in a magistrate court was given to the Army. But there was no result,� Deepak said.
Pradip�s bullet-riddled body, along with four others, was handed over to the respective families after they were killed on February 23. The Army officials then claimed they were ULFA militants and killed in an encounter.
�Pradip had no links with any organisation. He was a simple guy doing his own business. But he was killed in a very brutal manner. All his nails were removed and the whole body had injury and burn marks which, we suspect, were due to electric shocks given to him,� Deepak said.
Overcome by grief, Pradip�s father passed away after a few years. His mother, Subarnalata, also fell sick.
�Our mother, who is 80 years old now, still weeps remembering Pradip. It is still incomprehensible for me how some people of the Indian Army, whom we all are proud of, can be involved in such barbarism,� he said.
Those found guilty are Major General AK Lal, Colonels Thomas Mathew and RS Sibiren and JCOs and NCOs Dilip Singh, Jagdeo Singh, Albindar Singh and Shivendar Singh.
The verdict will have to be confirmed by the �higher competent authorities� like the Eastern Command in Kolkata and the Army Headquarters in New Delhi.
The Army men can file appeals against the verdict before the armed forces tribunal and the Supreme Court.
The Army detained a group of nine at the Dhola Army camp after the general manager of Assam Frontier Tea Limited at Talap Tea Estate, Rameswar Singh, was killed by ULFA militants.
Five of them were later killed in the infamous Dangari fake encounter case on February 23, 1994. They were Prabin Sonowal, Pradip Dutta, Debajit Biswas, Akhil Sonowal and Bhaben Moran.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and the All Assam Students Union on Monday welcomed the court martial verdict sentencing seven Army personnel to life imprisonment for the fake encounter 24 years ago and said the long wait for justice had finally ended.
�It is a welcome judgement. The judgement will strengthen people�s faith in judiciary and the Army,� Sonowal said. He added that the verdict will be a deterrent to people in authority not to engage in unlawful acts and to behave responsibly and in a fair manner.
The verdict will give solace to the families of the victims, who were innocent students and youths, the Chief Minister said, adding, the judgement is a reflection of India�s democratic values where human rights and fairness are respected. �The Army has also worked in a fair manner without any prejudice,� he said.
During the fake encounter at Dangari in Tinsukia district, Sonowal was the AASU president and had sought an impartial probe into the case. �The long wait of the families for justice has come to an end and I hope the higher authorities will uphold the judgement,� he said. � PTI