Mob sets tea factory on fire after owner ‘shoots teen’

A tea estate on the outskirts of Guwahati turned into a cauldron of violent protest after a boy died when the proprietor fired at villagers who had gathered near his bungalow to protest his alleged attempt to molest a woman this morning.

Police seized a Winchester rifle and a revolver from Mridul Bhattacharjee, the proprietor of Rani tea estate, but struggled to extract him from the estate as villagers went on the rampage demanding that the man be handed to them for street justice.

Security forces fired tear gas shells and wielded the baton for nearly eight hours during which time the villagers relentlessly attacked the estate property, reducing it to ashes.

The largely outnumbered security forces watched helplessly as they were more worried about protecting Bhattacharjee, who had confined himself to his bungalow, which is protected by an electric fence.

The mob burnt the factory, several vehicles, tea bushes and even attacked the animal farm owned by the garden. Several pigs and goats were butchered and charred in the onslaught.

By afternoon, the picturesque Rani tea estate factory area resembled a battle zone with fire and smoke everywhere.

The police finally evacuated Bhattacharjee around 4.30pm after teargas shells dispersed the mob that had been baying for his blood all day.

Trouble began after Bhattacharjee allegedly beat up and molested an NREGA worker, Jogomaya Boro, who was passing through the garden, for trespassing, around 8.30 this morning.

Jogomaya, a resident of Andherijauli village, was late for work and decided to take a short cut through the garden to her work site, about a kilometre from her house.

“She was accosted by the proprietor and was beaten up for entering the garden. Her clothes were also torn by him,” said Dhireswar Boro, secretary of Upardani Taluk Samabai Samiti.

Jogomaya reported the matter to the villagers who went to Bhattacharjee’s bungalow around 9.30am to protest against the ill-treatment.

“He (Bhattacharjee) opened fire on us from inside the house, killing Pradip Murari, a Class VIII student of Upardani High School and injuring four others,” Boro said.

The injured, Katiram Rabha, Suren Boro, Jagdish Boro and Ajoy Rahba, are being treated at Gauhati Medical College Hospital.

The police arrived soon after and confined Bhattacharjee to the bungalow along with his wife and a servant as the crowd went on the rampage, setting fire to the tea factory.

The crowd did not even allow the fire tenders to enter the factory and squatted at the entrance with the boy’s body and demanded that Bhattcharjee be arrested immediately and handed over to them.

All efforts of senior police and district administration officials of Kamrup (rural) and written assurance from the local MLA, Ramendra Narayan Kalita, and deputy commissioner, S.K. Roy to take stringent action against Bhattacharjee, failed to pacify the crowd, and the vandalism continued.

It was around 3.30pm that the police brought Bhattacharjee out of the bungalow, his hands tied with a rope, to prove that he had indeed been arrested.

That, too, failed to appease the crowd which set dry tea bushes along the pathway leading to the bungalow on fire.

Bhattacharjee presented a picture of calm despite the frenzy around.

The only time he reacted was when villagers were beating up a pig.

Finally, the IGP (central western range) Pallab Bhatacharyya, who arrived around 4pm, ordered the final assault of teargas.

The proprietor was then whisked away in a police vehicle under tight security.

Owned by the MKB (Asia) Private Limited, Rani tea estate was certified as organic in 2005.

Another tea estate, Satrupa, owned by the company, is in Tinsukia district.