Guwahati: Who killed Khargeswar Talukdar, revered as the first of the 855 martyrs of the historic Assam Agitation against illegal immigrants from 1979 to 1985? Almost 40 years after the death of this 22-year-old youth, a new book has reiterated the stand taken by former supercop KPS Gill that he didn’t kill him, as the popular narrative goes in Assam.
Despite the common belief that Talukdar, the then general secretary of the Barpeta unit of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), was beaten to death and thrown into a ditch next to the highway at Bhabanipur in Barpeta in the wee hours of December 10, 1979, Gill, who served as Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in Assam in the early 1980s, was quoted as saying in the book that Talukdar died after he jumped into the pond and drowned.
This was revealed by senior journalist and writer Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty in her new title, Assam: The Accord, the Discord.
In her book, while referring to her meeting with Assam Accord signatory — former AASU leader and former Assam minister Biraj Kumar Sarma, who died on January 15 this year, she quoted Sarma as saying, “On the morning of August 14, 1985, the day we were to finalize the terms of the agreement with the Union home ministry officials. KPS Gil came to see us at the CRPF guest house in South West Delhi. He was a man we all loved to hate then. He told me that he was happy to know that the Accord would be signed finally and had come over to particularly tell the top AASU leadership that he didn’t kill Khargeswar Talukdar, as the popular narrative goes in Assam. He jumped into the pond and drowned.”
Almost four decades after his death, Talukdar’s youngest brother Chandra Talukdar, who was barely four years old then, recalled the events following one of the most controversial deaths in Assam history, in the book. He was quoted as saying that he vaguely remembered seeing his brother’s body kept in the courtyard covered by a sheet and the rush and bustle of visitors to the house. “Whenever I got to know about the incidents that led to his death and what happened afterwards was from my late parents and bothers, who were elders to Khargeswar da,” Sangeeta Barooah wrote in her book quoting Chandra Talukdar.
“Khargeswar slipped out of house that morning with the excuse that he had a lunch invitation at a friend’s house. Otherwise, our father would not have allowed him to go knowing well that there could be violence that day,” Chandra Talukdar was quoted as saying.
Another brother, Radha Kanta Talukdar, was quoted as saying by Pisharoty, “A neighborhood youth rushing home to say Khargeswar had fallen into a pond, broken a leg and had been taken to a Bhawanipur hospital. The youth asked my father to rush with some money. By the time my father reached Bhawanipur, dada was no more. Father returned home. By then, some agitation leaders from Guwahati arrived. The body was taken to Guwahati for post-mortem.”
On November 27, 1979, AASU-AAGSP (All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad) combine called for the closure of all educational institutes and picketing in state and Central government offices. Mass picketing was arranged in front of all polling offices where candidate nominations could be filed, in the first week of December 1979 for the Lok Sabha elections. No candidates were allowed to file nomination papers in the Brahmaputra valley. On December 10, the last date for submitting the nomination papers, was declared as a statewide bandh.
The government proclaimed a curfew at different parts of the state, including in Guwahati. At Barpeta, then DIG KPS Gill led the police force in escorting Bagam Abida Ahmed, wife of the then President Fakaruddin Ali Ahmad, to file nomination papers; they allegedly attacked protestors. Khargeswar Talukdar, the 22-year-old general secretary of Barpeta AASU unit, was reportedly beaten to death and thrown into a ditch next to the highway at Bhabanipur.
Many of the events and occurrences around the Assam Movement, mentioned in the book, Assam the Accord, the Discord, still form a part of the conversations of the older generations. “But over the decades, the dots have begun to disconnect despite the core issues that led to it continuing to simmer, often leaving the younger generation wondering what really happened,” Pisharoty further wrote in the book.