Gangtok: A day after Pradeep Khatiwara allegedly hacked his two victims allegedly following a row over a bidi (a type of cheap cigarette made of unprocessed tobacco wrapped in leaves), he hung around the crime scene nonchalantly in a remote cardamom plantation in North Sikkim.
The body of a 56-year-old woman, Dhan Keshri, lay near the makeshift camp where they lived during the harvest season. His other victim, 27-year-old Mingmar Lepcha was tossed off a cliff after his eyes were gouged out, ears slashed and private parts cut and fed to the dogs.
The macabre killing has once again shaken Sikkim, a few months after a young girl was raped and murdered in East Sikkim.
The cardamom plantation, located in Sumidang, Upper Dzongu in North Sikkim, can only be reached by trekking for over six hours through slippery jungle tracks. The harvest season lasts for over two months; during this time, the labourers spend over two months in remote locations harvesting and drying large cardamoms. It’s a lonely and challenging job deep in dense subtropical forests of north Sikkim. The teams normally get along well as they work many seasons together. The gruesome twin murders have therefore come as a shock to many.
The murders would not have been discovered had a passer-by not heard the commotion. He in turn called the owner of the plantation, Chungdi Lepcha, after trekking a considerable distance. Two men were then sent to check but they were apparently chased out by the accused.
Why the accused, Pradeep Khatiwara, decided to stay back at the crime scene is still a mystery. He had apparently collected a large number of stones and was armed with a khukuri to defend himself. The two men returned and filed the FIR at Mangan, the district headquarters, at 4 am after trekking for more than eight long hours.
The police acted swiftly; by 5:30 am, a 12-member police team, which included a woman officer, left for the crime scene. The team was led by SDPO Tseten Bhutia – they were to take a 2-hour drive and then the 6-hour trek through challenging jungle terrain.
After a rigorous climb, they reached the cardamom plantation – they then quietly spread out in smaller teams and decided to approach from a top. Much of their time was spent planning and spotting the accused.
They had carried pistols as a precaution as the accused had turned hostile earlier. One of the teams was in position and they waited for the right time to act. The team got their chance when the accused went to fetch water and nabbed him.
Their task was, however, not over as the team had the challenging task of recovering the bodies and taking them back for postmortem. The body of the woman was near the camp but the second badly mutilated body had been thrown down a cliff. The recovery was extremely difficult – they first had to scale down and then tie the body using ropes and pull it up. After the bodies had been recovered they started their arduous trek back through a dense forest and slippery jungle tracks. The other team had the task of escorting the accused. By the time the team reached the nearest road head ,it was already dark, the successful operation had taken over 12 hours.
Sikkim is known for peace and tranquility. Such gruesome murders are few and far between. With a slow increase in population and illegal immigration from neighbouring countries, the crime graph has slowly risen.
In this case too, the accused is said to be from Nepal with no legal and valid documents and nothing that allowed him to be in a protected area requiring a permit.
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