Bravery at bullet’s end

Headmaster takes on Naga rebels
Silchar, Nov. 21 : Shot three times and bleeding profusely, 50-year-old Som Bahadur Chettry’s last act was what he had taught his students all throughout his career as a teacher — to stand up against injustice.

The headmaster of Birbhadra High School saved the lives of his family members, and perhaps even his neighbours, when he snatched an AK-56 from a militant’s hands even after being shot, forcing the three assailants to flee from the Upper Daghetar village in North Cachar Hills in the wee hours today.

Chettry, who took bullets in his chest and arms, was rushed to the civil hospital in Haflong, a few kilometres away, but succumbed to his injuries shortly after.

He is survived by his widow, two sons and a daughter.

A police source said a three-member group of suspected National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) rebels barged into Chettry’s house after midnight and demanded Rs 15,000 as “tax” to the outfit.
The headmaster’s family members, who were confined to another room, overheard a heated argument as Chettry said he would not be able to pay such a large sum.

“On being threatened, Chettry offered Rs 260 which was all he had with him at the time,” the police official said.

The militants then assaulted him.

One of the militants lost his temper and opened fire from the AK-56 rifle he was carrying, hitting Chettry on the chest and arms.

Even as he was falling, Chettry grabbed one end of the rifle and snatched it from the militant.

“The militants panicked when they suddenly found themselves unarmed. The AK-56 rifle was the only weapon they had. Chettry shouted for help, attracting the attention of his neighbours. Sensing that they could be in trouble, the trio fled. The villagers rushed Chettry to Haflong but he died just after being brought in,” the police official added.

The incident brought back memories of the Kashmiri girl Rukhsana, who had snatched an AK-47 from a Laskar commander who had entered her home and shot him dead in September this year. Rukhsana was appointed a Special Police Officer earlier this month by the state government as a reward for her exemplary courage.

A senior district administration official said Chettry’s family would be given Rs 3 lakh as part of the Assam government’s policy to pay this amount to any civilian killed in a militant attack.

“However, any decision on rewarding him posthumously for his act of courage will have to be taken at Dispur. We will definitely recommend his name to the government for an award. He can be a role model for others in the state, especially youngsters,” the official added.

A police source said the NSCN (I-M) has become active in the area of late after the Jewel Gorlosa faction of the Dima Halam Daogah laid down arms and the “Naga outfit moved in to fill in the vacuum”.

A manhunt has been launched in search of the rebels. Security was tightened in and around the village.
which has a mixed population of Dimasas, Nepalis and Nagas.