The Unsung Hero

B.K. Ray , IPS(rtd.)

It was a different day for Jahar.  A huge Recruitment Rally for recruitment of Enrolled Follower in TSR was going on someday during April, 1992 at A.D.Nagar  Police ground. Hundreds of young aspirants for the job gathered there. It was like a Mela. The Recruitment Board had a tough time to control them as noise and confusion engulfed the entire ground. It was a mix of hope and frustration, visible in the eyes and faces of the youths, who came there from different corners of the state. There were different tables to check certificates, conduct tests of high jump, long jump, chin-up, and the like. After the written test, the successful candidates had to face the grave interview board. There was elimination at every stage and so the fear of uncertainty on most of the faces was conspicuous. However, among the large gathering, one boy could be distinctly identified as a little different from the rest of the lot.

Jaharlal Debnath, till then a student of class X, just crossed 18 years. A six feet plus well built, stout youth and a footballer from Noagaon  village of Ranibazar, stood in the line of tests, absolutely confident. While many of the aspirants were being eliminated one after another, he kept smiling. Finally, when his turn came, he passed all the tests- both physical and written, effortlessly. Then came the interview. One of the board members asked him why he wanted to join the TSR. He replied emphatically that he likes police Job to serve the people; he takes extreme pride in the police uniform, which is the symbol of power and service at the same time. Faces of all the board members gleamed.

After about 3-4 months, one fine morning, a police constable from RanibazarOotpost (now P.S.) went to the house of Jaharlal Debnath and handed over the offer of appointment of Enrolled Follower in 2nd TSR. It was a moment of rare joy and happiness among all the family members. His father Shri Shashi Mohan Debnath (78) and mother Smt. Sumitra Debnath (73) expressed their heartfelt gratitude to God. In a family of 9 members, there was no govt. employee and they had to live hand to mouth. Jaharlal Debnath was born in a village called Fultali near Sekerkoth under Amtali P.S. His father was a poor farmer having little cultivable land at Kanchanmala. They were three brothers and four sisters. Their house at Fultali was located close to Bangladesh border and there were frequent thefts. Several heads of cattle were stolen. Being helpless, Shashi Mohan sold his homestead at Fultali and shifted to Bagbari, a mixed populated village, located about 3 kms South West from Ranibazar.

Jaharlal was admitted in the Noagaon S.B. School and then in Jatindra Kumar school at Hedanya where he studied up to class X. Jahar was not a brilliant student but a promising sportsman and a singer. He was an outstanding footballer and was being invited by several clubs to play in different tournaments throughout the state. His body fitness and height was a matter of envy to many. However, he was extremely popular in his village because of his helping attitude to people in distress and that too, with an ever smiling face. He was a very good singer also and enthralled the villagers by his sweet voice.

After being finally selected, Jahar joined the basic training in 1992 at 2nd Bn. TSR HQrs at R.K.Nagar. During basic training also, he showed his class on different occasions and excelled in almost each and every test. He was liked not only by the Ustads  but also by his batchmates. His polite behavior and at the same time, firm determination to fight the insurgents, motivated others also.

After passing out, 9th Bn TSR started functioning temporarily at 2nd BN TSR HQrs at R.K. Nagar w.e.f. 01.10.02 and Jahar was also transferred to 9th Bn TSR as Rifleman. During that time, insurgency in Tripura took a serious turn. Almost every day, there was some incident of killing, arson, looting, kidnapping etc. A large number of people fled away from interior villages to take shelter in safer areas nearby towns. The responsibility of the security forces increased manifold. The TSR, Tripura Police and other para-military forces deployed in Tripura were engaged in a grim battle. They were desperate to restore peace in the state at any cost. Several jawans of TSR lost their lives in ambushes laid by the extremists. Many more were critically injured. The extremists particularly targeted the families of TSR and police. Jahar’s  Parents got panicked as their house was located at Bagbari, a fringe area and movements of extremists were being regularly reported from the nearby villages. Sensing imminent danger, Jahar shifted his family to a nearby village called Noagoan, Nalgaria, a safer locality. That was in 2000. A year after that the extremists struck at Bagbari in broad daylight. Like any other day, the villagers were busy in cultivating their paddy fields. A group of extremists suddenly appeared there in civil dress. They brought out their AK-47 rifles concealed under their shirts. They tied two old villages- Mahi Baishnab and Krishna Debnath  with a black berry tree and pumped several bullets in their chests from AK-47 rifles. Both fell dead next moment. Before leaving the place, the extremists threatened the villagers of similar consequence, if anyone informed the police. Jahar was then posted in the Narkel Bagan, 2nd TSR Hqr. near Jirania and so got the information immediately. He was extremely perturbed as both deceased were his uncles and they loved him so much. Soon a platoon of TSR was dispatched to the place of killing andJahar was also a team member. Tears rolled down his eyes when he saw the dead bodies of Mahi Baishnad and Krishna Debnath . He bowed before the villagers, who gathered there that he would take revenge of this brutal killing, even if he has to sacrifice his life.

On 10.02.2004, 9th BN TSR was shifted temporarily to Baikhora P.S. Complex in south Tripura. Extremists were very active in several areas of South district that time and were resorting to mindless killings, arson and abductions. TSR also intensified their counter insurgency operations and achieved several successes. Jahar also joined many such combing operations. During one encounter at Tairuma under Baikhora P.S. there was exchange of fire between the TSR and the extremists. In that incident ,Jahar received some minor injuries. But nothing could dampen his spirit. His moral always soared high.

As the extremists increased their movements in Jirania and nearby areas and intelligence started pouring in that they may attack non-tribal pockets of Champaknagar, Jirania, Mandwai, Ranibazar etc. areas to foment communal tension and the so called Raising Day of ATTF was nearing, it was ordered by the authority that 2 platoons of 9thBn TSR, ex-Baikhora will move to 7thBn TSR Hqr at Tripura Engineering College (TIT), Jirania as reinforcement to launch massive combing operations. Jahar also came to T.E. complex alongwith one of those platoons.

11th July is the so called Raising Day of ATTF extremists. Intelligence from different sources indicated that the ATTF may resort to large scale violence including attack on security forces and killing of non-tribals in nearby villages, particularly, Champaknagar, Radhamohanpur, Jirania and Ranibazar to prove and show their strength. Before launching a massive combing operation, the Commandant 7th Bn TSR decided to collect further information through his own man. He sent Jahar, a local boy, to his home at Noagaon, Ranibazar. He would stay for a day with his family and collect all information regarding movements of extremists in the areas using all possible means.

10th July, 2004. Rifleman Jaharlal Debnath reached his house at Noagaon in the morning. It was a long gap that he visited home last time. His young wife Ratna welcomed him with a euphoric smile. His two beautiful daughters- one year old Jewel and 3 years old Jayanti literally jumped on his lap. Signs of joy were glowing on their faces. Jahar hugged them most affectionately. He took Jayanti on his shoulder and Jewel on his lap and walked around. He went to the cowshed and patted a pregnant cow, he loved so much, gave it a handful of straw and enjoyed the feeding. Ratna was busy in the kitchen. She was preparing his favourite dishes, dry fish chatni, brinjal fry and chicken curry. Of course, there were different types of rice-cakes too. Aroma from the kitchen filled the air all around. All family members were in a festive mood.

After a good breakfast, Jahar told his wife that he had come home for a day only with a special task and would go back to battalion Head Quarters next morning. He did not elaborate. Soon after he went out. He had lots of friends in his own village and also nearby villages like Kashidas Para, Balaram Thakur Para, Garjankhola, Hachunia etc. all tribal villages but Jahar had good contacts there too. Jahar made all out efforts to collect information of extremist movements in the area, as the so called Raising Day of ATTF falls on 11th July and they always try to do something heroic to attract attention of the government and people. After lunch, he again went to Jiraniakhola, a mixed populated village on the eastern side of the Howrah and met his friend Kashim Mia in his house. There, other contacts also gathered. Most of them reported that a strong group of ATTF extremists under leadership of dreaded Michael Debbarma with sophisticated arms was seen moving in the villages of Balaram Thakur Para, Radhacharan, Kashidas Para and nearby areas and they might commit any serious incident. Signs of anxiety were visible on Jahar's face. He immediately left the house of Kashim Mia and came back home.

At home, a new house was under construction. For that, he called a group of masons and carpenters and gave them detail instructions to complete the work quickly. Over a period, he collected timber, brick, cement etc. He discussed with wife Ratna about the design of his dream house. In the evening, he played with his daughters, told stories to Jayanti and gave a new toy to his baby Jewel. He told Ratna that Jayanti and Ratna are his assets and he would spare no stone unturned to build a bright future for them. At night there was a feast.

The menu included all his favorite dishes - Ruifishkalia, mixed vegetables, potato fry, followed by rasogolla, curd etc. Whole day the children played, sang and danced as their joy knew no bounds in the company of their father. As they were damn tired, they fell deep asleep soon after taking food. Then Ratna and Jahar started gossiping. They talked about the children's future and completion of the new house and so many things. Jahar told her that if the so called Raising Day of ATTF passes off peacefully, he would take a month's leave and come home to enjoy family life. With the night advancing, they became more and more intimate. He fondled her most passionately and soon they were lost in ecstasy.

11th July, 2004. Early morning, Jahar got up and was ready to leave for battalion Hqrs. He called his wife and told her that he would come again after a month. The children were in deep sleep. He looked at them affectionately, patted on their back and kissed. Ratna became emotional and tears rolled down her cheeks. Was it apprehension or intuition or something else? Was something ominous to happen to her beloved? Jahar reassured her and left.

Soon he reached Jirania T.E. College Complex, where his platoon was deployed. He reported to his authority about the information of movement of a strong ATTF group in Kashidas Para and nearby areas. The Company Commander immediately sent a platoon of 68 BN CRPF, stationed there to verify the information. The CRPF platoon under command of one S.I. conducted search operation in the general areas of Balaram Thakur Para, Hachunia, Radhacharan, Kashidas Para and returned back in the evening. They could not get any group but found a few ATTF flags hoisted at BalaramThakur Para school and on some trees on the roadside, which they removed and brought with them. The S.I. reported that the gang must have abandoned the area. Then the Company Commander called Jahar in his chamber and told his information could not be confirmed during verification. But Jahar humbly submitted that his information cannot be false. He insisted that another massive Ops be planned and he would be ahead of all as guide, being a local boy, The Coy. Commander knew Jahar was an extremely sincere and brave jawan and one could confidently trust him. He decided to launch a bigger operation in the same area next morning.

12th July, 2004. As per earlier plan, a massive Ops party, consisting of one platoon of 9thBn TSR led by SubedarBarun Debnath, one platoon of 68thBn CRPF led by S.I. Jagdish Singh, under operational command of SI Jhunulal Das, O/C  Champaknagar O.P. left Champaknagar O.P. at about 1430 hrs after detailed briefing. The Ops party was fully equipped with sophisticated weapons like LMG, AK-47 Rifles etc. Riflemen Jahar also was asked to participate in the Ops. He was delighted and requested that he be allowed to perform the task of Scout no. I, to be ahead of others. But another brave jawan- Rifleman Manindara Debbarma of 9th Bn TSR raised his hand and volunteered to act as Scout no. I. Finally, after mutual discussion, the Ops commander decided thatRfn. ManindaraDebbarma would act as Scout no. I. Rfn. Jaharlal Debnath would be Scout no. 2 and they would be followed by the regular platoon of TSR. The CRPF platoon, as usual, preferred to be in the rear.

After crossing the Howrah river, they reached Belbari, couducted search in the village and proceeded further ahead. Gradually they advanced and searched the villages of Radhacharan Para, Balaram Thakur para and Kashidas Para. Till Kashidas para, the Ops party could not find any extremist gang and no information of their presence nearby was available. At Kashidas Para, the Ops party should take a different route during  return to avoid any mishap. Accordingly, the Ops party was returning to Champaknagar via Hachunia, about 10 kms south-east from Jirania P.S. It was twilight; darkness was descending from the horizon after sunset. The Ops party was a bit tired and frustrated as they thought the information must be false. Particularly, the CRPF platoon became restive. A little later, the Ops party reached near Hachunia tri-junction, surrounded on three sides by high-rise hills. Tactically, it was a dangerous place for the Ops party as they were on a low land.

Moreover, nothing was visible as pitch darkness engulfed the entire area. However, the Ops party was desperately moving forward to return to the base. 

It happened that time. Suddenly a flurry of bullets started pouring in from the high hills. Before the Ops party could realize anything and retaliate, Rfn. Manindra Debbarma, who was ahead of all others, fell dead on the ground. Behind him was RfnJaharlal Debnath. He opened fire from his AK-47, rifle guessing the direction of extremists but one bullet hit him on the leg. At once, he removed his black scurf from the head and tried to stop bleeding by bandaging the wound. He continued firing on the extremists but soon his magazine was empty. Firing from both sides continued. Jahar lied down on the ground and tried to refill the magazine. In the meantime, 2-3 extremists came down and snatched the rifle and magazines of Manindra Debbarma. Then they came near Jaharlal who was almost motionless due to profuse bleeding. One extremist pulled his AK- 47 rifle, thinking him dead. But Jaharlal, as valiant he was, tried to resist. Till last breath, he would not allow his personal weapon to be snatched. Sensing trouble, another extremist pumped several bullets in his chest. Jahar was silenced forever.

After about half an hour, firing stopped. Reinforcement reached. Dead bodies of ManindraDebbarma  andJaharlal Debnath were brought to hospital. Another TSR jawan, Rfn. Rabi Kumar Debbarma, who was just behind Jaharlal, was also critically injured and shifted to a Kolkata hospital. After completion of formalities, bodies of Manindra Debbarma and Jaharlal Debnath were sent to their houses after paying guard of honour at the A.D. Nagar Police Lines.

When the body of Jaharlal reached his house at Bagbari, Noagoan, hundreds of villagers gathered to pay last respect to their hero. His wife Ratna fainted on his body.Little daughters Jayanti and Jewel could not even realize what happened to their father. It was a heart-rending scene and the air was heavy with anguish and hatred towards the extremists.

16th September, 2014. It was indeed a memorable day. Myself alongwithInspr. Dipak Das, O/C, Ranibazar P.S. paid a visit to the house of Jaharlal Debnath at Noagaon. We spoke to his wife Ratna Debnath, who is now a govt. employee and posted at Ranirbazar P.S. Their elder daughter Jayanti is now 11 years old and studying in class IX. When asked about her future aim, she boldly expressed her desire to become a Police Officer, not to take revenge of her father's murder but to protect others from such mindless killings. Younger daughter Jewel, now a student of class V wants to be an engineer. We also met Jahar's 85 years old mother Sumitra Debnath. All the family members and local people are so proud of him and cherish his fond memories.

His father Sashi Mohan Debnath died long ago. Sumitra Devi told us proudly - "I have lost my young son but I have no grief. I will live happily with the emergence of 100 more Jahars in the Police family".

By his supreme sacrifice, Rifleman Jaharlal Debnath has made TSR and Tripura Police proud. His exemplary bravery, commitment and dedication will be recorded in the history of Tripura Police in letters of gold. Let us all salute this valiant hero.

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