We were almost through with our visit to the riot-hit area when five of us - a reporter each from Sahara TV and Deccan Herald, an Agartala-based photographer, a Sahara TV cameraman and I - actually confronted the ill-will and the intense animosity between the communities of Tripura first hand.
We had been travelling around in two vehicles since morning. At around 10.45 am, we reached a relief camp where we were talking and clicking photographs when, all of a sudden, a jeep-load of masked men, brandishing khukris and guns, descended on the camp. They were presumably ublf members as they brought relief material for the inmates. The moment they spotted unfamiliar faces and cameras, all hell broke loose.
We were immediately surrounded, ordered to sit in our own vehicles and in a flash we were on our way to an unknown destination. The first sentiment was, of course, fear but those of us who knew Bengali could understand that these armed men only wanted to question us and take a look at the footage shot by the TV crew. Some 5 km later, we were ordered to get down and marched to a distant hut. Inside, we were asked to sit on the floor. And then the questions began: "Why are you here?" As Suman Deb Roy, the local photographer, began explaining, things started falling in place and yet the leader was belligerent. And suspicious. He alternated between tough talk and a gentle interrogation. One knew that they meant no harm but the boys - most of them teenagers and therefore excitable - could have done anything in the heat of the moment. That was my main anxiety - an accidental, unintentional killing. Half an hour later, apparently satisfied with our answers and Suman's assurances, we were let off. But not before being offered nariyal paani (coconut water) as a parting gift. We sped through the dusty roads and it was not before we hit the main highway some 10 km away that we felt safe. It was a very close shave indeed.