Harrowing tales of the ordeals of the three, who were returned on payment of ransom
Two women sit on one side of the front door of a single-storied yellow cottage in Sarpang, their elbows resting on the backrest of their patched wooden chairs, turned sideways to allow the sun to warm their backs.
They keep their eyes fixed on their grandchildren playing outside, a good distance from the highway to Gelephu.
But the moment a passing car slows down, or the mere sight of a stranger, and the women are up on their feet and parents, who are constantly peering through the window, rush out of the house.
The car picks pace and moves on.
The parents of the little girls warns them not to wander too far away, and leave them at their play, reassured with the grandparents’ watchful eyes on the girls.
People in the south central towns of Gelephu and Sarpang have been traumatised by militants from across the border abducting locals in recent times.
Besides the issue of kidnapping, people are more worried about how they would be able to mobilise money, and hefty sums at that, because a practice of paying ransom has already been established.
“It’s basically shown militants across the border how easy it is for them to make money,” one resident said. “The fear is it might encourage even local thugs across the border to do the same, should they need money.”
A retired civil servant in Sarpangtar explained that with three kidnapping incidents in four months, where families of the victims paid ransom, cross-border militants and miscreants would develop “a taste for it”.
The issue, if not addressed at the right time, many residents fear, would not only threaten the lives of people living in the locality, but the security of the country as well.
“When such troubles occur time and again, people lose faith in the agencies that provide security,” a businessman in Gelephu said. “Huge expanses of land will be vacated and deserted.”
Relatives of kidnap victims said ransom was the last resort, after turning to the government and the police proved futile.
Taxi driver Binulal Sunwar’s wife, Chandrakala, said she spent 18 days and nights looking for money, and hoping the government and police would do something to bring her husband back safe.
Binulal Sunwar was returning from Tsirang to Gelephu after dropping passengers on the evening of October 22 last year, when a group of armed men, dressed in camouflage, pulled him out of his taxi, took him into the dense forest in India and kept him hostage for 18 days.
“While the kidnappers kept asking for money, we had to run to police stations in Gelephu and Sarpang to give statements,” she said. “It was the ransom that brought him back.”
Binulal Sunwar’s family paid Nu 210,000 to the kidnappers, although their initial demand was Rs 3M.
Chandrakala said they initially planned on selling the taxi to pay ransom, had it not been for her uncles, who contributed the money.
“We have to repay their money, but my husband is still recovering and we don’t have any money,” she said.
As the sole bread earner, Binulal Sunwar said all he thought of was his little daughter, who was in class III then.
“The kidnappers kept telling me they’d kill me if my family failed to pay the ransom,” he said. “More than my life, I worried about my daughter’s future.”
Although the kidnappers did not physically assault him, he was infected with malaria, worse was the trauma they inflicted on him.
“I’m still recovering from that one,” he said.
Binulal Sunwar stayed in hospital for more than two weeks and is still under medication, after a psychologist treated him for his sleep disorder.
“My muscles have become weak and I can’t drive,” Binulal said.
His family borrowed more money from relatives to repay the monthly loan of Nu 3,000 on his taxi and house rent of Nu 2,800.
Tsip (astrologer) Dorjila, 51, who was kidnapped on the night of November 16 from his neighbour’s house in Gakiling, Sarpang by armed militants, is in Punakha.
He chose to move away from Sarpang, where he found no respite from fear and anxiety.
Tsip Dorjila was mistaken for his neighbour and abducted, but the kidnappers kept him nevertheless.
His eight children had to pay a ransom of Nu 500,000, borrowed from close relatives.
“There was no choice but to borrow money and pay the ransom,” his son-in-law said, adding they would now have to save to return the money.
The third victim, an 18-year-old student of Sarpang School, Kiran Chettri, who was abducted at gunpoint from his uncle’s restaurant in broad daylight on January 4, returned to Sarpang on January 21, following his checkup at a hospital in Siliguri.
Kiran Chetri, who would be going to class 10 this year and aims to be a chartered accountant, said he was made to walk for three days before they reached a dense forest.
“I slept on a haystack,” he said, adding the kidnappers were all tall, dark and well built and organised in the way they executed their plans.
The student said he does not believe that his kidnappers were killed.
“There were more than 10 people, who kidnapped me,” he said. “They showed me how well equipped they were, and told me they weren’t scared of the army or the police.”
He said the kidnappers referred to each other as tiger, rhino and other such names. “They briskly walk up the slopes and spring over gaps along the way.”
Kiran Chetri said one particular kidnapper, a dark complexioned man, kept assaulting him, when he could not walk, eat or sleep.
But there was one young man, he said, who treated him well and was gentle.
“He showed me an album of people they plan to kidnap,” he said. “I saw many familiar faces, and there were photos of my uncle, cousin and mine.”
His uncle and aunt, who run a restaurant and automobile workshop in Sarpang town, sold their truck and paid ransom of more than Nu 500,000.
They said the border security had to be beefed up.
Although authorities refused to comment, saying the issue had to do with security, Sarpang and Gelephu residents said evading the problem was not the solution.
“It needs to be addressed,” they said.
Tashi Dema, Gelephu