Trader Daljeet Singh Pradhan went across the border from Manipur to sell his wares on February 11. Nine days later, his mutilated body was found on the Indian side; his family believes he was mistaken for a spy
The ghastly end that a small-time merchant from Mumbai met on the Indo-Myanmar border has left his family in Vikhroli devastated. But the unexplained course of events that trailed his disappearance and slaughter has made their grief almost unbearable.
On February 11, Daljeet Singh Pradhan (36) went across the border from Imphal, Manipur to sell his ware — polish and school accessories in the neighbouring country.
Daljeet was the sole breadwinner for his family of five mother Hardat Kaur, sister Harjeet, six-months pregnant wife Hardeep and a year-old son Devender Singh. His uncle (right) is here to help the family. Pic/Prashant Waydande
Nine days later, his mutilated and burnt body was found this side of the border. He had been accompanied by five other men. One of them, Satvender Singh (32) from Uttar Pradesh, who has a pregnant wife and a son, met the same fate as he.
Daljeet’s mother Hardat Kaur (58)
Daljeet was the sole breadwinner for his family of five - mother Hardat Kaur (58), sister Harjeet (21), six-months pregnant wife Hardeep (22), and a year-old son Devender Singh. He shuttled between Mumbai and Manipur capital Imphal regularly to sell his ware.
His pregnant wife Hardeep Kaur (22) and year-old son Devender Singh had been waiting for him to return home in March. Pics/Prashant Waydande
“His business was not doing well here, so he went to Imphal on January 19, two days after his son’s first birthday. We had to borrow money for his train ticket,” said Hardat.
After the family marks the thirteenth day of Daljeet’s demise today, his mother and uncle Joginder Singh (58), who is from Imphal, would go east to receive the Rs 5-lakh compensation announced by the Myanmar government.
“My son was tortured and hacked. I don’t know who killed him and why. What did they gain by making my family suffer?” Hardat said. On February 10, Daljeet phoned his mother and promised to send her Rs 14,000.
Daljeet had also spoken to his wife. “He wanted me to register my name at the local hospital since I am pregnant. He also promised me that he’d return to Mumbai before Holi,” Harjeet said. Instead, they received the news of his death.
Daljeet’s uncle Joginder said, “The border between India and Myanmar is open from 8 am to 4 pm, and people can travel three kilometres on either side.
On February 11, Daljeet, along with five others, had been going to Myanmar for three days to sell their items at large margins. They’d make sure to return before 4 in the evening, because otherwise they could be arrested and put in jail for spying.”
But the fear of being judged a spy came true, Joginder said. The local police told the family that both Daljeet and Satvender might have wandered into a “militant camp”, where they could have been suspected of being Indian spies, he said.
“Usually, both the Indian and Myanmar security agencies, including the police, do not venture into such areas, and since our men did it accidentally, they were hacked to death,” he said.
Hardeep, the wife, said, “This is surely a case of mistaken identity. They had nothing to do with any security agency, nor were they spying on anyone. They were just traders.”
While a missing complaint was lodged on February 12 at Moreh police station in Manipur, the administration and police realised the fragility of the situation only after the local trade associations called for a three-day bandh and severed crores worth of daily trade between the two countries. But the public outrage couldn’t prevent what was to happen.
Nine days later, two charred and mutilated bodies, believed to be of Daljeet’s and his companion Satvender’s, were found in a deserted area near border pillar no 62 on the Indian side, in Jangnompahi village, which falls under Moreh police station.
“Unlike with other neighbour countries, India’s border with Myanmar is not fenced but open, and the Border Security Force (BSF) check posts guard it every 2-5 kilometres. Those involved in the murder could easily have infiltrated and dumped the bodies after killing them in Myanmar,” Joginder said. The bodies were cremated in Imphal.
Horror before slaying
The gruesome condition of the bodies indicate that they were thought to be spies and tortured. Both bodies had multiple wounds. Their mouths were gagged with a cloth. Daljeet’s left hand was chopped off at the wrist; the remaining part is missing. The body was burnt using an inflammable material. Satvender Singh’s skull had been severed off at the back. He had multiple stab wounds, with rags of cloth stuffed in his mouth.
Official version of events
On February 15, in a two-page note to the district chairman of Myanmar, the general secretary of the Border Trade and Chamber of Commerce, Moreh, Manipur, Surinder Singh Patheja, narrated the incident:
Around 8 am, six men crossed the border to go to Tamu, Myanmar from gate no 2.
They had each obtained the entry ticket of Rs 10 and deposited ID cards (Myanmar side). They divided themselves into groups of two and took a local taxi between Namphalong Market and Tamu.
Around 10.58 am, four of them returned to the border but Daljeet and Satvender were not to be seen.
Around 11 am, Jitender Singh (one of the four other men) tried Satvender Singh’s phone number, and his phone was answered by someone suspected to be a local Myanmar, and he said, ‘We liked the goods on sale and if they could come to the same place again, we’d purchase all the items’.
The phone number was then switched off. (Following this, the traders went on a three-day bandh to mark their protest. On February 20, the mutilated bodies were found.)
No DNA ID
Notably, no DNA tests were done to identify the deceased. Forensic doctors at JNIMS Hospital, Imphal, where the postmortem was done, told the relatives that the bodies, which had been sustained 80 per cent burns, would be very difficult to identify.
Joginder Singh said Daljeet was identified by his height - around 5.8 feet - and the half-burnt T-shirt stuck to the body. Also, both bodies had long hair, kada and other identifications of the Sikh community.
Did you know
Myanmar, the only Southeast Asian country which shares a 1,000-mile-long border with India, serves as its gateway to the other 10-member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
>> Jan 19: Daljeet goes to Imphal for business at Myanmar border
>> Feb 11: He goes across, but doesn’t return before 4 pm, when border gates close
>> Feb 12: A missing complaint is lodged
>> Feb 20: His mutilated body is found
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