How a peaceful Dinanagar was jolted out of sleep

One person now revered as a hero is driver Nanak Chand who steered his bus to safety amid gunfire

July 29, 2015 01:26 am | Updated November 16, 2021 05:22 pm IST - Dinanagar/Kotli:

Kamal Matharoo, whose car was hijacked by the terrorists before their attack, recovering at a hospital in near Dinanagar on Tuesday. — Photo: Prashant Nakwe

Kamal Matharoo, whose car was hijacked by the terrorists before their attack, recovering at a hospital in near Dinanagar on Tuesday. — Photo: Prashant Nakwe

The prelude played out near a small motorcycle shed before dawn. Before visiting terror on Dinanagar, three men in Army uniforms started putting their plan into action there at 5 a.m. on Monday.

By then, 56-year-old Kamal Singh Mattaroo had crossed the few steps from his house to his Maruti 800 for his daily trip to the wholesale vegetable market two kilometres away. Every morning, he buys supplies from the market and drops them off at his small dhaba, Seven Spices, on the road from Dinanagar to Pathankot. But this was like no other morning.

As Mattaroo was reversing his car, the three men accosted him. They asked him to get out of the car, but in a somewhat nervous defiance, he clutched the steering wheel tightly. The men shot him through the windscreen on both wrists and then shot another bullet through his left shoulder. Taking him for dead, they flung him from the car and drove it to the police station about half a kilometre down the road. What ensued was a 12-hour gun battle with police and paramilitary forces.

Around 5.30 a.m., C.S. Mattaroo, a retired insurance officer here, got an urgent call that his brother had been shot. “The first thing I thought was who would want to shoot him; he has no enemies,” he said.

Quickly donning his turban, Mattaroo rushed out of the house. His younger brother, Kamal Singh Mattaroo, had walked a few paces and was sitting on the road divider in front of their house.

Kamal and his two elder brothers live with their families in a large two-storey house.

“His hands were at an awkward angle and he still couldn’t comprehend that he had been shot. When he told me that the men who attacked him were wearing uniforms, I suddenly understood that these might be terrorists,” the elder Mattaroo said.

Kamal was first rushed to the nearby Bahri hospital and then to the Chouhan Medicity Trauma Centre in the nearby town of Kotli. He is currently admitted there, along with five other injured persons. Most of them were shot on the road, as the gunmen fired at random from Mattaroo’s car.

Family disturbed

Several senior leaders have visited the injured during the day, including senior Congress leader Amarinder Singh. The Mattaroo family is grateful for the support, but, as others in Dinanagar, are still deeply disturbed by the sudden attack on their peaceful town.

Around them, Dinanagar still bears the scars of the attack. Crowds still mill around the police station where, till late evening, police were defusing live grenades left behind by the gunmen.

“Most of us here still can’t believe it happened and why,” says Ashish Damodar, a youth who runs a tea shop near the police station. “The one thing we are thankful for is that the gunmen drove down the road firing early in the morning. If it was an hour later, there would have been a lot more people, including children.”

One person now revered as a hero here is Nanak Chand, a Punjab transport bus driver whose vehicle was fired upon by the gunmen en route to the station. Though three of his 65 passengers were injured by bullets, he held his nerve and kept driving. “But for him, we would be talking about a much bigger tragedy,” Damodar says.

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