Assam Encounter: Whose Blood Was Spilled?
Representational image. | Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Guwahati: No matter how much the state government and police try to justify encounter deaths in Assam in recent times, especially in the past one year and nine months, such incidents have time and again raised questions and apprehensions among common citizens. The recent incident in Udalguri district has amplified such concerns across the state. As a result, the Assam Chief Minister had to direct the DGP (director-general of police) to initiate a CID enquiry into it on February 27.
The incident is related to the killing of a person who the police declared as a “wanted criminal”. Later, the deceased person was said to be someone different.
Let us take a quick look at the chronology of the events that finally led the Chief Minister to declare a probe.
CHRONOLOGY OF THE EVENTS
On February 24, the local media flashed the news of one more encounter case where the police claimed that Kenaram Basumatary, who was killed in the incident at Dhansirikhuti Daifang Village under Rowta police station of Udalguri district, was a “wanted criminal”. It was like any other encounter case, at least for the police. But, the next day, the entire episode took a different turn. On February 25, a family from a different village and different district claimed that the person who had died in the encounter was not Kenaram Basumatary, but Dimbeswar Muchahary alias Gobla. Muchahary’s wife spoke to several local media outlets, claiming that the deceased was her husband.
The police version says that on the day of the encounter, a police team was attacked by two riders on a motorcycle without a number plate. One of them opened fire at the police and in retaliation the police counter-fired. One of the persons died while the other rider escaped. Police claimed that the deceased was Kenaram Basumatary.
Notably, Muchahary’s family lives in Jengrengpara village of Baksa district, adjoining Udaulguri. As per local media coverage, Muchahary’s wife claimed that a day or two before the encounter took place, Basumatary called Muchahary, as they planned to go together to attend a marriage ceremony. Muchahary went with him and later, when his wife tried to call him, his mobile was switched off. She said she got worried when the news of Basumatary being shot down by police flashed in the media. After seeing the face of the dead body (probably on some TV channel), she claimed that it was not Basumatary but her husband.
The Assam Police might have thought that the incident would pass off like any other encounter and things would get normalised soon. But, Muchahary’swife’s statements put them in a fix. The dead body of the person who was killed in the encounter (who police claimed was Basumatary) was handed over to his family at Natun Panbari village under Orang police station at night. The mother of Basumatary, after hearing Muchahary’s wife’s statement on TV, said she could not see the dead body properly (as it was night) and after the police pressured her, the dead body was buried in their backyard.
However, Muchahary’s wife stood her ground and demanded that the dead body be exhumed and identification be allowed. On February 27, after widespread outrage over the ‘mistaken identity’ and ‘fake encounter’, the body was exhumed in the presence of a magistrate. Muchahary’s family then identified his body.
It is after all this that the Chief Minister sought an enquiry into the matter by the CID. The police statement says that DNA profiling is being done to verify claims about the body.
An Assamese Daily report about an exhumed body, who police claimed to be killed in an encounter and was later challenged by another family.
WHO ACTUALLY DIED?
After following the chronology of events, none can say with certainty who the person killed in the so-called encounter by police was. But the incident has raised several vital questions —was it not gross failure on the part of the police? Do the police have any right to carry on such activities? Did the police actually know who they wanted to catch? How will they be punished?
It is worth mentioning here that AHRC (Assam Human Rights Commission) had earlier fined two policemen Rs 7 lakh each for their involvement in wrongly killing a theft accused person in an exchange of fire.
Before the exhumation, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told the media that Muchahary was also involved in several crimes, and that even he was not innocent. The police also referred to a case registered at Rangia police station earlier where Muchahary was arrested. These two statements clearly give out the message that whatever be the case, a person was killed and he was not innocent!
What these statements also imply is that even if the police apprehends or kills someone other than the “most wanted”, it should be fine and acceptable.
Initially, the police clearly said that the one who died was Kenaram Basumatary and he got killed after the police foiled a robbery planned by him. This clearly suggests that the police were after Basumatary.
Another question being raised is that probably the police team actually did not know who exactly Basumatary was. Had they known, they would not have declared that Kenaram Basumatary was killed in the encounter. (Notably, Kenaram was a surrendered cadre of the National Democratic Front Boroland, a disbanded organisation).
Police also claimed that Muchahary was involved in a series of armed robberies but his neighbors told some local media outlets that he was engaged in agricultural activities in the village.
Muchahary may have cases against him and Basumatary may be a dreaded criminal, but there are numerous anomalies that are being pointed out. The incident also raises questions over hundreds of encounters that have taken place in Assam since Sarma became CM of the BJP-led government in May 2021.
Questioning the encounters, Bibek Das of CPI (ML) told NewsClick over phone: “The encounters are unabated in Assam without any strict investigation. This will lead to a situation where people will have to spend days and nights in fear. If continued, this may bring worse situations than the ‘secret killings’ (guptohotya) during the time of Prafulla Mahanta (former CM). That time it was secret killing, now it may be open killing.”
He questioned: “Can anyone guarantee that encounter will not be a means of controlling Opposition leaders, prominent political leaders, critics etc.?”
It may be noted that a PIL was filed in the Gauhati High Court by one Arif Jwadder seeking details of the encounters in Assam since May 2021. This PIL had been disposed of in the HC recently. NewsClick wrote in detail about the PIL in a previous report, which can be found here.
On the Udalguri incident also, Jwadder criticised the process of encounter. “This is not the first fake encounter. In fact, all the encounters that have taken place since May 2021 are fake. In this case, it cannot be claimed to be merely a case of mistaken identity. When Mr Dimbeshwar was killed thinking him as someone else, then from where did Mr Dimbeshwar get the gun? It clearly shows that police planted the gun after the killing”, he alleged.
He further alleged that the “police claimed that the victim opened fire and in retaliation the police had to shoot him. This statement does not hold any water now after this fact has come out. It means the police lied. This pattern of lies and planting a story against the victim has been seen in all the cases of police encounter since May 2021”.
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