Since May this year, soon after BJP’s Himanta Biswa Sarma took over as chief minister of Assam, at least 31 men have been killed while in police custody or in alleged shootouts with the police.
According to a recently published report by Scroll, the police version of the custodial deaths follows a familiar script in almost every case: the dead man was shot as he tried to snatch service weapons or was trying to escape custody.
Government data shows 28 people were killed by police from May till the end of November. Two more people, died in police custody and another person died in a police shootout in December, Scroll reported.
Of the 28 people who featured in the Assam Police’s list, according to a state’s senior police staff, four were “drug peddlers,” two were protesting against government eviction drives, 11 were “extremists,” and another 11 were “criminals.”
According to Scroll, the most killed belonged to ethnic or religious minorities in Assam.
Out of the 30 people identified, 14 were Muslims.
One among those is 12-year-old Sheikh Farid who was killed in police firing during a forced eviction drive in the Sipajhar area on 23 September this year. 32-year-old Moinul Haque was also killed in police’s open firing on the same day.
A 72-second video of photographer Bijoy Baniya jumping on the body of one of the Muslims shot by the police went viral, triggering outrage across the nation.
10 were from Bodo, Dimasa or Kuki – tribal communities in the state that have seen armed movements for self-determination and the communities that were reportedly facing police action for being ‘extremists’.
Regarding the Assam Police data of injuries in police shootings, at least 55 people were injured in police shootings between May 10 and December 10, and of these, at least 30 are Muslims.
Three months after BJP’s Himanta Biswa Sarma took over as chief minister of Assam, Arif Jwadder, a lawyer from Assam had moved the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeking an inquiry into all extrajudicial killings that have taken place in the state since May.
“Assam police is on (an) encounter spree! Since the new government took office in the state there have been fake encounters wherein alleged small-time criminals are being shot and the reason cited for such encounters are that the alleged criminals tried to flee from the police custody (by) snatching pistols,” read the email compliant by Arif to the commission’s chairperson.
Arif also had referred to Assam chief minister Sarma’s controversial remark at a conference of officers-in-charge of all police stations in the state “that police should shoot at alleged criminals in the legs, which is permitted by law.”
“There is criticism of policemen shooting accused/criminals who tried to flee or harm others in the recent past. Law allows to shoot them in the leg. If this is the pattern, let it remain so to send the right message,” Sarma had said.
Read the detailed story on police killings in Assam here.