Assam Police killed 51 people in 13 months, 22 were Muslims

Since May 2021, soon after BJP’s Himanta Biswa Sarma took over as chief minister of Assam, 161 incidents of police action took place across Assam resulting in the death of 51 people and injuries to 139 others, informed Gauhati High Court.

The state government said this in an affidavit as sought by the High Court which on Tuesday deferred the hearing of public interest litigation (PIL) related to the incidents till July 29, PTI news agency reported.

“A total of 161 numbers of cases have been registered in 31 districts of Assam with effect from May 2021 to 31.05.2022,” read the affidavit by home and political department joint secretary Animesh Talukdar.

It went on to say: “As per records, there have been 51 numbers of death and 139 numbers of injuries caused due to police action or during police custody since May 2021 toll 21.05.2022. These incidents pertain to 31 numbers of districts of the state.”

The most killed belonged to ethnic or religious minorities in Assam, Maktoob analyzed.

Out of the deceased people identified, at least 22 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 last 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.

Two months ago, two Muslim men Akbar Banjara and Salman Banjara, both residents of Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut city were killed in an alleged gunfight in Assam’s Kokrajhar district. The duo was killed in the police action just a week after their arrest.

At least four dozen Muslims were injured in the police actions.

Hasina Ahmed, an advocate in Gauhati while speaking to Maktoob on police killings in her state, shared the recent incidents of the custodial death of Safikul Islam and the police killing of Ashikul Islam. Safikul Islam was allegedly beaten to death by cops in the station premise, while Ashikhil Islam who was booked for allegedly inciting a mob to burn down the Batadrava police station in Assam’s Nagaon following the custodial death of Safikul, was run over by a police vehicle.

“Police claimed the boy (Ashikul Islam) was trying to jump out of the car and died in that attempt. This is unbelievable because the boy was young and the police had arms with them. It is extremely inhuman how they arrested a young boy in the middle of the night and didn’t take care of him,” Hasina said.

The two killings happened in May this year.

“They are targeting Muslims. Killings, forced evictions, whatever incident occurred were towards Muslims,” she said.

Mehnaz Hussain, a student at Jamia Millia Islamia from Assam said to Maktoob that state-centric violence has prevailed in the region for a while now.

“I grew up hearing about them and also, witnessing some. Recently, however, the target individual seems to be identified by their religion or tribe/community. In the name of encounters, is an entire state apparatus carrying out its repressive tasks,” Hussain said.

At least 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’.

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.

However, the family members of the killed said to Maktoob and other media outlets several times, that they were not delivered justice till now.

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. The Assam government, state DGP, law, and justice department, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and Assam Human Rights Commission have been named as respondents in the PIL filed by Jwadder.

The Assam government denied allegations by the petitioner of the PIL, Jwadder, that separate FIRs of each incident of police firing, leading to death, have not been registered.

The recent affidavit stated that in all cases FIRs have been lodged and investigations were made as per an order of the Supreme Court. It said that there are 32 incidents of death as well as four other incidents of “accidental death” of accused people while they were escaping from police custody. These cases have been investigated or are being investigated by officers from different police stations and those of different districts outside the jurisdiction of the superintendent of police concerned, the affidavit claimed.

“…there was no extra-judicial killing as alleged by the petitioner,” the affidavit said.

Filing the PIL on December 20, 2021, the petitioner claimed that more than 80 fake encounters between Assam Police and accused people have taken place since May last year when chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma took charge, resulting in 28 deaths and more than 48 injuries. According to Jwadder, the injured or dead persons were not militants, and it cannot be the case that all the accused could snatch a service revolver from a trained police officer.

Fidah M is a student of BA English Honours, Miranda House College, Delhi.