Assam: Security Personnel Kill an Innocent Person by Firing Indiscriminately at a Market Place in Barak Valley
Waliullah Ahmed Laskar
Personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), a para-military force of the government of India deployed heavily in North Eastern states to provide aid to the state governments in maintaining public order, killed an innocent person on 23 May 2010 by firing without warning and indiscriminately at Panchaboti (known also as Jamalpar), a small market place within the area of Dholai Police Station (PS) in the district of Cachar, Assam, while trying to arrest two other persons reportedly acting on a tip-off. No investigation into the killing is ordered. Police, instead, registered a case against the deceased person incorporating his name in the First Information Report (FIR) filed against the two arrestees. There are fears that post mortem report can also be tempered. Impunity for such frequent extra-judicial killings is taken for granted in this part of India.
After receiving information the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), a human rights organisation based in Assam, formed a team for finding facts about the incidents. The team visited Bidruhipar, the village where the deceased lived which falls under Sonai PS in Cachar (Assam), spoken with his wife, children, brothers, other relatives and fellow villagers. The team also visited Panchaboti, where the incident occurred and other related areas. They spoke to some eye witnesses and local police officers. The account given here is based on the facts gathered in this way by the BHRPC.
Panchaboti is like a small market place where there are 19/20 shops of various kinds and people from the adjacent villages come for buying or selling household things and for other related purposes. A gathering of 40/50 persons are normally found there. The deceased Iskandar Ali Barbhuiya (aged about 42, son of late Abdul Matlib Barbhuiya) lived at a nearby village Bidruhipar (about 4 km away to the north eastern direction from Panchaboti separated by the river Sonai) under the Sonai PS. He was a small businessman primarily dealing with betel nuts. He would buy row betel nuts from markets and small village firms and sell them after processing. He was the sole earning member of a family of 6 comprising of his wife Monijun Nesa (aged about 38), son Rajib Hussain Barbhuiya (aged about 13) and daughters Jasmin Begum Barbhuiya (aged about 11), Yasmin Begum Barbhuiya (aged about 7) and Najmin Begum Barbhuiya (aged about 4). According to the villagers and the police officials, he was a peace loving person never involved in any crime or immoral acts and he had nothing against him in the police record.
At about 11 pm on the fateful day of 23 May he left his house telling his wife that he was going to the Panchaboti area to collect betel nuts which he would keep at the house of a friend for he intended to visit his sister Champarun Nesa at Krishnapur, Amraghat, though he expressed doubts that he would get time for the visit. He asked his wife not to worry if he did not return that day.
The persons who were present at the time of shooting by the CRPF at Panchaboti state that they heard and saw a group of 11/12 CRPF personnel from A147 Battalion led by Mr Muatoshi Dubichu, Deputy Inspector of Police and in-charge of Shachinpur Camp (Shachinpur comes under Dholai PS), who came there sometime ago, suddenly started firing indiscriminately at about 4.30 pm and people ran helter-skelter in panic. Most of them entered nearby shops and houses and closed the doors. Some of them saw Iskandar running over a small field towards the river Sonai, a tributary of the river Barak. He jumped into the river while CRPF were shooting at him. There was absolutely no provocation of any kind for the CRPF to open fire. The witnesses say that CRPF did not warn the people by any means before starting firing. It was not known at that time what happened to Iskandar. But the CRPF arrested Moniruddin Barbhuiya (aged about 32, son of Abdul Majid Barbhuiya of village Bidruhipar, PS Sonai, Cachar, Assam) and Abdul Khalik (aged about 25, son of Siraj Uddin of village Sundari Part-II, PS Sonai, Cachar, Assam) for whose arrest they came.
The CRPF claimed that they were on a routine patrolling at that time and they observed suspicious behaviour on the part of Moniruddin, Abdul Khalik and Iskandar. They challenged them and when the suspects started running away they opened fire and shot 7 rounds at them. As a result they succeeded in arresting two persons while another (meaning the deceased Iskandar) ran away. They did not know what happened to the later. But they found a country made 9 mm pistol and four pieces of bullets with Moniruddin. According to the CRPF, they are ordinary criminals and did not belong to any organisation. The CRPF handed over the two arrestees to the Palonghat police out post under Dholai PS at about 9 pm that day. Dholai police registered a case against Moniruddin, Abdul Khalik and another (meaning Iskandar but without naming) (vide Dholai PS Case No. 99/2010 dated 23 May 2010) under section 47 of the Arms Act, 1959. On 24 May the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Dholai PS produced the accused before a magistrate praying for police custody for them which was granted for 7 days. Then they were sent to the judicial custody and at the time of writing this report they are still in jail.
According to the police sources, Moniruddin stated that he is a labourer and worked in Mizoram for a few months. One day in Mizoram when he went to a river to bath there he found a pistol lying there. He picked it up and was trying to sell it. Iskandar is nothing to do with them.
When in the night on 23 May Iskandar did not return home his wife Monijun was not worried and she thought that he had gone to his sister’s house at Krishnapur as she was told. The next day (24 May) Badrul Mia, a neighbour, asked Monijun if she was aware of an incident of firing at Panchaboti the day before where her husband went and whether he returned home or not. She became worried and contacted her sister-in-law at Krishnapur over the phone who told that Moniruddin did not visit her. Then she contacted each and every relatives of her husband but everybody expressed ignorance about the whereabouts of Iskandar. She along with her sister-in-law Sitarun Nesa went to the Sonai PS on 25 May and informed the police in writing that her husband was missing since the day before. It was entered in the General diary of the PS vide GD Entry 601 dated 25 May 2010.
At about 1 pm on 26 May some people of village Sundari Part-II (situated at a distance of about 2 km from Panchaboti) saw a dead body adrift in the river Sonai and informed Kachudaram police out post under Sonai PS. Police, first from the out post and then from the PS, came at about 3 pm and send the body to the Silchar Medical College and Hospital, Silchar for autopsy. At about 11 pm on 27 May the police handed over the body to Monijun. His relatives and fellow villagers performed the last rites at about 2.30 pm.
The persons who performed the pre-funeral ritual bathing of the body state that they saw two holes caused by bullets on the body; one on the waist and the other on the left side of the neck. Report of the autopsy has not been yet provided to the family. Monijun and other villagers fear that perhaps they want to change the report and that is why they are not giving it to her. The BHRPC is trying to access the report.
The local people did not believe the CRPF story. They say that it is possible that Moniruddin and Abdul Khalik were trying to sell the pistol. Probably they fixed the place and time for transaction with the purported buyer to complete the sale at Panchaboti on 23 May. According to them, it is not a case of routine patrol as the CRPF claim but it is probable that the CRPF somehow came to know of the transaction and accordingly they came to nab them red handed. But lack of professionalism and respect for the rights of the general citizens provoked them to open fire when they saw the suspects and it claimed an innocent life in the form of Iskandar. They emphatically say that Iskandar had nothing whatsoever to do with Moniruddin and his activities. He is the victim of carelessness of the security forces for the lives of innocent people. The story which is being told by the CRPF accusing Iskandar of being a partner or accomplice or involved with any other way with Moniruddin or his pistol is a typical attempt of covering up their guilt of killing him and it is gross injustice to the unfortunate soul of the deceased and his wife and children to stigmatise them in this way.
Mr. Kutub Ahmed Mazumder, a member of Assam Legislative Assembly representing the Sonai Constituency also told the BHRPC that he knew Iskandar personally and he is a very good person. He visited the widow on 30 May.
Hundreds of people of the neighbouring villages gathered on 28 May at Hatikhal, a convenient meeting place for the people living at neighbouring villages, and held a condolence meeting which was presided over by Nazrul Islam Ahmed, vice president of Sonai Anchalik Panchayat (Anchalik Panchayat is the middle layer of the three layer local government system consisting of Gaon Panchayat, Anchalik Panchayat and Zila Parishad) where resolutions passed; 1.Condemning the killing of Iskandar terming it as an intentional murder of a law-abiding and peace loving citizen by power fuddled unscrupulous security forces, 2. Condoling the family for their loss, and 3. Demanding compensation and prosecution of the responsible CRPF personnel.
Monijun filed a complaint before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Cachar on 29 May praying for directing the police for proper investigation of the murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The complaint was forwarded to the Sonai PS and was registered as an FIR vide Sonai PS Case No. 126/10 dated 4 May 2010.
The BHRPC also wrote to the authorities including the president, prime minister of India and the chairpersons of the National Human Rights Commission.