Thursday, 27 January 2011

Cop ‘attempts to rape’ a college girl in Assam

Published at on 26 January 2011 - 11:21am

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Guwahati: In another shameful incident in India’s North-Eastern state of Assam, a police officer has allegedly attempted to rape a 24-year-old Muslim college girl at her home under Borkhola police station in the Cachar district and when her mother came in to save her daughter the policeman mercilessly beat up the 60-year-old widow. Later the girl was threatened of dire consequences if she complained to the police about the incident.

On the pretext of searching for an alleged criminal, the policeman broke into the house and attempted to rape the girl. When her mother protested and tried to save her daughter, the cop beat the old lady seriously injuring her. When the victims have made complaints to the higher officials, they have been threatened with dire consequences. There is risk of impunity and concern for the safety and wellbeing of the victims.

According to information received by Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), Ms Zohra Begum (name changed), aged about 24 years, of a village under Borkhola Police Station in Cachar district, was sleeping at her home at night on 15th Dec. 2010 as usual. She lives with her mother since her father died. At about 12 o’ clock at mid-night, she heard someone knocking at the door vehemently. The girl woke up and asked the knockers for their identification and purpose. They told her that they were police officers and wanted to ask her about a fugitive. She replied them that she was unaware of him and his whereabouts. The raiding police team led by Sub-Inspector Mr. Ibrahim Khalilullah Kabir, officer-in-charge of Bhangarpar Police Outpost of Barkhola police station claimed that he had information that the criminal was hiding in this house and he demanded the girl to open the door. When she denied they forced their entry into the house. The victims stated that the police officer was accompanied by some male constables. No one from the locality or a female constable was with him.

The police officer asked Begum a few questions about the absconding criminal. Then suddenly he grabbed her by the hand and applied force upon her to rape her. At the noise of the scuffle and Begum’s scream, her mother woke up and she herself started screaming. She also tried to protect her daughter by placing herself between her and the invading officer. The police team got furious at the resistance and started beating and kicking both mother and daughter. The old lady could not endure the blows. She vomited profusely and then fainted.

Hearing the clamour, the neighbours started gathering. When the police officer saw the people coming, he fled way with his team.

The neighbours called an emergency medical service (at 108, a free medical service provided by the government) and the ambulance took them to the Silchar Medical College and Hospital, where they were given treatment. The condition of the old lady was serious. Later she was released from the hospital but is still receiving treatment at her home.

The young college girl lodged a written complaint to the district Superintendent of Police (SP) on 18th Dec. 2010. Before she made the complaint an unidentified person had made a call to her mobile phone on 17th Dec. and threatened her with grave consequences if she proceeded against the police officer. On 18th Dec. another person called her and threatened her likewise. The person was speaking in Assamese. So far, the SP has taken no actions on the complaint of the victim girl.

(The writer is Freelance Reporter and Human Rights Defender associated with Barak Human Rights Protection Committee)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Woman forced to quit job and denied justice after sexual harassment

Woman forced to quit job and denied justice after sexual harassment

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) published a report on the case of Ms. Lara (name changed to protect identity), a victim of sexual harassment from Assam state. It is reported that the victim had to resign from her job since her superior colleagues tried to sexually molest her. On the day of her resignation, the suspected officers tried to rape the victim at their office. The police, despite having registered a case against the suspects are now demanding the victim to forgive the suspects and settle the case.

It is reported that on 2 December 2010 at about 2.30pm, Lara's two senior colleagues, Mr. Sandip Sarkar and Mr. Rajeeb Nath, assaulted, molested and attempted to rape Lara at the office of her company. Lara worked as an office assistant and computer operator at Rose Valley Chain Marketing System Ltd., first at Aizwal Branch in Mizoram state and subsequently at Bhaga Branch in Assam state in India. The incident happened at the regional office of the company, where she was asked to report by her seniors. The company where Lara was employed is a subsidiary of Rose Valley Group with Registered Head Office at RGM-25/3010, Raghunathpur, VIP Road, Kolkata - 700059, West Bengal.

Sarkar is the Assistant Regional Manager at the regional office at Silchar, Assam state. Sarkar called Lara on 18 November 2009 at about 9pm on her mobile telephone and demanded sexual favours from Lara. Lara refused and requested Sarkar not to use such language with her in the future. Due to this, Lara alleges that Sarkar deliberately transferred her from her hometown Aizawl, Mizoram state to an office in Bhaga which is nearer to the regional office (about 45 Kilometres from Silchar).

Lara alleges that Sarkar then repeatedly called her and continued using unsolicited and sexually implicit language in the conversations, despite Lara's request to stop it. Lara claims that Sarkar also tried requesting Lara's colleague, Ms. Dolly (name changed), to convince Lara to pay heed to Sarkar's unsolicited demands. Both Lara and Dolly being subordinate staff were helpless and worse, it was impossible for them to avoid Sarkar's calls.

On one occasion Sarkar asked Lara and Dolly to come at Silchar regional office at 4pm. Lara and Dolly informed Sarkar that the last bus from Silchar to Bhaga stops at 4pm, so it would be impossible for them to return. Sarkar then offered Lara and Dolly to stay at a hotel at Silchar. However, they refused to travel to Silchar on that occasion.

Both Lara and Dolly complained to the Senior Marketing Officer Mr. Mrinal Kanti Dutta about the harassment to which Sarkar subjected them. Dutta enquired into the matter. Instead of taking action against Sarkar, Dutta and the vigilance officer of the company requested Lara and Dolly to forgive Sarkar for the sake of the company’s name and goodwill.

Lara alleges that due to the complaint, Sarkar withheld her salary increment by misusing his senior position in the company. It is alleged that soon another senior colleague, Mr. Rajeeb Nath, became Sarkar's accomplice in his misadventures against Lara. Nath contacted Lara and informed her that her pending salary increment would be released only if Lara agreed to Sarkar's unsolicited requests for sexual gratification. Nath also informed Lara that she would be posted to her hometown Aizawl branch should she comply. Lara once again refused to yield to the demands. Sarkar and Nath continued harassing Lara regularly over the mobile telephone continuously then on.

The situation gradually became so unbearable to Lara that she decided to resign. Lara submitted her resignation letter on 2 November 2010 to Mr. Jyoti Prasad Mohan, the Regional Manager, requesting the company to relieve her from the job on 30 November 2010. The same day, Lara went to the regional office at Silchar for the final settlement of her salary and other dues including the amount due to her from the Employees' Provident Fund. Lara reached the regional office at Silchar by noon and found the Regional Manager not at the office.

Sarkar was in-charge of the regional office in the absence of the Regional Manager. It is alleged that Sarkar intentionally kept Lara waiting outside his cabin until 2.30pm. When Lara entered the cabin and took a seat, Sarkar called Nath over his extension to visit him. Nath came to the room immediately. Thereafter, both Sarkar and Nath asked Lara to stay in a hotel and have sex with them. They also told Lara that all her problems would be resolved if she obliged.

Lara sternly rejected the proposal and stood up from the chair. Suddenly, both Sarkar and Nath jumped over Lara and assaulted her physically. Both tried to overpower Lara and rape her then and there. Lara gathered strength and started shouting for help. Other colleagues in the office assembled near the room after hearing Lara shouting for help. However, Sarkar and Nath managed to escape from the office. Lara alleges that Sarkar was vigorously trying to remove her shirt. While they escaped, Sarkar snatched Lara's gold chain that she was wearing. In the attempt to snatch the chain, Sarkar tore off Lara's shirt. Lara alleges that the chain is worth Rs. 15,000.00.

Immediately after the incident, Lara filed a complaint at the Vairangte Police Station in Kolasib district, Mizoram state. The officer-in-charge (OC) forwarded the complaint to the Silchar Sadar Police Station on 3 December 2010. It was reported that on 4 December 2010 the OC of Silchar Sadar Police Station registered a case, number 2254 under Sections 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman) and 427 (mischief causing damage) read with Section 34 (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) against Sarkar and Nath.

It is also reported that Mr. Puia, Sub-Inspector of police is the Investigating Officer (IO) in the case. Lara alleges that the IO did not show any interest in investigating the case. Instead, the IO made several calls to Lara from various telephones asking her whether she wanted to rejoin the company or would join any other work. The IO expressed his readiness to help Lara in either way. According to Lara, the IO made his last call from the mobile number +91-94352 95037 at 6.27pm on 18 January 2011.

Lara suspects that the police is under the influence of Sarkar and Nath, for which they are using their position in the company. Lara alleges that the case would never be investigated and even today the police have failed to properly record her statement or to question other witnesses to the incident. Lara also fears that she will receive no further protection from her assailants, should they try to hurt her further or threaten her.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Ikbal Hussain: Another victim of extrajudicial execution in Assam

Ikbal Hussain: Another victim of extrajudicial execution in Assam

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

The latest civilian victim of extrajudicial execution in the northeast Indian state of Assam is Ikbal Hussain Laskar – who was tortured to death by army men on October 9, 2010. The state had counted more than 150 extrajudicial civilian deaths in 2009.

According to the report published by Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), a Barak valley based human rights organization of Assam, soldiers of Indian Army illegally raided a family at midnight and took Ikbal forcefully after torturing him severely and then torture continued resulting in his death. Ikbal Hussain Laskar, 42, belonged to the village of Chiparsangan, Part – III, under Algapur Police Station of Hailakandi district, Assam. He was tortured to death on 9 October, 2010 allegedly by the Army personnel belonging to 117/36 Artillery Field Regiment/ DTY COB, Manipur, Hailakandi, Assam.

Commenting on the incident human rights defender Ms. Anjuman Ara Begum[i] states that according to Home Ministry’s annual report in 2009, 368 people, including 152 civilians, were killed in 424 incidents in Assam. Civilian death is the slow intensity war in north east India has wide prevalence. Extrajudicial execution is arbitrary deprivation of life by denying right to life and right to a fair trial. It is a kind of capital punishment by the state authorities without the Court’s verdict after a fair trial. Such executions are witnesses in north east India especially Assam and Manipur for decades under the umbrella Act called the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. Instances of extra judicial executions in the state of Assam and Mnaipur are going on without much visible remedy.

According to the field study conducted by BHRPC the sequence leading to the death of Ikbal indicates extrajudicial execution. The incident narrated by BHRPC is that on 9 October, 2010 at around 3:30 am when Ikbal was sleeping in his residence with his family members including his wife and 3 daughters. Suddenly he woke up hearing the sounds of someone calling him and knocking at the gate of his house. The caller identified as police officer and said that he wanted to ask something to Ikbal. Ikbal came out and opened the gate of his verandah. Instead of asking any questions, the visitor identifying as police caught him by the hand and dragged him toward the north side of the building where 5 other soldiers in uniforms started beating and kicking him without any rhyme and reason. Ikbal was stunned with these sudden unexpected turn of the event and it took some time for him to realize the situation. He started crying and screaming in despair. Family members also became shocked at the developments and urged the soldiers in uniform to stop beating Ikbal. Then the family members realized that their house is cordoned off by about fifteen soldiers. Neighbors started rushing to the spot but were denied entry by gun men who were posted at the entrance.

The soldiers tortured Ikbal severely and then forced him to wash his face and change dress. Then they forcefully boarded him in a vehicle that they brought and continued to beat him.

Ikbal’s wife Parul Begum Laskar, aged about 38, daughters Adiba Ikbal Laskar (also known as Salmi) (19), Tahmima Ikbal Laskar aka Sammi (14) and Ajuba Ikbal Laskar aka Simi (9) informed members of BHRPC that when they were beseeching the army to stop the infliction of brutalities on Ikbal they were shown guns and asked to keep silence. The family also informed BHRPC that the army forced them to put their signature on a piece of paper where something was written but were not allowed to read the contents. They were also warned not to approach the police or file any complaint, otherwise they will have to face dire consequences, the raiding army told them. The army personnel took away two mobile sets, of which one was having a SIM card with phone No. +919707142785, one torch light and one mobile charger. The army gave them two mobile numbers 09508548935 and 094013210458 for contact.

The incident of Ikbal’s illegal detention was witnessed by several family members including Labib Ahmed Laskar (38), brother of Ikbal. He informed the BHRPC that when he rushed toward his brother’s house from his adjacent house at midnight hearing hue and cry, he was stopped at gun point by the army. He saw his brother was being beaten by the army from a distance of 15 feet. He saw his brother was severely injured; as a result, he was rendered unable even to walk toward the army vehicle. The Army came with two vehicles (TATA Sumo).

When army took away Ikbal, the villagers tried to contact the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Algapur Police Station Mr. Baktar Uddin over the phone. The OC informed them that he was ignorant about the operation. Then the family members approached the former Minister of Assam Mr. Shahidul Alom Choudhury. Mr. Choudhury then called the army of Manipur camp at around 7am. The army personnel told him that they had arrested Ikbal on wrong information and that he would be released soon. He then again called the army at around 12 noon on that day i.e, 9 October and got the same reply.

Several individuals tried to help the family. Mr. Anwar Uddin Barlaskar, a retired district judge, Mr. Labib and Mr. Sabib met the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Hailakandi at around 8:30am on behalf of the victim family and the villagers. The SP informed about the operation assuring follow up. The SP also told them a meeting of Army officers, district police and district administration was held the previous day where it was made sure that there would be no operation without any prior information to the police They then met the District Magistrate of Hailakandi at his residence. He also expressed his ignorance about the operation and he committed that he would find out the victim. At around 1pm some army personnel came to the victim’s house and asked for any earlier medical records of the victim related to heart or abdomen. But there were no such records. At that time they informed that the victim is at Silchar Medical College and Hosptial, Silchar and his health was deteriorating. The victim’s family then went to the SMCH and found him dead at 3pm.

With the death of an innocent civilian like Ikbal, local people started protesting it and thousands of people gathered at Chiparsangan area and blocked the road. The SP Mr. Hemanta Bhattacharya and the DM Mr. Tapan Chandra Goswami came at Chiparsangan and assured of a judicial enquiry including the post mortem examination would be conducted at day time and it would also be video recorded. At these promises the public lifted the blockade. The next day, 10th October, at about 5:30 pm, after the post mortem was held, the dead body was handed over to the family.

The BHRPC members also met Mr. Abdul Basit Choudhury, OC, Algapur PS (reinstated) at the house of the victim and collected information about the case. The OC informed that a case was filed by the victim’s wife Parul Laskar which was registered as Algapur PS case no.243/10 dated 09/10/10 under sections 302, 365 and 310 of the Indian Penal Code, 1861 and another case was also filed by Lieutenant Naveen Kumar which was registered as Algapur PS case no. 244/10 dated 09/10/10 under sections 489b and 489c, IPC. The OC was made the investigating officer of the case that was registered regarding the incident. He told that a home guard named Abdul Shukkur Barbhuiya from Kathlichera PS accompanied the army and he is the main witness of the incident. The OC also told that the army took the victim to the army camp, then to a primary hospital and then to the S. K. Roy Civil Hospital of Hailakandi and ultimately to the SMC Hospital where he was declared dead. The latter described that the accused Ikbal was found to keep some fake currencies and that the complainant had taken him to the said hospitals and there was nothing mentioned about the death.

Mrs. Parul Laskar (38), wife of Ikbal is a social activist and she is the counselor of the family counseling centre run by Assam Enviro-Legal Protection Society. Lt. Ikbal Hussain Laskar was one of the 7 brothers, very loving and adorable by the family members who share a joint family. Ikbal and Labib have recently constructed a new house as joint family property but his untimely brutal murder deprived him from enjoying his family life in the newly constructed house.

[i] This author of the report thanks Ms Anjuman Ara Begum and Barak Human Rights Protection Committee for their help.

Car driver Fakhrul Islam ‘got killed by Assam police’ for speeding

Car driver Fakhrul Islam ‘got killed by Assam police’ for speeding

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

The local police in Hailakandi district of Indian state Assam, has beaten to death a driver because he refused to stop his vehicle when ordered by the police. The police officers, led by the District Superintendent of Police, Mr. Maheshchand Sharma, chased the victim, Mr. Fakhrul Islam Mazumder, in their vehicle for a while before apprehending him. When Fakhrul stopped his vehicle, the police pulled him out, assaulted him with rifle butts and sticks until he was unable to move and threw him into a nearby lake. It is not known whether Fakhrul died of drowning or from the assault. The entire incident happened in full public view.

The Incident

According to the report of Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), the incident happened on 13 September at about 8 pm on National Highway 154 near Bakrihaor.

The deceased, Fakhrul, aged about 26 years, son of Muzammil Ai Mazumder of Ward number 11, Hailakandi Town, Assam was coming from Silchar to Hailakandi driving a car with vehicle identification number AS-11C-9494 along National Highway 154. When he reached Bakrihaor, he was signalled to stop his car to give way for a convoy of police vehicles in which Mr. Maheshchand Sharma, the District Superintendent of Police was travelling.

After the Encounter

The police vehicles were coming from the opposite direction in which the victim was travelling. It is common in India for the police to stop vehicles on the street for the police to travel at high speeds without traffic blocks, even if it is not an emergency. Drivers usually comply fearing abuse, assault and fabricated traffic offences charged upon them. However, Fakhrul refused to stop his car and drove past the police vehicle convoy, an act that apparently infuriated the police officers.

It is reported that the police officers chased Fakhrul's car for a short distance and soon intercepted his vehicle. According to eyewitnesses, Mr. Akram Uddin Laskar, Mr. Selim Uddin, and Mr. Bahar Uddin and many other people from the locality, the police then forced Fakhrul to come out of the car. When he came out of the vehicle, the police started beating Fakhrul severely with rifle butts and sticks. Five to six police officers took turns to assault Fakhrul. When they stopped for a minute, Fakhrul gathering strength, tried to run away.
The officers chased Fakhrul on foot for a short distance and stopped him again and continued assaulting him. This time, however, they did not stop until they threw Fakhrul into the Bakrihaor Lake, which is by the roadside. The officers then left the scene. The incident caused traffic jam for a while. No one dared to intervene in the police action however, as they were afraid of the police.

In the Aftermath

Fakhrul's body did not surface till 1 pm the next day. A large crowd gathered around the lake till the body was brought out from the water. Those gathered include Mr. Rahul Roy, Member of Assam State Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Algapur constituency, Mr. Selim Uddin, MLA and Mr. Shahidul Alom Choudhury, a former minister of the Assam state government.

The crowd soon started shouting slogans against the police and temporarily prevented the police from taking the body for autopsy. Fearing violence, the political leaders present at the scene guaranteed that they would ensure stern actions taken against the police officers responsible for the crime. They also guaranteed that the entire autopsy would be video recorded.

On 15 September, the Progressive Students' and Youth Front and the District Drivers' Association called for a general strike in protest of the murder. In response, the district administration ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident and ordered the Superintendent of Police to be on leave and stay away from office temporarily. In follow-up, a complaint was lodged at the Hailakandi Police Station against the police officer, with an expectation that a criminal case will be registered and an investigation undertaken.

However upon enquiry, it is learned that the police is trying to influence the investigation to absolve from their responsibility in committing the crime. It is also feared that the witnesses will be threatened by the police, and under intimidation, they would not depose in the inquiry.

Communal twist

The minority Muslim community dominates Hailakandi district, where the incident took place. The public protest that followed after the recovery of the victim's body demanded an investigation and stern actions against the police officers involved in the incident. Registering a case and conducting an investigation is a primary requisite under the Indian law in every case of unnatural death.

However, fundamentalist Hindu political parties like the Hindu Jagaran Manch (HJM) with support from the Baratiya Janatha Party (BJP) and its militant wing the Rashtirya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have brought in an unnecessary religious twist into the incident by coming out in support for their 'Hindu brother', none other than the perpetrator police officer, Mr. Maheshchand Sharma, offering him the support of the three political parties. According to them, the public anger is nothing more than an unnecessary rant against a Hindu police officer by the Muslims. This has divided the community along religious fault lines.

The HJM is accused of having masterminded the Malegaon bomb blasts of September 2006. 37 persons were killed and an estimated 148 persons injured in that incident.

The fact that a driver was murdered in open by the police officers and that the case must be investigated and the perpetrators punished no more appear to the issue that dominates the debate in Assam concerning the crime. The discussions on the question of murder by uniformed officers have fallen prey to the political trick played by the HJM, BJP and the RSS, where the question of murder is sidelined, and instead, the questions of religious affinities have sprang up. This is the very purpose of the public support orchestrated in favour of the accused police officer by these political parties.

By stirring up religious sentiments, for and against the officer, it is believed that the investigation of the case will be delayed or never completed. Already the District Magistrate has issued a prohibitory order under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, disallowing the public from gathering for any reason without the prior permission of the authorities and the police.

Efforts for Justice

The BHRPC documented the case and wrote to the authorities in India asking for a prompt investigation into the incident leading to speedy trial of those found culpable. It also sent report to some national and international human rights organisations including Hongkong based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which condemned the ‘killing of car driver Fakhrul Islam by Assam police for speeding’, and written to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment seeking an intervention in the case.