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.
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.
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.