GUWAHATI, Assam — Two weeks after a violent episode during an eviction carried out by the Assam Government in which a teenager and a father of three children were shot dead, the family members of the victims reached a police station in Assam to lodge their complaints on Wednesday. Assam Police did name Maynal Haque, the father, and Shaikh Farid, the teenager in a general First Information Report (FIR) on September 26 which states that the duo died during the eviction-related violence in Dhalpur village in Darrang district of Assam.
On September 23, Haque was shot by armed police and kicked by a photographer several times in video footage from the same day that shocked the nation.
Officials at Sipajhar Police Station received two separate police complaints from the kin of the two victims on Wednesday (6 October) and later on Thursday (7 October), the police officials registered two separate FIRs against policemen and district administration officials invoking Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code.
In the police complaint, attached to the FIR, Maynal Haque’s family stated that deployed police personnel shot him and a photographer stomped on his body several times.
“After being notified with an eviction on the night before the incident, Maynal was moving his own belongings as well as others to another location. Without any reason, the deployed policemen started firing at the crowd that caused a bedlam. Seeing the sudden eruption of chaos, an agitated Haque came towards an area where the police were deployed. Instead of apprehending Haque by any other means, deployed police personnel shot him which led to his death. Further, a photographer employed by district administration stomped on an already injured Haque several times in the most inhuman way. The entire episode unfolded before Deputy Commissioner, the Darrang district Superintendent of Police and a Deputy Inspector General of Police who were present in the area,” it said.
Why did it take two weeks after the violence for the families to register their complaints?
Saddam Hussain, a lawyer and political activist hailing from Dhalpur, a cluster of riverine islands close to the north bank of Brahmaputra River, said that he himself was terrified about stepping inside the police station to file the complaints along with the families of the victims on Wednesday.
“There were several reasons for the delay in filing the complaint. But most importantly, it was fear. After witnessing the untimely deaths of their loved ones and the destruction of the homesteads because of the eviction process by the government, the families of the victims are terrified and terrorized to even step out of their village. In addition to the fear, the main approach to the village remains barricaded from where locals are not allowed to go out,” said Hussain.
For Maynal Haque, his younger cousin, Ainuddin filed the complaint while Amir Hussain, elder brother of the slain teenager, Shaikh Farid, represented the boy’s family. In both complaints, the victims’ families have accused the Assam police and Darrang district administration of conducting the evictions in an undemocratic way without allowing any time for the families to move out of the land.
While Maynal was busy helping a neighbour wrap up his evicted belongings and move, Shaikh was walking down the village road, when the incident happened according to the complaints. Ainuddin, Maynal’s cousin, stated a photographer stomped on his body several times which may have led to his death besides multiple bullet injuries from police rifles.
Farid’s family said he was walking on the village road to collect his Aadhar card from the local post office when he was suddenly hit by a bullet fired from a police personnel’s gun on his chest and died instantly.
Assam Police however in a general FIR on September 23 stated that Maynal Haque and Shaikh Farid were shot when a large crowd protesting the evictions became violent and started attacking police officials. The FIR said that Maynal was taken to a local dispensary by some health workers in Moluwa Ghat to Sipajhar Hospital where he was declared dead on arrival. The police state in the FIR that they learned about Farid’s death later.
They further added in the FIR that despite repeated warnings, a crowd attacked the policemen with sharp tools and sticks in which three policemen were grievously injured while six others sustained minor injuries. Police named a serving Panchayat president, Mohammad Chand Mamud and several others from the community charging them with conspiracy against government officials and rioting in this case.
According to Olindita Gogoi, Additional Superintendent of Police (Security and intelligence) who filed the general FIR, several pleas to maintain law and order through megaphones were made by two magistrates in zone 3 of the area where alleged encroachers were being evicted from six such zones in Dhalpur. She stated in her complaint that the crowd became more and more agitated indicating that rubber bullets and tear gas shells were not enough to control the crowd which ultimately led to police firing. As per the FIR, senior officials such as Gogoi and hundreds of police and paramilitary officials were officially brought in from outside of Darrang district administration for the eviction that began on September 20.
A separate police complaint by Sipajhar Police Station officials was lodged against the photographer, Bijoy Sankar Bonia, who stomped on Maynal Haque following which he was arrested on September 23 for preventing the police officials from carrying out their duty and attacking an already injured Haque.
Arrests after the violence
Assam Police have booked nine persons including a woman, for criminal conspiracy, rioting, and preventing public servants from carrying out their duties, in the general FIR filed by the Assam Police on September 26 in connection with the eviction related violence, according to the general FIR filed by the police.
As of now, three persons have been arrested by Assam Police in connection with the general FIR filed on September 26. One of the three arrested persons was injured during the eviction-related violence — Sarifuddin, 43, for allegedly provoking the locals to resist the eviction violently on September 23.
According to Saddam Hussain, the legal counsel, following the injured person’s arrest, whose name was previously missing from the general FIR, the number of the accused may go up which might include other injured persons too.
“We have prepared anticipatory bail applications for all the people who have been booked in general including eight others who were injured during the eviction-related violence. Mangaldoi Lower Court will hear their bail petitions on October 11,” said Hussain.
On September 28, Darrang Police arrested one Mohammad Chand Mamud, a resident of Dholpur and president of the Sanawa village panchayat, and Mohammad Asmat Ali Ahmed of Kirakara village who also served as the former president of the Bajana Pathar panchayat. Mamud and Chand have been booked for criminal conspiracy, rioting, and preventing public servants from carrying out their duties. Several locals from Dhalpur however believe that both Mamud and Ahmed were negotiating with the district administration and the government for the relocation of more than 800 families who had been evicted from 602 hectares of land, where the Assam government plans to start a community farming project.
Sariffudin was being treated at Gauhati Medical College Hospital (GMCH) along with eight others treated for a bullet injury that had hit his right knee. His brother, Jorifuddin, said that policemen from Sipajhar came to the GMCH on September 30. “Hospital was yet to discharge my brother when policemen asked us to come along with them to Sipajhar police station about 70 kilometers away at night. I accompanied my brother and another teenager, Ashraful Haque who was also getting treated for his bullet injuries,” said Jorifuddin.
On October 1, both the injured spent the entire day in the police station when Joriffuddin was handed over a challan saying that his brother is being arrested. “At about 4 PM, one of the officers-in-charge told me that Sarifuddin was being arrested. I quietly took the challan while my brother was transferred to a jail in Mangoldoi. Now I have been told that I will not be able to see for the next 14 days as he is in remand,” added Jorifuddin.
On that same evening, Ashraful Haque, a 12-year-old boy who was also brought in from GMCH, after spending the entire day in the police station was allowed to go to his village.
“Police asked us to come back on October 6 again to record my son’s statement. On October 6, the official told us that there will not be any further questions for my son but asked us to be present in our village. But our village is gone. We have already been evicted,” said Moinul Haque, Ashraful’s father, who is back in a camp where all the evictees are staying near Dhalpur village close to the eviction site.
Clifton D’Rozario, a practicing advocate and the National Secretary, All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), and the State Secretary CPI (ML) Liberation, Karnataka, who recently visited Dhalpur and is preparing a fact-finding committee report stated that given the scale of violence and terror created during the eviction, it is obvious that people did not come forward to file complaints earlier. “The entire state machinery has been mobilized to dehumanize them and subject them to the horror of forced evictions and physical violence. It is a terrible situation to be in, where your very existence is threatened by the state in furtherance of its communal agenda,” added D’Rozario.
On Friday, Gauhati High Court justices Sudhanshu Dhulia and Soumitra Saikia termed the Dhalpur eviction as a big and unfortunate tragedy. Hearing a Public Interest Litigation against the eviction filed by the leader of opposition in Assam assembly, Debabrata Saikia, and a suo moto petition in connection with the eviction drive and the subsequent violence, a division bench of the High Court comprising Chief Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice Soumitra Saikia stated about the violent episode that: “Those who are guilty, if at all, must be punished, no doubt about that.”
The judges wanted to know whether the National Rehabilitation Policy is applicable in Assam, and directed the state government to file a detailed affidavit in the entire matter within three weeks. The PIL sought by Opposition leader Saikia has also challenged the Assam government’s Project Gorukhuti in Dhalpur which aims to “free” more than 77,000 bighas from encroachment and set up a farm to employ local youths.
Before the PIL, Asom Nagarik Mancha, a local civil society organization also wrote a letter to the Gauhati High Court following which the court took a suo moto cognizance of the violence and eviction.
Santanu Borthakur, a senior legal counsel at Gauhati High Court, who is representing the families contesting the Dhalpur eviction through a separate petition, compared the eviction-related deaths to police encounters. “As per the Supreme Court guidelines, such cases have to be regarded as encounters and police should immediately file an FIR followed by an immediate magisterial inquiry. The statements of the families should have been under Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which would have taken care of the individual FIRs from the family. However, we are not sure if that process was followed. So the counter FIR filed by the family will be crucial,” added Borthakur.