A rash of police encounters in Assam has drawn sharp criticism from opposition parties and sections of civil society, with many of them terming the force “trigger-happy". In the latest such incident, police in Guwahati opened fire on a snatcher who was allegedly trying to escape from the authorities on Wednesday night. The accused, Banti Goala, who sustained bullet injuries, is believed to be a member of the notorious “Iranian group".
According to officials, Goala tried to snatch a bag of money from a businessman in the Maligaon Goshala area on Tuesday evening and was detained. Police took him to the Tetelia area the next night to track down his accomplices. But the accused purportedly tried to escape and was shot in the leg. The deputy commissioner of the West Guwahati police district informed the media about the incident on Thursday evening. Banti Goala is currently receiving treatment at Guwahati Medical College Hospital.
Critics say police encounters have soared since the Assam government led by Himanta Biswa Sarma took charge in May. Proponents, on the other hand, have lauded the force for showing zero mercy towards criminals and alleged offenders. In the past two months, at least 17 encounters have taken place allegedly to stop criminals trying to escape. Drug dealers, cattle smugglers, car thieves, rape accused and kidnappers have been at the receiving end, say officials. The opposition says the Assam government is encouraging a “trigger-happy" force and the creation of a “police state".
Here are details of some of the encounters in the past couple of months, according to officials:
- On the night of May 23, Bubu Konwar, a feared dacoit, who allegedly killed 42 people over the years including several high-profile murders in the state, was gunned down in a shootout near Gelakey, Sibasagar district. He was declared dead at the local civil hospital. Konwar was allegedly also involved in a number of cases of car theft, drug trafficking, abduction, honey-trapping, arms trafficking, fake currency circulation, etc. He was arrested in 2016 for car theft. He was also charged with the murders of Congress politician Hemanta Baruah and Dr Mridul Baruah in 2006. Born in Nagaland, the dreaded dacoit frequently fled to the neighbouring state after committing crimes in Assam.
- On May 31, drug dealer Jaitul Kabir was injured in police firing at Juria in Nagaon district. During a police operation in the area late at night, Kabir reportedly tried to escape by opening fire. Police retaliated and he was injured. Nagaon district superintendent of police Anand Mishra said that the arrested accused along with his brothers used to carry out drug deals, dacoity, snatching, etc. Kabir was allegedly involved in most of the crimes in the area. He is currently receiving medical treatment after being shot in the leg by police.
- Cattle smuggler Shah Jamal was shot while fleeing from a police station in Srirampur in Kokrajhar district on May 31.
- On June 24, Mozammil Haque, another cattle smuggler from Bangladesh, was similarly shot by police.
- On the night of July 2, an accused named Sorangi Chinnai, member of a cow stealing syndicate, was shot by police while trying to escape from custody.
- On July 2, Syed Ali alias ‘Patha’, a 65-year-old rape and murder accused of a 9-year-old girl was shot dead while trying to escape by snatching a police weapon. Morigaon district superintendent of police Aparna Natarajan said that the accused was taken by a police team to the crime scene, and he tried to flee when the convoy stopped to take him to another vehicle at Gasarguri point on Morigaon-Bhuragaon PWD road.
- On July 3, the main accused in the kidnapping of Guwahati businessman Ajit Das, Kanwaldeep Singh Sidhu, was killed in police firing when the accused tried to snatch a gun from police personnel. He was arrested by Assam Police in Karbi Anglong. Sidhu was a former inspector in the Railway Protection Special Force and was suspended in 2013 after he was found to be involved in a number of illegal activities. Sidhu allegedly was involved in arms smuggling from Nagaland to other states of India.
- Another accused in the same kidnapping case, Assam Police jawan Rambabu Singh, was also shot dead in the same incident.
- On July 7, Mohammad Akhtar Raja Khan, alias Tikru Khan, an accused in a cattle smuggling case, was gunned down by police in Dibrugarh.
Chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma received flak from the opposition when he said the shooting should be a pattern if criminals try to escape.
“If an accused tries to snatch the service gun and runs away, or even simply flees, and on top of it he is, say, a rapist, law allows shooting such a person on the leg, but not on the chest," Sarma said this week.
Akhil Gogoi, opposition leader and newly elected MLA of the Sivasagar constituency, accused the Assam government of violating human rights. Maintaining that these acts are a “bid to turn Assam into a police state”, he appealed to human rights activists and intellectuals to start a movement against this ‘encounter trend".
Assam Jatiya Parishad, a regional political party formed under former Aasu leader Lurinjyoti Gogoi has also criticized the police and accused the state government of using force for political interests.
“Perhaps this is the highest encounter tally since the country’s independence. We have a judicial system in our country to punish criminals and shooting criminals can never be a pattern for the same,” AJP leader Jagadish Bhuyan said in a press meet in Guwahati on Friday.