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  Asia-Pacific
Northeast India : Where Protector Turns Killer
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Policemen in India

The police highhandedness in India is not a new phenomenon. And the scaredness towards the ‘men in uniform’ is omnipresent in the society from rural to urban, low to high class and the poor to rich one.

Because, it is well accepted in the Indian society, the police can be nobody’s trusted friends.

A recent awful incident, taking place in Northeast India-where two motor vehicle workers were shot dead by the personal security officer (PSO) of an Assam police superintendent (CID) for no justified reason has proved once again that those men under the cover of uniform can do anything.

On the fateful night of July 9, 2009 the CID officer Mridulananda Sarma with his family was returning to his residence inside the National Games Village at Lokhra in Guwahati of Assam, when his vehicle was hit by a loaded truck on the National Highway 37. The accident resulted minor injury to Sarma, following which his PSO Gadadhar Roy chased the truck, which meanwhile ran away. Finally, Roy reached them and pumped all 30 bullets from service weapon (AK-47 rifle) on the driver of the truck.

The indiscriminate firing resulted in the spot death for the driver Krishna Chandra Tripura, who hails from south Tripura and also severely injury to his helper Shaing Langrin, who hails from West Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. He was rushed to Guwahati Medical College hospital but Langrin succumbed to wounds next morning.

The incident shocked the people of the region as they could see the police highhandedness with such brutality and it sparked a row of protests. Various motor vehicle workers’ organisations staged a series of demonstrations including a ‘Chakka Bandh’ (transport strike) in Assam on July 13. The day long strike could make a significant impact on the normal life of the state, as the trucks and also other commercial vehicles were out of the roads.

Meanwhile, both Tripura and Meghalaya governments asked the Congress led Assam government to inquire into the incident and take action against the policemen. The Tripura transport minister Manik Dey, while expressing sorrow at the killing of the truck driver Krishna-who left behind his wife and a minor baby- also concerned about the security lapses for the transport workers in Assam.

The Meghalaya Chief Minister DD Lapang took up the issue with his counterpart in Assam advocating for a prompt investigation into the killing. The Khasi Students’ Union condemned the incident and demanded adequate compensation to the victim families.

Appreciably, the media played an important role in revealing the cruelty of the police in this case so promptly. The Guwahati based satellite channels reported about the incident with live coverage soon after it broke out. The next morning the dailies hit the stand with horrified and follow-up report and photographs of the episode.

Even the newspapers editorialized the issue with strongest words of condemnation to the brutality of the police. The Assam Tribune, the premier English daily of Northeast, in its editorial asserted that ‘a most disquieting trend, of late, has been growing police highhandedness and barbarity’.

It also narrated, “A few days back, drunken SSB personnel manhandled train passengers without any rhyme or reason at the Guwahati railway station. The death of veteran CPI leader Manoj Deka following a police assault in Morigaon is still fresh in public memory. The supposed keepers of the law have developed a penchant for hitting the headlines
for all the wrong reasons, with innocent civilians at the receiving end. Instances of custodial violence including murder and sexual abuse are nothing uncommon in the State. The situation typifies the growing dehumanisation of the police and security forces.”

“A major reason behind police brutality is that more often than not, members of the police succeed in getting away after committing serious crimes. To stop the men in uniform from riding roughshod over human rights, the administration and the judiciary need to display greater vigilance. Civil society groups too have a role in this respect. But most importantly, the police itself has to set its house in order for
redeem its eroding image. Sensitising the police to human rights is an imperative need to check its dehumanisation. There is an urgent need to inculcate in the members of the force a sense of respect for human rights and dignity,” the editorial concluded.

The Sentinel, another major English daily of the region, termed the policemen of such brutality as ‘criminal elements because they have a criminal tendency to pull the trigger at unarmed people without there being any reason to take someone’s precious life.’

It also added that the common people today are so afraid of the police as the ‘men in uniform’ try to assert all the time, ‘‘Look, we are policemen. You must do whatever we say. Don’t you know what we can do?

We can put you in lock-up and you can’t do anything. We can even shoot you down.

The editorial also raised a pertinent question, “What would the same PSO do if he were to confront a terrorist with far more sophisticated weapon? What would the PSO do if his boss’ precious Scorpio were to be hit by a minister’s convoy? Would the cowardly PSO still pump bullets into the chest of the minister or his security men? What would the PSO
do if in place of the truck there were SULFA men in their expensive cars?”

Facing the heat of wide spread public outcry, the Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi immediately ordered actions against the SP and asked for an enquiry (to be probed by the principal transport secretary Alok Kumar). Gogoi, who also holds the Home portfolio, assured that the guilty policemen would be punished.

The issue reached the State Assembly as well, where it was informed by the government that the SP Sarma was suspended from service and also the PSO Roy was arrested in connection with the July 9 killing. The State government also announced an ex-gratia of rupees three lakh to
the next kin of the victims.

Amazingly, the incident gave opportunities to the banned United Liberation Front of Assam to condemn the attitude of the police and armed forces. In a statement issued to media, the ULFA argued that those ‘men in uniform’ were empowered by the ‘colonial constitution’ of India to kill the innocent people.

The outfit, which has the ‘credit’ of slaughtering thousands, including the children and women, in its three decade-long armed movement against New Delhi for a ‘Swadhin Asom’ (Independent Assam), also appealed to the people of Assam to raise voices against such atrocities by the police and finally stand unitedly against New Delhi.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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