New Delhi: This past week, three Facebook Live videos shot in Assam, became fairly popular on social media. The videos featured a Guwahati-based youth, Partha Pratim Boruah.
Boruah first went live on February 12 to relay – partly in English and in Assamese – alleged police highhandedness during a routine checking in the city’s Zoo Road area.
Boruah, 24 – a student who also doubled up as a sales consultant of a Kolkata-based two-wheeler accessories company – could be heard towards the end of the video letting out a few words of abuse at the unfriendly traffic policemen. The police demanded that he hand over the documents of his bike, but what he basically questioned throughout was their power under the law to ask him for it.
He argued that as per law, they had no right to take away his vehicle’s documents unless there was a sub-inspector present on site.
Reminding them of the law apparently didn’t go down well with the policemen, none of whom was a sub-inspector. One of them then took away the keys of his bike. All the while, Partha was live on Facebook.
He questioned the policemen about a vehicle that had the Assam police logo but did not have a number plate and also pointed out that the personnel who took away his bike keys had no name plate on his uniform, a violation of law.
As per the police, Boruah thereafter left the place, leaving behind his vehicle.
A day later, he apologised, again in a Facebook video, for using abusive words, but reiterated his right as a common man to ask questions, even to security personnel.
The third live video featured Boruah inside his office, where the police landed up looking for him on February 14.
In that video, Boruah said that a policeman kicked his phone, stepped on it with the intention of breaking it but could only damage it partly. After a bit of disturbance – apparently due to that act – he continued live streaming. Sometime later, an armed policeman wearing a black mask was identified by him, who then reacted angrily before walking out of the frame.
In that video, Boruah kept talking on another phone to a number of people including someone he identified as the state human rights commission chief. She was heard telling him about his rights as a common man.
After some time, the scene moved to the Geeta Nagar police station where he told viewers that he had been arrested.
Boruah was taken into custody under section 294 of the IPC for committing an obscene act in a public place, and under section 353 for causing assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging duty.
He was released on February 17 on bail after his lawyer furnished a bond of Rs 10,000 at the Gauhati high court.
However, between February 12 and till his arrest on February 14, his first video went viral in Assam with over three lakh hits. Boruah became the talking point of local news channels.
In response to reporters’ queries, he said, “I am a young student who is studying and working part-time to make ends meet and because of few individuals my career now stands in peril. Is it such a severe crime to ask questions to a public servant?”
“I was really appalled when the policeman snatched my keys. Also, how would I know if he isn’t some bogus policeman for he was not even clad in a proper uniform which seemingly is a violation of the uniform conduct. This was another reason I decided to go ahead with the video,” he was heard saying.
Alongside visiting TV stations in Guwahati to tell his story, the youth kept his viewers hooked on his Facebook page by informing them about all his subsequent moves.
Asked about the case by the news channels, city commissioner of police Hiren Chandra Nath said Partha was riding his bike without wearing a helmet, a violation of traffic laws. When the police at the check post gestured towards him to stop, he did not, and only stopped his vehicle some meters away.
“The boy showed the tendency of a chronic violator of law; so the constable had to take away his keys to keep him halted until the arrival of a sub-inspector,” he said, adding, the youth was abusive. Boruah denied all the allegations except the last one.
However, without delving into the binaries of what is right or wrong, legal or otherwise, what made it interesting was the use of social media by the youth to continue communicating with a large number of people across the state on the developments of the case.
He also succeeded in showing an aggressive side to policing which helped him turn many of those who watched his video into his sympathisers. Words of support kept pouring in throughout the time he went live.
At one point, around 12.48 pm on February 14, he posted on Facebook that he was not being allowed to go live during his medical checkup.
A respondent to that post, seemingly by a friend who knew his phone number, said he just recharged Partha’s number so that he could continue going live on FB. The friend gave out the number there, seemingly for others to do so too.
Also, thanks to the videos, a large number of youth reportedly arrived at the Geeta Nagar police station to oppose his arrest.
What draws attention to this case is that the state police seemed to have gone after the youth mainly for live streaming an interaction, albeit an unfriendly one, with a public servant on duty, and questioning him as a common man.
After all, such small spats during routine checking in the state are commonplace and do not lead to arrests. Maintaining law and order, the mandate given to the police, needs them to be firm but certainly not to be ill-mannered, a point he clearly scored against the policemen.
If you look at the trend of live streaming globally, some similar cases of spat with police leading to arrest have come to light, particularly in the US, including one where the police were seen shooting at a black man in July last year in Minnesota.
However, Boruah’s case is the first in the northeast where live streaming was used an important component of the proceedings of a minor spat with policemen gone wrong.
Last checked, Boruah uploaded a post on February 21, first time after he was released from custody, where he thanked people for their “overwhelming” response.
Interestingly, he also announced his “official page” on the virtual platform calling it “CommonManOfficialPartha.”