Mysterious Death of College Student Creates Furore in Assamese Town

The family of a 20-year-old college student in Margherita is alleging that she was gangraped and murdered, but the police say she may have killed herself.

Burhi Dihing Railway Bridge. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Burhi Dihing Railway Bridge. The student’s body was found floating in the river. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

New Delhi: The mysterious death of a college student has created a furore in the town of Margherita in upper Assam. The All Assam Gorkha Students’ Union (AAGSU) has called for a 12-hour bandh of the state’s Tinsukia district, demanding immediate investigation into the case.

The bloated body of the 20-year-old student of Margherita College was found floating in the Burhi Dihing River on May 3. Images of the body were distributed over a number of WhatsApp groups in the town and elsewhere.

Family sources told The Wire that the student had gone missing on April 29. While the young woman’s family and the AAGSU have alleged that she was gangraped and murdered before her body was thrown into the river, the police are claiming otherwise. The superintendent of police for Tinsukia told this correspondent, “Our preliminary investigation points to suicide. However, we are awaiting the post-mortem report, which should be available by May 10. Only then will we be able to say for sure whether it was a case of rape and murder or not.”

“Two youths from Margherita were arrested on May 6, and a girlfriend of the deceased was called in for questioning too. The family said that they had received a call from this girlfriend who said that the deceased was with her and would return home the next day,” he added.

“Every evening after college, she used to go to a beauty salon to train as a beautician. On April 28, too, she went there. However, she didn’t return home at the usual time. At 9 p.m. she called our brother and said that she would stay with a girlfriend that night and celebrate her birthday. The friend also came on the line to say that she will return the following day. But when she didn’t come back the next day, and the phone from which she’d called was found to be switched off, our brother and father went to the police station to file a missing person report. The police reluctantly agreed to accept it and told us that they would like to wait for some more time before starting the investigation,” the victim’s sister said over the phone.

The candlelight vigil organised in Guwahati on May 8.

The candlelight vigil organised in Guwahati on May 8.

AAGSU chief executive member Nanba Kirati Dewan claimed that the police failed to act immediately and “is now trying to cover up the case.”

“Neither did the police act instantly on the complaint nor did the media pick up the news, even after her body was found in a horrifying state. At the same time, the national media was abuzz with the news of a gang rape in Kerala, but this news was ignored even by the Guwahati-based media,” he said.

“To push the police to investigate the matter, and also to protest the media blackout of the gruesome act, we joined hands with three other organisations to mobilise the Nepali community in Guwahati to join a candlelight vigil in the city on May 8,” he said. Apart from AAGSU, All Manipur Gorkha Students Union, Gorkha Youth of Guwahati and Greater Guwahati Gorkhali Mahila Samity took part in the vigil which “saw a crowd of about 600 people.”

“To draw attention to the incident, and condemn it,” he said, “we have called for a 12-hour bandh of the Tinsukia district today.”

Dewan’s colleague Rakesh Phurbe Sherpa also wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 4, accusing him of focusing on schemes like Make in India and Digital India and “visiting many countries” but ignoring women’s security in “your own country.”

“You have visited so many countries but have you tried finding out how those countries ensure the security of their women? Have you ever thought why rapists in India get away so easily even after committing gruesome crimes?” he asked in the letter.

In August last year, the town was rattled by the gangrape and murder of another student of Margherita College. Though the police said the investigation was still on in that case, no arrest has yet been made.