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Guwahati: On July 5, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, “When someone asked me whether shooting incidents are becoming a pattern in the state, I replied that it should be the pattern if it involves a criminal trying to escape police custody.”
In this public interaction with officers in charge of all Assam police stations, Himanta was ostensibly referring to Assam Police’s recent pattern of encounters.
This was not all. On cow smugglers, according to The Indian Express, Himanta said, “I don’t even want it to go to the chargesheet stage because our cows need to be protected.”
Many have since expressed fear that such tactics may be used by the Bharatiya Janata Party government to stifle dissent by branding critics as criminals and with the use of police encounters. Some have cited the example of Uttar Pradesh under Adityanath.
Ever since Sarma took the chief minister’s chair major headlines have focused on Assam’s sudden war on drugs, Muslim population control measures, land encroachment by Muslim migrants, and ‘hardened’ criminals being shot at by Assam Police while trying to flee police custody all after having snatched police personnel firearms.
The latest such ‘encounter’ occurred on the night of July 8 in Guwahati when the police shot at an accused in a robbery case as he allegedly tried to flee. The injured accused was then taken to a local hospital in the city.
On the same day another such case was reported from Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district where an accused in a cow smuggling case was shot in the leg when he tried to allegedly flee police custody.
Altogether there were three such shootouts in the last 48 hours. Just before that, police shot dead an alleged murder accused in Lower Assam’s Chirag district.
Last week, among many such encounters, Syed Ali, a sexagenarian cleric who is an accused in the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl at Bhuragaon in Morigaon the district was shot at by police when he tried to allegedly flee police custody during the reconstruction of the crime scene.
Assam Police’s special DGP of law and order, G.P. Singh, had then tweeted:
One Syed Ali, accused of rape and murder of a minor girl at Bhuragaon, Morigaon district while being taken for reconstruction of scene of crime tried to escape under garb of answering nature’s call. @MorigaonPolice had to use lawful minimum force to prevent escape.
— GP Singh (@gpsinghassam) July 1, 2021
On June 18, one of the prime accused in the rape and murder of two minor girls in Kokrajhar district was also shot and grievously injured by police when he allegedly tried to flee during a search operation conducted by the police. Kokrajhar police said that the accused had tried to grab a machete to attack a policeman.
Back then too, Singh tweeted, “…One of the accused tried to escape during search operation… police had to fire to prevent him from escaping. He’s grievously injured and hospitalized.”
Throughout June and the beginning of July, Singh has tweeted information on supposed encounters through his handle, @gpsinghassam.
“Such encounters send the wrong message in a democratic society. I have been observing what Assam’s chief minister has been saying. There have been so many Supreme Court’s orders against such encounters,” said retired IPS officer N.C. Asthana.
“The continuation of such encounters is itself a violation of the Supreme Court. But what is more shocking is the silence from the public and it seems there is some form of silent societal approval of it. Look at what happened in the Hyderabad rape case of 2019 when police personnel were showered with flowers by people for killing the rape accused in an encounter,” Asthana said, adding that Assam’s residents were already in a police state.
On Friday, the Asom Jatiya Parishad (AJP), a political party that was formed before the state assembly elections in an attempt to defeat the BJP held a press conference. Party members stated that the increasing trend in police encounters in the state is a worrisome scenario.
AJP general secretary Jagadish Bhuyan condemned Sarma’s statement, adding that in the span of 30 days there have been 40 such “encounters.”
He questioned Sarma’s motives and said that it was highly suspicious as to how Sarma could know that more such encounters would take place.
“I would like to ask whether Assam Police is so weak that it has to shoot an accused. Are the accused not handcuffed? How can an old man try to escape? We suspect that there is the foul play behind it, and it needs to be delved deeper,” he said, adding that those who are accused of heinous crimes should be given stringent of punishment but not lawlessly.
Recently released MLA Akhil Gogoi, the leader of Raijor Dal, another party which was formed last year to battle the BJP in Assam told The Wire, “Let us not beat around the bush. Sarma is encouraging the encounters. We are soon heading the Uttar Pradesh way. Sarma is simply taking cues from Adityanath. What Sarma said at the recently held public function about the pattern of such shooting was quite disturbing. This is an unravelling of a plan to convert Assam into a fascist state. Human rights have been violated. We need to put an end to it.”
Debabrata Saikia the leader of the opposition in the state assembly said, “This is a violation of so many laws. Supreme Court has spoken against it many times. It is very disturbing to know that police on the pretext of inspecting a crime scene decides to shoot at an accused. The National Human Rights Commission should speak out against it.”