Assam: Activists Arrested Day After Complaining Against Theft of 800 Quintals of PDS Rice

Soneswar Narah and Pranab Doley of the Jeepal Krishak Sramik Samiti are prominent activists in Golaghat.

Guwahati: The advisor and general secretary of a farmers’ rights organisation was arrested in connection with a 2018 case on April 7 after complaining that officials had been siphoning off rice intended for public distribution.

Activist Soneswar Narah who is advisor to the Jeepal Krishak Sramik Samiti, a Golaghat-based rights body, and its general secretary Pranab Doley had filed a police complaint case on April 6 against officials of the Kaziranga Cooperative godown over 800 quintals of rice going ‘missing’.

The next day, April 7, both Narah and Doley were called by Bokakhat police station to make a statement regarding the case. But instead were arrested in a pending police case from 2018 which names as accused both Narah and Doley for ‘obstructing police duty’. The duo as of now has been sent to four days of police custody.

The Wire spoke to a member of Jeepal Krishak Sramik Samiti who said local police was not revealing much. The member said some local political leaders may have been implicated in the missing rice case and that police could have acted under political pressure.

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“Both Narah and Doley are quite vocal on social media platforms. Narah especially never beat around the bush and spoke out against corruption and ill-doings. In the recent past, the local police had even warned Narah not to be outspoken on Facebook,” said Putul Narah, district coordinator of Jeepal Krishak Sramik Sangha.

The news of the missing rice had even appeared on local newspapers. “A local sub-divisional office had even filed a case against the in-charge of the godown and the secretary of the local cooperative. We have been quite helpful to the local administration,” Putul Narah further said.

Immediately after the arrests of the two members, a video was released on Facebook.

The video shows the duo being escorted by the police and both Narah and Doley making statements. Narah in the video is seen as saying, “There is secrecy over the missing 800 quintals of rice. We had registered a case at the local police station in Bokakhat. We were called by the police to produce our statements, but we were arrested on a false case. The rice has gone missing from the Kaziranga Cooperative.”

A police official, speaking to a local television channel had this to say:

“They have been arrested in a case-related to number 290/2018 under sections 109, 188, 353 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). These are non-bailable offences and are mostly related to obstruction to police duty. The investigation officer will know the details and as of now it is not suitable to give details.”

In 2018 both Narah and Doley had been vocal in seeking justice for a boy who was allegedly killed by a dumper belonging to a prominent local businessman. Narah had filed a case at the local police station and the two had staged a protest with the boy’s body.

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“The local administration had called a meeting and it was alleged that both Narah and Doley were obstructing the police from doing their duties,” said Putul Narah.

He also cited three alleged rape and murder cases from 2018 which received similar reactions from the Sangha.

Soneswar Narah along with other civil activists from upper Assam was also visible in the effort to help those called for eleventh-hour NRC hearings last year.

“The way both Soneswar and Doley were arrested is similar to how Akhil Gogoi was arrested. They should be set free quickly,” said Bondita Acharya, a human rights activist.