A Delhi-based advocate’s complaint has landed the Assam Police on the National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) radar over what he said was an “encounter spree” that began after Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s government took charge two months ago.
Since June 1, more than 20 instances of encounters either of under-custody accused or during raids have taken place in the state in which, in at least five instances, an accused has died.
Two instances of such firings happened on Sunday alone at Nagaon in central Assam when the police gunned down an alleged dacoit at Kokrajhar in western Assam and injured a suspected drug dealer in another incident.
Arif Jwadder, a lawyer based in Delhi, in his complaint submitted on Saturday alleged that the Assam Police has shot down small-time criminals in “fake encounters”, cooking up excuses that they attempted to flee from police custody.
He said that all the alleged criminals were small-timers such as drug dealers, cattle smugglers, dacoits, and not militants and hence were unlikely to have been trained in using firearms.
“It is very unlikely that they could use the pistols after snatching against the police force that was outnumbered and heavily armed. Also, it cannot be believed that all alleged petty criminals could snatch a pistol from a trained police officer whose pistols/guns are normally tied to a rope to the waist belt of that officer,” Mr Jwadder said.
This Sunday, an alleged dacoit, Jainal Abedin was shot dead by police during a gun battle at Dhing, about 28 km from Nagaon, when the police attempted to arrest him.
The police said Abedin is a hardened criminal and was accused in several serious cases of narcotics, murder, theft and extortion.
“We had inputs that Abedin is going loot a residence in Nagaon area within a very short span of time with his group. Led by Additional SP Dhurba Bora, police launched a massive manhunt at his residence and warned him to surrender with his arms but he fired at the policemen and in retaliation, the police team fired at him and he got injured. He was rushed to hospital for treatment where doctor declared him brought dead,” Nagaon SP Anand Mishra told reporters.
Dhing legislator Aminul Islam, on the other hand, termed the encounter as an instance of “targetting the minorities”.
“The Assam police is staging such fake encounters to target minority people. From what I know about the victim, he wasn’t a dacoit but a brash drunkard,” Mr Islam said.
Most of those injured in such custodial shootings belong to the minority community.
Seeking the NHRC’s intervention, Arif Jwadder said, “Police actions are denying the rights of the alleged criminal of a fair trial.”
Last week, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had appeared to condone custodial shootings saying that such action “should be the norm” if criminals attempt to escape.
“After such statement by the Chief Minister, now police are staging fake encounters with impunity,” Mr Jwadder said.