Reports of the alleged rape of a college student, which led to the lynching of the accused, first appeared on social media, with provocative posts identifying the accused, Syed Sharif Khan, as an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant.
Although the rape allegedly occurred on February 23 and the victim filed an FIR the next morning, local newspapers only reported it a week later. By then the accused, who was arrested on February 24, had been sent in judicial custody.
Both the social media and initial reports by local dailies alleged that Khan was a Bangladeshi. Even state DGP L L Doungel told the media after the lynching on Thursday that he was a suspected illegal Bangladeshi immigrant.
“We are investigating the allegation about the person being a Bangladeshi. As of now we have not completed our investigation,” said Nagaland IGP Wabang Lotha.
The Indian Express reported on Sunday that Khan hailed from a family of Army personnel. The police have also found a driving licence issued to him in Assam.
Those at the forefront of the protests against the alleged rape also focussed on the Bangladeshi angle. In a statement issued to local dailies on March 3, the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) condemned the rape of “yet another Naga girl by a person of Bangladeshi origin in Dimapur”.
NSF president Tongpang Ozukum was quoted as saying that “time and again, Naga civil societies have raised concerns about the danger of harbouring illegal Bangladeshi immigrants… the recent incident is not just a heinous crime, but it is a direct challenge to the entire Naga community.” “We are still trying to ascertain who first put out the news on social media,” said Lotha, who is supervising the investigations.
On March 4, as newspapers reported the alleged rape, students from the girls’ college first took out a procession. By 10 am, hundreds of college students had descended on the streets, and shops had downed their shutters. The protesters marched to the deputy commissioner’s office. While some demanded that the alleged rapist should not be granted bail, others said he should be handed over to them.
Deputy Commissioner Wezope Kenye and SP Meren Jamir — both were later suspended — tried to pacify the crowd, but the protests continued till about 7 pm. At around 8 pm, some people vandalised some shops belonging to alleged illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Following attempts to set a shop on fire, the police intervened and Section 144 of the CrPC was promulgated.
“I was witness to NSF leaders telling the protesters that a rally would be held the next day at which the people could put forward their views,” said Mar Longkumer, a member of Survival Nagaland, a group that has been pressing the government to deport Bangladeshi immigrants.
The next morning, the NSF “peace” rally saw a huge turnout. While some have blamed the NSF for mobilisation of the mob that raided Central Jail and lynched the accused, NSF president Tongpang Ozukum said: “After the rally was over, the chairperson of the rally announced that everyone should go to their homes as the curfew had been relaxed from 7 am to 11 am only, specifically for the peace rally… this ugly incident could have been avoided if they had listened to the NSF plea.”
Ozukum said: “On March 4, after hearing that the protesters had gathered in the DC’s office and demanded that the culprit be handed over to them, the NSF officials went to Dimapur to pacify them and requested them to let the NSF take over the issue, but they refused.”
So who led the mob to the Central Jail? As reported by The Indian Express earlier, suspended SP Meren Jamir said hundreds of girls in college and school uniform were in the front when the crowd had reached the jail. “How could we use force when there were hundreds of girls in front? It would led to so many casualties,” he had said.
A local journalist said the police stood by as the crowd marched seven-eight kilometers to the Central Jail. “In the jail, however, the police did a lathicharge and then fired in the air, following which most of the students dispersed.
By then, the men had taken over. I clearly remember many of them carrying a printout of Khan’s photograph or his photograph on their cellphones and asking the jail inmates about him after breaking in there,” said the journalist.
Meanwhile, investigations have revealed that the social media posts on Muslims being attacked and mosques being ransacked originated from outside Nagaland. “I have informed the cyber crime department in Mumbai and the Delhi Police about two persons located outside Nagaland who were spreading most of the rumours of Muslims being attacked in Nagaland. I am told that one of them also played a similar role during the Kokrajhar violence of 2012 when people from the Northeast came under attack in Bangalore, Mumbai and other cities,” said an administrator of a Dimapur-based Facebook group.
“Yes, we are looking into all the aspects, especially where the social media posts originated from,” said IGP Lotha.