The judicial inquiry into the lynching last week of a rape accused in Nagaland is yet to begin, but an internal probe by state police has found key “turning points” in the crucial hours during which the mob took over Dimapur Central Jail and dragged him out.
Crucial to the episode is a “sequence of events” when personnel in the short-staffed jail kept shifting the accused, Syed Sharif Khan, to different cells and hid him from the crowd, said senior officials.
“But there was at least one former inmate among the mob who was familiar with the jail’s layout and that changed everything,” Wabang Jamir, IGP (Range) told The Indian Express.
A senior official described the two hours of violence that ensued as a “dance of death” and added that jail staff refrained from firing at the crowd because the courtyard was filled with students, including girls who were mostly minors.
Of the 43 arrested by police for their alleged involvement in the attack, 25 played a “very important role” in the lynching, officials said. Police will now submit these findings to the official inquiry, they added.
According to officials, the probe was initiated after the state police — with a new bunch of officers officiating the investigation — felt the need to understand if there was any “complacency” on the part of jail authorities while handling the situation on March 5.
It also followed questions that were raised on the “absolute lawlessness” and “lack of any police resistance when the mob went hunting inside the jail”, officials said.
As part of the probe, officials reconstructed the incidents that took place from the time the mob reached the jail, to when it crossed the gates, till the moment the accused was lynched, stripped and dragged outside “the gates of judicial custody”.
According to them, when reports of the alleged rape first surfaced on March 4, eight days after the victim had lodged her complaint, students — including those from the college where the woman studied — joined a protest march to the District Collector’s office.
Spurred by false reports that Khan was an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant, the protesters dispersed only after receiving an assurance that they would be allowed to hold another march the next day at the City Clock Tower Area between 9 am and 11 am.
On March 5, after the protest, the Naga Students’ Federation appealed to the students to disperse. But an “outraged” section incited the rest to move towards the jail.
By now, the crowd appeared to have swollen to at least an estimated 9,000 which also included bikers, onlookers and a “bunch of new people” who are unrelated to any student body.
According to police, eight companies of state police, with one company constituting 80 constabulary, walked on both the sides of the mob. “At best, the assumption was that like March 4, the crowd would protest and walk away,” said an officer.
“The road that the mob took was the lone highway to Manipur, blocking all traffic. There was at least one group that also set up blockades to stop reinforcements, including a water cannon, at least one and-a-half km away from the jail,” said Jamir.
The outnumbered jail staff tried to stop the mob at the main gate, but a few sneaked in through a small gap before the rest pushed their way in.
“Our initial findings suggest that even as the crowd barged in, the jail staff was constantly improvising and moving the accused from one cell to another, hiding him at places,” added Jamir.
The first bunch of protesters kept moving between cells before calling the search off and leaving with their bikes towards the market, while the rest stood in the courtyard, waiting to follow.
“It was then this former inmate in the mob recalled that the jail courtyard also led to this separate row of cells at the north-eastern corner behind the common barracks. The mob returned and found Khan hidden by the jail staff in one of the toilets in that separate cell,” said Jamir.
The door was broken and Khan taken out, stripped in the courtyard and taken away.
At the time, the jail had 50 police constabulary inside —- a few had been redirected to track the bikers who had left towards the market while the reinforcements were stuck at the other end of the mob.
Another finding, based on statements and eye-witness accounts, is that the “highly restless, outraged young crowd of students did not have a leader”. Without a direction, they were like a “blazing herd, just going with the flow, completely outraged”, said an officer.