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Another death in Assam police custody; accused in Nagaon arson case ‘run over’

In December 2021, Niraj Das, the prime accused in the lynching of a student leader in Jorhat, had died in a similar fashion — run over by a police vehicle while he was allegedly trying to escape custody.

Part of the Batadrava police station, after a mob torched it last week. (Express photo by Tora Agarwala)

The prime accused in the burning down of a police station in Assam’s Nagaon last week died in the wee hours of Monday, reportedly killed while fleeing custody. The police said that Asiqul Islam jumped out of a car, and was run over by an escort vehicle. Three policemen were injured in the incident, the police said.

Islam was alleged to have instigated the mob that attacked the Batadrava Police Station on May 21, while protesting against the death of a villager who had been picked up by the police.

Nagaon SP Leena Doley told reporters that Islam was booked on Sunday, and during questioning, admitted that he had stored arms at his house in Sonaibara village in Nagaon. “So our team went looking for the arms. After the search operation ended, on the way back he tried to escape from the car in the Raidinga area, and the escort vehicle behind him accidentally ran him over.” Doley said he was declared brought dead at Nagaon Civil Hospital.

The SP added that Islam could be seen in the video of the torching of the police station. “Asikul can be seen in a red T-shirt, inciting people,” she said, adding that a 7.65 mm pistol with two rounds of ammunition, and a .22 pistol with five rounds of ammunition, as well as the red shirt Asikul was seen wearing in the video were recovered from his home.

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The BJP government in Assam led by Himanta Biswa Sarma has come under fire for a high number of police encounters involving alleged criminals. The Gauhati High Court is currently hearing a petition on such encounters filed by advocate Arif Jwadder. In February, the Assam government submitted an affidavit stating that 28 people had been killed and 73 injured in police action between May 2021 and January 2022. The numbers have increased since then.

In the last 24 hours, two people (a rhino poacher from Biswanath district and an alleged rapist in Karbi Anglong district) were reported injured in police action while trying to escape custody.

Following the torching of the Batadrava Police Station, 11 people (including Islam and the family members of the person whose death led to the protest) were booked for arson. Police claimed to have identified all of them via video footage, recovered from bystanders.

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Sonaibara village in Juria, where Islam hails from, is about 25 km from Batadrava. The police said he was “not related” to Islam’s family, unlike most members of the mob.

The authorities had later demolished homes of those who had allegedly set fire to the police station, including Islam’s. The police defended this calling the accused “encroachers”, who were staying on government land with “forged” documents. It said it was also booking the accused under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for suspected terror links.

CM Sarma had called the attack on the police station a reflection of the “dangerous” times people of Assam were living in. “Till our government is in power, we will not pardon such crimes,” he had said.

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Speaking to reporters Monday, Sarma said: “I have been informed by the police that he (Islam) was killed in a road accident… An accident is an accident, I cannot comment further.” He added that he was certain that the police would, within the “ambit of law”, bring those guilty to book.

The police crackdown on criminals follows from Sarma’s pledge, when he took over as CM in May 2021, of a “zero tolerance policy”, giving the police “full operational liberty within the ambit of law” to function.

According to data shared in the Assam Assembly in March, 29 people have been killed and 96 injured in police firing. On Sunday, a PTI report said that between March 2021 and May 2022, at least 47 people have been killed and 116 injured in police action, while they allegedly tried to flee police custody or attacked police.

In December 2021, Niraj Das, the prime accused in the lynching of a student leader in Jorhat, died in a similar fashion as Islam, as per police – run over by a police vehicle while allegedly trying to escape custody.

Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia said it was “unfortunate” that such incidents were happening so frequently in Assam. “We have seen many die in encounters while they are being taken for identification of location or scene of crime,” he said, adding that such deaths lead to burying of evidence.

First published on: 30-05-2022 at 10:13:18 am
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