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Assam: Day after mob torches police station in Nagaon, homes of accused demolished

The Nagaon district administration on Sunday ordered a judicial probe into the alleged custodial death of a fish trader from Salonabari village. Following the death, a mob had set fire to a police station on Saturday.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guhawati |
Updated: May 23, 2022 1:37:45 am
On Sunday morning, bulldozers reached the village, about 6 km from the station, and demolished homes of “those who were involved in setting fire to the police station,” police officers said. (Twitter/@MPAbdulKhaleque)

Authorities in Assam’s Nagaon Sunday demolished the homes of five families that were allegedly involved in setting fire to a police station in the district the previous day.

A mob of about 40 people from Salonabari village had set fire to a part of the Batadrava police station in Dhing circle Saturday afternoon over the death of Safikul Islam, a local fish-seller, after he was taken into custody.

The district administration Sunday ordered a judicial probe into the death and the police suspended the officer in-charge of the Batadrava station. A special investigation team (SIT) has been set up to probe the mob attack.

On Sunday morning, bulldozers reached the village, about 6 km from the police station, and demolished the “illegal” homes of “those who were involved in setting fire to the police station,” police officers said.

“There were about 40 people in the mob. We have identified and arrested eight… and 15 have been detained,” Assam special DGP (law and order) GP Singh said. A woman and a minor are among those picked up.

Singh claimed that the homes that were demolished belonged to “illegal settlers”. “They have settled on the land illegally or with forged documents,” Singh alleged, adding that the demolition was wrapped up in the morning itself. “Everything is under control now,” he said. “We have ordered an independent probe into the alleged custodial death, and if any officer is found guilty, we will take strong action. But such an allegation does not mean you set fire to a police station. You don’t target the police and expect nothing to happen. Arson cannot be allowed,” he told indianexpress.com.

He added that video footage was being analysed to identify the others involved. Asked if the home owners were sent a notice about the demolition, Singh said that notices fell under the jurisdiction of the district administration. The indianexpress.com reached out to Nagaon deputy commissioner Nisarg Hivare but his phone was switched off. However, another official from the Nagaon district administration, who did not want to be identified, said that they had not received any written communication/instruction from the office of the deputy commissioner regarding the demolition, nor were notices sent from the circle office to the village.

Speaking to the press on Sunday evening, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the incident was a reflection of the “dangerous” times people of Assam were living in.

“A police station was burnt down. Till our government is in power, we will not pardon such crimes,” said Sarma. He added that a lot of land in Batadrava was under “illegal occupation”. “I have directed the district administration to identify such areas. We will take action — either through eviction or other laws — against any element trying to disturb the peace of Assam,” he added.

Batadrava —which houses the historic Batadava than or the birthplace of 16th-century Vaishnavite poet-saint Srimanta Sankardeva — is considered sacred to the Assamese community.

Following the demolition, Barpeta Congress MP Abdul Khaleque hit out at the government. “We never support an attack on a police station. But bulldozing houses of attackers by (the) police is a direct violation of human rights,” he tweeted.

According to the police, Islam, a fish trader from Salonabari village, was on Friday night brought to the police station on the basis of a complaint that he was “drunk.” The events that led to his death the next morning are contested. While the police claimed that he died after his wife picked him up and took him to the hospital, the family’s version differs.

A statement from the office of the Director General of Police, Assam, Sunday said that Islam was released and handed over to his wife on Saturday morning. “His wife even gave him some water/food. Later he complained of sickness and he was taken to two hospitals, one after another. Unfortunately, he was declared dead,” it said.

On the other hand, family members of Islam claimed that the police at the Batadrava station demanded Rs 10,000 and a duck as a bribe for his release. According to a 25-year-old resident of the village, Islam’s wife and niece visited the police station with a duck on Friday night, but were asked to “arrange” for money by the police. “When they returned, the next morning, they found that he was unwell and accompanied him to the dispensary nearby. The case was referred to the civil hospital but he died on the way,” said the resident.

A few hours later, at about 3.30 pm in the afternoon, a mob gheraoed the police station and set a part of it ablaze. “We have heard that things got heated up and the villagers got angry after an argument with the police,” said the resident. Videos of the incident, circulating on social media, show a woman sprinkling liquid on a scooter in the station and setting it on fire. Special DGP Singh said the SIT would also probe if there was a “pre-planned” move.

Addressing a press conference in Nagaon, he said that he had advised the Nagaon SP to investigate if those accused had links with banned terror or jihadi outfits. “Since the Assam Police are currently investigating a number of cases linked to jihadi outfits in districts like Barpeta, Bongaigaon… we will check if these people are also involved. If evidence is established, we will include provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,” said Singh.

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Earlier in the morning, the DGP had in a statement said that while they would not let off any police personnel found guilty, they would be “even tougher” against elements involved in the arson. “While we will not let go any police personnel found guilty, we will act even tougher against elements who think that they can escape the Indian justice system, by burning down police stations. We will simply not allow this. Let this be the first and last warning to all antisocial/criminal elements,” the statement said.

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