Assam encounters: Congress writes to human rights body; Himanta says ‘police raj to last’ while he is CM – Henry Club

Highlighting the rise in police encounters under Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam, state Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia Tuesday wrote to the state’s human rights commission, requesting the body to ensure the government is made answerable on the issue. On the same day, the CM said ‘police raj, military raj’ would continue under him.

Since Sarma became the chief minister in May last year, more than 60 people have been injured and at least 30 killed in police action, leading to widespread criticism of a “trigger-happy” force. The latest encounter was in Kokrajhar district on Tuesday, when a suspected drug peddler was shot at as he allegedly tried to flee custody. He is currently in the hospital. On Saturday, former student leader Kirti Kamal Bora was shot at during an anti-drug operation in Nagaon, causing a state-wide furore.

Citing Bora’s injury, Saikia’s letter to the Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said that the developments were “very unfortunate” and weakened the country’s judicial system.

Sarma, responding to the Congress, told reporters on Tuesday, “My intentions are clear, till I am Chief Minister, action on criminals will continue… ‘police raj, military raj’ will continue …and it should, how will there be law and order without the police?”

He added that this was the first time he had seen a political party “supporting gundas and criminals”. “Instead of defending the drug mafia, the Congress should speak for the many families that have been destroyed by the mafia. If someone is caught with 3kg of heroin, are we supposed to felicitate them with a gamosa in the Congress office?” Sarma said.

Earlier in the day, the state government failed to file an affidavit on the encounters, as ordered by the Gauhati High Court on January 11, with Assam Advocate General Devajit Lon Saikia seeking a 10-day extension. The court, which was hearing a public interest litigation on the encounters filed by advocate Arif Jwadder, granted the extension “in the interest of justice” and fixed February 8 for the next hearing of the case.

“This is the first time we have asked for an extension. The court had asked us to prepare the affidavit but since we could not complete it, it has given us an extension of 10 days,” the Advocate General told The Indian Expressadding that the Home and Political Department will file the affidavit.

Jwadder, the petitioner, had filed a complaint on the alleged fake encounters with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). In November 2021, the body transferred the case to the AHRC, which had also taken suo motu cognisance of the encounters, asking the government to file a report.

Congress’s Saikia said he had written to the AHRC in September, highlighting several instances of custodial deaths under Assam Police between May and July. “However, I have not heard back from them yet. What is happening is unacceptable and unconstitutional. Police cannot take law into their own hands,” he told The Indian Express.

Citing specific incidents in his letter, Saikia highlighted that majority of the victims belonged to ethnic and religious minorities of the state, including 14 Muslims and 10 from Bodo, Dimasa and Kuki tribes.

“Assam has a history of secret killings which scarred the society and similar things appear to be happening now,” Saikia wrote in his letter, adding that the current practice of “shooting an accused even before his crime” could become counter-productive and go against public interest.