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Meghalaya: 2 custodial deaths in 10 days spark protests

May 30, 2014 14:14 IST

Two custodial deaths in the last 10 days in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills have triggered a wave of public protests in the northeast. Human rights bodies have demanded an immediate judicial inquiry into the incidents.

While Witson M Sangma, 35, a suspected militant belonging to the outlawed Garo National Liberation Army died at the Chokpot police station lockup on Tuesday night allegedly for want of medical attention, an undertrial prisoner Balsan Marak, 20, died at the Tura district jail in West Garo Hills district allegedly due to torture on May 20.

Sangma’s death has sparked mass protests in South Garo Hills district where a mob burnt down three police vehicles at the Chokpot police station on Wednesday. The protestors have demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry and a post-mortem by an independent panel of experts.

Garo Hills-based pressure groups led by Garo Students’ Union have called a dawn-to-dusk shut down on June 2. 

The South Garo Hills police had arrested Sangma from Chokpot on Tuesday for his alleged involvement with the GNLA.

“He was arrested for his involvement in planting two IEDs on a road in Chokpot, recently,” said South Garo Hills district police chief Lakador Syiem. The suspect was reportedly taken for medical examination by the Chokpot police, where a doctor noted that he was suffering from hypertension. Despite his medical condition, the accused was sent to the lock up for the night where he died.

“At the time of Sangma’s medical examination he did not show any signs of a major illness and was taken back to his prison cell. He was going to lead the police the next day to the spot where the IEDs had been placed recently,” Syiem said. Police claim that the night duty sentry called and alerted the officer in-charge that the suspect was having a serious medical condition.

“A doctor was called to examine him but it was too late,” said Syiem. Sangma’s family members have accused the police of torture and being directly involved in his death. 

Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognisance of a media report that a youth, Siddharth Kaushik Dutta, was subjected to false implication and custodial torture in one of the police stations in Assam’s Jorhat district. Reportedly, no action had been taken on two separate complaints made by the suspect’s mother against the police.

The commission has observed that the contents of the press report, if true, raise a serious issue of violation of human rights and has issued notice to the Director General of Police, Assam, calling for a report within two weeks.

Dutta is a registered contractor with the Assam government working in its Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan programme and owns a business outlet at the Unnayan market in the heart of Jorhat town. He has been booked as a member of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam.

According to the media reports, the officer-in-charge of Pulibor police station in Jorhat picked up the youth from his house on April 16 without any formal complaint against him. He was later shifted to the Jorhat Sadar police station. His torture continued till the April 26 and when Dutta fell unconscious he was shifted to Assam Medical College Hospital, Dibrugarh for treatment.

“He is now being treated by a team of six doctors. His condition was stated to be serious, as he had suffered injuries in the kidneys and liver because of torture he had to face while in custody of the Sadar police station in Jorhat,” said Dutta’s counsel.

The advocate quoting family members informed that the youth has been booked under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and a false case has been registered. The counsel said the victim had been subjected to severe torture at the Jorhat police station on the night of April 18 and in the morning of April 19 before he collapsed.
According to family sources, the Dutta had borrowed money for investment in his business from illegal vendors.  

Image: Representation picture




K Anurag