The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kakopathar rerun in Lezai

Dibrugarh, July 23: Lezai Baruahgaon is doing a Kakopathar against the army.

Hundreds of residents of this village in Dibrugarh district blocked National Highway 37 at three points today, demanding exemplary punishment to the security personnel who allegedly raped and molested several women during a recent counter-insurgency operation.

The villagers threatened to intensify their agitation if their demand was not met.

A team of army and CRPF personnel allegedly raped two women and molested several girls on the night of July 15.

Braving intermittent rain, villagers from Lezai laid siege to NH 37 at Sessa Tiniali, Lepetkata and Kutuha for three hours from 11am. Sessa is about 100km from Kakopathar in Tinsukia, where over 20,000 people had set out on a similar march in February 2006 to demand justice for Ajit Mahanta.

Ajit, a farmer, was killed by the army and branded a militant without any proof. Ten people died in subsequent police firing on protesters.

The organisations spearheading the agitation at Lezai floated a forum, the Santrash-Nirjatan Biruddhi Oikya Mancha, “to combat terror and oppression”. Anti-army slogans rent the air at all three blockade sites.

The Dibrugarh district administration had ordered a magisterial inquiry into the alleged rape and molestation incidents.

But as many as 32 organisations, including the All Assam Students’ Union and the Assam Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP), rejected the magisterial probe and demanded that Dispur should institute a judicial inquiry into the incidents.

The organisations warned of a statewide agitation in an even more aggressive manner if the government did not accept its demand for a judicial inquiry within the next 24 hours.

The district administration extended the timeframe for the magisterial inquiry, setting July 30 as the deadline for the completion of the probe. Additional deputy commissioner Prasenjit Gogoi is conducting the inquiry and magistrate Smritakshi Baruah is assisting him.

Subdivisional officer (Sadar) Umananda Doley visited the spots where the protesters blocked the highway in the afternoon. A huge contingent of police and CRPF personnel was deployed, too.

The villagers said the police and CRPF personnel used force to scuttle the democratic protest. Several buses and other vehicles were stranded on the highway throughout the road blockade. The protesters did not stop vehicles carrying security personnel, patients and students.

“It is very unfortunate that the state government is silent even after protests from the people against army excesses. We demand that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act be withdrawn from the region immediately. It is only because of this law that the army is able to commit such excesses and get away with them,” Tapan Sarmah Baruah, adviser to the AJYCP’s Dibrugarh committee, said.

The army refuted allegations of excesses during operations in Lezai Baruahgaon.

“This is anti-army propaganda, backed by elements who are close to Ulfa. It is only a tactic to stop army operations,” an army officer said.

A source in the district administration said the army was asked to file a report on the incident, but it has not responded.

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