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regular-article-logo Saturday, 15 June 2024

Fury over custody death: Volatile situation in Assam’s Lakhimpur district

The deceased, Ashraf Ali, died inside the Khelmati police outpost under Lakhimpur PS on Wednesday night soon after he was picked up by the police along with four others in connection with two-month old mobile phone theft case registered with the Lakhimpur PS

Umanand Jaiswal Guwahati Published 24.05.24, 05:52 AM
Representational image

Representational image File image

The death of a 42-year-old in police custody in Assam’s Lakhimpur district sparked off a volatile situation on Thursday morning, prompting the police to suspend two of its personnel, order a departmental inquiry while the district administration proposing a judicial inquiry.

The deceased, Ashraf Ali, died inside the Khelmati police outpost under Lakhimpur PS on Wednesday night soon after he was picked up by the police along with four others in connection with two-month old mobile phone theft case registered with the Lakhimpur PS.

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Of the five arrested by the police, two were allegedly involved in the theft cases while the other three were receivers of stolen goods. The police also said he fell off a bench he was sitting on and was rushed to the hospital where he was declared brought dead.

A neighbour, quoting family sources, told The Telegraph that Ali had bought the mobile from one Rahman living in the same neighbourhood (Pub Chanmari) as the deceased who used to make nets/fencing from galvanised wire. He again sold it to a relative due to financial distress.

Ali’s death “stunned” his family and acquaintances as he was “fit and fine” and by morning a crowd of 50-60 people assembled at the police outpost from 8.30am in protest, seeking justice, sources said. The crowd swelled to around 300 around 10am.

The police tried to calm tempers, even announcing the suspension of two cops and an inquiry by an ASP from the neighbouring Biswanath district. However, the measures did not cut ice with the crowd.

As the mob got restive, police resorted to lathi charge and fired tear gas and managed to push the crowd back by 50-60 metres, a resident said.

“But soon the mob started pelting stones at the police and CRPF personnel who retreated and tried to save themselves. The crowd came near the outpost and pelted stones for about three minutes following which the police fired three rounds of blanks to disperse them. It was controlled by 11am," an eye-witness told this newspaper.

A police vehicle was damaged, a cop and two media persons were injured and a person from among the mob was arrested, the police said. The police handed over the body of the deceased after completing all formalities to the family members at the residence of the deceased at Pub Chanmari around 6.30pm.

Additional forces from nearby areas were rushed to the affected area. The situation is tense but under control, a police official said.

Chanmari is about a km from Khelmati PS, about 385 km from Guwahati.

Before the situation turned volatile, the DGP’s official Twitter handle had announced, “Reference death in police custody at Khelmati OP District North Lakhimpur - 1. IC of Khelmati OP has been placed under suspension along with on duty sentry at time of incident. 2. Independent Enquiry has been ordered by Addl SP Biswanath. 3. All mandatory provisions of law & directions of NHRC/AHRC are being followed 4. DIG NR has been directed to proceed to Khelmati immediately.”

According to the National Human Rights Commission, the number of deaths in police custody in Assam was nine in 2021, 11 each in 2022 and 2023.

The eyewitness said for a moment there was a fear of a repeat of the Batardava incident when a mob agitated over the death of a fish vendor set on fire the Batadrava Police station on May 21, 2022. “ It was very scary situation but was defused in the nick of time,” he said.

The district administration has ordered a magisterial probe and has proposed a judicial inquiry, an official said. Ashraf is survived by his mother, wife and two daughters.

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