The other day police arrested a fish trader at Batadraba. But nobody knew what his crime was. In a press briefing, the Assam DGP showed the picture of a drunken man sleeping on a bus. Did the police arrest him for his drunkenness? Then, we came to know that the police demanded an amount of Rs 10, 000 and a duck from the family of the arrested man for his release.

It was alleged that as his family was not able to arrange the money the person was tortured in the police custody and he succumbed to his injuries. The police have not yet come out with a counter-narrative. The DGP said that he wouldn’t be surprised if this allegation was true. In a way, he gave credence to it.

The man died in police custody. Angry family members and relatives of the deceased set the police station on fire. We could appreciate their anger but the burning of the police station cannot be condoned. They can’t take the law into their hands.

Thereafter, the administration demolished the houses of the people who were accused of burning the police station. How could they do this? The death of the man in police custody must be investigated and the people involved in the burning of the police station must be brought to book. But why the houses of the accused were raged to earth?  Was this a lawful act? How could the administration do this? Is it the rule of law? If the police would have resorted to firing for protecting the police station that was a different thing. But how could they demolish their houses in cold blood? Isn’t this outrageous and unlawful? 

Here we should also refer to what the chief minister said in this respect. He said that the people who have posed themselves as security threats would be evicted and tried under the law. Before this, he said that the incident was incited by the Bangladeshis. This version that the incident was incited by the Bangladeshis and whoever did it their houses would be demolished is strange, particularly when it comes from the mouth of the chief minister. How could he say that there were Bangladeshis behind this trouble? Could he prove that? There are some people who always see the shadows of Bangladeshis in everything.

At the time of Garukhuti’s eviction too, the evicted people were branded as Bangladeshis. But later it was admitted by the government that all of them were Indian citizens and the government had to make arrangements for their resettlement. Some people out of their prejudice and bigotry against a particular community brand them as Bangladeshis.

It is most unfortunate and uncalled for that the chief minister also decided to jump on the bandwagon. Nobody is disputing the arrest of the fish trader, his death in the police custody, and the burning of the police station. All three things should be investigated impartially and the guilty must be punished.

Instead of doing that why are they demolishing the houses of the people suspected to be involved in the arson? No one should take the law into their hands. Laws are framed to contain and control unlawful activities. But when the government itself breaks its own laws what will happen to the common man?

There is another point to be noted here. The DGP himself said that he wouldn’t be surprised even if the police demanded the duck and the money? What does it mean? It means the police might have done that. We also know that some punitive actions have been taken against the police personnel of the Batadraba police station. But have we heard anything on this from the home minister or the chief minister? Nothing.

The police have now slapped UAPA against the wife of the dead fish trader and four others who were accused of torching the police station. Earlier they said that the entire thing would be investigated by an SIT and it would submit its report within 45 days. Now, what will happen to that?

Let us remember that at the moment almost the entire state of Assam is reeling under floods. Then there is that devastation at Dima Hasao and the evictions at Silsako and Dolu Tea Estate. But all these are relegated to the background now. The foreground will be occupied by the Batadraba incident. The bigots have already started fanning the venom by bringing the element of Bangladeshis to the narrative. This has become a familiar pattern these days. But the upholders of rule of law must do everything to foil such attempts.

Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com