Indian human rights activists are demanding an independent probe into allegations levelled by a top paramilitary officer that government forces killed two innocent tribesmen in a staged encounter in the northeast state of Assam two months ago.
In a recent letter to the Home Ministry, the inspector general of India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) accused members of a joint security task force of picking up two Bodo tribesmen and killing them before labeling them as militants in insurgency-ravaged Chirang district on March 30. The slain men were identified as Lukash Narzary, 30, and Eyob Islary, 23.
In his stunning revelation, CRPF Inspector General Rajnesh Rai said that allegations made by members of his own department who had described the two men as belonging to the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), an armed Christian separatist group fighting Indian forces for a sovereign state for its 1.2 million Bodo people, were false. Bodos are an ethnic aboriginal group, with a significant population in Assam and West Bengal.
“The CRPF’s official report present(s) a fictitious account of the joint operation by the security forces to conceal pre-planned murders of two persons in custody and present it as some brave act of professional achievement,” Rai wrote in his letter that was publicized last week, terming the killings as “one of the cruelest forms of human rights abuse.”
“Security forces do not have the right to kill them in cold blood under the cloak of larger societal good. Therefore, it is crucial to strike a balance between the individual human rights and societal interests while combating insurgency," he added.
'A blot' on security forces
Although the Assam government has launched an investigation into Rai’s allegations, human rights activists urged India’s rights watchdog, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), to conduct an independent probe into the killings.
“Fake encounters are a blot on the records of security forces. The NHRC should intervene so as to ensure that human rights are not violated,” Hasina Kharbih of Impulse, a Meghalaya-based rights group, told BenarNews.
“If the allegations are true, this is a brutal act of murder that creates terror. Everyone has the right to face trial and to be heard,” rights activist Agnes Kharshiang told Benar, adding that security forces routinely stage encounters in the militancy-torn northeast states.
Rai’s allegations have come even as the Supreme Court is hearing a set of petitions that seek to punish security officials who have allegedly killed hundreds of innocent people in fake encounters in Manipur, another state in the northeast, where more than 35 militant groups are active.
There have been at least 1,528 incidents of staged encounters in the past 20 years in Manipur alone, according to the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM).
“The proliferation of armed groups and presence of arms have allowed a free run for all involved in counter-insurgency operations. The chaos provides the smokescreen for encounters,” Kishala Bhattacharjee, author of “Blood on my hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters,” wrote on his blog.
The Assam government said it was conducting a magisterial probe into the allegations under guidelines issued by the NHRC.
“The government of Assam views the matter very seriously and is committed to taking appropriate action on receipt of the enquiry report,” the Times of India quoted an unnamed government spokesman as saying.