Dimapur lynching: They called him a Bangladeshi and a rapist just to kill him

Justice for Sharif Uddin Khan cannot remain limited to going through the motions of arresting a few, a bigger probe is due.

 |  12-minute read |   21-03-2015
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On the evening of March 4, 2015, I received a series of distress calls about a possible "riot-like" situation in Dimapur district, the border town of Nagaland. I was informed that a crowd of thousands had gathered in the town to protest the alleged rape of a Naga girl by an "IBI" (short for illegal Bangladeshi immigrant), a term sweepingly used against almost any Muslim from Assam. It was reported to me that the crowd of protesters had gone on a rampage and had broken into, looted and set on fire merchandise and goods from shops belonging to mostly Muslim businessmen and traders. I quickly checked, The Naga Blog, a Facebook group run by Yanpuvo Yanfo Kikon, an "employee" of the government of India, which confirmed the situation. What was worrisome was that many on the forum had gleefully claimed about their own roles in the rioting and looting, and there were calls to regroup to repeat the same on a much larger scale the next day.

It was evident that people were mobilised using this forum to gather at the clock tower in Dimapur at 9am on the morning of March 5. My sister who was also on the forum, tried to caution them saying, what they were instigating was a "riot against Muslims", labeling them as "illegal Bangladeshi immigrants". I messaged Yanpuvo that their instigation may have serious consequences. Rather than appealing for restraint, Yanpuvo blocked my sister and me from group. There was a heated exchange of messages between Yunpuvo and me where he claimed that they were not against any Muslims, but they are justified in taking action against IBIs.

There had been many instances in the past when Muslims from Assam had faced horrific violence on instigations that they were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. There have been earlier instances in Nagaland too. In 2007, the Ao Students Conference had started a campaign against alleged IBIs, called "Survival 2007", that led to violence against many Muslim residents of Mokokchung town on July 16, 2007. About 3,000 Muslim businessmen, traders, labourers had to flee Mokokchung. In any other part of the world such systematic forced removal of ethnic or religious groups from a given territory with the intent of making it ethnically or religiously homogeneous is called "ethnic cleansing". In India’s Northeast, it is celebrated as "drive against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants". Was the Ao Students Conference ever prosecuted for this patently unconstitutional and unlawful act? No. In its 66th Annual Conference of the Ao Students Conference, the then chief minister of Nagaland, Neiphu Rio, paid glowing tributes to the organisation for its successful drive of ethnic cleansing in the guise of drive against IBIs.

Being acutely involved in efforts to secure vulnerable sections of the population against any form of violence for some time now, it is almost routine for us to keep a close watch on developments which could lead to such situations. It is only natural that we take note of the formation of "Survival Nagaland" in September 2014 whose sole agenda was to drive out IBIs from Nagaland, particularly Dimapur. Among other organisations, it had closely coordinated its activities with the Naga Students Federation. In the months since September 2014, Survival Nagaland had been belting out a hate campaign against anyone who could be even remotely labeled as IBIs. It is certainly not believable that our intelligence agencies and the security establishment were unaware of this.

Naturally, the situation brewing in Dimapur on the evening of March 4, 2015 was of grave concern in light of past incidents. After I had received sufficient details about at least some of the businesses that were targeted, I felt compelled to build up public pressure on the government to intervene and avert a large-scale riot in Dimapur the next day. Between 8.02pm and 8.47pm, I tweeted a number of tweets tagging the handles @PMOIndia, @narendramodi, @HMOIndia, @BJPRajnathSingh, putting on record the situation brewing in Dimapur. India’s mainstream media was too preoccupied with the debate over the documentary India’s Daughter to take note. The tweets were, fortunately, noticed by some concerned individuals on Twitter and a massive retweeting followed. I was somewhat reassured that the situation in Dimapur could now no longer be ignored. It was later learnt that the ministry of home affairs had indeed sent an advisory to the Nagaland government late that night directing it to prevent any outbreak of violence.

Vigorously mobilised by the use of social media, a huge crowd gathered in Dimapur the next morning. I kept getting periodic reports on developments. Even though the situation was tense, fortunately no riot broke out. The game plan had changed and we were in the dark till it was too late.

It was at about 3pm I was informed that the "rape accused", an alleged IBI, had been handed over to the mob. I refused to believe this initially. It was beyond my imagination that a prisoner in judicial custody, lodged in a high-security prison could be handed over to a mob. I was mistaken.

The first photographs of Sharif Uddin Khan, stripped naked, bloodied and pulled along in a march on Dimapur’s streets reached me at about 5.37pm. I was horrified. It was evident that he would be killed. Over the next few hours, I would watch with horror and helplessness how a defenceless prisoner would be brutally killed on the streets, with the gleeful support of thousands, and finally, his lifeless and mutilated body would be hung at the clock tower in the middle of the town. It was again I, who felt outraged beyond my ability to express in words, and began tweeting the pictures of this barbarity which would go viral across the globe within an hour.

Meanwhile, our efforts to trace the identity and family of the slain man brought another shock. Far from being an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant, his family was from the Karimganj district of Assam and both elder brothers of the slain man were serving in the Assam Regiment of the Indian Army. After frantically locating them, my mobile number was passed on to them. Within minutes, slain Sharif Uddin Khan’s elder brother in the Assam Regiment, a traumatised Jamal Uddin Khan, called me. I learned more details that their father had retired from the Military Engineering Service and had passed away. He and another of his brothers served in two separate infantry units of the Assam Regiment. By now, India’s mainstream media was reporting that a suspected Bangladeshi man accused of rape was killed by a mob in Dimapur. Some news channels did not even have the ethics to use the word "suspected". It was then when I called Shiv Aroor and told him to correct the story in Headlines Today. Another friend in the Frontline contacted me and I passed on the details of Sharif Uddin Khan’s family, which he, in turn, shared with several others, including journalists from NDTV. Another friend in BBC sought details that were quickly passed on.

The tide of justification for such a horrific killing, as if it could be justified even if he were a Bangladeshi, slowly turned. How can a nation treat the family of serving soldiers with such barbarity and indignity? Even if he was accused of rape, where were those charges even pressed on a trial, let alone a conviction?

In Nagaland, however, the mood was still of triumph. How could there be anything wrong in meting out exemplary, even if barbaric, punishment to a Bangladeshi and a rapist who dared to defile a Naga woman? It was of course besides the point that the first accusation already stood shattered and the second one, of being a rapist, was beginning to look increasingly dubious.

Early next morning, Jamal Uddin Khan called me. It was about 7.30am. He asked me how they could get the body of their slain brother back. I asked who in Dimapur could go on their behalf. He then put me through to one of their uncles in Dimapur who was the only person willing to go. I immediately spoke to the director general of police, Nagaland, LL Doungel and asked him to make arrangements to handover the body to the slain man’s uncle, as authorised by the family. Doungel appeared surprised that someone would not just claim Sharif Uddin Khan’s body, but would actually arrive in Dimapur to do so. He informed me that the body of Sharif Uddin Khan was taken away to Kohima the previous day for postmortem and he would ask deputy commissioner and SP, Dimapur to make arrangements to hand over the body and provide security till Khatkhati at the Assam-Nagaland border. Shortly thereafter, the slain man’s uncle arrived at the office of the DC, Dimapur to receive the body of his nephew from the Nagaland government.

Hours before the Assam government and the Assam CM put pressure to return the slain body to his family, a Christian man was the only one to have the courage and humanity to go and claim the body, assisted in every way by another, who was born into a Hindu family and an Assamese by mother tongue. That Christian man was Sharif Uddin Khan’s uncle who had converted to Christianity and the Assamese Hindu man who assisted him from several hundred kilometers away was the author of this piece.

At about 10.30am, slain Sharif Uddin Khan’s uncle informed me that the DC and SP of Dimapur have expressed their inability to arrange an ambulance to take the body back. I quickly made a few calls to my sources, and after some time, the gentleman called me back to inform that one has been found. I asked him to not worry about expenses and if Nagaland government would not pay for the ambulance, we would not beg.

Soon, however, insidious attempts to prevent the handing over of the body started. When I was informed that they were dragging their feet and finding excuses, I spoke to the DC, Dimapur. He gave me an excuse that since slain Sharif Uddin Khan’s wife, who was a Naga, wanted the body to be buried in Dimapur, they were being unable to immediately hand it over to the family member who had gone to collect it. I immediately spoke to Sharif Uddin Khan’s brother who put me on a conference call to his wife. She categorically said that she wanted the body to be sent back to Karimganj and would even put it in writing if need be. I called back their uncle, and on his phone, spoke to DC Dimapur again and told him that his wife had not made any claims of wanting his body buried there in Dimapur, and that he should verify this himself and expedite release of the body. When there was still no sign of that happening, I spoke to chief secretary, Nagaland, Pankaj Kumar and asked him to look into what was delaying the handing over of the body. I pointed out to him that any attempt to prevent handing over of the body to the family will make tempers soar and create law and order problems, which they must not overlook. Also, the least they could do was now hand over the body with some dignity.

It would take almost another 24 hours and the efforts of many who threw in their weight, and with firm support of the chief minister of Assam, that slain Sharif Uddin Khan’s body would be brought back to his ancestral village of Bosla under Badarpur Police Station in Karimganj district of Assam. It was poetic justice that a man who was falsely accused as a Bangladeshi and a rapist, slain horrifically and with revolting indignity on the streets, was finally brought home in an Indian Air Force helicopter.

On March 7, the battered mortal remains of slain Sharif Uddin Khan were finally laid to rest.When the sheer enormity of the barbarity of the act began to dawn on the Nagaland government and its people, there were quick excuses but little remorse. Mere suspension of the DC and SP of Dimapur cannot explain why a curfew was not clamped in Dimapur on the night of March 4, in spite of the MHA warning?

It is unlikely to be deemed a case of oversight or negligence. It was all over social media and known to all in Dimapur what was brewing in the town the next day. Mere suspension of the jail superintendent cannot explain why a prisoner in custody of the judiciary was handed over to a mob in complete and outrageous violation of the entire judicial system? Excuses like "we couldn’t open fire on children" cannot explain the fact that no resistance was offered by the police or the security forces present.

In 2009 and 2010, many young boys in Kashmir were shot and maimed by security forces for provocations far less serious than trying to storm a high-security prison. It took hours from the moment Sharif Uddin Khan was handed over to the mob to his battered and naked body being hung from the clock tower. Many continued sharing the progress of this diabolic march openly on social media. Why was there no attempt to prevent it? Does one need any more evidence of complete complicity of Nagaland government in the killing of Sharif Uddin Khan? Questions will have to be asked to the Modi government as well, on why it was unable to prevent the barbaric killing of a defenceless prisoner, which has put the entire nation to shame?

It is classic fascist tactics to accuse a man of a heinous crime by demonising the community he belongs to, and then, instigate and justify violence against them. That was the exact intent. This is the shortest and most accurate explanation to what happened in Dimapur. Survival Nagaland and Naga Students Federation wanted "Bengali Muslim" businessmen and traders out of Dimapur. This was the most effective way of forcing them to leave, making them realise how vulnerable they are, making them realise that no law or police would protect them.

Justice for Sharif Uddin Khan cannot remain limited to going through the motions of arresting a few stray people who were stupid enough to have their photos clicked triumphantly while being involved in the killing. It has to extend to unmasking the brains behind this horrific atrocity that methodically created the conditions for the killing, and then ensured that the state would remain a mute witness. It would be our most important task to ensure that those who had instigated this killing, remaining invisible, have to be identified and brought to justice. But are we up for the task?

Writer

Nilim Dutta Nilim Dutta @nilimdutta

The writer serves as the chairman of Unified People’s Movement. He is also the Director of Strategic Research & Analysis Organisation.

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