The Assam Human Rights Commission has found two officials guilty of killing a man accused of theft in an fake gunfight in 2021.

The commission, in an order dated January 24, has directed the state government to pay compensation of Rs 7 lakh to Babu’s wife within two months and also punish the two officials.

The human rights body took up the case after it was informed by the superintendent of police at Kharupetia police station in Darrang district that Md Asha Babu had died while in police custody on August 11, 2021, a day after he was taken into custody.

In its order, the human rights panel said that according to Abhijit Kakoti, the officer in-charge, and Achyut Dutta, the circle inspector of the Kharupetia police station, Babu was taken to the banks of Dhansiri river in the district to recover arms and ammunition.

During the search, Babu had allegedly tried to run away and open fire at the police officials. Kakoti and Dutt had claimed that Babu was killed as police fired back at him in self defence.

Following Babu’s death, the panel had directed Darrang magistrate to conduct an inquiry into the incident and submit a report. Babu’s wife Monuwara Begum had also filed a complaint with the state human rights body. According to Begum, Babu was bed-ridden at the time of the arrest and was forcefully taken to the police station by the two police officials.

She had also raised concerns regarding why Babu was taken to a forest area at the banks of the Dhansiri river without any witnesses to recover the alleged arms when he was booked in a theft case, the panel said. At the time when Babu’s family was called to the hospital to collect his body, panel said, they were only allowed to see his face.

After the post mortem examination, when the body was handed over to the family, Begum had found injuries on various parts of Babu’s body which appeared as dark spots including bullet injuries on the stomach, according to the panel.

“She also noticed that his fingers and thumb were fractured, his genital part [penis] cut down,” the it said. “She went on to say that something like rod were inserted on his neck and believed from the bullet injuries found on his body that the gun shots were fired upon a sleeping man and that she was certain the police killed her husband in an encounter.”

In its inquiry, the human rights body found that Babu’s finger print was not found on the pistol alleged to have been seized by the police near his dead body at the encounter site.

“In our opinion, the aforesaid circumstances established that the deceased was killed by the two charged officers in a fake encounter killing while he was in police custody,” it said.

Increase in shootings under BJP government in Assam

Since Himanta Biswa Sarma became the chief minister of the state in May 2021, Assam has seen a number of police shootings. An affidavit submitted by the Assam government to the Gauhati High Court said that 171 such incidents between May 2021 and August 2022 took place in the state. It also said 56 people had died and 145 were injured in police action.

Many of those injured and killed belonged to the state’s ethnic and religious minorities. A number of shootings also took place in the course of a police crackdown on drugs, which has been championed by the government.

Also read: In BJP rule, 31 killed in Assam’s alleged encounters – most belong to ethnic or religious minorities