Chirang district in western Assam shut down for 12 hours on Tuesday to protest the death of a 45-year-old man while allegedly in the custody of the army.
Ratneswar Brahma was picked up from his residence in Borgamai village on Friday on suspicion of having links to the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland-Songbijit (NDFB-S) rebel group.
His family, which learnt of his death early on Sunday, has accused the army of torturing and killing Brahma. The army denied the charge, saying Brahma died of injuries he sustained when he tried to escape by jumping out of a truck.
“The bandh from 5am today has been called to protest the inability of the district authorities to take action against the errant army officers and soldiers,” Phanin Boro, chief of the district unit of the All Bodo Students’ Union, told Hindustan Times.
According to local residents, troops of the 7 Sikh Light Infantry from an army camp at Panbari picked up Brahma for questioning on Friday and said he would be released by 3 pm on Saturday.
Some soldiers went to Brahma’s residence on Saturday and asked his son Abinash to accompany them to sign a consent form for an operation to be performed on his father.
“They said my father was in the ICU at a private hospital in Bongaigan (40 km from the village) for treatment of an injury,” Abinash said.
Members of Brahma’s family asked the soldiers to leave and bring him back in the same condition he was in on the day he was picked up. On Sunday, they received information that he had died in the hospital at 3.30 am.
A district police officer said Brahma’s family filed an FIR in the local police station against the officer-in-charge of the army camp in Panbari, accusing him and his men of killing Brahma with extreme torture.
“We are probing the circumstances under which he died,” the police officer said.
The army denied the accusation. “Brahma was an over-ground worker of NDFB-S but he was suffering from renal disorder. He sustained injury in his abdomen when he tried to escape by jumping out of the army vehicle in which he was being brought to the camp for questioning,” defence spokesperson Lt Col Suneet Newton said in Guwahati.
“He was admitted to a hospital immediately but died owing to internal injuries,” he added.
But Boro accused the army of trying to hide the circumstances in which Brahma had died.
“The army is trying to cover up. Doctors who attended to Brahma said his internal organs were damaged because of a thrashing, and that he could have been saved had he been brought to the hospital in time. This is sheer murder of an innocent villager labelled an over-ground activist of a rebel group,” he said.