Police firing on a mob that lynched an alleged rapist in Nagaland’s Dimapur town after storming a jail and dragging him out, has claimed the life of a 25-year-old protester.
Doctors at a private hospital in Dimapur said Inito, who took two bullets to his chest, died Thursday night. Four others, one of them in ICU, are in serious condition.
Apprehending more protests following Inito’s death – and a backlash against migrant Muslims, some of whose houses and shops were destroyed on Thursday – the district authorities deployed Indian Reserve Battalion and paramilitary personnel in Dimapur and adjoining areas.
The authorities are also wary of militants, in designated camps following a prolonged ceasefire, trying to take advantage of the situation.
“There has been no incident but the situation is tense,” Dimapur deputy commissioner Wezope Kenye said, adding curfew imposed in the town would continue until normalcy returns.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi condemned the incident. In a statement on Friday, Gogoi termed the act as ‘barbaric, heinous and inhuman’.
The Assam chief minister pointed out that the crime committed by the youth was equally condemnable but law should have been allowed to take its own recourse. “The crime committed by the youth is equally condemnable. But he should have been tried as per law,” Gogoi added.
Thousands of protesters had surrounded the offices of the deputy commissioner and superintendent of police on Wednesday, demanding that the alleged rapist named Syed Farid Khan, 35, be handed over to them.
The parents of a Naga girl had on February 23 lodged a complaint against Khan, a dealer of scrap and used cars, saying he had raped her several times that day. A migrant Muslim from Assam suspected to be a Bangladeshi national, Khan was subsequently sent to the central jail in Dimapur.
The protests continued on Thursday with members of several organisations led by Naga Students’ Federation marching to the Dimapur Municipal Council office, seeking cancellation of trade license to all Bengali-speaking Muslims.
As talks between the district authorities and the protesters failed, some 90,000 people marched to the fortress-like jail, broke open two large gates and dragged Khan out. They stripped and thrashed him while pushing him to the town’s landmark Clock Tower 7km away where a ‘public hanging’ had been planned.
Khan succumbed to his injuries half way to the lynching spot. But such was the anger that the protesters tied his limp body to a motorcycle and dragged it to the Clock Tower.
The police, outnumbered, kept a distance while Khan was being dragged, but arrived after his body was strung on the Clock Tower fencing for display. They fired blanks to disperse the protesters who retaliated by pelting stones and torched more than 10 police vehicles.
The Nagaland cabinet, chaired by social security and welfare minister Kiyalinie Peseyie in the absence of chief minister TR Zeliang who is in Delhi, met Thursday night to condemn the killing of the rape accused. It appealed to the people of Nagaland to allow the “due process of law to take its own course and not to indulge in violence or vandalism”.
The cabinet also decided to institute a high level inquiry committee into the incident to find out if there was any lapse or shortcoming on the part of any public servants in connection with the incident, and the persons or group responsible for the violence leading to the death of the accused.
Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports of migrant Muslims leaving or trying to leave Dimapur for relative safety in Assam. Engaged mostly as farm labourers or construction workers, the migrants have periodically been targeted during anti-migrant violence in Nagaland.
A prime accusation against the migrants is that they entice Naga girls and marry them for tribal status. A new Naga ‘tribe’ called Sumiya – born out of legitimate marriages between Sema or Sumi (Naga tribe) and Bengali-speaking Muslim men called Miyas – was formed in the 1990s prompting the Naga Students’ Federation to launch a movement for detecting and deporting "foreigners". One of the popular slogans used that time was ‘Nagas are Nagas by birth, not by adoption.”
The movement was short-lived because of Naga militants who reportedly depended on Bangladesh for smuggled arms and money laundering.