Sam Stafford, 17, was shot dead in police firing at Guwahati’s Hatigaon locality on December 13, 2019

Guwahati: Assam has a long history of jurisprudence deaths. In January 1980, four people lost their lives during an oil blockade as part of the Assam Agitation.

In October 2011, four farmers were killed and eight others were injured while they were protesting against minimum support price. In January 2018, two protesters in Assam’s Dima Hasao died after the police fired at them during demonstrations against an RSS activist’s comment.

A series of secret killings have tormented the people of Assam for from 1998 to 2001, claiming nearly 400 lives.

Now, apprehensions have been raised on police’s action on December 13 last year.

Post-mortem report shared with Sam Stafford’s family by GMCH authorities
Post-mortem report shared with Sam Stafford’s family by GMCH authorities

On January 24, the authorities of the Gauhati Medical College in Guwahati finally handed over the post-mortem report of 17-year old Sam Stafford to his family members. Stafford was one of the five killed in police firing in Assam during anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests. The report that came over after a month of Stafford’s death left his family members shattered. The post-mortem report stated that he was assaulted before being shot twice, first on his chin another on his back.

Sam’s uncle Bishop Stafford said, “We were shocked to see the post-mortem report. They have tortured and killed such a young boy. Moreover, they shot him from point blank range. The post-mortem report will speak nothing but the truth…The report clearly states where he was injured. He has been shot at from point blank range and tortured, it means he was murdered. He was shot on his chin first. After he fell they must have seen that he was still alive so they shot him again on his back.”

Meanwhile Sam’s mother, Mamoni Stafford is still in a state of shock of losing her elder child. She questions the brutality meted out to her son and seeks early justice.

“Where did they get the right to shoot my son? He was shot twice. He was not an extremist or a criminal. They have killed him without any reason and I want justice. What if the same happens to someone from the government? How will they feel about it? Be it JP Singh or the Assam police, whoever has killed him, I want justice. My son was innocent. He was just 17 years old. He was studying in 9th standard,” said the wrecked mother.

According to Syed Burhanur Rahman, Advocate of the Gauhati High Court a judicial inquiry is the only way to cull out the truth.

Rahman said, “As per as the case of Sam Stafford is concerned, when you have section 144 imposed more than five people should not gather together as it goes against the law. We also have to find out whether Sam was a part of a gathering where there were more than five people.”

He added,”Secondly, as per various reports he actually came to Latasil ground to see his idol singer Zubeen Garg. So after seeing his idol he was returning home so there is all possibility and probability that maybe even five people had not gathered when he was returning home and during that time he was assaulted and he was killed. It is a cold-blooded murder as per various reports. So it is very important to establish a judicial inquiry in order to find the truth.”

Along with the Stafford family, tragedy struck four other families on December 13 last year when youths protesting against CAA fell prey to stray bullets during separate police firings across Assam. The families now share a tragedy of losing a loved one.

Protests against Citizenship Amendment Act

Also Read: Citizenship (Amendment) Act: The Assam perspective

Advocate Rahman said, “As far as police switching off streetlights is concerned, it itself is illegal in my understanding. Streetlights are for the security of the citizen and it will directly give you access to people and it is helpful for authorities to find out the anti-social elements if there is any. What they have done is that they have switched off the lights and that way they aided the anti-social elements in violence. Most of the people who were protesting in the day were citizens and they were non-violent in nature but there is a possibility that a very miniscule number of people who are anti-social tried to mislead or divert the protests to take it to other extent they indulged in violence and police, rightly or wrongly sided them.”

A series of secret killings has tormented the people of Assam for from 1998 to 2001, claiming nearly 400 lives

EastMojo approached the Commissioner of Police, Guwahati, Munna Prasad Gupta, to ask him about police’s role during such situations and clarifications regarding the apprehensions made on police’s role. Gupta however, refused to take more than one question and did not respond when asked about the apprehensions.

Commissioner Gupta said, “There are procedures laid down by the law under CrPC Act to deal with various kinds of issues. So all these things are governed as per CrPC and police acts accordingly. If it is a peaceful protest and the protesters have taken permission and if somebody violates the law actions as per the laws are taken.”

Atrocities in Manipur

Azad Khan was just 12 when he was picked up from his house, dragged to a nearby field, beaten up and shot at by a combined team of 21 soldiers of the Manipur police and 21 Assam Rifles in Imphal West in March 2009. Khan was then a student of 7th standard at Phoubakchao High School with no criminal antecedents, as per reports.

Khan’s father Wahid Ali said, “The incident took place on March 4, 2009 around 11:45 am. He was in the 7th standard and that day he did not go to school due to ongoing HSLC exams. He was only 12 years old.”

Manipur is another state that has been crippled by such indents. Between 1979 and 2012, more than 1,500 people were allegedly killed in extrajudicial executions by security personnel in Manipur.

From 2004 to 2007, following the mothers’ protest, there were series of military operations in Manipur. Some of which include Operation Tornado, Operation Somtal among several others. Although reports of such incidences have reduced in the last decade there are still 1,528 cases of extra-judicial executions being heard in the Supreme Court of India for the past eight years.

Babloo Loitongbam, executive director, Human Rights Alert, has been the voice of such families and has been documenting human rights violations in Manipur for over a decade now. He believes there is a need for strict compliance of guidelines that already exists.

Between 1979 and 2012, more than 1,500 people were allegedly killed in extrajudicial executions by security personnel in Manipur

Loitongbam said, “In Manipur, particularly in the valleys since [1970] 70’s there have been documentation by the human rights groups and which helped in getting an idea about it. We have now placed in front of the Supreme Court of India 1528 extra judicial execution but these are just a few. After that 200 more cases have been again registered by the families to the human rights department. We are talking in the order of thousands in Manipur this is in terms of killing but in terms of torcher, documenting rape has been difficult because of the stigma involved in it. People would rather remain silent and cry in silent instead of coming out and raising their voice.”

At times like these, the faith of public hangs by a thread, however, there is always a ray of light at the end of the long dark tunnel. The SC has tightened its grip towards armed forces personnel in Manipur where it ordered a CBI probe by a special investigating team (SIT) into 98 alleged extrajudicial killings strict compliance to the existing norms may put an end to such hazards.

From 2004 to 2007, following the mothers’ protest, there was a series of military operations in Manipur

Loitongbamvfeels there needs to be strict compliance to the norms that exist. “Extraordinary laws like AFSPA needs to go but also there are clear guidelines on the use of force for example, when shooting in the crowd you should shoot below the belt aiming in the ground, you cannot randomly shoot at eye level. So unfortunately, these guidelines are not followed. So there are two levels one is you need to get rid of these endangering laws and practice of 144 for decades in Northeast whereas these are extraordinary measures which should be taken up for a temporary measure and there should be a sunset law which means it should end after a certain period of time which can’t continue endlessly. But also there is a need for strict compliance for whatever guidelines exist today and there should be proper investigation when somebody gets killed in police firing whether they fired keeping all the rules in mind.”

Meanwhile, in search of justice, Sam Stafford’s family members have registered a case at Hatigaon police station in Guwahati and have also decided to approach the human rights commission.

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