In a remote village situated in Chirang district of Assam, the mood was festive as Christmas celebrations were about to start. For Ratan Narzary and his small and happy family, the celebrations had begun on December 24. On the eve of December 27, however, Ratan’s wife was restless. He hadn’t returned from the village market and there had been no response when she had tried to contact him. The following day, she tried to contact him again but there was still no response. She was growing anxious by the minute as she was now suspecting that something must have happened to him.
Later, the same day, the village Headman received a call from the Bengtol Police Outpost informing him that Ratan Narzary had been killed by a joint team of the Police and the 7th Sikh Light Infantry in an encounter. The encounter site was more than 40 km from Narzary’s village and the police claimed that he was a member of an insurgent organization. They said that an AK-56 rifle and 11 rounds of ammunition had been found on him. He had been nabbed by the police and army personnels while he was returning home from the village market.
The village headman was shocked to hear this. He says, “I had known Ratan for a long time. I have been the village head for more than 20 years. He was a simple farmer, living happily with his wife and three young children.” He went to Ratan’s house to inform his family about this shocking incident. Ratan’s wife could not believe that her husband was killed in an encounter. Besides disturbing the family, the news had shocked many others who knew Ratan. A middle-aged simple farmer with a small family, Ratan had no police records.
On December 29, 2016, massive protests were carried out by the local villagers who demonstrated along with Ratan Narzary’s body. After facing the protests and criticisms from all fronts, the State Government ordered a one-man inquiry committee headed by Ahmed Hussain, commissioner, Lower Assam and Central Assam Division. The government promised that the report will be completed within 30 days of its official statement. The committee is yet to complete its report. Justice for Ratan Narzary’s family is a distant dream as even if the armed forces are found guilty of killing an innocent civilian, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) provides immunity.
This incident is one among thousands where innocent civilians have been killed in the name of counter-insurgency operations in the North-East. Many number of committees have been ordered to probe fake encounter cases but hardly any action has been taken against the guilty. In December 2013, three young school going boys in Chirang district were shot by the Assam Police and the Army, alleging them to be terrorists. Two of the young boys died on the spot while the other boy sustained serious injuries. One of them was only 10-years-old while the other was 13-years-old. There was no action taken against the officers responsible for killing innocent young boys.
A draconian law like AFSPA gives enough power to the armed forces to do anything with impunity and without any fear of getting punished. I still remember those fearful days of the late 1990s, when I was a young boy I used to wonder why my father and all my elders used to run away to sleep in a nearby jungle. Later on, I understood that they used to run away to save themselves from the torture of armed forces who used to come to every house in the name of frisking and used to beat up civilians.
The armed forces have always been admired for their valour and sacrifices that they make for our country. Each and everyone of us should have respect for them but, we should also accept the fact that there are a few who have committed crimes; crimes that are against the moral ethics of humanity. Such type of criminal activity should not go unpunished in the pretext of the sacrifice that they make for our country. Exemplary punishment for such crimes will deter others from committing the same crimes in future. It will also help in upholding the integrity and the moral ethics of the army.