Agartala: The Tripura Police, already on the defensive after reportedly firing on protesters near Agartala, now has to deal with another crisis: a video has emerged of the police allegedly halting an ambulance transporting those injured in the clashes over the Citizenship Amendment Bill and thrashing its occupants.
The video shows an ambulance rushing two of the injured: Sumit and Lalit. Four-and-a-half minutes into the clip, the vehicle is stopped purportedly by jawans of the Tripura State Rifles. The policemen begin smashing the vehicle with their batons, with one of them even breaking the windshield. The clip purportedly shows the police beating up the injured even as they cry for help. Another clip (too graphic to air) shows the injured inside the wrecked ambulance.
The bandh against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, called by Northeast Students Organisation (NESO) and supported by 30 civil society and indigenous political groups in the region, evoked a massive response across the North East, with the protests in Tripura turning particularly violent. On the afternoon of 8 January, the entire Khumulwng and Madhav Bari areas saw massive protests by Twipra Student Federation (TSF) and Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT).
Ambulance not attacked, say police
Earlier Thursday, a section of the bandh supporters and police clashed near the blockade on National Highway 8. After the bandh supporters torched a few shops in Khumlwang area of West Tripura, the police had to resort to firing. Six protesters were injured: five were shot and two were critically injured.
Among them is 19-year-old Sumit Debbarma, a native of Khumulwng area who lives near the site of the highway blockade. He has been flown to Kolkata for advanced treatment after his condition deteriorated.
According to TSF general secretary Sunil Debbarma, Sumit was just an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire. TSF member Lalit Mohan Debbarma, 29, protesting near the blockade, was also critically injured in the firing. According to Sunil, protesters had blocked NH8 near Madhav Bari truck terminus. They knew police might force to remove the blockade, but they never expected to be fired upon. “The government didn’t ask us to withdraw the blockade; instead they imposed Section 144 and the police fired on us straight away,” Debbarma alleged over a phone call.
This part of the story the police agrees with. “We first had to use water cannons to disperse the mob. Then we used tear gas. Finally, when the mob began torching public property and became a threat to life, we had no choice but to fire,” said Additional Director General of Police Rajiv Singh.
“But we were the ones who evacuated the injured and shifted them to the hospital,” Singh added. Here the plot thickens. While the injured were indeed brought to the GB Hospital in a police jeep, videos show them, at one point, travelling in an ambulance that seems to have been stopped and attacked by Tripura State Rifles.
Tripura Police said no such attack occurred. "Why on earth would policemen stop an ambulance?" Singh said. "It never happened. In fact, I was there later on. We evacuated the injured and got them to the hospital in police vehicles. In fact, the driver of the ambulance ran away."
But Singh declined to comment on the video: "I have not seen the video. So it would not be proper to comment, but these things are never done by police. Obviously, police can approach the ambulance to see who are the patients, who is the driver. This can happen, but attacking ambulance, the police never does that. I can say with conviction because I was on the spot and issuing instructions to rush the injured to the hospital."
A journalist working for a local TV channel, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the incident. "I got information about the attack on the ambulance. I was on the highway. Since the situation was bad, I didn't venture into the area. However, my sources in the area confirmed that an ambulance was attacked and when senior police officers learned of the incident they evacuated the injured in a police gypsy."
INPT blames BJP
The ruling BJP’s allies and opponents alike condemned both the firing and the purported attack on the ambulance. The INPT demanded an independent probe into the events. "It’s the failure of BJP government,” said INPT general secretary Jagadish Debbarma. “The administration could have handled the situation without having the police resort to firing. Regarding the Tripura State Rifle ambulance attack, this is true. I also have the video.”
Tripura CPM MP Jitendra Chaudhury said the firing incident highlights the government's insensitivity. “There were protests and blockades under previous governments, but these were tackled without firing a single bullet. This time, they resorted to lathi charge, tear gas and bullets. Six people were seriously injured. The police was also allegedly accompanied by BJP hooligans. This government is resorting to violence and creating a communal divide; these must be investigated by a judicial committee and victims should be compensated.” He said he hasn’t seen the ambulance attack video, but alleges his sources said “BJP goons” attacked the ambulance and not the Tripura State Rifles.
The author is a freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
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Updated Date: Jan 15, 2019 11:26:41 IST