Editor's note: This series examines how social media rumours falsely accusing two young Assamese men, Abhijeet Nath and Nilotpal Das, led to their lynching. The incident reflects not just the marginalisation of the Karbi community to which the alleged perpetrators belong, but also points at fissures in a society that's grappling with the complexities posed by the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which seeks to unite dominant Assamese and all ethnic tribes in the state.
Guwahati: The grief and outrage across Assam following the lynching of Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath in Karbi Anglong last week is turning ugly, with calls for revenge attacks on Karbis. Wide-scale protests demanding justice erupted after videos of one of the men begging for his life while being thrashed by the mob on 8 June surfaced on social media. The men were suspected of being child-lifters.
This anti-Karbi sentiment is evident across the Brahmaputra Valley, especially in Guwahati, where Karbi students have been threatened and reports have emerged on social media of vigilante mobs roaming the streets looking for Karbis. Karbi students have been asked to vacate their hostels in Guwahati and many are leaving Axomiya-majority areas in the valley out of fear.
Abuse and support
To maintain communal harmony, a group of students have come together to provide support to those facing backlash. "I saw some students trying to help innocent Karbis in Guwahati on social media. As a concerned citizen, I thought it was my duty to help them," said Rituparna Neog, an ex-student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), who now works with an NGO.
"We can't blame the whole community for a few miscreants. This is a challenge to the anti-tribal narrative which has taken shape after the incident," she said. It was also reported that two tribal youths were attacked by a vigilante mob near Basistha, Guwahati. Social media has been flooded with calls for violence against not just the perpetrators but the entire community.
Some have even demanded an economic blockade of the hill district. On social media, Karbis are being described as “uncivilised and junglees”. The police have already arrested around 35 people across 10 districts in Assam for posting hate-filled comments on social media platforms like Facebook.
A number of protest rallies have been taken out in Karbi Anglong against the shameful incident. Everyone from social organisations to political organisations of Karbi Anglong have condemned the brutal incident. Though police have made dozens of arrests, protests against the lynching continue in Guwahati amid heightened security.
Will history repeat itself?
“Please don’t let deaths of Nilotpal and Abhijeet go the way my son Jhankar Saikia’s case unfolded,” cried Haren Saikia, whose son was killed in broad daylight in front of the police in Karbi Anglong on 25 June, 2013.
No charge sheet was filed. Haren said he still sees the perpetrator roaming the area even as promises of compensation from the government remain unfulfilled.
Haren, an advocate, left his home in Karbi Anglong after his son’s death. However, Haren soon found his home forcefully occupied to make room for a law school. “My son has died. I don’t have the courage to fight for a house now," Haren said. "I have let it go after futile attempts of justice.”
Crime watchers said the area has witnessed several such cases, including mob lynchings, but it goes unreported in the mainstream media.
Legal complexities abound
Delivering justice in cases of mob lynching is particularly challenging because of the complexity of such incidents and the large number of people involved.
“Care should be taken to ensure the trial is not delayed due to tactics adopted by the defence and justice is delivered swiftly," said advocate Bhaskar Dev Konwar. "In short, the judicial system is equipped to deal with cases of mob lynching but it is delaying trials that sometimes forces people to adopt vigilante justice.”
An undercurrent of tension
Some of the state's intellectuals have pointed out that there is a seeming undercurrent of tension between the communities. “Even if there is understanding and respect at the leadership-level, the ground situation is far worse than what meets the eye,” said a noted intellectual who did not wish to be named.
“Karbi Anglong has seen years of underdevelopment. The tribals have been looked down upon due to illiteracy and lack of exposure. The Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council is thought of as notoriously corrupt. Barely any funds have been directed to development,” said a local Karbi youth, who also did not wish to be named.
The police and district administration appear to be unable to seize control of the boiling unrest which has been brewing quietly over the past few years. “A tiny feud between communities can snowball into a big fight with merciless killings," said Konwar.
Assamese actress Akashitora Saikia pointed out that even though many militants from outfits such as United Liberation Front of Assam, National Democratic Front of Boroland, Karbi People's Liberation Tiger and others have surrendered and promised to assimilate into society, it cannot be denied that they've been conditioned to spread hatred and kill citizens.
“No one has even thought of a psychological or spiritual approach to nurture the surrendered militants back to normalcy. Their minds have to be counselled and the rehabilitation is a necessary part of peace building,” Akashitora said.
Nilotpal’s mother Radhika seems unable to come to terms with her loss. Lamenting the fate of her son and his friend, Radhika described them as "nature lovers" who'd gone on a trip within their state.
With inputs from Pratyush Deep
The authors are freelance writers and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: Jun 18, 2018 17:50 PM