By Bhaskar Dev Konwar, Senior Advocate, Gauhati High Court
BRIEF FACTS OF THE CASE : Mob Lynching at Karbianglong in Assam- Legal Implications
Two young boys, hailing from Guwahati who had gone to a scenic spot in Kangthilangso in the district of Karbi Anglong, while returning in their Scorpio vehicle, were waylaid at Panjari village under Dokmoka P.S. at around 7:30 PM on 8th June 2018. The merciless mob attacked and murdered the youths in a most gruesome and barbaric manner. The video of the cold-blooded killing had gone viral with condemnation demanding ‘eye for an eye’, ‘public hanging’ and ‘demand for justice’.
In spite of disclosing their identity as well as of their parents, they were repeatedly thrashed by the savages to death. All the while the two boys were seen pleading that they were ‘Axomiya’. One of the boys Nilotpal Das, aged about 29 years of age was a sound engineer based in Mumbai and the other Abhijeet Nath, aged about 30 years of age was his artist friend.
LAPSES ON THE PART OF ADMINISTRATION :
Instead of ensuring apprehension of all the culprits involved in the murder, the Deputy Commissioner of the district by his irresponsible remarks blamed the victims for not informing the local police station and returning late, etc. There was an inordinate delay on the part of the VDP or ‘Gaon Bura’ (village headman) in reporting about the incident to the nearest Police Station which is approximately about 20 minutes away only. The official statement is that there is a rumour circulated through Facebook about roaming of ‘Sopodhara’ (meaning child abductor or lifter) in the area, so shops were closing early and people were guarding their villages. So when the boys arrived at the place of occurrence, they were suspected to be ‘Sopodhara’.
After the arrival of the police, the crime scene was not barricaded or isolated, which resulted in the loss of vital forensic pieces of evidence. People were seen fiddling with the weapons of assault making the evidence corrupt by disturbing the scene of the crime. There is no system in place in the cyber cell of the Assam Police to counter false rumours or fake news by making people aware about it, except informing the local police station to be alert against such false rumours, etc. Senior Police Officials rushed to the spot and arrested some of the accused, but failed to cordon the area to prevent the escape of the co-accused. There was a total failure on the part of the SB or the Intelligence Branch of the Assam Police in foreseeing such mob violence in the area. No mobile forensic van was seen at the place of occurrence searching for evidence.
PROCESS OF INVESTIGATION
• F.I.R filed and registered under non-bailable sections including section 302 IPC (Punishment – Death or Imprisonment for life) against the members of the unlawful assembly for committing murder.
• Weapons of assault like the stick, Batam, etc. is required to be seized and sent for forensic evidence including DNA for matching the blood stains with the deceased victims or in the clothes of the accused. Expert opinion is required to be collected in regard to the process of scientific investigation authenticated by a senior officer.
• A forensic examination of the clothes of the victims is needed for an expert opinion.
• Report of the post-mortem must also tally with the weapons of assault and the testimonies of the witnesses. Evidence of the doctor is vital for corroborating the prosecution’s version of attack by the mob.
• Crime scene needs to be photographed including the injuries inflicted upon the bodies of the victims.
• Inquest report of the Magistrate should also be a part of the Case Diary.
• Statements of all the eye-witnesses are first to be recorded by the Police. To avoid retraction or to resile from it by the witnesses during the trial, it must therefore inevitably recorded before the Magistrate under section 164 of CrPC.
• The first and foremost duty of the investigating officer is to establish presence of the arrested accused at the place of occurrence. In case of an attack by a mob having a large number of persons, the IO must ensure that the witnesses establish in clear and precise terms, the overt acts of accused leading to the death of the deceased.
• Electronic evidence or video clippings is vital evidence in the instant case of attack by the mob. Such electronic evidence to be admissible in court is required to be authenticated about its genuineness and accuracy. Opinion of the expert in this regard will strengthen the case of the prosecution. Even the transcripts of the voice of the accused persons in the video clips can be scientifically examined.
• Since in this instant case the accused persons and the witnesses are most likely to be from the same villages, the chances of the witnesses turning hostile during trial is very high. The police must ensure protection of the witnesses from any such threat or intimidation by the accused or any person related to them.
• Mob violence is on increase, therefore, one of the ways it can be checked is by awarding exemplary punishment in rigorous form to remind the criminals in the society that human life is very precious and one who dares to take the life of others has to face its legal consequences. The IO must ensure that the investigation of the case is completed within the statutory period of 90 days from the date of arrest of the accused, otherwise, he would be entitled by default bail as a matter of right.
• Persons behind the scene exhibiting the crime should not go scot-free, but at the same time the investigating authority shall ensure that no innocent person should be indiscriminately arrested and deprived off his liberty.
• The sentence must befit the crime, but the way the sequence of events is unfolding, it may not be possible to bring it under the maxim “rarest of the rare case” for awarding the extreme penalty of death. Therefore, the investigating authority to ensure a conviction for life upon the accused persons who caused the death of the deceased must look for eye-witnesses and other corroborating circumstances.
• It is a preliminary duty of the police to put the cell id of the active mobile instrument of the absconding accused persons under observation to trace out their locations.
• Upon completion of the investigation, the charge-sheet is required to be filed without the least possible delay.
• Since there is every likelihood of threat to witnesses, the trial of the case needs to be expedited and completed at the earliest. If necessary, the transfer application may be moved before the High Court for transferring it to a nearby district.
• A senior special Public Prosecutor is to be appointed by the State to conduct the criminal trial. If necessary, appropriate application is moved for trial on a day-to-day basis.
• Considering the increase and complex nature of crimes in Assam, it is necessary that a cadre of Public Prosecutors including Additional PP be appointed in regular pay scale with the security of tenure for conducting the criminal trial.
It is really sad to express the loss suffered by the family members of the deceased persons. Some people acting on rumours and hearsay took the life of two young men just because they suspected them to be child lifters. Our social welfare schemes for creating awareness against such rumours have failed. Our education system needs to be relooked because it is seen even today people are victims of social malice like ‘witch-hunting’ due to lack of awareness. Human life is precious and if someone commits murder he must pay for it. The justice delivery system needs to be expedited so that people have faith in the rule of law. The State must step in by awarding ex-gratia compensation to the victims of the family members for failure to protect the life and property of its citizen.
In our State Assam, any citizen is free to move to a place of its choice and any group of persons who tries to restrain it must be dealt with severely. It’s a bad reflection upon the society when people kill another human being suspecting him to be a ‘Sopadhora’ or ‘Diani’.
Our Police force needs to be modernised and people should have faith in its efficacy to deal with crime. If offenders go unpunished or there is a delay in punishing the guilty, people’s faith in the administration of justice is eroded. The comments on social media in regard to the incident in question is a reflection of the people’s anxiety about the role of the administration. If there was no media reporting, probably it would have been another registered case of murder only.
The protest and rallies by the citizens in regard to the killing of the youths and demand for speedy justice should not be ignored. The Government cannot shirk its responsibility to protect the life and property of its citizen. It is easy to incite a group of people against another group of persons but one cannot take the law into its own hands. We hope and trust that by awarding exemplary punishment to the perpetrators of the crime will at least increase people’s faith in the rule of law.
(The opinion expressed by the writer Mr. Bhaskar Dev Konwar, is his personal views only, )