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Secret killings in Assam: 400 people murdered. But no one killed them

Amarjyoti Borah | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 11:07 IST

The killings

  • Nearly 400 people were killed in Assam between 1998 and 2000
  • These were secret killings of ULFA sympathisers, allegedly at the AGP govt\'s behest

Wait for justice

  • Congress came to power in 2001 promising justice for the victims
  • Nothing has been done so far

More in the story

  • How did the killings take place?
  • Is there any evidence against the AGP govt?
  • What do the victims\' families say?

Ananta Kalita, the lone survivor from the infamous secret killings in Assam, is frustrated with the Assam government. The 45-year-old feels that that that the state government has not fulfilled its promises of providing justice to the families of those who were killed. This is a promise the government has made before every election.

Kalita had miraculously survived a bid on his life during that period. However over 400 others were not so lucky.

Also read - In the past 24 years, over 5100 people have been killed in Assam

Many allege that the secret killings, which took place between 1998 and 2000, were an act of state sponsored terror by the then AGP government. During this period, family members and sympathisers of the militant outfit ULFA ,were targeted.

Broken promises

In 2001, before the state elections, the Congress used the issue as a poll plank and promised justice for the victims of the families.

"The Congress stormed into power In 2001, promising justice to the families of the victims. It used the issue again in the 2006 and 2011 Assembly elections," says Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, a veteran journalist and human rights activist.

However, the promise of justice was never fulfilled.

"Before every election, we hear that we will get justice and the guilty will be punished, but that has not happened. We are losing hope," says 44 year-old Arati Das, who had lost her husband Diganta Das on 7 November, 1998.

The Congress had also promised a government job to a family member of the victims.

In his budget speech on 15 March, 2010, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who also holds the finance portfolio, had announced that 2% of the government jobs in the state will be reserved for families of victims who died in the secret killings and insurgent violence.

"This announcement came one year before the 2011 Assembly elections. Many, including me approached the state government for jobs, but we only got assurances," said Kalita.

In its defence, the Congress said that it is committed to fulfilling its promise, but it will take time.

"The Congress government is committed to providing compensation to the victims' families and ensuring that they get justice," said Mehendi Alam Bora, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson.

State-sponsored terror

Kalita was dragged out of his house by a group of men on the night of 16 September, 1999. Two days later, he was shot at point blank range and pushed down a hill. However, he survived miraculously and somehow managed to reach the Guwahati Medical College Hospital.

According to medical and ballistic reports, the bullet had pierced through his skull and came out just below the left eye without damaging the nerves. Even a fraction of millimeter would have caused fatal injuries.

According to Kalita, he was not connected with ULFA in any way, but he had been vocal against the rampant corruption in the AGP government.

"Despite my injuries, I am happy that the attack on me exposed the entire episode in the state," says Kalita.

The spate of secret killings between 1998 and 2000 was nothing less than a reign of terror.

The modus operandi was something like this: a group of men would visit a family and instruct them to persuade the ULFA members to surrender . If the family refused or failed to do this, an advance team would be sent to survey the location and structure of the house.

The final act sends a chill down one's spine.

"They sent armed and masked men at dead of night. They knocked at the door to wake up the family members and drag their target out. They either shot the person then and there or took him away to kill him secretly and throw the body somewhere," reveals Bhuyan.

The targeted killings are said to have taken place at the behest of the Prafulla Mahanta govt

The Congress' promise of justice had come as a ray of hope for such families. Now all they feel is helplessness.

Take for instance Nilima Barman, whose son Khagen Barman, was killed.

"Khagen was murdered on 17 March, 2000 at around 7:15 pm. A group of armed men pulled him out of the house and shot him to death in the courtyard. After that, they put his dead body inside a gunny bag and left the place," she recounts.

Barman says that she wants justice in the form of punishment to those who are behind the killings.

The inquiry

The Justice Khagendra Nath Saikia Commission, which was set up in August 2005 by the Congress government, indicted former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta (who was also the home minister) and the police top brass for "extra-constitutional killings".

The Commission submitted its report in 4 parts to the government and the reports were presented before the Assembly on 15 November, 2007.

Also read - 319 civilians killed by militants in over 4 years in Assam

"There is enough evidence to show that the then home minister was at the helm of these extra-constitutional killings," the Saikia report states.

The commission also found evidence to prove that apart from the state administration, surrendered militants and even the Army was involved in the entire episode.

The report also noted that the investigations into these cases were not carried out properly.

"No chargesheet was submitted in any of the cases. The vehicles used (by the killers) were without registration numbers. There was police patrolling in the area of the crime prior to and after, but not during the killings," the commission report observed.

Family members of the victims and human rights activists question why no one has been booked so far.

"The Commission has already indicted the former Assam chief minister and his government, then why has no action been taken as yet?" asks Arati Das.

Facing flak from different corners, Gogoi has said that, conviction is very difficult due to lack of evidence.

"This is despite the fact that the Saikia Commission had referred to the involvement of the (AGP) government machinery in the secret killings, as those could not have taken place without tacit support of those in power," said Gogoi.

In 3 elections, Congress promised to provide justice to the victims. It still remains unfulfilled

The Assam Congress has come out in support of Gogoi and said that the AGP government didn't take any steps even to investigate the episode.

"The then government had constituted the Shafiqul Haque commission, but it was only to inquire into the attempted murder of Ananta Kalita. It didn't take any steps to investigate the entire episode. We constituted the KN Saikia commission," said Bora, the Congress spokesperson.

Defending Gogoi's statement, Bora said that conviction is difficult as the government machinery was involved in the entire episode, and everything was pre-planned.

The Saikia commission had given a number of recommendations which have not been implemented. For instance, it had recommended the dismantling of the unified command structure of the Army, the Assam police and the central paramilitary forces. It has recommended that a one member of the victim's family should be given a government job. Neither of the recommendations were implemented by the government.

However, the government did carry out the commission's recommendation of giving a one-time compensation of Rs. 5 lakh per person killed to the victims' families.

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First published: 30 November 2015, 8:44 IST