The prime accused in the lynching of an All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) leader in eastern Assam’s Jorhat, died in a road accident on Wednesday while he was trying to flee from police custody, officials said.
A police official said that Neeraj Das was hit by an escort vehicle after he jumped from a police van during the wee hours on the way to Nakachari in Jorhat district.
Das, also a drug peddler, was the 28th person to have “died” in police custody or while trying to avoid arrest or escape since May. Most of the others were accused of militancy, illegal drug trade, cattle smuggling, rape, murder and various other crimes.
Das was accused of instigating and leading a mob of over 50 people who lynched AASU leader Animesh Bhuyan and injured his associate Pranay Datta, and journalist Mridusmanta Baruah when they tried to assist an elderly accident victim on Monday.
Many people were onlookers when the violence was going on and others captured the incident on their mobile phones. The influential students’ body AASU has announced to continue their protests until the perpetrators were given “exemplary punishment”.
Jorhat District Police Chief Ankur Jain said that Das was among the 13 people arrested so far for the lynching incident.
Jain said: “During interrogation, Das told the police about a consignment of drugs at Nakachari. He jumped out of a moving police van when a police team took him to recover the hiding consignment, but got hit by the escort vehicle. Three police personnel were also injured in the accident.”
“Das was declared dead on arrival at the Jorhat Medical College and Hospital,” Jain added.
Meanwhile, various organisations and political parties have been criticising the state government for custodial deaths in Assam.
Acting on a complaint filed by a Delhi-based lawyer Arif Jwadder, the National Human Rights Commission has recently sought Action Taken Reports, within four weeks, from Assam’s Director General of Police on “fake encounters” in the state since May this year.
Around 28 accused including Das, have been killed and around 40 others injured since early May when police fired on them as the “accused allegedly tried to escape from custody or during operations”.
Jwadder had earlier lodged a complaint with the NHRC, alleging “police killed many accused persons since May in the name of encounters”.
Since Sarma became Chief Minister on May 10, he has emphasised on a “zero tolerance policy” towards crime and criminals, giving the police “full operational independence within the purview of law” to act.