Assam: Human rights defenders intimidated and beaten up in Karimganj district allegedly by a government official and his hired goons

Anti-corruption and labour rights activist Mr Shyamraj Rajbhor and his wife Ms Aradhana Rajbhor, who is an activist in her own right, were badly beaten up causing serious injuries on 2 December, 2015 allegedly by Mr P K Roy, Block Development Officer (BDO), Ramkrishna Nagar Block (in Karimganj district of Assam) and his accomplices presumably to intimidate them and members of their organisation Mojuri Sramik Union (MSU) into silence on the matter of alleged corruption relating to allotment of a house under Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), a central government flagship programme to provide housing for the rural poor in India. Despite filing complaint to the police and district authorities no actions against the alleged perpetrators have been taken. Mr and Ms Rajbhor and members of the MSU are apprehending more such attacks in view of lack of any deterrent actions and preventive measures.

Background: The MSU is a trade union registered under the Trade Union Act, 1926 vide registration number 2648 dated 29/10/2015. The main office of the union is located at Ratanpur Road, Hailakandi district in Assam. The primary objectives of the union include: 1. Ensuring security and welfare of the labourers of unorganised sectors and the tea garden labourers; 4. Proper implementation of the government schemes and programmes meant for the welfare of the poor people such as (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), IAY etc.; 4. Proper implementation of Public Distribution System etc. They mainly work through peaceful street activism like rally, demonstrations etc.; and also use Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005 to expose and fight corruption whenever necessary and other legal mechanisms including litigation in courts of law, if necessary.

34 year old Mr Shyamraj Rajbhor is the Secretary of Block Committee of the MSU for Ramkrishna Nagar Development Block and Ms Aradhana Rajbhor (32) is his wife and a member of the union. Both of them are residents of village Rajnagar (Post Office: Purva Harinagar) under Ramkrishna Nagar Police Station in Karimganj district, Assam. At the time of attack they were involved in works on alleged corruption relating to allotment of fund for IAY house. At the local level the authority of such allotment rests with the BDO.

According to leaders of the union, documents obtained through application under the RTI Act suggested that there were mis-allocation and misappropriation of fund under IAY scheme. The union members said that it was found that fund for a house had been allotted to a person who did not come under the category specified for the scheme because their name was not there in the lists of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families for whom the scheme is meant. The MSU, therefore, filed a complaint on 16 June, 2015 regarding the matter in the BDO office. The BDO after a long delay conducted a hearing on the case and said that he would inspect all relevant documents and would also conduct a spot verification on 2 December, 2015. But on the stipulated date when Mr Shyamraj Rajbhor went to the BDO office to produce the documents obtained through RTI application as well as the lists of BPL candidates of the area etc., he found that the BDO had already left the office. When Mr Rajbhor called him up he was asked to go to the house of one Mr Ravi Malakar of village Rajnagar in Ramkrishna Nagar area.

The incident: According to Mr Rajbhor, he along with some other union members and the supposed beneficiaries of the IYA in the area who were deprived due to the mis-allocation went to the said house, but the house owner did not permit them to enter his premises. Later on, after further telephonic conversations with the BDO, who was already inside the house, Mr Ravi Malakar informed that he would allow only Mr Rajbhor to come inside and meet the BDO. Accordingly Mr Rajbhor accompanied the house owner and met the BDO.  Mr Rajbhor produced the documents regarding the alleged wrong allocation of IAY housing fund but the BDO claimed that the documents were false and the particular house regarding which the complaint was made was that very house of Mr Ravi Malakar. But when Mr Rajbhor insisted that it was not true, the BDO got furious and started abusing and hitting, punching and kicking him. Then the other eight persons present there, who were allegedly hired by the BDO, namely Mr Shibu Das, Mr Paplu Dev, Mr Jontu Das, Mr Piklu Dev, Mr  Shundangshu Dev, Mr Moni Malakar and Mr Ravi Malakar also started beating him up. They repeatedly punched him on the head, face and other parts of the body. They also kicked him when he fell down on the floor. Hearing hue and cry generated by this Ms Aradhana Rajbhor also entered the premises and came forward to help her husband. She was also assaulted and molested by the perpetrators, according to her. When the other persons along with the driver of their vehicle tried to enter the premises another two persons stopped them in the gate and threatened to beat them up brandishing bamboo sticks. They also snatched the files containing the documents regarding the alleged corruption. When Mr Rajbhor almost became senseless the perpetrators took him aboard a Bollero car and started to move the vehicle but again threw him out a few metres away. Then his companions took him and his wife to the local hospital from where they were referred to the Santosh Kumar Roy Civil Hospital in Hailakandi town. They were admitted there and treated for seven days. Thereafter, they were released with the prescription of one month’s complete bed rest. At the time of filing this report they were still under medications.

Aftermath: A complaint detailing the incident was lodged on 2 December, 2015 at Ramkrishna Nagar Police Station. According to the MSU members, no case was registered till date and the statements of the victims and the witnesses were not recorded. According to Union President Mr Altaf Khan, “the attitude of the police is very questionable as the miscreants are not arrested till now”. Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) is concerned that if no action is immediately taken against the alleged perpetrators the path of justice for the victims may get difficult and such intimidating attacks on human rights defenders working in the area may be repeated.

Recommendations: 1. A case under the appropriate sections of law should immediately be registered against the accused BDO and his accomplices.

  1. All the accused including the BDO should be arrested immediately.
  1. A prompt and objective investigation into the case should be conducted under the supervision of a Deputy Superintendent of Police leading to filing of charge sheets as soon as possible.
  1. Adequate amount of interim compensation as well as ex-gratia for their treatments should be paid to the victims.
  1. The state should provide security to the leading members of the Mojuri Sramik Union and other human rights defenders who are at risk of such attacks.
  1. An additional case of misappropriation of public money by the public servant must be registered regarding the wrong allotment of Indira Awas Yojana.
  1. Any other appropriate actions for creating a safe and friendly environment for those who are defending rights of people guaranteed under the constitution of India and human rights treatises to which India is a state party.
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