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INDIA: West Bengal police colluding with smugglers

INDIA: West Bengal police attempting to cover-up crime, colluding with local smugglers

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) concerning the case of threats to a human rights defender Mr Faizuddin Biswas, since he dared to complain against a gang of smugglers to the local police. The incident happened on 26 August 2011 at about 2.30 pm. Biswas was returning home with his family when he witnessed a gang of smugglers engaged in a scuffle with the residents. Witnessing the incident and fearing bloodshed, Biswas' daughter-in-law screamed out.

The smugglers left the scene briefly, and returned armed with swords, knifes and sticks and started attacking Biswas' daughter-in-laws and Biswas' brother-in-law, threatened the family and left. In addition to seeking treatment, Biswas went to Jalangi Police Station and filed a complaint regarding the incident with the police on the next day. The police however refused to take any action upon the complaint and have reportedly accepted INR 30,000 from the smugglers as bribe. The smugglers on the other hand are visiting Biswas' house demanding him to return the money they have allegedly paid to the police, threatening Biswas that he would be killed if he failed to pay up. Fearing for life, Biswas has now taken refuge at MASUM's office.

CASE NARRATIVE:

Faizuddin Biswas, is 87 years old and resides at Dayarampur Village under the jurisdiction of Jalangi Police Station in Murshidabad district of West Bengal. Biswas is a human rights defender and is associated with MASUM, a Howrah-based human rights group working against torture and other human rights violations in West Bengal. Biswas is engaged in developing human rights campaigns in his locality since 2005.

On 26 August 2011 at about 2.30 pm, on the last Friday of the holly month of Ramadan, Biswas while returning home with his family witnessed that a group of smugglers had come to their neighbourhood and were having a fight with the local residents. The details regarding what erupted the fight are not known. Some of smugglers had tried to enter the house of one Rajitulla and an argument was going on between the smugglers and the residents.

Biswas’s daughter-in-law, Ms Surjan Bibi, shouted seeing the smugglers fearing bloodshed in the neighbourhood. The smugglers immediately left the place only to return after half hour, this time armed with swords, knives and sticks. The armed smugglers came to Biswas’s house and started beating his daughter-in-law Surjan Bibi. Seeing this, in an attempt to save her Biswas’s another daughter-in-law Ms Jarina Bibi came to scene and the smugglers started beating her too. Again, another daughter-in-law Ms Runa Bibi came to the rescue of her two sisters-in-laws. However the armed smugglers also brutally assaulted her. Mr Rejaul alias Rejabul Biswas, aged about 34 years, son of Moizuddin Biswas also was assaulted. All the victims were seriously injured in the assault.

The injured were rushed to the Sadikhandiar Block Medical Health Center, which is also under the jurisdiction of Jalangi Police Station. Surjan Bibi, who had suffered serious injuries including the fracture on her arm had to be shifted to the Baharampur, New General Hospital, which is under Baharampur Police Station.

The family filed immediately a complaint about the incident at the Jalangi Police Station. The Assistant Sub Inspector of Police Mr Anup Deb reportedly did not register a case based upon the complaint. MASUM alleges that even though the complaint is about a crime of very serious nature, the police have refused to register a First Information Report based on the complaint. A General Diary Entry of Jalangi Police Station, G.D.E number 1603/11 dated 27 August 2011, was however made based on the complaint. To the utter shock of the family and MASUM, the police is now saying that the corresponding papers in the General Diary are missing and hence a new complaint has to be made.

This is not the first occasion where the officers stationed at Jalangi Police Station has acted suspicious, if not in a condemnable manner in discharge of their duties. Over the past eight years MASUM has documented and the AHRC reported innumerable cases suggesting corrupt deeds of police officers stationed at Jalangi Police Station. Yet in February 2008, the West Bengal State Government declared that Jalangi Police Station is one of the best police stations in the state and decorated it with an award for its allegedly best performance.

As for the complaint filed by the family, the family was informed by the smugglers that the reason why the police did not take actions against them is because they had paid the police INR 30,000 as bribes. This perhaps explains why the General Diary papers went missing at the police station. Now, the smugglers are claiming that the victim family, that is Biswas and his sons, to pay the smugglers the money they had to pay at the police station. Due to the threats from the smugglers, Biswas has now taken shelter at MASUM's office

Jalangi is reportedly a smugglers' den. MASUM reports that the Border Security Force (BSF), local police, administration, Customs Department, elected representatives, political parties and influential persons present in Jalangi are either directly or indirectly instrumental in cross-border smuggling. The smuggling activities and the contact of the persons directly or indirectly involved in it goes beyond the Indo-Bangladesh border, the district, state and the countries - India and Bangladesh - that the activity has international involvement. The ordinary people living in the locality are often forced or in exchange of small payments are used, as couriers for the smuggling activities. The extreme state of poverty and utter neglect by the government, forces the people in the locality to try risking their lives in carrying goods to be smuggled across the Indo-Bangladesh border, rather than living in poverty and sleeping with empty stomachs.

It is reported that the BSF accept money, alcohol and sexual favours from women for over looking or guarding the smuggling process. A huge amount of money is reportedly transacted between the actual godfathers of smuggling and the BSF for illegal transportation of goods. The district administration and the local police obtain their shares from this ill-gotten wealth. If a rift occurs between the smugglers and the BSF or others involved in this smuggling ring, it is often the local people who fall prey to these turf wars.

MASUM suspects that the smugglers who attacked Biswas' family are prompted to do so since Biswas has been voicing objections against the criminal nexus between the smugglers and the administration, police and the BSF. MASUM is concerned about the security Biswas' security. The Secretary of MASUM contacted the Jalangi Police Station at around 12.15 pm on 5 September and spoke to the officer-in-charge, Mr Debashis Sarkar, requesting the officer to take immediate actions upon the complaint and further to guarantee Biswas' safety.

On the same day at about 4 pm four policemen, three in uniform and one in civilian dress went to Biswas' residence and forcibly obtained left thumb impressions of Surjan Bibi on an empty paper. The police are not allowed to do so. Biswas was not present at his house at the time. Biswas as well as MASUM now fears that the police has malicious intensions of obtaining thumb impressions of a witness to a crime, and that they would use the document to force the complainants to withdraw their complaint against the smugglers. MASUM also reports that the smugglers also threatened yet another human rights defender Mr Gopen Sharma, also working in Jalangi area. It is alleged that the smugglers came around asking for Gopen and threatened that he also must be dealt with, like they have handled Biswas.

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