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Army Atrocities in Meghalaya

Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) strongly condemns the continuing army atrocities in the name of combing operations in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills. While Meghalaya is not notified as a “disturbed area,” and the writ of the army does not run large there, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) allows army personnel located in neighbouring states to conduct operations within 20 kilometres of the state border. On 25 November 2015, the Gurkha Regiment stationed in Assam’s Rangjuli town shot dead two unarmed civilians (Alphus Momin and S D Marak), a few kilometres from Kharkutta Bazaar in the Garo Hills area in Meghalaya. The incident occurred at around 8:40 pm, when Alphus Momin, a schoolteacher, and S D Marak, a vendor, were on their way home in Rajasimla village on a motorbike. Earlier, in March 2015, two daily-wage workers, Selba Sangma and Jekke Arengh, were shot dead by the Dogra Regiment in the same area. In a bid to cover up its “mistake” and to pass off the killings as an “encounter,” the army planted two country-made pistols near the bodies. The matter came to light as two other men were also intercepted in the same incident and were taken into custody. The government then ordered a probe into the killings.

Army lawlessness is inherent in areas under the AFSPA, as this law allows impunity and immunity to men in uniform. However, even within the next-to-negligible safeguards available in the act, the army is supposed to inform the local police and seek its help before conducting operations. In the November incident, not only did the army not inform the local police station, it did not even bother to take the victims to a nearby hospital. Instead, it abandoned the bodies on the roadside. It was the local police who arrived at the spot after hearing the gunshots, and they took the two men to Kharkutta Primary Health Centre, where they were declared “brought dead.” The police initially registered a first information report (FIR) against unknown people, but growing public protest prompted the army to acknowledge its “mistake.” On 26 November, the army submitted an FIR claiming that the incident occurred as the duo had not adhered to the security instructions and refused to comply with their instructions at a mobile check-post. Despite the army’s “face-saving” denial, the magnitude of the protests, including that by the local member of legislative assembly, compelled the Garo Hills deputy commissioner to promise a magisterial inquiry into the incident.

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