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‘Countless Bullets in Their Bodies’: Assam Forest Department Faces Backlash Over ‘Killing’ of Jalil and Sameeruddin

“We tried to file an FIR, but the police wouldn’t accept it. Even AAMSU’s FIR wasn’t registered. They refused to give us the postmortem report either, telling us to come back in a week. My brothers had countless bullets in their bodies. They were family men who barely earned enough. Now they are dead, who will take care of their families?” said Maulana Kamal, the surviving brother.

On the night of June 22, Abdul Jalil (40) and Sameeruddin (32), reported to be brothers from the Nagaon district were caught by the Assam Forest Department (AFD) for allegedly poaching in the Laokhowa-Burhachapori Wildlife Sanctuary. The victims have been accused of trespassing the Rowmari Beel, a freshwater area for trying to fish and attacking the AFD officials when confronted, wherein they were killed in the firing. This incident has sparked outrage over the Forest Department’s aggressive anti-poaching measures and concerns about their authority.

Concerns Over Excessive Use of Force and Firearm Liberty

“The location these two men have been killed on is tribal belt and block, not forest area. A road divides the forest area and the tribal land. The tribals who own the land have given the Muslims and others living nearby for farming activities” said AAMSU president, Rejaul Karim Sarkar.

The FIR registered by AAMSU names Harish Nath, Assistant Conservator of Forest and In-charge Range Officer of Laokhuwa Range; Jayanta Deka, Divisional Forest Officer of Nagaon Wildlife Division; the Beat Officer and Staff of Sutirpar Beat Office in Laokhuwa Wildlife Sanctuary; and forest guard staff from Choraihagi Forest Camp within the sanctuary.

The AAMSU president said that if the AFD was so adamant about labelling these men as poachers, they could have shot them in the leg or some other body part just enough to disable them for arrest. He questioned why they chose to kill them instead, describing it as intentional killing.

“We will hold a protest in Nagaon, in front of the police station for not registering the FIR. We have also decided to submit a petition to the SP and if the FIR is still not registered, we will go to court. The family should also be compensated,” said Karim Sarkar.

Nurul Huda, an MLA from Assam’s Rupohihat constituency representing the Indian National Congress has criticized the state government and alleges ill-treatment against minorities. He cited the recent eviction drive in Laokhowa wherein many were displaced as an example and expressed his intent to oppose the injustice towards the victims.

In a report dated 22nd June, the day of the encounter, published by The Print, Superintendent of Police Swapnaneel Deka stated that around 1 am, a group of people from Dhingbori Chapori village in Nagaon district had trespassed into the Laokhowa-Burhachapori sanctuary to fish in Rowmari Beel. During a confrontation, forest staff fired in self-defence, resulting in fatal injuries to two men; with others escaping. An FIR has been filed, and investigations are ongoing, although the affected family has filed no complaint.

Elaborating on the incident, Divisional Forest Officer Jayanta Deka explained, “Forest staff fired in self-defence during an attack by a group of 20-22 men who intruded into the sanctuary at night.”

District Commissioner Narendra Kumar Shah commented, “A magisterial inquiry has been ordered. According to preliminary information, it happened inside the wildlife sanctuary, and any activity inside the protected area is not allowed.”

It’s interesting that Maulana Kamal and the AAMSU president both had informed The Observer Post on June 26th, that despite their attempts, the police hadn’t yet filed an FIR against the accused.

Pranab Doley, the president of the Greater Kaziranga Land and Human Rights Protection Committee commented how he’s concerned about the forest officials’ excessive use of force, particularly against marginalized communities living near wildlife sanctuaries like Kaziranga.

Doley further highlighted broader issues of impunity and accountability within the forest department and has alleged how the Government policies, which include plans for sanctuary expansion, often overlook community rights and lead to the displacement of these unprivileged communities. If this ignorance continues, tensions and injustices in the communities will only worsen.

Bribery Allegations and Personal Agreements

Allegations against the AFD officials have surfaced wherein they have been accused of accepting bribes for activities like fishing and livestock grazing in the protected areas.

“This was a give and take matter between the tribal land users and the forest officials, a kind of a personal deal”, a source told The Observer Post.

Further adding, “The whole situation went awry was because the officials who did such dealings, were replaced by a new party. This new party was unaware of these arrangements. The victims were shot from point blank. That is why they are framing these victims as poachers to hide their mistake”

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