Assam minister under probe for role in abuse of women

DP
Two years ago, a group of people stormed the house of two sisters in Assam, branded them witches, and allegedly beat them up and forced them to eat excreta and drink urine. This week, the Gauhati High Court ordered a CBI probe into the "serious violation of human rights" and land-grabbing, the alleged motive behind the abuse and assault, and impleaded a minister among the respondents in the case.

Khor Sing Engti, who holds the portfolios of hill areas development, animal husbandry and veterinary, and mines and minerals, has his house adjacent to the sisters'. He has denied involvement in the attack and welcomed the CBI probe.

The attack took place on October 30, 2010, at Pan Engti village in Howraghat, Karbi Anglong. A letter by the two sisters to the high court's chief justice, which the latter has counted as a "taken up" writ petition, gave a vivid description of the alleged atrocities while pointing the finger at minister Engti. The sisters named about a dozen persons, including four women, and said they broke open the front door, "tied (our) hands and feet and our parents', and caused grievous hurt to (us) with sticks the whole night". They were allegedly taken to another place the next morning where they were tied with a fishing net, branded witches and inflicted "inhuman and barbaric" torture. "The above-named persons and others even forced us to consume stool and urine of human beings in the backyard of Khor Sing Engti, cabinet minister... and even undressed us before villagers with the intent to rape us, and abused (us with) filthy language," reads the sisters' letter that has became a petition.

It says they had been facing threats and harassment for over six years. "We have been lodging several FIRs at the Howraghat police station, but no action was taken... Our property, documents were damaged and valuable materials amounting to Rs 10 lakh, which were saved by our father for our marriage, were looted."

On November 3, 2010, and again on January 5, 2011, the girls' father wrote to the district magistrate, praying for security. "But due to the influence of the powerful minister, no action has been taken," they said. On February 2, 2011, they approached the Assam Human Rights Commission , which directed an inspector general of police to probe the allegations.

The IGP submitted his report on September 4, 2011. It said that an assistant sub-inspector heading a patrol team had reported the matter to the OC that night but the latter (a sub-inspector by rank) did not heed him. "Had the OC reacted immediately, the whole incident would have been prevented," the IGP's report said. The then SP visited the place only after a week, prompting the IGP to observe that supervision by the SP was "clearly lacking". It also noted that one of those named by the sisters in the attack, Benu Rongpi, "is a close family member of local minister Khor Sing Engti, and the cause of the incident pointed towards the intention of some people to grab the land..."

The attacks continued. On April 28, 2012, some people (whom the two sisters have named) pelted stones at their house; hours later, three women attacked one of the sisters with sticks while she was out bicycling. The sisters, who lodged FIRs for both incidents, alleged no action was taken.

On November 12, 2012, following their letter, the high court observed that it appeared that there was a failure of duty by the concerned functionaries of the state, and said, "it is possible to draw inference against the minister Engti for abuse of his position and commission of crime", thus necessitating investigation by an independent agency.

Impleaded as a respondent, the minister filed an affidavit denying the allegations and saying some of the sisters' statements were made at the instance of his political opponents. "It is denied that any supporter and/or hired goons of the deponent (Engti) had ever committed any act/omission as alleged in the letter... None of the persons named therein is in any way related, connected or in any manner under control or influence of the deponent", Engti said in his affidavit submitted on January 12.

On January 22, a division bench of Chief Justice A K Goel and Justice AK Goswami ordered the CBI probe.

"I welcome the CBI probe ordered by the high court," the minister said. "In fact I had always sought an independent investigation on the baseless and fabricated allegations charged against me since the issue was raised."

Suman Shyam, amicus curiae appointed by the high court, said the courthas sought the CBI report within three months.

BECOMING A TREND

Assam Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, 2010, enacted after names of several politicians including ministers, government officers, policemen and former rebels came up in such cases

Autonomous Councils not under purview of the Act. These include Karbi Anglong, where the case allegedly involving minister Khor Sing Engti has come under a CBI probe

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi last year promised a tribunal for land-grab cases. "Such cases are too many, and they need to be fast-tracked instead of gathering dust in the lower courts," he said.

In 2011, four persons killed in police firing during an eviction drive in Guwahati, allegedly on behalf of builders' months later, a woman abducted and killed after she refused to part with her house in city

In 2013, an eviction drive carried out from a protected waterbody in Guwahati city; AIAUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal's name figured as one of the alleged encroachers.

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