Curfew in Chokpot as protest turns into fiery battle

Govt orders magisterial probe into 2nd custodial death

Miscreants set a vehicle on fire at Chokpot on Thursday. (ST)

TURA/SHILLONG Curfew for an indefinite period was imposed in the Chokpot area of South Garo Hills on Thursday afternoon following a mob violence in which stones were hurled and three police vehicles were burnt down over a death in police custody of a suspected overground worker of a militant group. The police opened blank fire to disperse an irate crowd.

Hundreds of people pelted stones and burnt down two police gypsy vehicles and a mini truck which were parked outside the Chokpot police station gate. The mob which had gathered outside Chokpot police station began to pelt stones shortly past noon. The intensity of the stone pelting was so much that police were forced to take shelter inside the building. Three constables reportedly sustained injuries from the attack.

Besides the torching of the three police vehicles, two maruti gypsys and a mini truck, the angry mob also burned down three motorcycles belonging to civilians which was parked outside the Chokpot police station.

With the situation getting out of hand police opened blank fire in the air to disperse the crowd of people and curfew was shortly after imposed in the entire area.

“In view of the tense situation and to prevent any further violence we have imposed indefinite curfew in Chokpot and its surrounding areas from 2 PM onwards of Thursday,” acting deputy commissioner and senior magistrate (ADC) T G Momin said, while speaking to The Shillong Times over the phone from Baghmara.

Senior ADC from Baghmara, Dawan Singh Sangma is camping in Chokpot while police have rushed additional reinforcements to prevent further escalation of violence.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Commissioner, South Garo Hills District on Thursday ordered for a magisterial inquiry into the custodial death of Witson M Sangma.

The inquiry will be conducted by SD Marak, Additional Deputy Commissioner. She has been directed to submit report within a period of 30 days.

The tense standoff between the public and the security forces began on Wednesday evening when people refused to allow the police to take the body of Witson M Sangma to district headquarters Baghmara, 106 kms from Tura, for a post mortem. Two police vehicles and the official car of Additional Deputy Commissioner T G Momin were damaged in stone pelting. The magistrate had rushed to Chokpot to persuade the agitating crowd to allow the body to be taken to Baghmara when the stone pelting took place, destroying the vehicle windshield and the side doors.The body of Witson Sangma was eventually brought to Baghmara on Wednesday night but doctors in the district headquarters refused to conduct the post mortem citing rules. “The doctors in Baghmara said they cannot do the post mortem since a forensic expert is required for any death in custody. So we are awaiting the arrival of the doctor from Tura,” said T G Momin. The post mortem is expected to take place on Friday morning.

Witson Sangma had died the police lock up for alleged want of medical assistance. He was reportedly diagnosed with hypertension when he was taken for a medical examination after his arrest on Tuesday.

Police took him into custody for his alleged role in the planting of two pressure cooker IEDs on a road in Chokpot recently.

Shut down Call : Meanwhile, student and social organizations have called for a day of non-cooperation throughout the the Garo Hills on Monday to protest against the twin custodial deaths. They are also demanding that the government constitute either a CBI or a judicial inquiry into the deaths and want that the autopsy of the two victims be carried out by an independent body or group. While Witson M Sangma died inside the Chokpot police station on Tuesday night, Balsan Marak’s custodial death was in Tura district jail on May 20.

In a joint letter to Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, NGOs in the Garo Hills led by the Garo Students’ Union and its allies FKJGP, ADE and AYWO have called upon the government to come clean on the two deaths.