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“SSB assaulted Shahbaz, force-fed alcohol after taking him to camp” – family alleges after youth dies in custody

Reported By Umesh Kumar Ray |
Published On :

When 25-year-old Sahmira Khatun woke up in the early hours of April 10 to prepare Sehri (Sehri is the last meal eaten early in the morning to begin fasting by Muslims) around 2 am, she saw that there was no Dahi (yogurt) at home. Even though Sahmira had asked her husband Mohd. Shahbaz Alam to get yogurt a day earlier, he had forgotten.

At the odd hour, when Sahmira reminded Shahbaz of this, he said he would fetch yogurt at once, and took out his motorbike to head towards the Nepal border. The couple’s house is very close to the border, and they usually buy their provisions from the Nepal side.

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Once gone, Shahbaz didn’t return for more than an hour, even though the task should not have taken him more than 10 minutes.

A search was launched for the 28-year-old, a resident of the Barudah village under the Sikti police station of the Araria district, situated right next to the Nepal border.

Araria shares about 90 kilometers of open border with Nepal and it is very usual for the people of the bordering area to go to Nepal to buy household items.

However, as it became clear what happened to the young man over the next two-three days, the family was left shocked and enraged.

As per the sequence of events provided by the family, in the morning of Apr. 10, a wounded Shahbaz was kept at the Sikti police station, from where he was later sent to prison. Subsequently he was admitted to the Sadar Hospital in Araria.

As his condition deteriorated, Shahbaz was then taken to Bhagalpur, where he eventually died.

Shahbaz’s family has accused personnel of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) of being responsible for his death. On April 14, Shahbaz’s wife filed a written complaint naming five SSB officers: Inspector Gantulam Chaitam, Assistant sub-inspector Bablu Rai, SSB head constable Dhanjay Kumar Das, Tradesman Aman Kumar and Constable Dipesh Suresh. Following the application, the Sikti police has registered a FIR under IPC sections 302 (murder) and 34. The section 302 carries punishments up to the death penalty or life imprisonment.

The SSB is one of the seven armed paramilitary forces that come under the purview of the ministry of home affairs.

This force is tasked with protecting the nation’s border, providing security to the people living close to the border, stopping trans-border crimes and preventing infiltration, among other duties.

The SSB is mainly deployed in areas with open borders. Currently, this force is deployed in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh in the border areas. As the Araria district borders Nepal, SSB personnel have been stationed there.

According to the police complaint filed by Shahbaz’s wife, once he did not return after leaving to get yogurt, the family started a search for him, but failed to find any information.

A little later, some women from the Ward No. 1 of nearby locality Sardar Tola told Shahbaz’s family that SSB personnel had caught Shahbaz and were assaulting him while taking him to the Leti SSB camp.

Once the family members reached the camp, they were told that Shahbaz was not there. Later, they were informed that he had been caught drinking alcohol by the SSB officers and had been handed over to the Sikti police station.

“Forcibly fed alcohol by SSB in the camp”

The SSB personnel lodged a complaint against Shahbaz at the police station alleging he was drunk and started running away after seeing SSB personnel. The FIR mentions that 162.8 mg alcohol was found in Shahbaz body in a test, and he was also charged with manhandling SSB personnel and obstructing public servants from discharging their duties.

The SSB complaint has been filed by Inspector Gantulam Chaitam, who is himself an accused in the complaint filed by Shahbaz’s wife. The four officers that Chaitam mentions as being present during the incident are the other four accused in the Shahbaz wife’s FIR.

According to the police, Shahbaz was produced in court on April 10, after which he was sent to prison, but there his health deteriorated immediately with blood oozing out of his mouth.

After being admitted in the Sadar Hospital, Araria, Shahbaz was later referred to Bhagalpur, where he died on the morning of Apr. 13.

Shahbaz’s friend Salik told Main Media : “He was caught by the SSB officers even before he crossed into Nepal. He was beaten mercilessly without having committed any crime and was forcibly fed alcohol in the camp, so that they could file a fake complaint of liquor consumption against him.”

As per Bihar’s prohibition law, which was introduced in 2016 and later amended several times, if a person is caught drunk for the first time, he is released after being fined 2,500-5,000 rupees. If he or she is unable to pay the fine, they are imprisoned for a month.

Police sources said that there was no prior case related to drinking against Shahbaz. Therefore, even if the SSB claims are held to be true, he should have been released after being fined up to 5,000 rupees. However, this procedure was not followed.

In this regard. Sikti station in-charge Harish Tiwari told Main Media : “Apart from the prohibition act, Shahbaz also faced a complaint of obstructing public servants, this is why he was sent to prison.”

The SSB said in its complaint that when Shahbaz was apprehended, he manhandled the officers and threatened them. On this basis, the police filed a FIR against him under various sections of the IPC along with the Prohibition Act

Death due to hemorrhage and shock caused by injuries: PM report

Main Media has accessed Shahbaz’s post-mortem (PM) report which mentions 11 injuries on different parts of his body including arms, legs, face and head.

“The muscles and tissues of the neck on both sides were contused and infiltrated with blood and blood clots. The muscles and tissues of the scalp especially over the frontal area were found contused,” says the report.

“Stomach contained about 50 ml of yellow colour fluid with normal gastric mucosa.”

The report lists the cause of death as shock due to these injuries and hemorrhage.

It also says that all the 11 injuries on Shahbaz’s body were caused by hard and blunt object(s).

“One of the injuries (cerebral /subdural) was grievous in nature and dangerous to life in ordinary course of nature,” the report specifies.

postmortem report of shahbaz

Salik says “Shahbaz did not drink. But the SSB personnel forced him to drink alcohol. They beat him so much that later, blood started coming out of his mouth.”

“When Shahbaz was shifted from the Araria prison for treatment at the Sadar Hospital, we visited him. His entire face was swollen, including the eyes. He appeared to have received such a severe head injury that his mind was not functioning properly. He was very scared and gestured to me to stay back at the hospital with him.”

“But I was not allowed to remain there. So, I gave my number to the police officer deployed there for security, and asked him to call me if anything happened,” Salik explained.

The officer informed Shahbaz’s family late night on April 12 that the detainee’s health had deteriorated further and he had been referred to a hospital in Bhagalpur.

After arranging for money, when the family members reached Bhagalpur on the 13th in the afternoon, the security officer deployed at the hospital told them that Shahbaz had been dead since the morning.

“We want strict action against SSB personnel”

Shahbaz hailed from a poor family. He took care of his 23-year-old wife, a daughter aged four and an 18-months old son. He was not well-educated and had been working as a wall-painter to make ends meet.

Salik says “We had been in school together. We would spend the day together and he would go home only in the evening. On April 9, his wife had asked him to buy yogurt while returning home, but he forgot somehow. Had he brought yogurt in the evening, he would have been alive today.”

Sources claim that initially the SSB officers had tried to get the matter resolved out of court through a panchayat. Apparently, the personnel intended to settle the matter without a FIR being filed, by paying five lakh rupees in compensation. However, later they said their officers had not assaulted Shahbaz, so they would not pay any compensation.

Shahbaz’s brother Mohd. Usman is livid about the police inaction. Talking to Main Media he said : “Initially the police had asked for just a week’s time. But today, a month and nine days have passed since the incident, but we do not see any action.”

He demanded strict punishment for the guilty SSB officers and government compensation and a long-term source of income for the sustenance of Shahbaz’s wife and children.

“We are from a poor family. Now there is nobody to take care of Shahbaz’s family. We demand that the government make arrangements for their livelihood,” Usman said.

When asked why there had been no arrests in the case even after a month, the station in-charge said: “Investigations are underway. We are gathering various documents and would soon request the court to issue arrest warrants.”

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Umesh Kumar Ray started journalism from Kolkata and later came to Patna via Delhi. He received a fellowship from National Foundation for India in 2019 to study the effects of climate change in the Sundarbans. He has bylines in Down To Earth, Newslaundry, The Wire, The Quint, Caravan, Newsclick, Outlook Magazine, Gaon Connection, Madhyamam, BOOMLive, India Spend, EPW etc.

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