THE death of 21-year-old Reingamphi Awungshi in Delhi on 29 May has once again brought into focus the plight of North-eastern communities, the youth and women to be specific, who struggle to make both ends meet while building a career in metropolitan cities.
Awungshi hailed from Choithar village in Manipur’s Ukhrul district. A beautician, she came to Delhi recently after a short stint in Chennai with the dream of making it big in the capital. Sadly, it turned out to be just the opposite. She was found dead in a rented room in Chirag, South Delhi.
Prima facie, the police registered a case of suicide under Section 306 of the IPC. They claimed to have found empty medicine foil wrappers in a dustbin and near her body. Her face and feet bore marks of rodent bites. The police reportedly broke open the door of her room after the houseowner informed them.
In contrast to the police version, the photographs that relatives of the deceased had taken showed bloodstains on the bedsheet. Suspecting murder, they requested the Delhi police to register an FIR but they turned it down. The relatives refused to accept the body unless an FIR was lodged.
The scene outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences was a classic case of the police’s insensitivity and indifference. While trying to convince relatives and friends, the Malviya Nagar police station officer showed them a page of the post mortem report which had a few records showing that the organs were intact. While the relatives insisted on an FIR, the police officer explained that “the case is under section 174 CrPc” which is normal police procedure and that they did not require another section or an FIR. When they argued, the police officer said, “Har case me FIR nahi hota.”
A female relative replied, “Itna bewakoof mat banao, hum ko bhi pata hain kanoon.”
Others asserted, “We are citizens of India, we have the right to file an FIR.”
The police officer insisted on relatives taking the post mortem report and sending the body for embalming, suggesting he was in a great hurry to wrap up the case so that he could attend to “other” business. Both sides stood their ground.
Soon the frustrations of North-eastern communities turned into anger. Hundreds of them hit the streets and protested before the Malviya Nagar police station, demanding that an FIR should be registered. They shouted slogans like “Are we not citizens of India?”
The demonstration continued throughout the night and into the next day (31 May). Only after the Delhi minister for health, women and family welfare, Kiran Walia, came into the picture, was the case transferred to the Delhi Police Crime Branch. A second post mortem was conducted after five days — on 4 June — and section 302 (IPC) was added to the case and an FIR lodged.
In any such incident, the first thing the common citizen will do is to seek police help. For the North-eastern communities who continuously face physical or verbal threats, there is no alternative but to seek police help. In fact, all North-east communities living in Delhi have an updated list of police stations and their officials. Perhaps a necessity, after experiences of numerous encounters or attacks by the locals.
Unfortunately, this is where the trouble, or rather, the politics begins. People repose faith in the protectors of the law but sometimes they are “cold” towards the people whom they are supposed to serve. It is more so if those involved in cases happen to be women and young girls from the North-east. Even before starting investigations, their first “impression” or “opinion” is that they wear “provocative clothes”, and are involved in “drug abuse” and “relationship-related suicide”.
This sort of preconceived opinion was obvious in Awungshi’s case. Immediately after her body was taken to the AIIM, the Malviya Nagar police station allegedly made an anonymous statement to the national media that they suspected drug abuse while maintaining that it was a case of suicide. As law enforcers, the police have a responsibility and a role to bridge the gap between North-east communities and mainland Indians. But they seem to be doing just the opposite by creating mistrust. Had the Malviya Nagar police station personnel showed some humane approach in dealing with the case, there would not have been any demonstration by irate North-east communities. Such a gesture would have helped solve many a grievance of North-east youth in the capital.
Whether collusion, reluctance or an unwilling to act, the police’s “working style” is an advantage for local houseowners, who, in any case, are ever ready to “throw out” North-eastern tenants at the drop of a hat. Friends and relatives of Awungshi were allegedly threatened with dire consequences by locals of Chirag when they were holding a candlelight condolence two days after the incident. They were denied entry to the house where the incident took place. Besides, some of the participants in the condolence meeting told this writer that “pamphlets” in Hindi were distributed in and around the locality.
It is also a fact that police and security agencies in most cases act on “pressure” and that, as admitted and revealed by the police themselves as well, there are higher authorities who give directions and commands. Was it bribe or was it cover-up, or was it that the police and security agencies perform their duty under instructions from faceless, anonymous authorities? These are provoking questions that demand answers.
The writer is a New Delhi-based freelance contributor
The Statesman NE page , June 10,2013