Field Notes: 'Do Not Call It A Suicide'


It was my first time in Titabor, a town in Upper Assam on the eastern flank of the Brahmaputra valley, 315 km east of Guwahati.

As much as I tried to familiarise myself with the place on a rather cold January morning, I felt a fleeting fear, a result of years of conditioning about these districts in Upper Assam.

“Everyone in Jorhat, Dibrugarh, and other upper Assam districts are ULFA sympathisers.”

I have heard that so many times growing up.

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is a separatist armed organisation born out of Assamese nationalism in 1979. The anti-talk faction of the organisation ULFA-Independent, formed in 2011, is still in operation.

On the day of January, when I reached Titabor looking for Dipankar Gogoi’s home, I carried the same fear with me, albeit surreptitiously.

Dipankar, 24, took his life after reaching home on 26 December last year.

Before this, he was being interrogated in police custody for four days in connection with a grenade blast that took place in Jorhat on 9 December. 

The ULFA-I claimed responsibility for the blast.

“We saw his dead body. There were bruises all over his back,” my auto driver told me when asked about Dipankar’s death on our way to Dipankar’s house in Titabor’s Garikuri Birina Sayek.

“There was no way he was a militant. The police made him one,” he said. 

After a one-hour ride through vast pastures of tea gardens, I saw young Rimly Saikia, Dipankar’s sister, waiting for me.

As we huddled together to talk in Dipankar’s house, I heard his bedridden mother, Dipti Gogoi, cry for him.

“They could have slapped him, locked him, and, at worst, broken his legs,” Rimly said. “Why did they torture him this way? Do not call it a suicide.”

There prevailed a sense of resentment against the Assam police in their household.

Over 270 km east of Titabor in Sadiya’s Chapakhowa, a town on the border between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, a similar sense of resentment against the Assam police prevailed.

“We are Khilonjiya (indigenous). How can the Assam police shoot at our people?” Pallabi Buragohain, sister of Manoj Buragohain, said.

Her brother, Manoj Buragohain, and two of his fellow former bus drivers,  Deepjyoti Neog and Biswanath Borgohain, were also shot in their legs by the Sadiya police on 23 December.

They were on their way to join the ULF-I, the police said.

Two days later, back home from Tinsukia, during the writing process, I found Pallabi Buragohain’s remark about how the police should leave them alone because they are indigenous discomforting.

Indigenous communities in Assam, a state with a violent history of Assamese nationalism, feel themselves above other vulnerable communities, such as the riverine-dwelling Bengali Muslims.

The state’s excesses against Khilonjiyas do not go without condemnation. Their deaths in police encounters are protested. This can also be seen in my story.

Dipanakar was a victim of state excess, and so were the trio from the Chapakhowa encounter.

Strong words against the government followed after these incidents.

There are other victims. 

My investigation found that from May 2021—when Himanta Biswa Sarma assumed office as the chief minister—to December 2023, the state reported over 200 cases of police encounters.

Of the 83 who were killed in such police encounters, over 45 alone were Bengali Muslims—the most vilified community in Assam. But their killings go unmourned and without protest. 

After finishing the draft, with thoughts lingering about the story, I asked a fellow journalist, “What does it take to be a Khilonjiya in Assam?”

They replied, “Everything that a Miya (a slur for Bengali Muslims) cannot be.”

You can read Arshad Ahmed’s full story here

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