Monday, Aug 15, 2022

Who Killed West Bengal Student Activist Anish Khan?

Student leader Anish Khan's death has triggered a row in West Bengal with Khan's family alleging that a few people, donning police uniform, entered their home at Amta in Howrah on Friday night, and forcibly took him to the terrace only to push him down to die.

A protest rally in Howrah district on Sunday seeking the arrest of Anish Khan's killers.
A protest rally in Howrah district on Sunday seeking the arrest of Anish Khan's killers. Outlook photo

It was well past midnight on Friday when repeated knocks on the door woke up the residents of a three-storied house at Amta area in Howrah district. 

Sexagenarian Salem Khan, the head of the family, initially did not want to open the door. Who it could be at this hour, the family members wondered.

“It’s the police!” shouted someone from outside, later specifying that they were from the local police station. 

They were looking for Anish Khan, a 28-year-old member of the family who has been a student activist.

According to Khan, the men said that Anish had an old case against him at Bagnan police station, with regard to which he did not obtain a bail, and that the Bagnan police were putting pressure on Amta police to get him either arrested or to ask him to take bail. They had come to persuade Anish to apply for bail, they said, and then threatened that they would have to open fire if the door was not opened.

Salem Khan obeyed.  

Four persons, one dressed as a cop in khaki and three others as civic police volunteers, forced their way in. While the one dressed as a policeman kept family members at gunpoint in their ground floor room, the three others went upstairs where Khan was resting in his own room.

Some moments later, they heard a thud and soon the three men dressed as civic police volunteers descended. They told the ‘officer’, “The job’s done, sir!” and they all rushed out.

As family members, too, moved out to look around, they saw Anish lying on the street, bleeding, and unconscious. He died on his way to a hospital.

The police arrived on the spot as late as 9 am on Saturday, over 12 hours after the family had informed Amta police station what had happened.

This incident has triggered a chain of protests in different parts of the state, including Howrah and Kolkata, by different student organisations as well as civil rights groups, over Saturday and Sunday. When the police tried to enter the neighbourhood again on Sunday, agitating locals threw them out.  

Notably, even though Anish is suspected to have been pushed off the roof, instead of initiating a case of murder, the police has started the investigation on the basis of a case of unnatural death.

The incident has been so shocking that even Bengal transport minister, Kolkata mayor and Trinamool Congress (TMC) national executive committee’s convener Firhad Hakim expressed his surprise and remarked that such incidents were the hallmark of Uttar Pradesh, a state that his party keeps highlighting as a land of lawlessness under its present Adityanath government. 

Salem Khan has demanded a CBI inquiry saying he could not trust the state police to carry out the investigation properly.

Meanwhile, an audio clip of a purported conversation between Salem Khan and an officer at Amta police station soon after the incident happened that night has gone viral and it reflects – if the voice is indeed of an officer from Amta police station – utmost insensitive behaviour of the law keepers.

Instead of showing any alertness even after hearing that people claiming to be policemen barging into someone’s room at the dead of night, resulting in a mysterious death, the voice on the phone asked the caller how could they be sure of death if the injured was not taken to a hospital.

“Student activist #AnishKhan has been murdered by the unholy nexus of West Bengal Police & TMC. UP-style political intimidation & techniques of vendetta are being imported into the lawless state of West Bengal.Paid up Bengali intellectuals are silent,” Mayukh Biswas, the national general secretary of Students’ Federation of India, the student wing of the CPI(M), wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

The organisation staged demonstrations at different parts of the state on Sunday. Anish’s elder brother participated in one such rally that gheraod Amta police station on Sunday afternoon.

Among other agitations, Khan was deeply involved with the Aliah university students’ movement, the movement against the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and against illegal practices by some nursing homes in his neighbourhood.

From Saturday morning, there have been repeated protests and agitations staged by local residents as well as different students’ organisations, demanding that this case be solved on priority basis.

“If the killers were not from the police, the police would have to find out who they were,” said Naushad Siddiqui, an MLA from the Indian Secular Front who visited the Khan residence on Saturday. “It’s shameful and horrific the way a student with leftist ideals has been killed. There is a conspiracy and it must be unearthed,” Siddiqui said.

Addressing the media on Sunday evening, Soumya Roy, the superintendent of Howrah (rural) district police, said, “Who went to his home that night can be found out only through investigations and I can assure of impartial investigation.”

He acknowledged that Anish did have some previous cases against him but clarified there was no new complaint against him. Roy was summoned to the West Bengal Police headquarters at Bhabani Bhavan in Kolkata on Sunday. 

The case at Bagnan police station, his friends claimed, was from the time when he was a student of Bagnan College and had taken part in some agitations. Khan’s friends and fellow activists also alleged that the police on Saturday did not allow his father to name anyone in their complaint.