A Manipuri student is beaten to death. And it took a week-long storm of protests across the country for the Bengaluru police to act, reports IMRAN KHAN
A student’s death reopens the debate on discrimination faced by Northeast Indians
INA bid to contain the controversy over the police handling of the Richard Loitam case, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) is in damage control mode in Karnataka. Convenor of the BJP’S Northeast India Sampark Cell Sunil Deodhar held a press conference on 30 April, assuring necessary steps were being taken by the government to solve the case. Deodhar and state Home Minister R Ashok, however, ruled out any racial angle. The minister further promised an impartial probe into the case. Meanwhile, two students Vishal Banerjee and Syed Afzal Ali, who are prime suspects in the case, have been booked under Section 302 for murder. Bengaluru SP D Prakash has also written a letter to the forensic science laboratory to prepare the report as early as possible considering the nature of the crime.
Richard Loitam, a student at the Acharya NRV School of Architecture in Bengaluru North, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in his hostel room on 18 April. Students from the Northeast region had staged a protest in the city on 29 April, demanding justice for Loitam. They suspect that the 19-year-old was killed by fellow students with whom he had had a fight a day before his death. The family suspects that his death was racially motivated and blames the college authorities and the police of attempting to cover up the truth. Several gaps in the police investigation, undue delay in reporting the crime, and photographs of the body somehow lend credibility to the family’s accusation.
In his statement to the police, hostel warden S Sudhakar said that Loitam and his two hostel mates, Banerjee and Syed, had fought over an IPL match at 8 pm on 17 April. During the quarrel, Loitam was punched on his face by Syed. After that Loitam went back to his room at 10.30 pm and then watched a film on his laptop. He even informed his roommate Saurabh that he’d not be attending college the next day. On 18 April, Sudhakar and Saurabh found Richard dead with blood oozing out of his nose and black spots all over his body.
Richard’s uncle Bobby Loitam, however, points out differences in the statements given to the police by Sudhakar and Saurabh. Bobby says that Saurabh has mentioned in his statement that he found Richard
dead when he came back from college at 1.30 pm. Whereas Sudhakar says that Saurabh was sleeping in his hostel room till 1.30 pm, and then found Richard dead when he tried to wake him up. Sudhakar refused to speak to TEHELKA when contacted and Saurabh couldn’t be contacted as he was in Bangkok on a vacation.
Richard’s family raises many questions such as why were they not informed about Richard’s death on 18 April itself ? Why
The preliminary postmortem report says that Richard died due to brain haemorrhage caused by external blows to his body
was there a delay in taking Richard’s body to the hospital? The claim by the college authorities that he died of injuries sustained in a road accident two days before his death has led them to believe that there has been an effort to hush up the case. According to the family, the police registered a case at 6.30 pm on 18 April and did not do a spot investigation till 19 April. The hostel room was cordoned off and sealed for investigation on 20 April. No crime photographers or forensic experts were called in for crime scene investigation. Bobby says, “They didn’t even confiscate the laptop to check whether Richard was actually watching a film, as claimed by the warden.”
However, SP Prakash says, “We will con- fiscate the laptop only when it’s required. We have videographed everything and searched the room. We are waiting for the final post mortem report.” Denying allegations of a coverup, Prakash states that there is nothing to hide and an impartial inquiry is being conducted. Richard’s family has lodged a case with the city police.
The preliminary post mortem report says that Richard died due to brain haemorrhage caused by external blows to his body. Dr L Thari, a medico legal expert with the Manipur government, says, “He was hit by a blunt object that caused bleeding. His body was swollen and had black spots all over. The preliminary report also points to injuries on his thighs, eyes and face. This is a fit case of homicide.”
DEAN OF the college Dr Vasanth Bhatt denied any cover-up. Speaking to TEHELKA, he said, “Let’s not jump to any conclusions.” As for the allegations levelled by the college that Richard was a drug addict and died due to his earlier injury, Dr Bhatt said, “The investigations are on and I wouldn’t like to comment on it.” He added, “The boy was temperamental and he shouldn’t have stayed up till late night.”
Monika Khangembam, a protester in Bengaluru, and others have started an online campaign on Facebook to demand justice for Loitam. The group has over 180,000 members. Khangembam, a postgraduate student, says, “We need to raise our voice against such racism and bias faced by several of us here.”
Loitam’s father has been hospitalised as he could not bear the shock. His mother, Dr Loitam Ongbi Vidyabati, who performed the last rites of her son, spoke to TEHELKA over the phone from Manipur. “Just two days before his brutal death, our son had called us to say that he wanted to shift from the hostel. Though he didn’t give any reason, he sounded quite troubled.” Vidyabati says that she is demanding justice not just for her son, Loitam, but because “I don’t want anybody else to suffer my son’s fate”.
Horrifying attack Richard was found dead in his hostel
In grief Richard’s mother with his photograph