RACE CRIME?

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

Tehelka - - EDITOR'S CUT - 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

PHOTO: ( TOP) DAVID MAYUM, VI­JAY PANDEY

In grief Richard’s mother with his pho­to­graph

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