A student activist named Anis Khan (23) was brutally murdered at his home in West Bengal’s Howrah district in the early hours of Saturday, February 19th 2022. Anish Khan’s murder has sparked a large-scale students’ protest at the Aliah University of Kolkata, where he was enrolled in an integrated five-year-long Master of Business Administration (MBA) Course.
Anish Khan’s murder has enraged the students and faculty of Aliah University as well as the activists with whom he had participated in various movements on social and political causes. Khan took part in the agitation against the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) exercise and was a vocal critic of the burgeoning private healthcare facilities in the Amta region of Howrah district. Khan also played a pivotal role in the 137-day-long protest by Aliah University students against the state government’s policies.
Khan, who used to live in Kolkata for his studies, was staying at his home at Sarada village’s Dakshin Khan Para, which is 50 km from the capital city and comes under Amta Police Station of Howrah district. He was quite popular in the area for his participation in different socio-political issues, especially in public health rights movements.
Anis Khan’s murder
According to his parents, Khan returned home late on Friday night from an Islamic Jalsa (quintessential religious gatherings in rural West Bengal where evangelists sermonise devotees) nearby. Around 1am, his father, Salem Khan, heard a knock on the door of their two-storey house in which a second floor is currently under construction.
When Salem went to the gate, he found four men (six to seven according to the updated police complaint) who were looking for Anish Khan. Except for one man, who was wearing a regular khaki police uniform, the rest were dressed in the civic police volunteer uniform. They told Salem that they are policemen and need to speak to his son. When Salem refused to open the gate, the man wearing khaki pointed a gun at his temple and forced him to unlock the gate.
After Salem let them in, they rushed inside the house and started hitting all family members, including women, while abusing them. They vandalised the house while looking for Anish Khan, who was sleeping upstairs. When these men found Khan, they started beating him. Then men wearing civic police volunteer uniforms dragged Khan to the under-construction second floor.
The family members alleged they heard Khan struggling with these men and the hustling came to an end when they heard a terrific thud. The men in civic police volunteer uniform returned to the man in khaki and told him: “Sir, the work is done”. They left the house without further delay. The family members, who were held ransom at gunpoint till then, rushed out to find Khan’s dead body in a pool of blood with injury marks on his body. When the family members took Khan to the Sebabrata Nursing Home in Uluberia, he was declared dead.
As per the Amta Police Station, no policemen were sent to Khan’s house for any investigation or arrest. The police are suspecting foul play in Anish Khan’s murder.
According to Khan’s father, before opening the gate he had told the men that Anish wasn’t home. However, the men told him that they had seen him enter the house, which points towards the possibility of Khan being stalked. If these men weren’t policemen, then who were they? How did they act with such impunity wearing uniforms and why did they kill Khan?
The accusations and the pre-existing threats to Khan’s life
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has been accused of orchestrating Anish Khan’s murder. Khan, as per his family members and friends, had irked the TMC leaders of his village and nearby areas due to his hyper-active involvement in people’s rights issues and movements, including the public health rights movement.
In Sarada village’s Dakshin Khan Para, inhabited by lower-caste Bengali Muslims, Khan’s family has been the lone household that supports the ailing parliamentary left block under the aegis of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Though Khan was the state general secretary of the All-India Students Federation (AISF) earlier, he had ties with almost all parliamentary political parties and had reportedly joined the Indian Secular Front (ISF) headed by Peerzada Abbas Siddique.
Aliah University students and human rights activists of Kolkata have accused the TMC of Anish Khan’s murder as they claimed Khan had been facing a perennial threat from the ruling party’s local leaders as the party failed to garner votes from all households in his locality during the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections. Moreover, Khan’s participation in local socio-political issues threatened the hegemony of local Panchayat Pradhan (village self-government chief).
According to a letter to the Amta Police Station dated May 24th 2021, Khan had complained that the local Kushberia Panchayat’s vice-chairman and the TMC’s booth chairman, Malek Khan, along with his elder son Masood Khan, had threatened him with dire consequences on May 21st 2021 when he was campaigning for a blood donation camp to be held on the next day.
Later, his house and that of his uncle’s was attacked by an armed gang of TMC-sponsored thugs. He accused Jahangir Khan and Ali Hossain Khan of leading the attack on his family. Khan had named Mehboob Khan (Madhu), Raza Khan, Saifullah Khan, Ati Khan, etc, in his complaint. All these accused are known as TMC goons in Sarada village.
Copies of Khan’s petition to the police were sent to the home secretary, the governor, the district magistrate, the human rights bodies, women rights bodies, etc, but to no avail. Even Khan’s aunt had later appealed to the women’s commission and other bodies seeking help, as she alleged that the TMC goons had molested her during the attacks on their homes.
For months after May 2021, Khan didn’t return home out of fear of TMC’s attack. While he constantly complained to his friends that the ruling party goons may murder him upon his return, they encouraged him to return to his home and face the situation courageously. When he returned to his village, the mysterious killing took place.
The denial, the obfuscation and the problems with the investigation
The TMC has vehemently denied any links with Khan’s murder. State’s minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim alleged that there can be “a deep-rooted conspiracy” behind his murder. According to TMC leaders, neither Khan was a big shot nor was the ISF any formidable power to reckon with, which can warrant such a political killing.
Many activists are claiming that Khan can be a victim of communal hate crime due to his Muslim identity. The TMC leaders are also pointing towards such a possibility citing how Khan opposed the Hindutva fascist politics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). His anti-NRC stance is also used to justify such an allegation.
However, though the prevalence of communal hate crime in India is a fact and it’s also true that West Bengal under Bandopadhyay’s “secular” TMC isn’t immune from such crimes, the BJP is quite a weak political force in West Bengal, especially in a Muslim-majority village where Khan lived. It won’t be possible for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent body of the BJP, to send men wearing police uniforms to kill a youth activist in a remote Muslim-majority village, at that hour of the night.
Without local support, such a murder can’t be committed. The RSS has no local presence in the Muslim-majority rural areas of West Bengal. The way the men barged into the house and killed Khan within a few minutes, prove that they are ‘pro’ and not novices. Whether they were policemen or hired killers who masqueraded themselves need further investigation, however, the way these criminals in civic police volunteer uniform addressed the man in khaki as “sir” raises questions.
Even though the victim’s father wanted to cite the past incidents of violence and Khan’s May 2021 letter—where he had mentioned the threat to his life—while filing a first information report (FIR) at the Amta Police Station on Saturday, February 19th, morning, the local TMC leaders allegedly interfered and exerted pressure on him to change the content. The revised FIR has been filed against “unknown people” without referring to the past incidents. What made the local TMC leaders so upset about a free and fair investigation?
Chief Minister Bandopadhyay has asked the Howrah Superintendent of Police (SP) (Rural) Saumya Roy to investigate the case. However, the SP’s involvement has also raised doubt as his wife Arundhuti Maitra (Lovely) is a sitting TMC legislator and it’s alleged there can be a bias in the probe.
At the same time, Khan’s family members and local villagers are alleging that the post-mortem report may be altered by the TMC’s influential leaders to turn the case into that of an accident. Villagers alleged that the police have told them orally that there was a smell of alcohol in Khan’s mouth.
This has raised doubts of the family members and the villagers that the case may be turned into one of accidentally falling off the roof in an inebriated state. Khan’s family and friends informed that as a practising Muslim, he never consumed alcohol.
The villagers alleged that earlier the post-mortem report of a rape victim, who was found murdered, showed no traces of semen or intercourse, however, when it was sent to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Hyderabad, rape was confirmed in the report. They alleged that the post-mortem reports are often altered to shield the accused if they belong to the ruling party.
By using the communal angle, the TMC and its affiliate rights organisations, as well as Muslim organisations, are trying to turn this murder into a case of identity-based hate crime. Though it’s undeniable that the RSS continues to kill Muslims by inciting communal hatred, the case in Howrah has been different from the template that the Hindutva fascist terrorists use.
Khan had been raising the issues related to the lives and livelihood of the people, demanding employment, fighting for students’ rights and, above all, fighting against the burgeoning private medical industry. These were issues that placed him in a position of confrontation with the TMC, which is the most-powerful RSS agency in West Bengal.
For years, private nursing homes and hospitals are mushrooming in Howrah’s Amta and most of them allegedly violate government norms and charge exorbitant fees from the patients. As a member of the public health rights movement, Khan has been vocal against the unruly behaviour of private hospitals that have been patronised by local TMC bigshots. Hence, he was also on the radar of the medical mafia cartel that has been exploiting the vacuum created by the dilapidated infrastructure of public healthcare in the region.
Whether the medical mafia cartel running the private hospital network in the region and the TMC leaders of the region are responsible for Khan’s murder is a matter of further probe. However, if the investigation is marred with controversies and conspiracies from the very beginning to shield the powerful, then can Khan get justice?
The ray of hope: students demand justice for Anish Khan
The Aliah University students, supported by students of Jadavpur University as well as several progressive and democratic forces, have hit the streets to protest Anish Khan’s murder. In Kolkata, the students carried out marches from Aliah University; later, on Saturday evening, the seven-roads crossing of Park Circus was blocked by the protesting students.
Anish Khan’s murder has reinvigorated the students of different campuses to fight for justice, which has forced Bandopadhyay to announce the probe by SP (Rural) Roy, but the students aren’t happy with the decision. Raising the slogans of Azadi (freedom), the students who had recently participated in the agitation against BJP-ruled Karnataka’s hijab row, have demanded a free and fair investigation into the case.
Several student activists and leaders have visited the bereaved family members of the victim and assured them assistance. The Aliah University students and faculty members have shown a rare unity against the state government, which has been depriving the campus intentionally to push its students, mostly Muslims, to the margins. They have determined to pursue justice for Anish Khan until the end, as per their collective statements at Kolkata’s protest site.
Parliamentary left leaders have visited Khan’s family on Sunday, February 20th, morning, to express solidarity. The Students Federation of India (SFI) has protested Anish Khan’s murder as well. The left leaders took part in a protest rally against Anish Khan’s murder at the Kalatala area of Howrah on Sunday morning.
What will happen in Anish Khan’s murder investigation?
So far Khan’s post-mortem report isn’t public. However, it won’t be easy for the police to alter the case by using a forged post-mortem report now, as it will infuriate the students more and they will intensify their movement. But at the same time, the police will continue to shield the ruling party’s leaders.
For Bandopadhyay, a free and fair investigation will reveal how her party depends on criminals to retain its hegemony at the grassroots in rural West Bengal. She can’t tread that course and irk her ranks. Moreover, the involvement of the medical mafia cartel in Anish Khan’s murder can’t be investigated as it will affect the supply of ‘cut-money’ from such cartels and syndicates to the TMC’s coffers.
In such a situation, Anish Khan’s murder investigation may drag on for years and be thrown to oblivion. Also, it’s only the vigour of the students’ movement that can compel the authorities to hasten the probe and bring the perpetrators to justice. It won’t take long for the investigation to end if the students can continue to build pressure and if movements demanding justice are intensified throughout West Bengal.
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