This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Two Deaths Of P C Ram

(From 2007)

Sometimes I think that given my track record at predictions I should take up astrology…

There was a man called Phul Chand Ram. An executive director of the Food Corporation of India, in charge of the North East Circle, he was a very high ranking official. Terrorists of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) abducted him for ransom on April 17 along with his official chauffeur. They let the chauffeur go after a few days, on April 22, and demanded a ransom of 210 million rupees for Ram’s release, along with the release of two of their battalion commanders, who were in detention (if anyone is interested, the two are Mrinal Hazarika, former commander of ULFA’s 28th Battalion, and Pallab Saikia of the outfit’s 27th Battalion). As usual in India, nothing happened except a lot of political blame being swapped around. Ram remained in custody of the ULFA and the ULFA men remained in the state’s jails.
Then, twelve days ago, on June 30, the army declared that a body had been dug up from a shallow grave on a river bank and that it belonged to Ram. It was highly decomposed, but was promptly identified as Ram by his son, Pravin (who had “absolutely no doubts” that it was Ram), his maid (or as she said, “adopted daughter”) June Murmu, and by sundry Food Corporation of India officials. None of them had any doubts and the body was taken back to Delhi and cremated, while the army gloated that it had pressed the ULFA so hard that it had had no option but to kill Ram so as not to lose him to the army (as if that was something to be proud of – they pressed ULFA into killing the hostage! Wonderful! The military mind…bleh). In the meantime the entire media (in the East of the country, since the rest of the nation couldn’t care less) and no less than our nation’s not-so-beloved “prime minister”, Manmohan Singh, condemned the killing. So far so good.
Now the plot thickens. On July 3, the day of the cremation, ULFA declared that the body was not Ram’s, that Ram was very much alive and that he was in its custody, and that the dead man was an “army informer”. Since ULFA has a prior history of killing people and then claiming they were alive, nobody at first took it seriously, at all. Some challenged ULFA to let him speak to his family, knowing ULFA couldn’t exactly resurrect the dead. Still skin and hair samples taken from the corpse were sent to a lab for DNA testing – where the lab people said the samples were so badly handled they might prove useless for any and all purposes.
And then, on the sixth of July, the “dead” Ram himself phoned his family and talked to them for eight minutes, declaring himself to be alive and well and asking for the release of Hazarika and Saikia, the two ULFA in custody. This kind of…blew a hole…in a lot of carefully constructed stories. Now Pravin Ram suddenly said that he had been “confused” and may have “incorrectly identified” the body he had long since cremated as that of his dad.
Lovely, don’t you agree? I remember a friend asking me (facetiously) that since the funeral rights of the corpse had already been completed, just who would occupy Ram’s reserved place in heaven, the owner of the corpse or Ram himself. A really, really good question for the Hindu Right to ruminate over.
OK, so back to the old tale. India has a quite remarkably bad and inconsistent record of negotiating with terrorists. Sometimes it has rolled over and surrendered to all demands; at other times it has been soft at times when it should have been hard and hard at times when it should have been soft. Twice in the last few years, high profile terrorist hostage takings have resulted in craven surrender from India – in 1989 in Kashmir and in 1999 in Kandahar. Both times, terrorists were released from prison. All that happened was that the terrorists became bolder than ever. So this time it was quite a hot potato and nobody wanted to touch it. The state government said New Delhi was responsible; the national government in New Delhipassed the buck right back to the state. Wunderbar, as the Germans would say. Wonderful.
Meanwhile, as it became more and more difficult to pretend that Ram was actually dead, the army began to investigate just who the corpse might belong to. It came across the name of an army soldier named Sunil Kumar who was “missing.” It had just about declared that the dead man was Sunil Kumar when (going by the photos of the body, which was now of course a pile of ash) Kumar’s wife said the body was not Kumar’s…so who the hell was it?
Now, on the tenth of July, PC Ram himself wrote a letter to the state government asking for the release of the two ULFA men. Although the official stance was still that – pending proof – Ram was dead, no one could believe that – in any case the average Indian has learned not to take the Indian government seriously on anything. The chief minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, had spent the interim period safely abroad, so he could claim he had nothing to do with anything and hope to come out smelling of roses. 
[Now let me just take an interlude to explain that comment about astrology with which I began this post. I had predicted to my friend that the army would most likely kill Ram {of course as I’ve pointed out more than once in this blog, the Indian Army is legally (by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act) entitled to kill anyone on suspicion alone and can’t be challenged in court } if it came across him; he was just too damned inconvenient for too many people alive. My friend didn’t actually take me seriously then. All right so far?]
Then, on the night of July 11, in a village called Borkar Panitema, just 35 kilometres from the city of Guwahati, something happened. At 8.45pm, the power was cut off and a large military force swooped down on the village. Soldiers from the Army and two other forces – the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force – blocked all roads leading out of the village, while men of the Assam Armed Police raided the house of a farmer, Gobinda Deka. According to neighbours, there was an outburst of firing that lasted for ten minutes, followed by a lull. And then there was sporadic firing that continued for three hours.
Somewhere around midnight, police (going by their account) finally entered the house after crushing all resistance and found three bodies – two were of ULFA terrorists of the 709th Battalion, identified as Rahul Deka and “Bullet” Changmai. The third corpse was of PC Ram, with sundry wounds and a bullet in his head.
The police and army said they had no way of knowing that Ram was there and it was quite a routine operation, and he was “killed in the cross-fire”. Quite a reasonable explanation?
Not on your life.
In fact there is no reason to believe what the army and police have said. Their account stinks to high heaven.
Let’s see why.
First off – the owner of the house, a farmer called Gobinda Deka, said the ULFA group had been moving round the district for all of two months and was not exactly unknown to the villagers. There had been three terrorists and an elderly man who was not too well and whom the villagers had taken to be a senior ULFA commander. The team, he said, had turned up in his house the day before the assault and forced him to give them shelter. One of the three ULFA had left by bicycle just an hour before the attack; the other two, when the attack started, had forced Deka, his wife, and his son to another room where they suffered not a scratch.
Now the Assam police and the Army have – by their own account – quite a good intelligence net; who is going to believe that they knew (as they said) that an ULFA team was present at the particular time and in the particular house, but didn’t know who was part of it? They should certainly have known whether a senior ULFA leader was in country; if not, the elderly man could only be a captive, and the only captive right now was Ram…and don’t forget they certainly could identify the dead ULFA by name and unit almost immediately. That requires a good intelligence input!
Then, the two ULFA men were armed with two AK56 rifles, an M20 pistol, two hand grenades, and an improvised explosive device – not to mention plenty of ammunition. Yet the army and police say that although they fought for three hours, they only fired “about a hundred rounds” of ammunition and did not use the grenades. And they didn’t manage to kill or injure any one of the attacking force. This is rather remarkable in view of the fact that the attackers used parachute flares for illumination (suicidal against defenders in a position like a house, since the defenders would be hidden and it would be the attackers who would be illuminated) and would have been lovely targets as they charged across the courtyard (look at the graphic and picture above).
Of course, we mustn’t forget that Gobinda Deka and his family are thoughtfully bundled into a room by the ULFA, right across the courtyard, so as to be out of harms’ way; but the ULFA men don’t try and escape, with or without their captive? Give me a break.
I think I should state something here: ULFA men are not jehadis or suicide terrorists. Compared even to groups like the Kashmiri terrorists, they put up remarkably little fight and tend to surrender or flee after firing off a few shots.Assam’s detention camps have held many thousand ULFA over the years, most of whom surrendered without firing a shot. Remember this.
All right, so far all I’ve done is speculate. Fine. So I’ll offer facts.
Take a good look at the picture above. I’m sorry that the quality isn’t any better but I scanned it straight off the newspaper (The Telegraph) since I couldn’t find it on the net. All the proof you need is in the photos, if you want to see it.  
The upper of the two pictures is of the outside of the room in which the two ULFA men and Ram were holed up. Remember what the police said? They fired at the room for three hours. Good. Take a real good look at the room. Does it look like someone fired at it for three minutes, let alone hours? I can count something like eight bullet holes in the walls…
Either the police were incredibly bad shots, literally unable to hit the side of a barn, or there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.
Then, take a look at the lower photo. If you need clinching proof, it is here. The photo depicts the corpses of the two ULFA killed. Look at them. Both are under beds. The head and shoulders of one man protrude from under one bed while the legs of the other are all that are outside the other bed. Right?
Now how the hell were they fighting back against the police from positions under beds, and how the hell did the police kill them there from outside? You can see the blood pooling round the head of the nearer corpse. Don’t tell me that the man was shot in the head and then got down on the floor and scooted backwards underneath to die. I can’t, with the best will in the world, believe it.
(While I’m on the subject, Ram was under a bed as well.)    
So, what actually happened? To reconstruct the likely course of events, let’s remember what the villagers said.
First, the power went off.
Then, there was heavy firing for ten minutes, followed by a lull.
After that, there was sporadic firing for three hours, after which the police declared the operation over.
It seems to me that what must have happened was this. The army and police made a combined operation to try and solve the Ram problem, and Ram was one hell of a problem (why, I’ll discuss again in a minute). Anyway, the operation may have been an honest attempt to rescue Ram, but may have gone wrong because of the usual Indian inefficiency, or it may have been planned that way.
What in any case must have happened was this: the team that attacked the house, whether of the army and police, made a successful initial attack, got inside the room without trouble, totally taking the ULFA by surprise. They were still trying to duck for shelter under beds when they were shot dead (notice the pyjamas and bare feet of the second corpse – he wasn’t anticipating combat). Someone also thoughtfully shot PC Ram – perhaps by accident or perhaps they thought him to be an ULFA (didn’t he holler or identify himself?) or just maybe by design. Anyway, they did shoot him.
So now you have a hostage rescue situation where you’ve successfully terminated the hostage. What do you do?
During that lull in the fighting, some real brainstorming must have gone on…
So they began a cover up – a staged encounter with soldiers firing in the air for hours, with a tutored account from the Deka family in exchange for not taking action against them for harbouring terrorists . Then they could claim that they didn’t deliberately kill Ram, that it was an accident; and that is why the house is virtually undamaged instead of looking like a sieve, and that is why the corpses are where they are.
And a couple of corroborative proofs - first, take a look at the AK56 rifle in the photo. It's the model with a folding stock. As you can see, the stock is clearly folded. Now the purpose of a stock on a rifle is to stabilise it during firing; no one in his right mind is going to fight for hours with the stock still folded. Either the police or army folded the stock of the rifle before the photo, or else the ULFA didn't actually get the chance to fight. Someone is lying, either way.
Then again, if you've ever seen a Hollywood film, you know what happens when a criminal or terrorist is holed up and surrounded by police, don't you? The loudhailers and appeals to surrender? Well, this also applies to real life - I recall the BBC telecasting a real-life anti-terrorist operation in Kashmir whre two terrorists surrounded in a house surrendered after they were told they were cut off and their situation was hopeless. In fact, asking terrorists to surrender is standard practice. How come none of the accounts of this little episode mentions any attempt to get these ULFA to surrender? Answer: they were already dead. Of course the police could have faked a surrender call by loudhailer, but nobody accused our security forces of being either intelligent or imaginative. The whole operation was incredibly ham-handed from the beginning.
I believe that about wraps it up.
Now to get to the point of the motive. Why is Ram better off dead?
Well, everyone benefits.
The state government is relieved of one hell of a problem – what to do to get Ram freed. They couldn’t release the ULFA men without getting into political trouble; and Ram’s family was creating a ruckus to make sure he wasn’t killed again.      
The army is relieved of the accusation of incompetence; they were chasing Ram all over the Bhutan border, found his body in a grave, declared him dead, and here he was right under everyone’s noses, hiding in plain sight. How horrible. Better get rid of the ULFA team, and if you get rid of Ram as well, fine. At least he can’t give away what he picked up of military inefficiency…
ULFA is ecstatic. All it has lost is two completely expendable foot soldiers; what it has gained is a propaganda victory, because the Assam opposition is already making a ruckus about how the state government allowed the hostage to die, and ULFA is now going to make propaganda rhetoric about the brutality of the Indian armed forces. It’s not as big a victory as the release of its battalion commanders, but it’s no small potatoes either.
The only one who really loses out is Ram himself. Even his son has been promised an executive job in the Food Corporation of India by way of compensation. And Ram might have - if he survived - had questions about the alacrity with which the family identified someone else's body as his.
So there you are. It’s a story full of treachery and betrayal and manufactured evidence; and it’s only because it didn’t happen in Kashmir or Delhi that the fabrication isn’t collapsing under its own weight. No one really gives a damn about the North East, so no media outlet is really interested in this episode at all.
Oh well, at least I can play detective once in real life. I wonder if you think my solution was the correct one?    

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