Police exhume body of Bengal student activist Anis Khan for second autopsy

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Kolkata: West Bengal Police on Monday exhumed the body of student leader Anis Khan for a second post-mortem on orders by the Calcutta high court, nine days after the 27-year-old was brutally murdered on the outskirts of Kolkata.

Khan’s killing, allegedly by men who were dressed like the state’s civic police volunteers and policemen, sparked fierce protests across Bengal by student groups and Opposition parties, prompting chief minister Mamata Banerjee to set up a special investigation team (SIT).

The high court took up suo motu petition on February 21 and on February 24 ordered a second post-mortem amid concerns that the first examination of the body was botched.

But Khan’s father, Salem Khan, has repeatedly expressed a lack of faith in state authorities and demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe. Even on Monday, he said that he agreed to let the SIT probe his son’s death only because of the high court order. “Let us see what the SIT does. I am cooperating with the authorities and following the court’s order. I still want a CBI probe,” Salem Khan said.

He alleged that three men, who were dressed like civic police volunteers, and a fourth person, who was wearing a police uniform and carried a rifle, came to his home at 1.10 am on February 19. Khan was thrown off the roof of his home at Sarda village in Howrah district minutes later, Salem Khan alleged.

The body was exhumed by the SIT in the presence of the Howrah district judge and taken to the state-run SSKM Hospital in Kolkata, around 60 km from Sarda village. The post mortem was done in the presence of two relatives of Khan, police officials said. The entire process was recorded on camera in the presence of a magistrate, as directed by the high court.

Khan was a former student of Kolkata’s Aliah University and was a member of the Indian Secular Front, which was formed last year and has one Opposition legislator. In the face of swirling protests, Banerjee announced a SIT on February 21 with state director general of police Manoj Malviya as its head.

The case took a dramatic turn on February 23, when the police arrested home guard Kashinath Bera and civic police volunteer Pritam Bhattacharya who were posted at the local police station – with some activists said this indicated that the men who killed Khan were not posing as policemen, but were actual state police personnel. Opposition parties have alleged that the Trinamool Congress (TMC) orchestrated Khan’s murder because of political enmity, a charge denied by the state’s ruling party.

On February 24, Bera and Bhattacharya were remanded in judicial custody. Both alleged that they were made scapegoats. Debabrata Chakraborty, the officer-in-charge of the police station, was sent on leave for indefinite period after he was questioned twice by the SIT.

But Salem Khan failed to identify Bera and Bhattacharya last week, saying he did not see the faces of the three men who rushed to the roof on the night of the incident. “I can only identify the fourth man who was standing with me at the entrance. He was wearing a police uniform and carried a rifle. But this man was not arrested,” Salem Khan said.

On February 24, the high court rejected the plea for a CBI probe and directed the family to cooperate with the SIT by allowing it to exhume the body for a second postmortem. Passing his order on a suo motu (on its own) petition filed by noted lawyer and CPI(M) Rajya Saba member Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, justice Rajasekhar Mantha also said the family must hand over Khan’s mobile phone to the SIT.

The phone was sent to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Hyderabad for data recovery.

State police officials have said that Khan was accused in two criminal cases, including one filed in 2017 under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Khan took an active part in agitations against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Howrah. He alleged on social media that he was facing threats from local TMC leaders for organising a blood donation camp last year.

Residents of Sarda village told HT last week that Khan became the target of some local TMC leaders after he shifted allegiance from the Student’s Federation of India (SFI), a frontal organisation of the CPI(M), to the ISF launched by Islamic cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui of the Furfura Sharif shrine months before the March-April 2021 assembly polls.


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