"He Wanted To Make His Mother Proud As A Musician" Father Of Class IX Assam Student Shot By Police
A splash of rain on Monday late evening washed the streets of Guwahati, which were left full of ashes and debris caused by a violent standoff between thousands of civilians and security forces over the passage of a new citizenship act by the Indian parliament.
The rains, however, failed to cleanse the memory of Sam Stafford, the 17-year-old youth who fell to police firing. The police fired to contain a mob protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 at Hatigaon area in Guwahati on Wednesday (December 11).
A student of class IX and a budding musician, Sam had gone to listen to his favourite musician Zubeen Garg on that fateful day. While returning home, Sam took part in a protest rally where thousands, including his neighbours and friends, were present and fell to the bullets fired by the police.
“My son only went to see Zubeen at Latasil playground where people were protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Zubeen was part of the protest programme which saw participation of thousands of people,” said Sam’s father Biju Staford while talking to The Logical Indian at their house in Hatigaon area of the city.
“He was returning home from Latasil. He reached Hatigaon area but his friends insisted that they should also join the protests. After a while we were informed that Sam was shot by police and he is dead,” Biju said.
“Music was everything to him. He played all ladder instruments. He even plays better than me. He wanted to be a good musician, he wanted to make me and his mother proud through music,” said Biju.
“He called me on my phone and asked me what I was cooking? I told him that I was cooking chicken pulao. I asked him to come home soon. But he did not return. We came to know from his friends that he received bullet injuries and that he died,” said Mamoni Stafford, Sam’s mother.
“My son did not do anything. His friends who were there during the protests said that it was a peaceful protest. People were only marching ahead shouting slogans. Then why did the police fire on them? I want justice for my son,” said Mamoni, who is still recovering from the shock.
Mamoni said that Sam did not even understand what is CAA or CAB. “People used to tell the CAB is bad, once passed it will affect the people of Assam negatively and he believed that. His friends insisted that he participate in the protest and so he went there. I would have kept him indoors had I knew that this is going to happen,” Mamoni breaks down.
A total of six people including four in Guwahati have died in different parts of Assam since December 11 as a result of the violence that broke out after the passage of the Citizenship Act, 2019. Assam government said that a total of 27 people received bullet injuries, four died.
Apart from Sam, one Dipanjan Das, Iswar Nayak and Abdul Alim were injured in police firing. While Sam died on the spot, the rest three succumbed to their injuries later in the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital.
“We were together that evening. Iswar and I went out to fetch some money from an ATM. While on the streets we saw a procession and Iswar decided to take part, shouting slogans against the CAB. It was peaceful protests but suddenly we heard gunfire. We all ran, but after some time I discovered that Iswar was not with me. I tried to look for him and found him lying in a pool of blood,” a friend of Iswar told us on the condition of anonymity.
Iswar was shifted to the Intensive Care Unit of the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries on Sunday. Iswar’s family lives in Majuli village in Udalguri district.
“How can one justify police firing on innocent civilians protesting peacefully? There should have been a lathi-charge first. Why did they not use fire rubber bullets if the motive was to disperse the crowd?” asked Sahid Alam (name changed) a friend of Sam, while talking to this correspondent.
“It was cold-blooded murder. Sam received two bullet injuries –one hit him below the jaws while the other hit him on his upper back. The police could have shot in the leg if the intention was to disperse the crowd,” said another eyewitness.
“I was a part of the protest along with many other women in our locality. My daughter was also there with me. Suddenly, my daughter asked me to run, and I asked her why. Minutes after I felt something on my left leg. I could not walk anymore,” said Nazmeen Khanam Afroz (52) who received bullet injuries on her leg.
A housewife, Nazmeen took to the streets on December 11 voluntarily to protest against the CAB. She feels that CAB (now CAA) will threaten the indigenous people like her in Assam. Nazmeen is undergoing treatment at the Down Town hospital in the city. The bullet pierced through her leg, rupturing muscles as well as bones. She is waiting for a resurrection surgery, before she can stand up on her feet again.
“It was shocking that police fired at us. We never expected that the government will resort to firing to contain a peaceful demonstration,” Nazmeen said.
Author: Anup Sharma is a Guwahati-based journalist.