[New York Times] – A mob of thousands stormed a jail in the northeastern Indian city of Dimapur, seized a prisoner accused of rape, paraded him through the streets and beat him to death before they could be stopped by police gunfire, a police official said on Friday.
The dead man, identified by the authorities as Syed Sirf Khan, was accused by locals of being an illegal migrant from Bangladesh and had been arrested on Feb. 24 on suspicion of raping a woman from a Naga tribal community the day before.
How the mob was able to overcome armed police officers on Thursday at the jail in Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland State, was not clear on Friday. The top police official in Nagaland, L. L. Doungel, said that because there were a number of students wearing uniforms in the crowd, the police did not want to resort to violence.
“There would have been a lot of casualties,” Mr. Doungel said. “That was one reason. The mob was in the thousands.” Video of the assault that aired on the Indian news channel NDTV showed throngs outside the central jail photographing the event on smartphones. It then cut to blurred images of Mr. Khan, apparently naked, being marched down a street.
It was also not clear on Friday how far he was taken before the police stopped the procession, though Mr. Doungel said it was “quite a distance” from the jail. Eventually, the police fired on the crowd, killing one protester and wounding several others. But by the time officers reached Mr. Khan, he was dead.
A curfew was imposed after the killing and continued through Friday, with thousands of security officials and state police officers deployed in Dimapur and surrounding areas, Mr. Doungel said.
The attack in Dimapur comes in the same week that a BBC documentary about a 2012 gang rape and murder in New Delhi was broadcast in Britain. After incendiary comments by one of the men convicted were released as part of a publicity campaign, the Indian government banned the film, although it still received a wide audience online.
But Friday’s attack appeared to have more to do with local tensions over migrants than with any mounting outrage over sexual assault in India. Residents in several states in India’s northeast, where much of the population is tribal, have sparred in recent years with an apparently growing nontribal population, many of whom are accused of having migrated illegally from Bangladesh.
Nagaland’s population is close to 90 percent tribal, according to recent census data. The local news media reported on Friday that residents had been demanding that unauthorized migrants be forced out of the state after the accusations of rape against Mr. Khan came to light.
Mr. Doungel said that although a law had been invoked Wednesday to prevent demonstrations, the authorities had been assured that a peaceful march was being planned for Thursday, so enforcement was relaxed. The protesters included members of the Naga Students’ Federation, among other groups, though it was not immediately clear who was involved in the killing.
The chief minister of Nagaland, T. R. Zeliang, said an investigation had been ordered.