Dispur schoolboy killed in Assam protests wanted to be a drummer; candles illuminate street darkened by violence

Niloy Bhattacherjee

The long shadows of darkness continue to eclipse the deserted streets of Dispur, the capital of Assam. The street lights in the Madhab Dev Path behind the capital complex in Dispur have not turned on since 11 December when protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 turned violent almost defacing the entire city.

Few hundred candles glowing in the Madhav Dev Path light up the area in the middle of the night. Scores of people have gathered to pay their tribute to Sam Stafford, a 17-year-old boy who died allegedly due to a bullet fired by security forces on the 12 December. Stafford, who was preparing for his Class 10 board exams, is the second casualty in the ongoing statewide protests against Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, which became an Act after getting the President's assent on Thursday after it was passed by both Houses of the Parliament.

File image of Sam Stafford killed in firing during Assam protests. Image courtesy: Niloy Bhattacherjee

File image of Sam Stafford killed in firing during Assam protests. Image courtesy: Niloy Bhattacherjee

Sam was a promising young boy with eyes full of dreams and promises, expressed one of the mourners adding one more candle in his memory. I could feel the December winter chill around my shoulder while interviewing him. On 12 December, Sam went out of the house in the morning with his friends to join the mass gathering at Latasil playground called by the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) against the Act, a day after protesters ravaged the streets of Guwahati.

Youth icon Zubeen Garg's presence in the protest was another reason for Sam to be in the rally. Sam wanted to be a professional drummer just like his father Biju Stafford who plays in the local clubs of Guwahati.

Spearheaded by students of colleges and universities, the recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act has brought the state to a standstill. As a youth, Sam too did not want to be left out. According to a local woman, on the night Sam was killed, he was at the end of a long line of protestors returning to their homes in the evening. While all went homeward, Sam stopped in front of a lane to see what was going on in the city with security forces all around.

Perhaps, the young boy hadn't realised that his city was under curfew with the Indian Army staging flag march twice in the day. That was there was a restriction on the movement of commoners and them gathering in groups.

With violence threating the very security of the city, the district administration had imposed an indefinite curfew on the evening of 11 December. Eight additional columns of the Indian Army were called to strengthen the security bastion of the city.

Despite the curfew, protesters had taken part in rallies in the city with the police doing very little to contain them. However, as the protests turned ugly by dusk on Thursday, security forces became alert. According to one of the onlookers, a bullet fired from a four-wheeler in the dark hit Sam. He was lying in a pool of blood.

The locals allege that the bullet was fired by the security forces.

On Thursday, another teenager, Dipanjal Das succumbed to the injuries at a hospital after being hit by a bullet allegedly from the security forces. Like Sam, Das too was returning home after attending the protest rally at the Latasil ground. Sam is the youngest of the two victims.

The mourners in the evening demanded justice for the firing incidents, claiming that there was neither an announcement of a curfew in the area nor was any warning given before the shootout. Assam hasn't faced curfew in the last three to four decades. The people too haven't responded to issues in the state in this manner.

Born to a Christian father and a Muslim mother, Sam definitely paid the price for the debate over the Citizenship Amendment Act and the uprising in Assam against it. Death being his last sleep. Will Sam's one be the final awakening? No one knows.

Also See: Anti-Citizenship Act protests in Assam: Curfew relaxed in Guwahati, parts of Dibrugarh; State DGP says 85 arrested over violence

Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act sentiments dominate burial of teenager killed in violent Assam protests; AASU says no agitations after sunset

With Citizenship Act protests refusing to die in Assam, Centre deploys eight columns of Indian Army, Assam Rifles

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