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Today is the second anniversary of Narasingbari Killings. On 1st May, 2014, at around 8:00pm three people were killed and several injured. Narasingbari was the beginning – within less than 24 fours 49 people were killed in Khagrabari (Baksa) and Balapara (Kokrajhar) in BTAD area of Assam. Most of the victims were children and women. Here is the story of Rashida Khatun (13), who survived the attack. More stories will follow…..
Rashida Khatun (13) tells me her daily routine in a gloomy and deadly silent house. Every day she wakes up at 5:30 in the morning in a remote village called Narasingbari in Baksa district of Assam. She cleans the courtyard, clears the cow dung, her grandma takes the cows for grassing; she washes the dish and helps grandma preparing food, takes bath and gets ready for school. She does all of these by 8:30 am.
She was telling me her stories of misery and bravery sitting on the only wooden bed just the beneath of a smokestack made of a torn vest. The election campaign posters of All India United Democratic Front, the political party headed by perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal were pasted on the tin wall of her house. The posters were glittering inside the dimed room as like as Ajmal’s dream to be the kingmaker in the recently concluded assembly election.
This is my second visit to her – first time I met her on a hospital bed in Barpeta Medical College on 6th of May 2014. From the hospital bed she narrated a harrowing incident. On 1st May, 2014 her parents were killed by the members of outlawed terrorist organization National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). The terrorist organization also rampaged in Khagrabari in Baksa and Balapara in Kokrajhar district of BTAD and killed 49 people within 24 hours, mostly children and women.
One that fateful day, her family members were gossiping post dinner with an elderly woman on their courtyard. At around 8:00 pm a heavily armed group of terrorists entered their house and indiscriminately fired their automotive weapons. They killed her parents and the old woman on the spot and severely injured Rashida and a little girl Taslima Sultana (3). Three bullets were pumped into Taslima’s little body – one blown away her left thump, another went across shoulder, might be just above her tiny heart and last one went by touching her cheek. Their bullet was not kind enough to leave Rashida unhurt; it passed across her thigh. Hopefully, both Taslima and Rashida survived the bullet injuries.
Two years on, Rashida’s pain and agony is intact. After getting cured the bullet injury, Rashida was shifted to SOS village in Hojai in central Assam along with two siblings, elder sister Shumala (16) and younger brother Ramzan (9). SOS village gave her much needed shelter and protection hunger as well as basic facilities to continue her study. But her mental trauma remained unhealed; memories of the brutality and the loneliness of her grandma continued to haunt her. The SOS village authority says “She was not been able to adjust with the environment and tried to escape multiple times”. One day, the cook of SOS village rebuked Ramzan for being ill-disciplined. It pained Rashida, reminded her parents and grandma, moreover, her elder sister Shumala held her responsible for younger brother’s mischievous act. Rashida could not control her emotions; finally she ran away and traveled nearly 300 kms to reach her grandma in her native village.
However, her people and the village had dramatically changed in the last one year. Her grandma and neighbors had already abandoned their houses due to security reason. Terrorists again entered the village and shot one villager in front of the school near their house. Now, half of the school is being occupied by police. Her grandma shifted to uncle’s place inside the village; who migrated to Arunachal Pradesh and working there as rag picker and has abandoned her helpless mother!
She started a precarious life with her grandma. No earning member, no source of income; the ex-gratia amount which was granted by government against her deceased parents, has been ‘fixed deposited’ in the name of three minors. As per the government’s social welfare policy Rashida’s grandma is eligible for both widow pension and old-age pension. However, the representative of VCDC (Village Council Development Committee in lieu of Panchayati Raj Institution) says that from 2005 to 2015 not a single widow pension has been disbursed and on 4 oldage pension was awarded in the entire village.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Beti Basao; Beti Padao’ campaign was mounting high, Rashida took a hard decision. She became an agricultural labourer at the age of 12. As a child labour she gets Rs. 120/- whereas her counterpart gets Rs. 200/- a day. Neither the high decibel campaign nor the anti-child labour act could reach her. She continues to toil in the field to feed herself and her ageing grandmother, also to save to revive her dream to go to school once again. She purchased books, uniforms and took admission into the newly established private school in the village. The principal of the school, who himself was a victim of violence and left the village in childhood waived off her admission and tuition fees. All 404 Muslim household left the village in 1994; more than fifty percent are still not being able to return to the village, even after two decades, Principal of Navajyoti Jatiya Vidyalaya Abdur Rahman said.
Though Rashida lost two precious academic years of her life but she is committed to chase her dream. She wants to be a nurse. The nurses who cared her in Barpeta Medical College have motivated her to be a nurse. Since the beginning of this academic year, she has been working on Sundays and other holidays. Without talking to her, it impossible to imagine how hard she is fighting to balance her schooling and the wage earning. No scholarship or rehabilitation programme has reached her so far!
Rashida is not the only victim of violence in Assam or all the children affected violence is not as brave and determined as her. There are thousands of children who are being severely affected by the brutality and madness of violence in Assam since early 80 of last century.
Assam is one of the most IDP concentrated states in the India. In 2012, nearly five lakhs people were displaced through the act of violence in western Assam, the biggest ever human displacement in independent India after the partition. There are hundreds of camps, settlements and colonies in western Assam where conflict induced internally displaced persons are languishing since early 90s and the numbers are increasing every year. Thousands of children spent their childhood in those camps without basic services like education, health, nutrition etc. There are instances where the children from IDP camps were denied admission into government school. The governments both in centre and state do not have any well-defined policy to rehabilitate the violence induced IDPs, at least the children.
Recurrent violence and subsequent large scale displacement has made Assam hotspot for child trafficking. The Telegraph reported on 10th April, 2016 “The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ranks Assam as one out of eight Indian states where child trafficking is rampant. According to the report, 5,023 girls and 2,765 boys went missing from Assam, mostly from the BTAD, between 2009 and 2014”.
While the world is talking about India’s demographic dividend, here is western Assam, lakhs of are growing in camps, settlements and violence torn villages in illiteracy, malnutrition and hopelessness to puncture the bubble of so called ‘demographic dividend’.
I wonder if the election campaign poster can reach Rashida’s house targeting her grandmother’s only vote; why her constitutional rights can’t be guaranteed.
[This article can be reprinted without permission. I will be happy if the publisher shares the details of the publication/link]