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Has Fear Lynched My Conscience?

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These days, I often ask myself ‘am I scared?’

I keep checking my ‘conscience’ – is it dead or about to die an unnatural death because of the ‘fear’ which is engulfing me slowly but steadily every passing day. To be honest, growing up in one of the most prejudiced societies; fear has been a companion since my adolescence.

I grew up in Assam – the land of Srimanta Sankardev who spread neo-vaisnavite movement in this part of the country. His movement outlined the foundation of greater Assamese society, which was inclusive of all castes, creeds and communities. Yes, gurujona’s Assamese society included Muslims too! Chandasai, a Muslim was one of his most devoted disciples.

However, I was born in post-Nellie Assam. Nellie a place just 60 kilometers from Guwahati witnessed one of the largest massacres in the world in 1983. More than 3000 innocent Muslims were butchered in broad daylight.

Perhaps, Nellie is the last nail in the coffin of inclusive greater Assamese society. The greater share this credit should go to civil society for maintaining complete radio silence on the question of justice to the victims.

A dangerously polarized society identified my community as alien to this place even before my birth. Various adjectives, precisely which are derogatory and dehumanizing in nature were added before or after my identity. I grew up swallowing abuse and rejection on every other occasion.

I was growing up in a hostile world around me; which kept me scared. I was scared of being bullied, denied of my wage and perpetuating physical and mental torture by anyone only because of my identity. One day, a group of stray youths physically assaulted my rickshaw puller uncle who gently refused to push a vehicle due to his health ailment. In front of my eyes, they kicked his stomach, my middle-aged uncle pleaded for mercy with his folded hands.

As a seventh standard young kid, I was scared; I moved fast and disappeared in lane behind the rolling mill and reached the slum-like rented house in Lalganesh area of Guwahati city. I couldn’t sleep that night; whenever I closed my eyes, the same scene repeated like a motion picture.

It was not just the unruly bullies; I was scared of my governments too, including the so-called Muslim appeaser Indian National Congress led governments. My uncle who was physically abused by the bullies lost his land to erosion and moved to another village; police framed him as an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh despite the fact that his father was agovernment teacher and whose service was initiated by the colonial government way before the words ‘Bangladesh’ and ‘Pakistan’ came into being! He faced the abuse, and fought his case courageously and defended his Indian citizenship.

But his elder brother couldn’t bear the burn. One day while coming back from the foreigner’s tribunal he collapsed midway and succumbed to the stroke.

In Assam millions have been uprooted by river erosion, climate change has accelerated this displacement in the last few years. Once they get displaced from one place, the risk of being labelled as illegal immigrant increases manifold. There are few hundred thousand people framed as ‘doubtful voters’ , or reference cases have been slapped on them just because of their identity. Most of them are victims of flood and erosion who need to shift their house often. Many of them are languishing in the Nazi Concentration Camps styled detention centre across the state.

Data suggests that more than 90 per cent of the detainees didn’t the get the opportunity to present their side of the story before the court as their case were settles ex-partite. The new government in Assam has increased the number of the detention centres and foreigners tribunal and proposed one gigantic detention centre in Goalpara in western Assam. These are deadly and fearful events unfolding before us and obviously make us all scared.

However, I navigated through my fear, anguish and hope for a better future. I dreamed for reconciliation, peaceful co-existence and a dignified life for everyone guaranteed by Indian Constitution, including the Muslims. Unfortunately, the 2014 general election shuttered my dream completely. The fear of another Nellie like genocide occupied my mind when the then NDA Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi kick- started a campaign by alleging that the much adored one horned rhinos in Assam were killed to clear the land to settled Bangladeshis! Days after his speech nearly fifty Muslims mostly women and children were massacred by militants in league with forest guards.

The rhetoric initiated by PM Narendra Modi eventually revived the four decade old issue of illegal immigration once again in Assam. Without providing justice to the victims of massacres like Nellie, Chaolkhuwa, Mukalmua etc or proving the deceased to be illegal immigrants – another round of campaign has started against the Bengal origin Assamese Muslim community. In the 2016 assembly election, the rhetoric worked and for the first BJP led government came into power in Assam.

The new government in Assam started evicting the climate induced internally displaced persons living across various government lands across the state. As per the government data, by the end of 2016 more than 3500 families (more than 20000 people) were forcefully evicted. Many of the families were evicted from their patta land without any compensation and rehabilitation. Two persons were killed in police firing during forceful eviction and two children died in post eviction IDP camp.

Nobody questioned the government’s inhumane attitude against its own people – this was bone shivering dreadful. The local media played the role of cheerleaders for the government and sometimes as extended arms of the government. Hardly anyone raised a voice against the injustice meted out to one of the most persecuted communities. Even, I too just wrote a ceremonial article and didn’t ask the government why it didn’t rehabilitate the IDPs. Maybe I am too scared.

I sincerely have started believing that I am not the only scared person in the country. I could see a kafila of terrified young men and women who normally used to be the vanguard in any resistance movement against injustice. While seeing the social media videos of lynchings, every day, I am getting convinced that it’s not only mine; but our collective conscience is dying an unnatural death. Otherwise, how could I skip the news and videos of lynching and thrashing of innocent people? It is fear that is stopping us from raising a voice and asking the government to put an end to this brutality!

 

The article first published in The Citizen http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/NewsDetail/index/1/11101/Has-Fear-Lynched–My-Conscience

School girl raped in Assam, Panchayat offered money to keep quiet: Victim committed suicide

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When the entire country was celebrating 68th Republic Day, a tenth standard student of Sidhuni High School in Barpeta district of Assam was raped by her neighbour Jahidul Islam (22). The Gaon Panchayat president Mr. Abdul Karim barred her father from accessing legal remedy and the panchayat offered eighty thousand rupees as compensation. Traumatized girl committed suicide soon after the kangaroo court pronounced the verdict.

I often get telephone calls regarding violation of child rights i.e. trafficking, child marriage, sexual abuses etc. Interestingly, most of the calls I get are from two difference areas (a) conflict affected areas of Bodoland Territorial Area Districts and (b) flood and erosion affected char and chapori areas of lower Assam. I try to bring the matter to the notice of various government and non-government bodies which are working for the protection of child rights. In most the cases, the agencies, both government and non-government quickly take up the cases and surprising results are delivered.

For example, September last year, a thirteen year old girl child from Barpeta was abducted by a suspected gang of human traffickers. The girl was taken to Nalbari district and her father was pleading before the police officer for her rescue. Police wasn’t willing to register the case until her father would pay them bribe. When I brought the matter to the notice of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR) and Universal Team for Social Action and Help (UTSAH), the girl child was rescued within 24 hours. In another case in Baksa district, a tenth standard girl student was trafficked and sold in Rajasthan. The Investing Officer (IO) took money from her widow mother to fuel the police jeep. Police didn’t arrest the perpetrators even after being handed over by the community people. When the matter was brought to the notice these agencies, Assam Police team went to Rajasthan and rescued the girl and arrested the members of trafficking racket.

But it is challenging to bring the matter to the notice of these child protection agencies. When the grass-root institutions – the family, the school, the Panchayat, the police station do not realize their roles and responsibilities in child protection or not even realize why the children need care and protection; it becomes really challenging to bring the matter to light. Often heinous crime against children is not even considered as a crime; it is doused and put under the carpet by the powerful people in the society. My experience of working in these areas makes me believe that our grass-root social as well as democratic institutions are not child friendly and there is something seriously wrong. Often these institutions don’t allow the information of child rights violation to reach the modern child protection agencies. Sometimes, it reaches too late to protect the children.

In one of such tragic incident which occurred in Sidhuni village in Barpeta district of Assam. When the entire country was celebrating 68th Republic Day, a tenth standard student of Sidhuni High School in Barpeta district of Assam was raped by her neighbour Jahidul Islam (22). The Gaon Panchayat president Mr. Abdul Karim barred her father from accessing legal remedy and the panchayat offered eighty thousand rupees as compensation. Traumatized girl committed suicide soon after the kangaroo court pronounced the verdict.

On the fateful evening of 26th January 2017, S*****n Nessa was raped at her residence. After the heinous crime, perpetrator Jahidul Islam asked the victim to keep quiet and promised her to marry. Her father Taizuddin, an illiterate poor farmer approached the Dewanis (Community Leaders) for help to give justice to his minor daughter. President of 78 No Sitoli Gaon Panchayat, Mr. Abdul Karim (elected PRI member) stopped him from going to police station and suggested to settled the case in the panchayat itself.

Next day i.e. 27th January 2017, the president called panchayat at his residence and invited the Dewanis (community leaders, similar to the leaders of khap panchayats) including the president of nearby Chachra Gaon Panchayat, who happens to be the brother-in-law of the perpetrator. The victim was interrogated by the president and other Dewanis in front of hundreds of villagers in the panchayat (they call it bichar). An educated youth from the same village who was present in the panchayat informed me over phone:

“Dewanis repeatedly asked the girl every detail of how she was raped. She was terribly frightened and traumatized. But they were asking questions after questions. The questions were so terrifying that one of the Dewanis asked her where and how she was touched during the course of sexual assault.”

After listening to the interrogation, the president Mr. Abdul Karim held the victim responsible and remarked “If the female goat is set free; the billy goat will try to have some fun”. Mr. Nayan Ali, one of Dewanis and a trusted ally of president explained why the victim shouldn’t go to court. He tried to inculcate the gathering by drawing his knowledge (?) and experience that if she goes to court, her medical check-up will be done by police and doctors from other caste (read religion) which is against their religious believe and practice! Finally, the panchayat offered eighty thousand rupees to be paid by the perpetrator in installments and asked victim to keep quiet and move on. Soon after the pronouncement the victim committed suicide by hanging herself. Listen to the verdict of the kangaroo court here

From this particular area of Barpeta district, I have been getting reports of violation of child rights on regular basis. The incidences of child marriage, child trafficking, child labour and child sexual abuses are really alarming. In one hand, people living in this area are devastated by annual flood and erosion. Poverty and illiteracy have been helping to feudal minded Dewani and other powerful social groups to keep their grip over the marginal groups intact and thus undermines the rights and entitlement of the children. On the other hand, the democratic institutions like Gaon Panchayats and police stations are highly corrupt and has miserably failed to live up to their mandates as far as protection of child rights is concerned.

It has been almost two days; police hasn’t even tried to arrest either the rapist or the Dewanis who conducted the panchayat and abetted the child to commit suicide. Moreover, I am being informed that the Dewanis are now trying to compromise the case by paying three lakhs rupees to the father of the victim and settle the case. How shameful is the fact that our society has different slab of amount fixed for different types of crime that too in case of crime against children!

I don’t know who is to be blamed or what is to be done but as far as child protection is concerned we should at least acknowledge the fact that there is serious problem with our grass-root social and democratic institutions. Various stakeholders, who are concerned and mandated for ensuring care and protection of children, should rethink about their strategies and approaches.

Dehumanising Muslims in Assam

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Cast as the ‘other’, dubbed ‘Bangladeshi’ and incessantly victimized, the Bengal-origin Muslim is fair game, with the media actively whipping up hatred.
ABDUL KALAM AZAD expresses his dismay

The nightmare which has been haunting Bengal-origin Muslims in Assam for quite some time became a reality on September 19 when civil officials accompanied by nearly 3000 security forces arrived at Bandardubi and Deosursang villages in the Kaziranga National Park area to evict nearly 300 families.

The families had been pleading with the administration for compensation for the last one week before they were evicted and nothing had materialized. As a last resort, they protested against their eviction. Fifteen minutes into the protest, the security forces fired their guns, killed two persons on the spot, including a girl child, and wounded six others. By evening, almost 300 houses had been bulldozed and set ablaze.

Meanwhile, NewsLive, a television channel owned by the wife of Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, started justifying the carnage and arson by saying the victims were of “suspected origins” (read illegal Bangladeshi)[i]. There is nothing new in this. In fact, the media have been campaigning to create a public perception that people living in the vicinity of Kaziranga are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The houses in Banderdubi and Deosursang were evicted as per an order passed by Gauhati High Court in response to a PIL filed by current Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Mrinal Saikia in 2012 (Kaziranga National Park vs Union of India and others, 2015. pp. 36-37).

However, during the trial of the case, Advocate-General of Assam acknowledged and supported the contention of the applicants that as per the revenue records. Banderdubi and Deosursang were declared as revenue villages by the government in 1961 and therefore are not part of the Kaziranga National Park, which makes eviction of any villager from the said areas illegal (Kaziranga National Park vs Union of India and others, 2015. pp. 21). These villages came into existence even before the official recognition of Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary as a National Park. As per the records these two villages were set up in 1951 and land patta was awarded in 1961. The names of the villagers were inserted into the voters’ list in 1965 for the assembly election, and a government school was established there in 1966. On the other hand, Kaziranga was declared as a National Park by the central government on 11 February 1974[ii].

“The media have been campaigning to create a public perception that people living in the vicinity of Kaziranga are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.”

Even though, the villagers were ready to move out of their villages, they were only asking for fair compensation and time for relocation. The villagers complained that state finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma played a communal card and assured seven Hindu families that they would be paid four times their loss, while Bengal origin Muslim villagers were left feeling like illegal Bangaldeshis [iii].
In the last few decades, the media has tutored the Assamese people on the art of demonizing and dehumanizing Bengal-origin Assamese. Soon after the eviction drive, a BJP activist who calls himself Khati Axomiya (‘The True Assamese’, also imprinted on his T-shirt) wrote on his Facebook wall “Happiness is knowing that I will get to see greenery and spot a rhino or two in Kaziranga and not the usual huts and lungiwala Bangladeshis”!

This is not an isolated incident–something equally sinister is happening in the state on a large scale. The background is this: Since the great earthquake of 1950, the river Brahmaputra has flattened and the intensity of floods and erosion in the valley has increased. The subsequent construction of dams, embankments and deforestation has accentuated the problem.

An estimated seven per cent of Assam’s land has been eroded by the river Brahmaputra between 1950-2000, displacing lakhs of people, most of whom are Bengal-origin Muslims, because they constitute the bulk of the population settled in the Char and riverine areas (Hussian, 2006). Many of the erosion-induced IDPs ( internally displaced families) take shelter on embankments and government land i.e. khas land, grazing land, and forest land and a large number of them migrate to urban areas in search of livelihood.

In addition to Banderdubi, in Hatimuria (Morigaon district) more than 260 erosion-induced IDPs who originally belonged to the neighboring Darrang district had acquired periodic patta land from the local Assamese Hindu community on lease[iv]. After the 2014 general elections, the district administration passed an order to relocate them to the nearby Hiloikhunda Char and subsequently the families moved out.

The next day, almost all the newspapers published from Guwahati carried photographs of relocated huts on the Hiloikhunda Char with headlines screaming that hundreds of Bangladeshis had occupied land belonging to the indigenous community.[v]
The media campaign continued. There was a clash between the two communities in which more than half a dozen people were injured[vi]. And the displaced families were evicted once again[vii]. Consequently, the government sent notices to all district officials to evict IDPs settling on government land without any kind of rehabilitation.

Similarly, two villages – Dolpur and Phuhuratoli in Sipajhar Development Block (Darrang district) – became media targets when Upamanyu Hazarika, convener of a forum called Prabajan Virodhi Manch and apparently a junior associate of Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, submitted a report to the Supreme Court mentioning that the two villages had been illegally occupied and were being used as grazing grounds by suspected Bangladeshis. The media went into a frenzy over his claim and published hundreds of stories with distorted facts and imaginary threats[viii].

“The villagers of Dolpur and Phuhuratoli who are branded as illegal Bangladeshi in the news report are genuine Indian citizens and were displaced by river erosion before they settled in these villages.”

On 3rd July, the Hindustan Times carried a story titled “Schools, toilets: How Assam govt ‘legitimises’ land-grab by ‘illegal migrants[i]” suggesting that welfare benefits were being awarded to ‘alleged’ Bangladeshis whereas indigenous people were being denied. The reality is very different. The villagers of Dolpur and Phuhuratoli who are branded illegal Bangladeshi in the news report are genuine Indian citizens and were displaced by river erosion before they settled in these villages. Every single household has the necessary citizenship documents and has also filled up the NRC updating form. As far as welfare schemes are concerned, out of the 95 surveyed households, 80 do not have a toilet[ii]

Till 2015 there was no government scheme to rehabilitate the erosion-induced IDPs. The previous government did bring out a special scheme but not a single family benefitted from it[xi]. When people who had applied for assistance under the scheme demanded a progress report through Right to Information petitions[xii], the government took a baffling decision. It re-worded the scheme so that almost all applications were declared invalid.[xiii]

What the media tacitly endorses – i.e. the use of the term ‘Bangladeshi’ for Bengal-origin Muslims residing in the state for generations – is symptomatic of a malaise that has been engraved into the Assamese popular imagination. Over time this term and its street counterpart ‘Miyah’ have contributed to the dehumanization of the Bengal-origin Muslim community and established them as the repulsive ‘other’ of the ‘Son-of-the-soil Assamese.

They have, in effect, been pushed beyond the boundary of ‘moral community’ (in Thomas Dixon’s terms) and thus beyond the range of ‘responsibility and care’ (Dixon, 2012). The terms ‘Bangladeshi’ or ‘Miyah’ nullify the historical conditions which necessitated the displacement of these people from one province of British India to another under the direct patronage of the colonial rulers. It also discredits their abandoning their mother tongue and accepting and actively fighting for the promotion of the Assamese language.

Collective empathy towards the community has been missing in mainstream Assamese society, especially since the six-year-long Assam Agitation (1979-1985). On 18th February, 1983, more than 3,000 innocent people, mostly children, women and the elderly, were killed in broad daylight in Nellie, just 60 kilometres from the capital city (Diganta Sarma, Anju Azad, 2009).

Society in general remained imndifferent to the massacre: there was no outrage and no demand for justice as opposed to the unabashed, overbearing, and jingoistic rhetoric against a particular community. Over the last 30 years the allegation of being Bangladeshi has been enough to deny them compensation, rehabilitation and justice. On the other hand, the perpetrators of violence were declared heroes.[xiv]
Public intellectual Homen Borgohain wrote that during the Agitation years, the Assamese press used to carry inflammatory articles and distorted news items on the imminent risk of illegal immigrants and the vulnerability of the ethnic Assamese people losing their linguistic and cultural identity.

Borgohain was ostracized by local newspapers who refused to publish him. He was compelled to take up the job of Guwahati correspondent for Aajkal (Dutta, 2012). Professor Monirul Hussain writes: “Papers were flooded with news of the arrival of Bangladeshi Rajakars in Assam through helicopters and rivers to attack the indigenous people and their villages (Hussain, 1993).”

Journalists who tried to disseminate the truth and present an alternative narrative were given stern warnings and were identified as ‘anti-Assamese’ or ‘anti-nationals’. For example, BBC journalist Sabita Goswami was summoned to the central office of the agitators and warned against the publication of her story on the harassment of women by the agitators.

The warning was simple and direct: “If an Assamese writes in this manner, it is equivalent to going against Assam’s interest (Goswami, 2013)”. Acclaimed author and journalist Nirupama Borgohain was forced to leave Saptahik Nilachal because she dared to express her resentment against the treatment meted out to the Bengal-origin Muslim community (Hussain, 1993).

The Assam Tribune, the largest circulating English daily, took an editorial decision not to publish any photograph of the Nellie Massacre[xv]. Two days prior to Nellie, more than 109 people were killed in a relief camp at Nagabanda High school just 30 kilometres away from Nellie[xvi]. There was a complete blackout in the Assamese media. Chaolkhuwa Chapori, a riverine village, was witness to another massacre on the 12th and 13th February, 1983. Almost 1,000 people were killed but for a week the news went unreported until the BBC broke the horrific story (Goswami, 2013).

In the last three decades, every time the Bengal-origin Muslim community was attacked in the Bodo Movement, the Assamese media brushed aside the issues of their relief, rehabilitation and justice under the convenient label of ‘illegal immigration’. In 2012, Assam witnessed independent India’s largest human displacement when over half a million marginalized people from both the Bodo and Muslim community were internally displaced.

Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of Times Now television channel and son of a BJP politician from Assam, raved that it was not a riot between Bodos and Muslims but rather a fight between the indigenous Bodo tribe and Bangladeshi infiltrators! The Assamese media soon joined the chorus and, in a tragic example of journalists turning agitators, the violence escalated and more innocent lives were lost.
The media conveniently skips the horrifying accounts of deprivation, marginalization and subjugation of Bengal-origin Muslims only to keep the ‘environment of dehumanization’ intact.

References
Diganta Sarma, Anju Azad. (2009, Feb 18). Nellie 1983. Retrieved 9 21, 2016, from Twocircles.Net: http://twocircles.net/special_reports/nellie_1983.html#.V-Gt9q3lw3w
Dixon, T. H. (2012, 4 26). Catastrophic dehumanization: the psychological dynamics of severe conflict . Oxford Martin School. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAs3cm_PSg4 Last accessed 21/09/2016
Dutta, N. (2012). Questions of Identity in Assam: Location, Migration, Hybridity. New Delhi: Sage.
Goswami, S. (2013). Along the Red River. New Delhi: Zubaan.
Hussain, M. (1993). The Assam Movement: Class, Ideology and Identity. New Delhi: Manak Publications Pvt Ltd.
Hussian, M. (2006). Internally Displaced Persons in India’s North-East. Economic & Political Weekly , 41 (5).
Kaziranga National Park vs Union of India and others, PIL(suo motu) 66/2012, 67/2012, and WP(C) 648/2013 and 4860/2013 (Gauhati High Court 10 9, 2015).

End Notes
i Poaching humans in Kaziranga Dated 22/09/2016 http://raiot.in/poaching-humans-in-kaziranga/ Last accessed on 23/09/2016
ii Two Killed in Police Firing Near Kaziranga, Eyewitnesses Say. Dated 19/09/2016 http://thewire.in/67104/kaziranga-firing-two-killed/ Last accessed on 23/09/2016
iii #KazirangaEvictionDrive: Illegal settlements razed down in three villages; two killed in clashes with police NewsLive dated 19/09/2016 http://www.newslivetv.org/news.php?s=top-stories&id=3050&t=-kazirangaevictiondrive-illegal-settlements-razed-down-in-three-villages-two-killed-in-clashes-with-police&sld=1 Last accessed on 21/09/2016
iv Deputy Commissioner of Morigaon sent a letter to Deputy Commissioner Darrang vide No. MRS. 33/2013/111 dated 31/10/2015.
v Incursion of suspected foreigners on in the state, DY365 (Television Channel) dated 30/10/2015 http://www.dy365.in/news_details.php?aID=1687&subC=2&top=N#.V-GIoq3lw3w Last accessed on 21/09/2016
vi With erosion as excuse, land grab rampant in Mayong, The Sentinel http://www.sentinelassam.com/mainnews/story.php?sec=1&subsec=0&id=280776&dtP=2016-09-10&ppr=1#.V-GLTq3lw3w Last access on 21/09/2016
vii Settlers sent home – Move to clear Morigaon land encroached 18 years ago. The Telegraph dated 19/08/2016 http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160819/jsp/northeast/story_103224.jsp Last accessed on 21/09/2016.
viii Drive to free land occupied by migrants The Telegraph Dated 4/12/2015 http://www.telegraphindia.com/1151204/jsp/northeast/story_56536.jsp#.V-GnXq3lw3w Last accessed on 21/09/2016
ix Schools, toilets: How Assam govt ‘legitimises’ land-grab by ‘illegal migrants Hindustan Times dated 3/7/2016 http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/schools-toilets-how-assam-govt-legitimises-land-grab-by-illegal-migrants/story-3CryZEbS5GIPu5vRFiJtGL.html Last accessed on 21/09/2016
x In the first week of February this year a 10 member inter-community youth group (Alumni and current students of prestigious institutes like IIT, TISS, Gauhati University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Ambedkar University) conducted a week-long study in the said villages (Dolpur and Phuhuratoli). This author was also part of the group. They undertook a household survey in 95 houses to study their socio-economic conditions and examined their citizenship documents.
xi “Chief Minister’s Special Scheme for Rehabilitation of Erosion Affected Families of Assam” vide circular No. RGR.785/2014/6 dated 12th March, 2015, Revenue and Disaster Management Authority.
xii Nodal Agency ‘Assam State Disaster Management Authority’ replied to this author saying that no application has been received under the scheme. However, other government documents and interview revealed that a large number of applications were received by ASDMA.
xiii New circular made the rehabilitation provision only for those who had lost their land in last one year, only victims who have land patta in his/her name are entitled to apply, having land in ancestor’s name wouldn’t made him/her eligible.
xiv Agitators who got killed were in Nellie were provided ex-gratia of Rs. 25000 and victims got Rs. 5000. The current government has announced Rs. 500000 additional ex-gratia to the next of kin of the agitators who got killed. http://www.sentinelassam.com/mainnews/story.php?sec=1&subsec=0&id=275581&dtP=2016-08-03&ppr=1#.V-H7PhJ4gu0
xv Senior journalist Samudhra Gupta Kashyap shared the story in a conversation called “Can today’s society change the media” at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati organized by Thumb Print Magazine. Mr. Kashyap worked with Assam Tribune during Assam Movement. This author has previously quoted him in 2013 http://twocircles.net/2014feb16/nagabanda_massacre_and_other_side_assamese_intelligentsia.html#.V-G1Ua3lw3w
xvi Ibid

Published on The Hoot http://www.thehoot.org/media-watch/media-practice/dehumanising-muslims-in-assam-9661

Two Years of Narasingbari Killings: Heart-wrenching story of little Rashida

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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 in her house in Narasingbari
Rashida Khatun in her house in Narasingbari (2016)

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.

Rashida Khatun in hospital bed at Barpeta Medical College
Rashida Khatun on her Hospital Bed in Barpeta Medical College (2014)

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]

 

BJP campaign may buttress Ajmal’s arena created by Cong

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Maulana Badruddin Ajmal’s political journey started much before the formation of the AIUDF in October 2005, when he was the Assam unit president of the politically assertive socio-religious organisation Jamiyat Ulema-E-Hind since 2002.

At a state convention of the organisation in Guwahati, the then All India president of the Jamiyat, Syed Asad Madani, sitting next to Tarun Gogoi on dais, reminded him of his poll promises to minorities. Madani set a 6-month deadline for Gogoi to solve the ong-standing problems of the minorities failing which he threatened to oust him from power! Exactly after 6 months, Ajmal formed the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).

Within the next 6 months, the party bagged 10 seats in the 126-member Assam Assembly. The tally increased to 18 in 2011 when the AIUDF emerged the principal opposition party. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the party shocked the political pundits by winning 3 seats, equal to the Congress tally in Assam.

In Assam, there are more than 2,200 “char villages” or river islands. Socio-economic surveys conducted by the state government revealed a downward spiral of crucial development indicators like poverty, literacy etc. Average literacy rate was recorded as low as 19%. Moreover, 68% of char dwellers lived below the poverty line.

The percentage of BPL families skyrocketed from 49% to 68% and literacy rate went down compared to the previous survey in 4 districts. It has been over a decade since the last socio-economic survey was conducted, in 2002-03. The government couldn’t gather courage to conduct the third round of survey, fearing more uncomfortable findings.

As per the 2011 census data, Uttar Godhani, a char village in Barpeta district, has the lowest literacy rate in the state with only 2.15% female and 5.13% male literates. People who live the subhuman life in the char areas, without basic services like health, education, water, housing and proper means of livelihood, became the strongest political capital of perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, whose political arena is widening with every passing election.

He is emerging as the undisputed leader of over 34% Muslims in Assam. Majority of them are branded as illegal migrants from Bangladesh despite the facts that migration of Muslim peasants from undivided Bengal (and later on East Bengal) happened under the patronage of British colonial administrators and the community officially adopted Assamese as their mother tongue in 1951.

Ajmal’s political trajectory has been largely dependent on fear psychosis and growing demand for civil, political and human rights by the Muslims. In 2006, Ajmal offered the most-needed political platform to the Muslims who were scared after the Supreme Court scrapped the IMDT Act, which protected them from being persecuted and harassed on char-ges that they were Bangladeshi migrants.

Tarun Gogoi’s famous question, “Who is Badruddin Ajmal?” made him a celebrated politician among mainstream Assamese after the epic failure of student leader-turned-politician Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. Ajmal, meanwhile, slowly started eroding the traditional Muslim vote bank of the Congress in Assam. The AIUDF won 10 Assembly seats in the very first election it fought. However, Gogoi continued to ignore Ajmal and remained a pro-Assamese nationalist.

Turning point

During his second term, Gogoi initiated the process to update the National Register of Citizens to identify illegal foreigners. The All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) and other minority organisations, along with the AIUDF, opposed the pilot project in Barpeta and Chaygaon and demanded changes in the application form, which they called as “insulting” to Muslims of Bengali origin.

On July 21, 2010, a large number of Bengali-origin Muslims, under the banner of AAMSU, protested against the project in Barpeta. The protest turned violent and 4 people were killed in police firing. Though Tarun Gogoi was forced to suspend the project due to unprecedented public outrage, the momentum gave an extraordinary political mileage to both the Congress and AIUDF in 2011 Assembly election.

The Congress achieved an absolute majority in the Assembly whereas the AIUDF won 5 segments in Barpeta district, where it hadn’t won a single seat in 2006. The AIUDF’s tally in 2011 reached 18. The party’s surprising performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was again linked to large-scale violence and displacement of Muslims in lower Assam.

The 2016 Assam Assembly election has a different dynamics but Ajmal will continue to benefit from fear psychosis and religious polarisation. The Congress is trying to get closer to Muslim voters of lower Assam, but the BJP’s poll campaign, which has focused on “illegal migrants,” will create ground for the AIUDF.

Himanta Biswa Sarma, once a powerful minister in Tarun Gogoi’s cabinet who joined the BJP recently, is threatening to disenfranchise Muslims who fail to provide papers proving their residence in India since before 1951.

Ajmal, on the other hand is waving the flag of equality, civil rights and inclusive development, besides giving a clarion call to all Muslims to unite against the BJP. He has given the much-needed ‘Jamaat and Jhanda’ to one of the most marginalised and persecuted communities in Assam.

The Muslims of Bengali-origin, who are perceived as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and blamed for every misfortune of Assam, are now gaining confidence to assert their identity, demand their rights and entitlements.

The community’s backing may as well make Ajmal the kingmaker of Assam. However, the ‘Jamaat and Jhanda’ approach has miserably failed to address the core issues of poverty, illiteracy, lack of health services, etc.

Most importantly, the AIUDF is yet to attract a large chunk of educated and liberal Muslims of Assam. In the meanwhile, charges of corruption and nepotism are engulfing the party.

The article first appeared on http://www.deccanherald.com/content/539501/bjp-campaign-may-buttress-ajmals.html

Jaitley’s budget and the story of an Adivasi Youth

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Som Murmu (27) doesn’t know what is happening in JNU or what is in the mind of HRD Minister Smriti Irani. He is also indifferent to Jaitley’s so called pro-poor, pro rural budget, 9000 cr for Swach Bharat Mission or ‘worst ever’ budget allocation for education or 7000 cr slash in food security doesn’t make any difference to Som Mormu and his villagers. Rather he is concerned about the basic education of 37 traumatized Adivasi children of Fulbari in newly formed Biswanath Chariali district of Assam near Arunachal Pradesh border. Som Murmu is convinced that our great nation and its budget allocation has nothing to do with the education of Adivasi children of his village, hence, he has taken the responsibility on his tiny but strong shoulder.

Adivasi Women Fetching Drinking Water
                                                    Adivasi Women Fetching Drinking Water from an Earthen-Well

The Adivasis of Fulbari witnessed one of the most brutal forms of violence on the eve of Christmas in 2014. A group of terrorists belonging to outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland came to their village on the fateful day. They asked for water from the villagers, killed as many as 31 children, women and men and then laughed, sang, danced and disappeared in the nearby jungle. The attacked was not only committed on that particular village, rather a series of attacks were executed in Adivasi villages in Sonitpur, Chirang and Kokrajhar district as well. The violence claimed nearly hundred lives including 4 innocent Bodos who were killed in retaliatory attacks.

More than a year has been passed since the incident happened. But the pain and suffering of the villagers are still on. The worst sufferer of the violence has been the children. Many of the children had lost their parents, siblings, family members and friends. Many of them survived the bullet narrowly. The horrifying experience has traumatized the young minds. Many of them, who once travelled two to three kilometers to attend school, discontinued their study after the violence. The education scenario among Adivasi children is already alarming. Study revealed that the average number of ‘out of school children’ among Adivasis is more than double than that of the state average.

Coming back to the story of Som Murmu, the incident of 23rd December, 2014 changed his life completely. Though the Adivasis of Fulbari living a appalling live but he has never seen so much of pain and agony among his fellow villagers. Starting from recovering the dead-bodies after the massacre to taking the villagers to safe distance and then managing the day to day affairs of the relief camp, Som continued to serve his villagers to get the ex-gratia and rehabilitation grant. When he realized that the children were not going to school, he took initiative to discuss the matter with the villagers and decided to start a school in the villager itself and became the first teacher. Under matriculate Sim understands his limitation; Som himself couldn’t complete his schooling. The nearest high school is 5 kilometers away from the village and there is no provision of roads. Som found out a qualified teacher from outside and convinced the villagers to pay the teacher 40 mound of rice for a year as wage. It was astonishing to observe that the poor people who are battling every day for two square of meals are investing their hard earn rice to educate the children, whereas the our great country even though made law to make primary education a ‘right’ for the children but seems reluctant to implement it.

Actually, we couldn’t find anything in the village to feel the presence of government except the SSB camp, which was set up after the massacre. Basic government services like access to health care, access to pure drinking water, access to social security schemes are distant dream for the villagers. The entire village having over 500 families doesn’t have a single source of pure drinking water; all the households are using the water from ponds and earthen wells for drinking and cooking. When our Prime Minister, in fact the entire government is running campaign for Swach Bharat, 100% villagers go for open defecation. The consequence of open defecation and non-hygiene source of water is affecting the overall wellbeing of the villagers. Two and half years old Manjil Hembrom, who lost his parents in the massacre is suffering from severe skin diseases and he is suffering without basic health care.

Poor road communication is the root of many problems including health emergencies, education, livelihoods etc. Som Murmu took another daring decision to give tight slap on the face of our government. He gave a call to all his villagers to build a five kilometers long village road without any support from the government. 77 villagers have been giving shramdhan since 2nd February, 2015 to address their long standing need. Som is expecting that more people will join his troop and they will complete the task by end of March. Sonil Murmu (25), one of the villagers who are building the village road says that his wife having labour pain and he couldn’t take her to hospital on time. He carried her pregnant wife on a traditional carrier and feels that caused more pain to her. Though his wife Rupai Hembrom survived but their newborn baby died soon after the delivery. And Sonil was not the only one who finds a reason to work without wage to build the road. They hope once the road is built, they will get access to market, school, hospital and many more! This is worthy to mention that many of the Adivasis villagers of Fulbari got their job card under MGNREGA two years back but they are not getting work. Some of the job card holders worked for few days but didn’t get their wage.

Adivasis giving shramdhan to build their village road
                                      Adivasis giving shramdhan to build their 5 kms long village road

Adivasis are one of most marginalized as well as persecuted communities of Assam. Often they have been the soft target terrorists, chauvinists groups as well as government. Socio-economic condition of the Adivasis of Assam is abysmally poor. Adivasis who are working in tea gardens of Assam are still kept as bonded labour and starvation is reality in many of the tea gardens of Assam. Those who have come out from the slavery of garden management and tried to settle outside the garden are facing more cruelty from the state. It is important to remember that Adivasis of Assam are denied the constitutional provision of Scheduled Tribe envisaged in the constitution of India whereas their counter parts in Jharkhand and other states are getting the benefit of ST status.

I sincerely hope, if not our consciences, Adivasi youths like Som Murmu will one day change the destiny of their community.

Assam Flood: How ‘Development’ is leading the march towards catastrophe

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Assam is one of the most flood prone states in North-Eastern states of India. Flood has almost become an annual event in Assam creating mayhem among the masses. Except two the hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills, all the plain districts of both Brahmaputra and Barak Valley of Assam are vulnerable to floods in every monsoon starting from May/June to September/October. The flood water causes huge damage to crops, lives and properties (Mandal, 2010). As far as scale is concerned, the annual flood water from river Brahmaputra and its 28 northern and 18 southern tributaries and river Barak affects ¾ of the total number of districts (Phukan, 2005). In 2012, Indian Space Research Organization carried out a study through satellite and remote sensing for extraction of flood disaster food print and assessing the disaster impact in Assam. The study shows that about 4.65 lakh ha area was submerged, 23 of the 27 districts in Assam had more than 5% of the total geographical area submerged, about 3829 villages marooned and 23.08 lakh people were affected (C. M. Bhatt, G. Srinivasa Rao, Asiya Begum, P. Manjusree, S. V. S. P. Sharma,L. Prasanna and V. Bhanumurthy, 2013).

Flood: What History says?
However, history says that flood was not so cruel in Assam just half a century ago. Prior to the great earthquake of Assam in 1950, the magnitude of flood was much lesser and people used to welcome the flood (Phukan, 2005). Furthermore, travellers and soldiers who visited Assam in the medieval period wrote about the amazing rivers and awe-inspiring seasonal rains. Assam’s native people used these factors to their advantage in their battles against other armies” (Barbora, 2015). But the things didn’t go well as the time passed. Prof. Sanjay Barbora argues that the advent of British colonial role and tea plantation as well as other cash crops changed the landscape of Assam in 19th century. The colonial government built railway track and embankment to protect the tea gardens to protect from water-logging. Independent government also followed much of the British path and built embankments and dykes with very short-term economic logic in mind, which radically changed the social structure of the place. Thus, construction of embankment for one village creates waterlogged condition in the fields of another (Barbora, 2015).

Causes behind the increasing number of flood
Prof. Phukan says flood occurs in Assam as a result of multiple factors like a) natural, b) ecological, and c) anthropomorphic. These factors combined with other climatic factors like depression of Bay of Bengal, high sediment transport, deforestation, shifting cultivation, earthquake, landslide etc are influencing the flood situation in Assam (Phukan, 2005). Apart from short-sighted flood control and development policies, destruction of wetlands is another factor which worsening the flood situation in Assam; the ‘Bils’ in Brahmaputra Valley and ‘Haors’ in Barak Valley, which work as natural reservoirs are shrinking drastically. In 1988, total wetland covered area was 49000 ha which has shrunken to here 35630 ha in 2005 (ibid). Within a period of just 17 years, more than 27% of wetland has been destructed. There is no doubt that the rate of this destruction has been increasing. There were large number of natural water reservoir in and around Guwahati city; the human greed has destroyed almost all of them. At one hand wetlands and natural water reservoir are being destroyed and high rise buildings are being constructed, including international chain hotels. One the other, the hills and forest are not spared of, experts say that one of the most important factors behind the flash flood in Guwahati is the mindless human encroachment in the hills, wetlands and water canals (Deka, 2018). Off late administration is working on to evict the illegal encroachment in those natural resources and so far the result is quite encouraging.

Another significant matter is the growing number of flash flood due to excess water released by dams.

Is Development Responsible?
The instances of flash flood have been increasing in Assam. Last year’s flash flood due to cloud burst in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills district caused devastation in Goalpara and Kamrup (Rural) districts of Assam. The affected community thinks that the magnitude of devastation has increased manifolds due to the construction of railway track which blocks the natural flow of rain water from uplands of Garo Hills. The newly constructed railway track to Mendipathar from Goalpara has added more hazard to the existing vulnerability . During monsoon, NEEPCO releases excess water and that creates flood situation in North Lakhimpur district of upper Assam almost every year. Local media reported that, at least one person lost his life while trying to rescue his two brothers in flood water caused by the NEEPCO’s water during last June flood . There are similar instances of flood in lower Assam caused by the excess water released by Kurichu dam of Bhutan . It is a matter of great grief our Prime Minister Modi inaugurated another dam in Bhutan which has potentiality to cause devastating flood in western Assam.

What next – Catastrophe?
Despite all these risks and vulnerabilities, our government is adamant to established 167 dams including mega structures in upper Assam and Arunachal Pradesh which may cause catastrophe to entire downstream civilization. There has been a strong movement in Assam against these dams. The protesters and the experts believe that these dams will affect the flow of water of river Brahmaputra, which will impact on irrigation downstream, and increase the danger of sudden floods in an area that is already highly flood-prone (Rehman, undated). If these sorts of unabated and short-sighted development interventions are continued, no doubt it will definitely lead us towards a deadly future.

References:
Barbora, S. (2015, June 22). Where a state drowns each year: Assam floods and what needs to be done. Retrieved July 10, 2015, from Catch News: http://www.catchnews.com/environment-news/where-a-state-drowns-each-year-assam-floods-and-what-needs-to-be-done-1434943767.html
C. M. Bhatt, G. Srinivasa Rao, Asiya Begum, P. Manjusree, S. V. S. P. Sharma,L. Prasanna and V. Bhanumurthy. (2013). Satellite images for extraction of flood disaster footprints and assessing the disaster impact: Brahmaputra floods of June–July 2012, Assam, India. Current Science , 104 (12), 1692-1700.
Chakraborty, G. (2014). The Demographic Question in the Char Areas of Assam. Social Change and Development , 113-117.
Deka, D. P. (2018, 07 28). Geographical Perspective of Artificial Flood in Guwahati. Retrieved 07 10, 2015, from The Sentinel: http://www.sentinelassam.com/op_ed/story.php?sec=33&subsec=0&id=199066&dtP=2014-07-28&ppr=1
Mandal, R. (2010). Cropping Patterns and Risk Management in the Flood Plains of Assam. Economic and Political Weekly , XLV (33), 78-81.
Phukan, S. D. (2005). Flood – The Annual Mayhem in Assam A Technocrat’s Viewpoint. Ishani , 1 (6).
Rehman, T. (undated). Dialogue of the deaf. In Brahmaputra: Towards unity. thethirdpole.net.

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IDPs of Lower Assam: Twenty-one years of displacement and suffering

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“The millions of displaced people in India are nothing but refugees of an unacknowledged war…..” – Arundhati Roy

On a sunny Sunday in late August, our vehicle parked in front of Hapachara Lower Primary School adjacent to National Highway 31, a four hour journey from Guwahati, the gateway to North-eastern states of India. The smooth road, beautiful hills and never-ending greenery almost made us forget that we were in search of a black spot of human history, the internally displaced persons camp located in Hapachara village under Bongaigaon district of Assam. We approached a scrap vendor taking shelter under a huge tree and asked for directions.

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Forty five year old Romej Uddin not only showed us the way to the camp, but also informed us that he himself is a camp inmate. The left bylane from the National Highway took us to the village. As the street narrowed, we suddenly came upon a congested human settlement across just over an acre of land. An elderly person sitting in a medicine shop warned us that the actual camp is just ahead. We crossed a small plot of agricultural land and found another settlement, more congested, filthier and more inhuman. A few people were sitting under a tin roofed open house without any walls, door or window, and some women were drying boiled rice grain nearby. As we joined the group in the open house, within a few minutes the house filled up. Everyone had a grimy story to tell, everyone had a reason to lament, and yet, everyone also held a dim ray of hope for a brighter day to end their two decades long journey of suffering and betrayal.

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There are 1118 families living in the Hapachara IDP camp set up on a piece of private land measuring 10 bighas (nearly 1 and half hector) owned by Rustam Ali in 2000 against an annual rent of Rs. 7000. On October 7, 1993, the Bodo militants started targeted violence against the Muslim minority (Muslims constitute some 30 percent of the statepopulation) of Sidli subdivision, Kokrajhar district, Assam. The violence spread to other Muslim dominated villages in Bijni subdivision, Bongaigoan district (presently under Chirang district after the district reshuffle under the BTC Accord) and the arson continued till October 11. Officially 3658 families or about 18000 people were affected by the violence (Goswami 2008). As many as 72 people lost their lives in the massacre. Officially, compensation for death was provided to only 10 or so families (Hassan 2014). The inmates of this camp are from Sidli subdivision of Kokrajhar district. After the violence, they were taking shelter in a government manned relief camp at Patabari under Sidli police station for two years. Though paramilitary forces were deployed to provide security to camp inmates from the attack of Bodo militants, yet within a couple of months two persons, Harej Ali and Gunjar Ali were killed by the militants just outside the camp. To avoid further attacks the camp was shifted to Anandabazar, on the other side of the Kanamakra river. Even there the insecurity continued, with one Baser Ali killed near the river by smashing his head by stone. It was almost impossible for the inmates to go outside the camp. They were strictly instructed by the security personnel not to go outside the camp without permission and getting permission was not an easy task. The eyewitnesses describe the horrifying physical and mental consequences of daring to break the order. They were literally confined in the camp. One day, the security personnel suddenly disappeared from the camp, and the government food and other essential relief supplies were stopped. The inmates then had no option but to leave the camp.

The majority of the Muslims of present day BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Area Districts) are of Bengal origin, while a small number are aboriginal EIAV8N6P7-03.jpgconverts to Islam from Koch Rajbongshi. After Assam, a scarcely populated and natural resource rich province, was annexed by the British in 1826 through the treaty of Yandaboo, the British administration encouraged migration of agricultural workers from densely populated Bengal. The advent of the Indian Railway and migration friendly policy helped the administration to bring large numbers of Muslim agricultural workers from Bengal. The colonial administration introduced family tickets from Bengal to Assam, recruited colonization officers in Nagaon, Barpeta and Darrang to look after the issues of migrants. From the early 1930s however, the aboriginal Assamese communities started opposing the migration of Bengalis. After India’s independence and partition, another flow of migration started however, of Hindus from newly formed Pakistan (Guha 2011).

After three decades of independence, an unprecedented movement against migrants took place in Assam. Initially, the ‘Assam Movement’ focused on aboriginal unification against all other Indian ‘bohiragot’ or outsiders. According to some political analysts however, the intrusion of right wing ideologists like RSS into the movement leadership caused it to become a movement against the Bengali origin Muslims (Citizens’ Rights Preservation Committee (CRPC), Assam 2011). The peaceful democratic movement eventually became violent, and within a few hours on February 18, 1983 more than 3000 Muslims of Bengali origin were killed in Nellie, Nogaon district (present day Morigaon). Similar attacks happened in Chaolkhuwa Sapori, Gohpur, Mukalmuwa (Goswami 2013). After six long years, the movement under the leadership of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) came to an end through the “Assam Accord” in 1985.

Various Assamese tribes participating in the Assam Movement realized that the ‘Assam Accord’ was not going to serve their aspirations. Decision making power within the AASU and their subsequent political party called the Asom Gana Parishad had been hijacked by upper caste Hindus. The Bodo leadership which was earlier demanding for a union territory for plains tribes called ‘Udayachal’, narrowed their demands to an exclusive ‘Bodoland’, a full-fledged state. Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Bodo underground group targeted mainstream Assamese people in present day BTAD area. In 1993 for the first time, Muslims were targeted on a large scale. The inmates of Hapachara camp were among the victims of this violence.

Subsequent to the violence and large scale displacement, the Bodo Accord of 1993 was signed between the government and the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU)/ Bodo Peoples’ Action Committee. The Accord formed the Bodoland Autonomous Council, comprising a contiguous geographical area between the river Sankosh and Mazbat/river Pansoi. The Accord entitled villages having more than 50 percent Bodo population to be included in the council. It was not an easy task for the Bodo leadership to find adequate villages having more than 50 percent Bodo population without eliminating other tribes from such villages. For this reason, targeted violence against Non-Bodos intensified after the formation of the council, seen as a process of ethnic cleansing (Rajagopalan 2008). In EIAV8N6P7-04.jpg1994, a relief camp of Muslim IDPs in Bashbari, Barpeta district (now in Baksa) was attacked by Bodo militants. Nearly a hundred inmates were massacred in the government manned relief camp at Bashbari High School. These growing incidents of violence, insecurity and complete breakdown of livelihood options mounted pressure on the inmates of Anandabazar relief camp. They finally left the camp without knowing where they were heading to, merely desperate to get away from the reach of the Bodo extremists. They found Rustam Ali, who agreed to give his 10 bighas of agricultural land at the present location to set up a temporary camp against an annual payment of Rs. 7000. In the last 14 years the rent has increased manifold; today they are paying Rs. 48000 per annum.

Though they escaped from the fear of persecution and execution, their plight continued to follow them in the form of starvation, malnutrition, disease, lack of education and livelihood. Seventy-year-old Abdul Jalil once had 26 bighas of agricultural land, more than 15 cows and his own house to live in. In the camp, he has nothing beyond a sense of security. The government has demonstrated only indifference towards these uprooted people. The inmates of various camps united and continued various protest demonstrations and demanded their safe return to their villages. Over a decade later, they are still waiting for some response. Many of the inmates migrated to various cities in search of livelihoods. They went as far as New Delhi to work as rag pickers, construction workers, domestic help and so on. Abdul Jalil’s two sons are working as agricultural labourers in Nagaon districts of upper Assam.

In 2003, the government gave more power to the Bodo militia through a tripartite agreement signed by the State/Provincial Government of Assam, Central/Federal Government of India and the surrendered Bodo Liberation Tigers BLT. This agreement created the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) with a demarcated geographical area and constitutional validity under the sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution. Impunity was given to the perpetrators of violence and not a single legal case was pursued against the multitude deaths and displacement. As many as 28 state government departments were transferred to the councils, while the central government was directed to provide a 100 crores annual fund for infrastructural development. The accord made a provision of a 46-member council, with 30 reserved seats for Scheduled Tribes, five seats for non-Tribals, five seats open and six seats to be nominated by the Governor of Assam. The demographic profile of the demarcated area constitutes 28 percent scheduled tribes, while the remaining 72 percent is made up of non-tribals including Muslims, Adivasis, Koch Rajbongshis, Assamese and Bengali Hindus. In other words, 75 percent of seats are reserved for 28 percent of the citizens, while 25 percent of seats are reserved for 72 percent of the citizens. This was not the only attempt to forbid the political participation of the area’s social majority within the council. The accord dismantled the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) within the council area, to be replaced by the Village Council Development Committee, selected by the BTC. The PRIs were given the authority and responsibility to oversee development under the 73rd amendment of the Indian Constitution, as well as to ensure the participation of all sections of society, including marginalized groups like scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and women. In 1996, the government extended PRIs in scheduled areas as well, under the Panchayat (Extension to the Schedule Area) Act. Paradoxically, the BTC replaced the PRIs with the Village Council Development Committee, which literally keeps non- Bodos away from grassroot developmental decision making.

The accord showed a ray of hope however, for those displaced by the ethnic violence, especially the inmates of Hapachara camp. Section 13 of the accord talks about a Special Rehabilitation Programme (SRF), under which the BTC was to provide suitable land for the rehabilitation of the displaced persons. This provision not only gave hope to the displaced Muslims, but also the lakhs of displaced Adivasis who were uprooted by the Bodo militants through a series of violent attacks in 1996 and 1998. Over a decade later, not a single family has yet been rehabilitated under the programme.

The camp inmates of Hapachara, Bordup, Garogaon, Salabila, Bangalduba continued their struggle in the form of democratic protest, sit-ins, hunger strikes. In 2004, after more than a decade of their displacement, the Assam Minister of Rehabilitation visited inmates in their camps and agreed to provide 10 days of ration per month. Government officials showed up one day to survey the camps without prior notice to the inmates. The inmates who had gone to work in nearby towns or villages and those who had migrated to other places were deliberately not included in the list of beneficiaries. In Hapachara camp more than 500 families were excluded and deprived from minimum government support. A total of 1685 families in all camps who were displaced in 1993 were deprived from getting the monthly 10 day ration.

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The inmates continued their struggle jointly, demonstrating in front of the state secretariat in Dispur. Finally in 2010, the Assam Government agreed to compensate the IDPs with Rs. 50,000. The government refused to resurvey the camp however, and instead stipulated that only the displaced families who had received a) 10 days ration per month and b) Rs. 10,000 compensation in 1995 will be eligible for the rehabilitation package of Rs. 50,000. In this process, 95 families from Hapachara camp who had received 10 days ration but not the Rs. 10,000 were dropped from the list. As a result only 557 families received Rs. 50,000. Amongst all the camps, the total number of deprived families is more than 1600. The government further stipulated that after receiving the Rs. 50,000, the family will have to leave the camp forever. Is Rs. 50,000 enough to rehabilitate a family which lost everythinEIAV8N6P7-06.jpgg in the course of forced displacement? Today, there are two settlements in Hapachara: one is of those IDPs who have received the Rs. 50,000 and the other is of those who are still fighting for the package. There is little difference between the two camps.

One of the most pertinent questions arising here is whether the Indian state considers rehabilitation and resettlement as a ‘reward’ or ‘entitlement’ (L.J. Bartolome, C. de Wet, H. Mander, V.K. Nagraj 2000). It is unfortunate that instead of accepting rehabilitation as an entitlement or right for displaced people, the government rather offers it as a ‘reward’ against the sacrifice made by the displaced persons. The government remains indifferent even in cases of humanitarian crisis. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (iDMC) observes that in Assam and Tripura, food shortages and lack of health care leave the internally displaced in acute hardship. Its report further stated that “The state governments say they have no money to provide relief to the displaced population and that they depend on support from the central government,” (iDMC 2007). The central government seems even more reluctant; despite the formulation of its National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy in 2007, it continues to grossly fail in addressing the issues and concerns of the large numbers of IDPs in the country.

International organizations like the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Norwegian Refugee Council and other human rights organizations have been asking the Indian government to enact relevant law in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (Azad 2013). Principle 18 of the said UN Guidelines says, “At the minimum, regardless of the circumstances and without discrimination, competent authorities shall provide internally displaced persons with and ensure safe access to a) essential food and potable water, b) basic shelter and housing, c) appropriate clothing and d) essential medical and sanitation.” This holds the state duty bound to provide relief and rehabilitation to IDPs, which is seen as their basic rights. Those bodies have also recommended the Indian government to form a constitutional body like the National Human Rights Commission or the National Commission for Women to protect the rights of internally displaced persons. A government that can shamelessly say it has no money to feed those ill fated people however, can hardly be expected to formulate such law or make any competent body.

It must be asked though, how much money is actually needed for the resettlement and rehabilitation of IDPs? Is India poorer than Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Colombia, Croatia, Georgia (Ahmed 2008), all of which have made the necessary legal and constitutional arrangements for their IDPs? On October 7, 2014, the IDPs of Hapachara camp marked the 21st anniversary of their displacement. Is it really too expensive for the world’s largest democracy to do its duty to its own people?

References

Ahmed, Shahiuz Zaman. “IDPs in South Asia: Issues and Challenges.” In Internally Displaced Persons in South Asia, by Shahiuz Zaman Ahmed Debamitra Mitra, 3-22. Agartala: Icfai University Press, 2008.

Azad, Abdul Kalam. “The Internal Displacement Persons: Issue Roared in Assam Assembly.” Eastern Crescent, May 2013.

Citizens’ Rights Preservation Committee (CRPC), Assam. “Approach Paper (National Convention on D Voter in 2011 in New Delhi).” Citizens’ Rights Preservation Committee (CRPC), Assam, 2011.

Goswami, Sabita. Along the Red River. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2013.

Goswami, Uddipana. “Nobody’s People: Muslim IDPs of Western Assam .” In Blister on Their Feet: Tales of IDPs in India’s Northeast, by Samir Kumar Das, 176-188. Sage, 2008.

Guha, Amalendu. Jagaran (Char Chapori Sahitya Parishad Asom), 2011.

Hassan, Sajjad. “Summery of Assam Visit (Un-published).” September 2014.

iDMC. India: Large Number of IDPs are unassisted and in need of Protection. Switzerland : iDMC Norwegian Refugee Council, 2007.

L.J. Bartolome, C. de Wet, H. Mander, V.K. Nagraj. Displacement, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reparation, and Development. Cape Town: WCD Thematic Review I.3, 2000.

The article was published in Dec, 2014 issue of Ethics in Action, AHRC, Hong Kong http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/journals-magazines/eia/EIAV8N6/EIAV8N6P7

Is media painting a true picture of Assam’s displaced Muslims?

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The role of media in perceptualising risk is very crucial; especially when the risk is augmented by deadliest terrorist organization with double-edged potentiality to create disaster in anywhere in the world.
Ever since the declaration of Al Qaeda’s Ayman Al Zawahiri that his organization is going to open a new branch in India to protect the Muslims of South Asia, media has been extensively covering the issue and trying to create a perception of risk among various stakeholders to mitigate the vulnerability and disaster. It is something that the media ought to do.
But, does the professional ethics of journalism permit anyone to create a ‘risk perception’ out of context to make a particular community vulnerable to the risk of persecution, humiliation and marginalization?
A case in point is the story by India Today dated September 18, 2014 titled “The Next Tinderbox: 160 people killed since 2011 on clashes between indigenous people and alleged Bangladeshi Muslims immigrants in Assam”.
Let me put it in perspective.
On September 13, 2014, I had accompanied the author of the story to the interior areas of Bodoland Territorial Area Districts of Assam as one of the local contacts. I joined him and the team from Guwahati, while another local language journalist joined us from Sidli of Chirang district of BTAD.
Though we met for the first time, it didn’t take much time to get friendly. We talked about many things during our journey, but ‘radicalisation among Muslims’ remained at the centre. As I have spent a good amount of time with the inmates of ethnic violence-induced internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps in BTAD, the author asked me if I had noticed any instances of radicalisation among the victims of ethnic violence.
There are numerous IDP camps within and outside BTAD area, many of which are more than 20 years old. The inmates were displaced by Bodo ethnic violence, often called as ‘ethnic cleansing’. The IDPs are living in inhuman conditions without basic amenities like food, shelter, education and health facilities.
Over the years, during my stay and working with the inmates in various camps, I observed that the instances of religious practice were increasing, but I felt it was obvious because even the experts of post-disaster psychosocial-support argue that religious engagement helps the victims and survivors cope up with the mental trauma of violence.
Does it have anything to do with ‘radicalisation’ or Al Zawahiri’s claim to open a branch of Al Qaeda in India? A clear, firm NO!
That afternoon, we visited an IDP camp at Hapachara near Bongaigaon town. The inmates were uprooted in 1993 by an ethnic violence in Sidli subdivision of Kokrajhar district (now in Chirang, after the creation of BTAD). Officially 3,658 families were affected and 72 people were killed. They are still living in camps without government support.
Hapachara camp is the home to such 1,118 families. I introduced the author to the inmates and informed the gathering that he will write about their apathy to create pressure on the administration which may eventually help them get justice.
The author took a stock of the overall conditions of camp; then he asked, “Don’t the youngsters get angry?” One of the inmate answered, “We get angry but what can we do? Police batons cool us down”. President of the camp, Abdus Salam Choudhury, informed that two of their inmates were killed by police in 2004 when they were demonstrating in a democratic manner against government inaction.
The author informed the gathering that he was told by some youths of other camp that they wanted gun instead of relief and books. The president of the camp said that they don’t require guns but school to educate nearly 500 children, whose admission are being denied in the nearby government school only because of the stigma of being ‘displaced’.
The author further iterated that having a gun will not only help kill others but also protect them and once they own a gun, even CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) will not come to their camp! Fortunately, nobody bought his suggestion and they remained adamant about their stand. The authored finally winded up saying, “So, you only want school?”
But in the story, the author didn’t find it relevant to include the feedback he received from the inmates, suffering for more than two decades. Instead, he quoted an Indian Revenue Service officer Ashiq Zaman’s comment about 2012 violence: “We went to distribute clothes and books. Many youngsters asked if I could provide them with guns. These camps are the most fertile ground for spread of Islamist Terrorism”.
Incidentally, Zaman had made another statement – and quite a contrasting one – on September 11, 2014, on his

Facebook

timeline on the “arrest of three poor fishermen in Majuli as suspected Al Qaeda jihadi who were later on released”.

“Whole Assamese media covered the news with much ‘fanfare’ on the front page with sketchy details of how Jehadis can ‘attack’ Assam through river route (Like the Mughals did ehh?”) Well, if this is the understanding of the media about the so called Jehad and this is the ‘preparedness’ of our security forces to fight jehadi elements, then God only can save Assam”, Zaman had posted.
The author didn’t even find this statement relevant to Al Zawahiri’s announcement and subsequent developments in Assam.
Another important point needs clarification: In the beginning of the story, the author has analysed the data of people killed in last three years in Assam. Actually, the data represents the killings within the four districts of BTAD area of Assam and not for entire Assam. He termed the Muslims who have 80% share in the total death toll as alleged infiltrators from Bangladesh.
Is it fair to term the Muslims of BTAD as infiltrators? Why do we hesitate to take the pain to look into their identity and history of existence in BTAD conscientiously?
As per the 2011 census, the decadal population growth in Kokrajhar district of BTAD is lowest (mere 5%) in the state? Does it mean Bangladeshi infiltration? The interesting fact is that not only the Muslims but other non-Bodos including mainstream Assamese Hindus are out-migrating from BTAD area to safer places.
If we take the data of last two decades, it would make the picture clear that Bodo extremists not only attacked the Muslims but also Adivasis, Nepalis, Bengali and Assamese Hindus etc. More than 30000 Adivasi families, who were displaced by ethnic violence in 1996 and 1998, are still living in camps. Are these too ‘infiltrators’ from Bangladesh or from any other country?
The last thing I want to put forward is about my personal experience as a tenant in Guwahati which author has wrongly incorporated in the story to satisfy his perspective. It was 2007; I, along with one of my friend, had a tough time renting a house. We found a room but, as the author mentioned, we were warned not to consume beef as there was a temple at the ground floor.
My friend sarcastically asked the landlord whether same rule applies to pork as well; we all laughed. And we had a good time at his house. For the last three years, I have been residing in another house owned by an upper caste Hindu. I eat beef, dry fish and everything according to my appetite. The landlord has no issue.
I think it has nothing to do with Al Qaeda or ethnic violence in lower Assam. I also don’t think this story merits getting published in a national magazine. (The author has also misspelt my name.)
As a disclaimer, let me make it very clear that I am forced to write this piece because I am accountable to all those victims of ethnic cleansing whom I assured that the author will publish their agony and apathy in India Today to put pressure on administration and thus to get the justice delivered to them.
On the contrary, India Today not only made them alleged Bangladeshi immigrants, but also propagated that they are crying hard for guns, not schools!
I had originally sent this rebuttal to India Today, but I neither received a reply from the India Today group, nor did they publish it. Later on first it was published on twocircles.net and reprinted on The Hoot

Khagrabari to Baguriguri: The Shame Unlimited

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Last night I returned from the troubled land BTAD’s Baksa and adjoining Barpeta district of Assam. We met the family members of four Muslim petty traders, who were abducted and killed by suspected Bodo militants on 11th of July, 2014. Four people including two minors from Baguriguri villager under Bornagar Revenue Circle of Barpeta district went to collect lemon from one Umesh Bodo’s lemon garden at Samthaibari village under Labdanguri Police Station of Baksa district of BTAD (Assam).

I was accompanying a team of journalists from national and international media. We reached Barpeta Road by morning of 14th July, 2014. Without wasting time we directly moved towards the village Baguriguri of Barpet district to visit the families of victims. We were stopped by the police at Khaibari just few kilometres from Barpeta Road town. A huge troop of Army was supporting the police team to put into action section 144 of IPC. We were suggested to get an order from District Magistrate to enter to the village. When we called the District Magistrate of Baksa, he assured us that the curfew would be lifted by 2:00pm and then we can proceed to our destination. Keeping in mind the timing one of our media team member approached the District Magistrate’s of Barpeta and an order was obtained to visit the families of the deceased persons at Baguriguri. But when we again reached Khairabari, surprisingly, the police didn’t allow us to move as we were supposed to travel a few kilometres through Baksa district. They asked to get another order from DM Baksa, but they wouldn’t allow you to go to DM’s office! On the other hand District Administration of Baksa didn’t relax or withdraw the curfew by 2:00pm though there was no report of any law and order breakdown in the district. It seems this whole exercise was put in place only to keep the family members of the deceased out of reach of any journalist, activists, aid agency or even one cabinet minister from Assam Government. Thus our entire effort got spoiled!

At evening, DC Barpeta informed that the curfew has been relaxed for 3 hours i.e. 4:00pm to 7:00pm due to Ramadan. Next day morning, while going to village we didn’t observe any police picket or even patrolling in our entire journey from Barpeta Road to Baguribari via Damani, Katajhar, Rangachara, Kajiyamati, Sukrumbari etc. We were in belief that the curfew might have been lifted. But does lifting curfew mean total desert of security forces from such an area which has witnessed repeated instances of terror attacks? Last month one driver was killed at Oxiguri just few kilometres from Samthaibari under Labdanguri Police Station.

While interacting the family members of the victims, we came to know how brutal can be the Assam Police! The family members of three deceased Saddam Hussain (13), Rahul Amin (45) and Atowar Rahman (27) decided not to bury their dead bodies until the Chief Minister of Assam pays a visit to the village and assures of adequate security measures and justice to the traumatised families and villagers. The police arrested more than ten agitated villagers, brutally tortured them and imposed a total ban on the movement of the villagers by announcing the same though loudspeakers in entire locality. Eye witnessed told us that at mid night around 40 to 45 vehicle of policemen came to the village, pressurize victim’s family members to bury the dead bodies without delay. The police also threatened that if the dead bodies are not buried the arrested persons will also not be released and strongest criminal cases will be slapped on them. Finally, the dead bodies were buried without proper religious and cultural practice (Janaja) at 1:00am in absence of the villagers. The family members and the villagers see it as an utter disgracefulness towards the dead bodies.DSC00158

 

The family members of the victims and the villagers are demanding a CBI probe into the killings and police inaction. It is worthy to mention here that Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi ordered NIA probe into Khagrabari Massacre of Baksa district of BTAD; but the same has been revoked for unknown reason. In Assam there is long history of police inaction and impunity. Not a single perpetrator of communal and targeted violence has been punished so far including the infamous Nellie massacre where more than three thousand Muslims were killed within couple of hours in broad day light in 1983. The history of impunity in BTAD area is more grave and shocking, the tripartite BTC accord signed in 2003 by Government of India, Government of Assam and BLT provided impunity to all perpetrators of ethnic violence since 1987. This culture of impunity is seen as one of the major cause of growing rate and recurring violence against the non-Bodos, especially Muslims. The survivors of 1994 Bashbari Massacre are again the victim of Khagrabari Massacre. A survivor of Bashbari Massacre who bears a bullet mark on his neck and lost his mother in 1994 massacre in relief camp was again targeted in the recent massacre of May, 2014 and lost his daughter. Justice is a distant dream for these ill fated Muslims living in BTAD area.

The socio-economic conditions of the victim’s families of Samthabari killings are as pathetic as the victims of Khagrabari massacre. There is no all weather roads, no electricity, no drinking water, no medical; nothing which can be seen as a sign of development in the village. So is the economic condition. Abdur Rashid, father of deceased Saddam Hussain (13) told us that his personal income is not enough to meet the family needs. Saddam, a Madrassa student went to work with his uncle to earn few hundred rupees to tailor a new kurta (shirt) for the upcoming Eid. The situation at Atowar Rahman’s family is more grime. Atowar Rahman (29) was the only bread earner for his 5 member family. He was killed on 11th of July along with Saddam (13), Abu Bakkar (14) and Rahul Amin (45). His wife is inconsolable; she can’t think how she will look after four children without their father. She breaks down while remembering how Atowar managed food for their hungry kids. Meanwhile, government has declared an ex-gratia of Rs. Eight lakhs to the nearest keen of the deceased. But can the money provide a sense of security and protection to children and the young widow?

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By noon, we returned from the village Baguriguri. We interacted with a small gathering of villagers at Sukrumbari. The village Sukrumbari has a mixed population and it is in between of Baguriguri of Barpeta district and Samthaibari of Baksa district. The villagers told us that they don’t have any bad blood with the Muslims of Baguriguri and Bodos of Samthaibari. They have a good relationship with people of the adjoining villages irrespective of language and religion. In fact a Bodo woman showed the escape route to one of the survivors Taj Uddin. The villagers feel that security arrangement should beef up in the area to control the activities of the militant. Until we reached Katajhar Bridge over river Beki we didn’t observe any police patrolling in the entire area, the area which is known as the corridor for the movement of Bodo militants.

After crossing the bridge I called the boat operator, who plies his country boat between Bhangarpar Bazar of Narayanguri and Khagrabari. We had a plan to visit the relief camp at Khagrabari. The boat operators told me that the administration has discontinued the boat service. It was in fact shocking news to be heard! The internally displaced persons who were taking shelter in a camp set up by administration in an isolated village use the boat to connect with the outer world. If the boat service is really discontinued how the IDPs will survive? Their livelihood system has been completely messed up by the violence. Nobody earns a single penny that they will be able to pay the fare of the private boat service!

After the reaching the camp we came to know how the discontinuation of boat services has affected the IDPs and creating a circle of difficulties. Since the discontinuance of boat services no medical team has visited the camp, whereas the children are suffering from fever and other diseases; there is nobody to help them out from the hell called camp. Humanitarian organization ‘Save the Children’ has built a Child Friendly Space (CFS) for the massacre affected children near the camp. They also recruited two volunteers to work with the children to bring them back to normalcy. Since the discontinuance of boat services no one has been able to attend their duty. One young lady while struggling to cook her Iftar in an open oven told us that the government has discontinued the boat services so nobody can see their plight. She also said “We would have been died out of hunger if we didn’t receive the aid from private donors”. She alleged that government wants them to leave the camp and go anywhere.

We are informed that the administration is going to dismantle camp very soon. As the administration has provided Rs. 50,000/- as rehabilitation to make houses. It can easily understand that a mere amount of Rs. 50000/- will not enable the victims to rebuild their houses who lost everything in the massacre.

Some observers think that the killing of four Muslims at Samthaibari has a deep rooted connection with Khagrabari Massacre. The student’s organizations and other right organizations were mounting pressure on the administration to arrest the mastermind Amiyo Kumar Brahma, application for cancellation of bail and proper relief and rehabilitation of victims and survivors of the massacre. On last of June, 2014 the victims and survivors of Khagrabari massacre sat on fast-unto-death mainly demanding the above mention actions. The administration was bound to give an assurance with a time frame to action. But the administration failed to meet their assurance. The local activists think that the administration is hand in glove with the perpetrators and the Samthaibari incident is a handiwork of such force which enjoys administrative patronage to destabilise the democratic movement of IDPs of targeted violence for justice. Only a high level probe can unearth this alleged nexus among administration, politicians and the anti-social elements.