Assam: Stop Violence From Spreading Further
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Assam need immediate attention from the country today when it is again jolted with identity wars among different tribal non-tribal groups in the Bodoland area with two lakh people, a majority of them Muslims have turned homeless and may face further violence if they are not protected by the state. India cannot allow it to happen. The government must act.
Assam is burning today. It is sad that that the state lost life and property worth millions in the devastating floods of Brahmputra and people have not yet been sheltered or rehabilitated. Kajiranga wild life sanctuary too was damaged as over 500 animals, some of those who are declared as endangered species, too either died or swept away in the marooning flood. The assessments of the damages are not really done even at the moment. The typical sarkari pattern of damage assessments have always resulted in paltry sum for the loss of life and livelihood as bureaucrats and middlemen flourish during these calamities.
The scar of the natural calamity has not healed so far and now a manmade earth quack has jolted not just Assam but entire India. Memories of 1983 massacre in Nelli are still well placed in our mind and haunt us when nearly three thousand Muslims were killed in the worst ever ethnic violence in the region. For years Assam faced the pain of uncertainty and political-student unrest leading to closure of academic institutions resulting in bleak future for thousands of those pursuing higher studies. And everyone know Assam is so sensitive to certain issues and the most important of them is unchecked immigration from Bangladesh.
This time the epicenter of massive violence is Kokarajhar, headquarter of Bodoland Territorial Council where thousands of people are forced to live in relief camps. Government estimates put the number around two lakhs while the numbers of deaths have reached 42. The violence remains unabated and hence army has been called in and shoot at sight orders have been issued. Indian media is obsessed with Anna and the politics behind it is well known. At the moment, when the country is in deep crisis and when our focus should be on preserving its integrity and integration of those who are feeling left behind, the forces of status quo led by Anna Hazare are acquiring disproportionate media attention. It is a shame and indicates in which direction our media is going.
The communal tension in the Bodo areas is well known and is escalating into a huge man made catastrophe. Muslims are being targeted and forced to flee in the name outsiders from Bangladesh. There are gross realities of our north eastern state like Assam and Tripura where influx of Bangladeshi refugees is a reality. This unchecked infiltration of people has in fact resulted in huge social chaos in the state. In Tripura, the ethnic adivasis have been cheated by the government since in 1971. Mrs. Indira Gandhi might have become goddess Durga for the rest of the country, but the Bangladesh victory actually defeated Tripura’s indigenous population placed the dominant Bengali culture over them. The replication of similar cultural domination happened in Assam but became a huge issue in 1980s when the student unrest created stir in Assam. All Assam Student Union and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad had launched huge movement against the illegal immigrants which caught popular imagination of the common people in Assam. It was good that at the end both AASU and AAGSP finally came for political settlement and peace was restored in the state. For the first time in the history of India, we had a government of students in Assam though it could not fulfill the aspirations of the people finally resulting in the empowerment of the Congress Party in the state again which is the root cause of the problem.
The tension started with killing of two Muslim youths which was retaliated and in turn resulted in killing of important leader of the Bodo organization. And that was enough for charges and counter charges. Of course, these incidents act as fire in already tense situation. According to government estimates over ten thousand people have taken refuse in West Bengal. The situation is not just tense but giving rise to speculations and rumors. It is time when the government must act with full authority and dispel any misgiving that miscreants will have their field day. The unfortunate fact is that the Chief Minister of Assam Mr Tarun Gogoi visited the affected areas in a week’s time. The Prime Minister, who is also a Member of Parliament from Assam, is actually visiting the affected areas on July 28th.
The matter is a serious concern for national integration as well as is ramification on the political situation of the country. The Hindutva forces are ready to exploit it at the national level as ‘illegal migrant’ issue. The government must act and should not allow the illegal immigrants to come from Bangladesh which is a reality but at the same point of time, it must sensitize the authorities not to communalise the issue. The Indian Muslims who are the citizens of the state must be given full protection. The question of immigration cannot be dealt at communal level as thousands of Bangladeshi Hindus too have infiltrated in India and the Sangh Parivar and their offshoots never talk about them. Their only concern is related to Muslim migrants who come to India basically in search of better opportunities and security of life. Unfortunately, such infiltration will only add insult to injury as the State of Assam has not completely recovered with what happened in the 1980s and 1990s. The political parties must not venture into spreading rumors and unwanted statement which fuel speculations further and create another round of tension.
Time has changed a lot and with growing media presence the political inaction of every government will come in open. It will not be possible for another Gujarat without people’s scrutiny. Congress party’s’ track record in tackling communal violence in India has been dismal. It has often not acted on such situation until it was forced to do so. Nobody can forget the dark decade of 1980s when the party failed to act in Assam and Punjab. It created the monsters communalists to counter communal organizations but became victim of the same. The worst communal disturbances of Delhi were actually supported by the state apparatus in 1984 immediately after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The post Babari demolition riots in different parts of the country; the inability to fight Narendra Modi politically in Gujarat gives rise to suspicion that the party has rightwing elements in it who want to use such situations for their own benefit. Now, the party has formed a 10 members committee to monitor the situation there and prime minister might be accompanied by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. These gestures will not work as there is a feeling among the Muslim members of Parliament that congress government in Assam has failed to act and protect the Muslim population being targeted by the Bodo militant groups who are reorganizing themselves in the absence of a strong state government action. Senior Party leader Mr K.K.Rehman Khan has already blamed the state government for its failure to act on time and asked the Centre to intervene. It seems, Assam is heading for a longer trouble and if central government does not act decisively without political calculations then the situation would turn out of control. India cannot afford to have such a lawlessness and ethnic cleansing in any state. It is time for a timely action so that the state can come back to normalcy and all the people who are displaced must be rehabilitated and all those who are illegal immigrants irrespective of their religious identities must be sent back to Bangladesh.
Internationally immigrants have rights but it is also a fact that immigrants would not be welcomed when the local communities face challenge to their dominance and identity. The Bengali immigrants changed the face of Tripura reducing its indigenous population a minority in its own state. Assam’s native population face the same and that is why if the issue does not get resolved sooner, it will turn to communal violence of worst kind and will have its impact felt all over the country. Politically, it will provide the best opportunity to the communal forces who have no such agenda at the moment as country has foiled there efforts to communlise the situation but now the situation is really grim and a serious effort on part of government and human rights organisations be made so that non adivasis natives of Bodoland do not face humiliation, threat and violence. It is the duty of the state to protect each citizen of the country. One sincerely hopes that situation will come to normal soon so that people go back to their respective homes and restart their lives. Assam needs a healing touch from all of us to make it feel that it is part of the country. Terrorists killing people in the name of ethnicity should not be allowed to have a field day and must be prosecuted. Above all, let the government prove that it is there. The current crisis is an opportunity for Assam government to show its strength in dealing such a difficult situation. It has delayed but now it must act to bring normalcy.
* Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com