Following the news reports about the second phase of violence and the continuance of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps for over five months in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) areas, a team of National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO) visited the places and met the affected people, some authorities and concerned citizens with a view to collect the facts regarding. The team, consisting of NCHRO National Secretary Reny Aline, Executive Members Prof. A. Marx, G.Sugumaran And Assam State Committee Member Ansari visited at least 14 camps in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts in BTAD areas. The team met the IDPs there, took stock of the real conditions of the camps, both recognized and unrecognized. The team also met the Gossaigaon SDO Vinod Seshan IAS, the Bijni Police Station OC Aditya Deori, Goalpara MLA Monowar Hussain and some Intellectuals, academicians and HR activists from various social groups.
The team is moved at the sub human conditions in which the IDPs are now kept in the temporary shelters without any basic amenities necessary for a human being to survive. Most of the camps are situated in godowns, school buildings, river banks, paddy fields and drainage areas. In the winter season they are living without clothes suited to endure the cold and chilly climate. Most of them are farmers and they already lost one crop. Due to the lack of trauma counseling and proper medical assistance people are suffering from diseases and dying here and there. We have collected information about at least four deaths in the camps. The team is much worried to see hundreds of children loosing their education and playing and helping their parents in their daily works. We emphatically state that such a situation is a violation of Article 15 and 21 of the constitution which guarantees right to life and protection against discrimination on the basis of caste, religion etc. The IDPs are entitled according to UN guiding principles to proper security, food, shelter, medical aid etc.
Though different varieties of paramilitary forces are now deployed in the affected areas, people still feel insecure not only to return to their original dwellings but also to stay in the camps. In the recent violence the situation is brought to control only after 12 Muslims and two Bodos were killed between 10th and 14th this month. Most of the camps are without even a single security personal to protect any attack by armed groups who want to drive the IDPs away from the BTAD areas. The police and security personnel themselves prevented us from visiting many camps saying that our safety cannot be assured.
We understand that initially there were about 3,00,000 people in 171 camps. About 80% of them are Muslims and the remaining are Bodos. Though the individual household losses were not assessed properly by trained persons, the State govt has issued forms to gather relevant information. In the affected districts of Kokrajhar and Chirang about 19,632 forms were cleared by the state govt. But of these only 5,000 to 6000 applications were now recognized by the BTAD administration. This means that only 25% of those displaced by violence will be entitled for the rehabilitation package which includes 22,700 rupees cash relief and other few amenities. And only they will be allowed to return to their original dwellings. Nobody knows about the fate of others. The situation is worse in other areas. For example, in Mazrabari camp no 5, out of the 120 families only four applications are cleared by the BTAD administration. Thus the administration allows the benefits of violence to be reaped by the perpetrators of violence which is against the fundamentals of human ethics and basic principles of jurisprudence.
Though they are legal citizens as per the Assam accord and are living there for decades before independence, the BTAD administration requires land records such as pattas for allowing them to return to their places. Though most of them own lands in their respective places, many lost the records during the attack and burning of their houses. And for the past few decades we understand that documents for land transfers are not issued to the concerned people. The correlated documents such as voter ID and family card are also lost in the riots. The exact serial nos and other details in the records are not remembered by the people. Since the state govt has no revenue powers most of the duplicates for the lost documents are to be issued by the BTAD administration which is reluctant for obvious reasons. Only when the state govt and BTAD officials sit together and issue the duplicates for the past records this problem will be minimized to some extant.
Since most of the people are not recognized in this way, for fear of that their landed property in their village would be permanently lost, the IDPs now begin to move towards their respective villages and set up make shift temporary camps in the nearby areas. These camps are not recognized and protected by the administration. In Gossaigaon SD alone only 9 camps are recognized where as at least 70 camps are there now. Their return to their original inhabitats are very much uncertain, and as one academic in Guwahati said, in due course the camps themselves will be converted as their villages which usually happen in Assam.
We understand that leaflets and notices are circulated in public places asking people not to buy anything from Bangladeshi nationals and give any job or work to any of them. Though such an “economic blocade” does not mean muslims directly everybody knows that it is against them only. This will lead the muslims ,who are already living in utter poverty, to hunger and starvation in the near future.
A govt’s most fundamental responsibility is to ensure the safety of its citizen and when it is violated, it should not only compensate the losses and rehabilitate the affected, but also should apprehend and punish the guilty and the perpetrators of violence. As per the govt account itself at least 111 people are killed from July till date, , about 3,00,000 people are ousted, and crores worth property are looted. But not all who are responsible for these are yet arrested. In one camp, the inmates said that they can identify those who attacked them, but the police have not yet arrested them.
Illegal arms is another important issue to be addressed immediately. As a professor told us today, in Assam one can get a gun more easily than a phone connection. Many agencies including the state is responsible for this situation. As long as the gun culture prevails, we feel, that peace and safety of people cannot be assured.
We don’t want to enter into the “illegal immigrants” debate in this interim report. We agree that there are genuine grievances on either side. Though either side have opposite opinions on whether the influx is still continuing, we feel it is going on decreasing. As the CM has declared it now almost reduced to a bare minimum. We agree that even this minimum number should be still reduced and those who infiltrate should be identified and legal actions be taken against them. In a similar manner the ‘land encroachment’ problem should also be settled through negotiation without violating any party’s rights. But one should not take law into their own hands and oust people and kill them for these reasons even if they are true. A dialogue is now necessary between different communities. But unfortunately the Bodo representatives are not ready even to participate in peace committees.
Under these circumstances we demand that:
1. Immediate steps to be taken to rehabilitate the IDPs in their respective places. The central and, state govts should sit together with the BTAD administration and clear the legal and political hurdles against this. As for as issuing duplicates for the lost records and documents a special empowered committee should be formed under the SDOs in each sub divisions. The relevant authorities of both the state and BTAD should be included in the committee which should conduct special fast track drives in the IDP camps and issue the documents.
2. The displaced people should be relieved from their fear psychosis. The deployment of army personnel should be increased in these areas. A special investigating team (SIT) should be formed to cease the illegal arms. The perpetrators of violence should be arrested immediately.
3. The rehabilitation package should be extended to all the IDPs unconditionally. It should not be clubbed with other issues. The cash relief of 22,700 is a very meager amount which should be increased to at least 2 lakh rupees. The other losses of each households should be estimated and be fully compensated as early as possible.
4. The hate speeches and the “economic blockades” should be brought to an end. All the political parties, intellectuals. Writers and academics should take initiative against this and try to open a platform and provide a conducive atmosphere for a dialogue among communities. Intellectuals and civil society leaders of the neighboring NE states also should be included in such efforts.
5. The international borders between Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal should be sealed and illegal influx to be stopped completely.
6. The state govt should not shy away from the problem and leave everything to the BTAD administration. It should not forget that rehabilitation is a state subject. Indian govt should understand that it is very much alienated from the people of NE states and should try to rectify this immediately. This includes settling age old problems politically. It should stop handling the insurgencies in these areas to its political advantage.
[Via Karthik Navayan]