May 11, 2014

The Carnage and Outrage in Assam's BTAD

Isfaqur Rahman

THE Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) in lower Assam which had witnessed carnage over the years have, once again, been transformed into a killing zone since May 1 last. The memories of the 2008 ethnic and communal clashes in Darrang-Udalguri districts and the gruesome incidents of the 2012 July-August riots in Kokrajhar-Chirang-Baksa districts within BTAD are still fresh in the minds of the people. The 2012 riots left over 100 dead and 4.85 lakh displaced, some of whom even today live in refugee camps. The latest mayhem and violence on May 1-2 was not a communal riot or ethnic clash between warring groups or communities – not between Bodos and non-Bodos. It is one sided gruesome killings perpetrated by armed anti-socials and terror elements against a particular community. People belonging to Muslim communities of erstwhile East Bengal origin, and settled in Assam for several decades, have been targeted and subjected to savagery and cruelty. The barbarity of it all defies imagination. Children, women, men – all are Muslims – have become victims of what can be described as mindless carnage in lower Assam's BTAD. The outrageous acts of violence first started on the night of May 1 when unidentified gunmen killed three innocent and poor persons at Narsingbari village under Baksa district. The killing spree then swiftly spread to Balapara village under Gossaigaon Sub-Division in Kokrajhar district where seven persons were gunned down. On May 2, mayhem started in broad daylight at Nonke-Khagrabari and Narayanguri villages under Gobardhana police Station in Baksa. The death toll in Baksa and Kokrajhar districts has gone up to 42 and 10 persons are still missing till the filing of this report. The large majority of the victims of the carnage were children and women belonging to poor families – mostly daily wage earners. Most of the bodies were found in the bank of the Beki river in Baksa district. Some people are being treated for bullet injuries and houses were also set afire in some villages. The Nonke-Khagrabari and Narayanguri villages witnessed the worst violence. A relief camp has been set up at Gobardhana where around 500 people are taking shelter. The Assam government has already entrusted the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe the incidents, besides taking the decision to institute a judicial inquiry by a retired judge. There is fear of more attacks, overflowing emotion over the death of the near and dear ones and anger against the government running high among the Muslim population in the area as well as all sections of the people of Assam. The perpetrators of the terror-killings are yet to be identified. The Assam government is largely responsible for its failure to protect the lives and properties of the innocent people belonging to the religious minority communities who are subjected to such brutality. The communal and divisive forces are active in the region. Of late, the extremist and terrorist outfits have raised their ugly heads again. Ill faiths and ill feelings, mutual distrust among various ethnic groups have also been running high. The state government has done precious little to maintain peace and amity and to fulfill its constitutional obligation to protect the lives of all sections of the people. There are also certain genuine grievances against the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) administration led by the Bodoland People's Front (BPF), a coalition partner of the Congress led dispensation in Assam. So far, 26 persons have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the carnage. The Assam police also arrested six forest volunteers, including a forest ranger of the Manas National Park, following complaints from the survivors that instead of protecting them, the forest volunteers fired and set their houses on fire. The survivors had made specific complaints that when villagers rushed to the forest beat office at Khagrabari in Baska district for safety on May 2, the forest personnel fired at them and set some of their houses afire. The Assam Human Rights Commission has registered a suo-moto case as there are allegations against the forest personnel. The forest department in under BTC administration. The Assam government and police administration have claimed that the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-S) had been responsible for the killings. Contrary to the official claims, the local people and the families of the victims have serious allegations against the BPF leadership. What is more confusing, contradictory statements by representatives of the Assam government have compounded the problem to identify the culprits responsible for the heinous crime. Anyway, the NDFB-S has denied its involvement in the carnage. There were also reports in the media that the BJP entered into a secret pact with the most lethal terrorist outfit – the NBFB(S) during the just concluded Lok-Sabha polls in Assam. It is widely alleged that the BJP could go to any extent in their thirst for power. While condemning the killings of the minority people, the Assam state committee of the CPI (M) has demanded security and protection of all sections of the people residing in the BTAD areas. The Party also condemned the callous attitude of the state administration in maintaining peace and normalcy in the region. A state delegation of the CPI (M) met the Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi at his residence in Guwahati on May 6 and presented a memorandum with specific demands. The delegation was led by the state secretary Uddhab Barman and senior leaders – Hemen Das, Ananta Deka, Monoranjan Talukdar, Isfaqur Rahman and Suprakash Talukdar. On May 7, the CPI (M) also organised a press conference at state headquarters and explained the demands raised by the Party. The CPI (M) has also been organising peace-rallies, protest marches, demonstrations etc., throughout the state to condemn the violence and to restore peace and normalcy in the BTAD. The demands raised by the CPI(M) include – speedy improvement of the law and order situation and fulfillment of constitutional obligation of the state government to protect life and properties of the people, immediate identification and arrest of the culprits and trial by a fast track court, immediate seizure of illegal arms in the BTAD and the state as well. The Party has also demanded that a high level investigation under the supervision of the Gauhati High Court should be instituted simultaneously with the NIA probe. All investigation should be conducted within a fixed time frame to prevent protracted delays. The CPI (M) demanded adequate compensation and quick relief and rehabilitation of the victims of violence. There is also a need to reconstruct and reform the police force to deal with such situation. There was also a big need to improve the infrastructure facilities like roads and bridges in the BTAD, the Party said. The CPI (M) stressed the need for maintaining peace and harmony in the region and demanded an all party meeting in this regard. The CPI(M) state committee also registered its strong protest against the denial of permission by the district administration of Baksa which stopped Party delegation at Gobardhana from visiting the affected areas on May 4 despite clearance by the home department of the government of Assam. The delegation was led by Uddhab Barman and Hemen Das – both were former MLAs and represented the constituency where the gruesome incident occurred. On May 5, a CPI (M) delegation visited the affected villages in Baksa district and met the inmates of the relief camp. Along with the minority bodies, various organisations including the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU), Bodoland People's Progressive Front (BPPF), AASU etc., condemned the outrageous acts of violence and demanded quick actions against the culprits.