We the following people went on a peace and solidarity mission to the trouble torn areas of the Western Assam with the objective of assessing the situation, meeting the inmates of both the communities in the relief camps, ascertaining specific vulnerabilities which need urgent attention and promoting peace and solidarity among the strife torn people. We visited a few relief camps in the affected districts of Dhubri, Bongaingaon and Kokrajhar on August 7-8, 2012. We also met with members of the civil society organizations and officials of the administration.
The violence took place essentially between two communities living side by side, both attempting to preserve their right to life with dignity. Most of the camps are in schools and thereby have the basic infrastructures -of water supply and power. However, sanitation facilities were found inadequate and in need for improvement. Personnel of the health department were in place in the camps. There are reports by civil society groups that only basic medicines are available and that ability to deal with illnesses of children and gynecological problems are inadequate. The team did not notice any day care for children or trauma counseling facilities for the affected people in the camps. Facilities for the continuing and un-interrupted education of children have not been considered. The above are only illustrative and there are many serious gaps which need to be addressed like nutritional balance, larger accommodation and bathing space etc.
The affected people of both the communities apprehended violence and approached the administration for security. But they had to flee from their homes as their pleas were not heeded by the administration. In most of the instances the people fled first and their houses were burnt later. In short absence of effective policing and patrolling and inefficient response to pleas for help remained the singularly important factor for this exodus, apart from rumors and threats. Moreover, the complaints and FIRs, that are lodged seem to be collective and are lodged by the police themselves. But, such omnibus FIRs will become a subsequent hurdle in delivery of justice. This is in context of specific entitlements of individuals either to establish ownership or to recover insurance money and/or to become specific naming persons who are responsible for such criminal acts. The team recommends filing of the individual FIR by the victims for easy delivery of compensation and justice. The number of FIRs is awfully small, in comparison to number of people injured and killed in the violence. All major cases of murder, arson and looting must show appropriate arrests with sections which are non- bailable after the initial investigation.
Compensation package declared can be an important instrument in bringing sense of security and peace building among the affected people. However, the fairness of assessment and the speed at which it is done are important for it to be effective. Compensation to families whose members died and persons who suffered severe injuries should be ensured within the time frame of two months, so that affected families are not reduced to destitution and compelled to enter into a permanent debt cycle. The assessment process should be transparent and need to be in sync with the individual FIR or the complaint registered.
The declared compensation package is totally silent on rehabilitation of the people, who are being forced into a situation such as death of income earner or injury, thus taking them away from their livelihood. Thus a rehabilitation plan, indicating urgency with time frame should be expedited along with a peace-building process be developed with the help of civil society.
The group emphasized on the urgency of measures to be taken to bring the situation to normalcy and ensure rehabilitation and justice as per National standards, following Supreme Court guidelines on Dantewada case and NHRC guidelines on relief and rehabilitation. As on the day of visiting the estimated number of IDPs was 341930, distributed across 239 relief camps. The total death toll as on reporting stands at 77, and 50 persons were grievously injured. At the same time the government must bring about a policy on internal displacement which takes into account the nature of conflict in our country. In the absence of a national law on Displacement, the state governments should adhere to international standards set out in ‘Guiding principles on Internally Displaced Persons’ in planning and implementing rehabilitation packages and programmes.
Instead of ebbing, the violence has spread to other places of Assam now. At the same time we have observed with great concern and pain that various sectarian organizations and groups are trying to fan the disturbance and tension to fulfill their nefarious designs. It holds dangerous portent for the secular and composite fabric of our society. We recommend that adequate security must be ensured for safety of life and property of people as enshrined in the Constitution of India. It is the responsibility of the government.
There are repercussions being felt outside in cities of Bangalore and Pune where thousands of NE people working there had to return home fearing attack on them. Currently, there are appeals being made by progressive citizens and individuals of Karnataka to return to the state. Dialogue between groups and communities must start, addressing their concerns and possible solutions. A cross section of civil society members must be engaged in the process and in critical decision making and activities planned to restore confidence and peace in the region.
- Prof. A C Bhagabati, Former Vice-chancellor, Rajiv Gandhi ,University
2. Sri Niketu Iralu, Peace Activist, Kohima
3. Prof. Anuradha Dutta, Retired Professor, Political Science, Gauhati University
4. Dr. Monisha Behal, Chairperson, North East Network, Guwahati
5. Prof. Abu Nasar Said Ahmed, Former Director, O K D Institute, Guwahati
6. Prof. Anil Boro, Professor, Folklore Studies, Gauhati University
7. Sri Paresh Malakar, President, Anwesha
8. Sri Mrinal Gohain, Concerned Citizen
9. Ms Anjuman Ara Begum. Research Scholar, Gauhati University.
Guwahati, August 18, 2012