Appeal for Contributions for Relief Camps in Assam


Over two lakh persons are still housed in relief camps in Dhubri, Chirang and Kokrajhar districts of Lower Assam, in the wake of a series of violent clashes. This is down to about half the peak of nearly five lakh people in camps, making it one of the largest humanitarian emergencies in independent India. All these internally displaced persons fled from their villages in fear of violence, and many because their homes were torched and belongings looted. There is little hope that everyone will be able to return home in the immediate future.

The camps are lodged mostly in schools and college buildings; sometimes a few classrooms and a courtyard house a few thousand people. The Assam state government assumed full responsibility for the camps, and its officials coped with the sudden explosion of the refugees. The state supplied food, some money for utensils and clothes, and ensured primary health protection.

So far the camp residents are only surviving on bare rice and dal everyday. They need at least a plastic sheet to sleep on and mosquito nets. The camps desperately require many more toilets and clean drinking water, the lack of which threatens epidemic outbreaks of cholera, gastro-enteritis and malaria.

Children suffer in many ways. There are no arrangements to study in the camps, and most students lost their books to the fires that consumed their homes. Since most camps are housed in schools and colleges, local students also cannot study.

The state and humanitarian agencies — the latter regrettably substantially absent so far — must help people return and rebuild their homes, schools and livelihoods. Children and young people must be assisted to resume their studies and normal life, without fear and dislocation.

The major duty for relief and rehabilitation lies with the central and state governments. But in a humanitarian emergency of this magnitude, it is important for people of goodwill everywhere to reach out to help and heal, to assist in relieving immediate suffering, but also as a gesture of solidarity and caring with the suffering people of both affected communities, the Bodos and Bengali Muslims.

In a very small initiative, humanist young people have decided to work together for relief and reconciliation. This initiative would be in collaboration with TISS Guwahati. Initially joint teams of young Bodo and Bengali Muslims will supply relief materials and services in the camps together. The initial focus is to support children and youth in these camps with textbooks, play things, clothes, etc, and women with clothes, sanitary napkins etc; and also utensils, treated mosquito nets etc.

We reiterate that this is a very small modest effort, and is not suggesting that this is contributing to any solution of a very complex and old problem. It is just intended as a very small gesture of collective caring. We have set a target to raise at least around 20 lakh rupees initially, to make a small tangible contribution.

We appeal to people of goodwill everywhere to contribute to this small effort. The entire money would be transferred to the joint youth group in Assam, to use entirely for purchase and distribution of relief material in both the Bodo and Bengali Muslim camps. The accounts will be managed by the Centre for Equity Studies, which will get these independently audited, and the audited accounts will be placed in the public domain.

We would also like to request you to widely circulate this appeal amongst your friends and family.

With best wishes,

Amita Joseph, Amitav Ghosh, Anu Aga, Aruna Roy, Avi Singh, Bela Bhatia, Biraj Patnaik, Dipa Sinha, Harsh Mander, Jean Drèze, Karuna Nundy, Kavita Srivastava, Mathew Cherian, Nandita Das, Nikhil Dey, Pervin Varma, Rahul Bose, Ram Punyani, Reeta Dev Barman, Ritu Priya, Sajjad Hassan, Sejal Dand, Sharmila Tagore, Vandana Prasad, Vijay Pratap and Warisha Farasat

For Aman Biradari

For further details, please contact
Jeevika Shiv (9899572770, jeevikas@gmail.com) or Ankita Aggarwal (9818603009, aggarwal.ankita87@gmail.com)

Details for donations

For Indian citizens

(Please mention the purpose of the donation while making the contribution and e mail your PAN card number and postal address atanoop_wdk@yahoo.com)

Name of A/c: Aman Biradari Trust
Bank Name: IDBI Bank Limited
Branch: 1/6, Siri Fort Institution Area, Khel Gaon Marg, New Delhi 110049, India
A/c No: 010104000156950, IFSC Code: IBKL0000010, BSR Code: 110259002

For foreign citizens

(Please mention the purpose of the donation while making the contribution and e mail a scanned copy of your passport and postal address to anoop_wdk@yahoo.com)

Name of Organization: Centre for Equity Studies
A/c Number: 4114000100539095, Swift Code: PUNBINBBISB, IFS Code: PUNB0411400
Name of Bank: Punjab National Bank
Branch Address: Plot No.7, C-1, Nelson Mandella Road, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi 110070

Cheques can be mailed at:

Office of the Commissioners for Supreme Court

B 68, 2nd floor, Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi 110017, India

For any financial queries, please contact Sunil Snehi (9811190160, sunilsnehi@yahoo.com)

All donations exempted u/s 80G of the I. T. Act, 1961 vide Letter No. DIT(E)/2011-12/C-693/3069 Dated 17 Oct 20122 issued by the Directorate of Income Tax Act (Exemption), Delhi for the period 1 April 2011 onwards

Bringing Bangladeshi Angle to Assamese Ethnic Conflict is Disservice to the Nation


 

Countryside in the Bodo area of Assam "Ud...

Countryside in the Bodo area of Assam “Udalguri and Kokrajhar are considered the center of the Bodo area.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

V.K. Tripathi, IIT Delhi

 

 

           The ethnic violence between Bodos and Muslims in Bodo territorial region of Assam is a national calamity. It has taken a toll of 65 innocent lives (besides the scores of people missing) and rendered 4 lakh homeless. The first priority of sane polity and responsible government is to restore the trust between the warring groups, Bodos and Muslims, without the slightest of ill will against any of the communities and isolate miscreants from the masses. Muslims are poorer, have lost more lives and fled in larger numbers (up to 80%) but Bodos are no economic elite. The creation of Bodo Territorial Council (covering 4 districts – Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baxa and Udalguri) by the Center in 2003, has given a section of them an upper hand but masses of both the communities are in hardships.

 

 

            I spent three days (August 3 to 5) in the area, visited relief camps – 2 Bodo camps in Kokrajhar (with 560 and 1500 people) , 1 Muslim camp in Kashipara (960 people), 1 Muslim camp in Dhubri (360 people) and 3 Muslim camps in Bilasipara (2000, 2500 and 3500 people), visited a Muslim village Bhadyagudi, a mixed Bodo-Muslim village Bhatipara and met a cross-section of people. I also met Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Kokrajhar Mr.  Jayant Narlikar, DC of Dhubri Mr. Kumud Kalita and Principal, Vice Principal and Librarian of Bhola Nath College, Dhubri.

 

 

            I saw no trace of Bangladeshi offensive in the conflict, so systematically and vigorously orchestrated by BJP and VHP, led by L.K. Advani, Tarun Vijay and Praveen Togadia. They are playing with the lives of people and poisoning atmosphere for future. Bangladeshi is more of an abuse to humiliate Muslims who are native Indians. There may be a few percent Bangladeshis (as a Rajvanshi ex-serviceman in rural Kokrajhar put it at 10%), but even these, in all likelihood are labourers and labourers are no exploiters but an exploited lot.  They need to be treated with dignity. All countries have legal and illegal migrants. USA has a very significant percentage of illegal Mexicans. But who engages them and benefits from their hard work?”- the business class, for cheap labour. USA is immensely more powerful than us but it could not force the Mexicans out. India has limited resources and can’t afford to sustain work force from neighbouring countries, hence legal ways, commensurate with workers’ dignity, must be employed to identify and deport them and to stop their migration (if at all there is any loop hole). As far as the language of Muslims in the area is concerned, there is strong historical reason for it.  Kokrajhar district borders with West Bengal and Dhubri with Bangladesh. 100-150 years ago British tea planters brought labourers from Bengal where Muslims were a predominant landless work force. Thus they speak Bengali. One more observation. In 1971 India welcomed lakhs of Hindu-Muslim refugees as a part of strategy on Bangladesh. Many of them overstayed.

 

 

            The current conflict developed as a chain event. Miscreants killed two Muslims on July 6. On July 19, a prominent Muslim suffered bullet injuries and a mob killed 4 Bodos, Subsequently sporadic killings of Muslims and display of fire power by Bodo elements, created a frightening atmosphere, forcing people to flee their homes. In Muslim dominated areas Bodos were made to flee. Once people fled, many of their homes were looted and put on fire.  Most camps, having over 2.5 lakh Muslim refugees, are located in Dhubri district.  This district with 80% Muslim population suffered no loss of life  Bodos from six villages had to flee to Kokrajhar.

 

 

            Bodo insurgents have carried a long drawn violent struggle for separate Bodoland. In 2003 Center created BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts) giving substantial authority to Bodos (about 35 seats in the 40 member BTC Council). This created a wedge between them and other communities (Muslims, Santhals and Rajvanshis) who have a much larger share in population. Many insurgent groups surrendered their arms but some still have them.  Disarming them is a major responsibility of the state.

 

 

            All relief camps are facing severe hardships. The Muslim camps look even more dejected and worried, besides being poorer.  On August 5 as I was sitting with people in a camp in Bilasipara when Roja Aftar time arrived, I noted that they had only one bucket of dates and biscuit packets for aftaar for 2000 people. On behalf of Sadbhav Mission I offered them 1000 rupees to purchase additional dates. Same was the scene in another camp. At night often there is load shedding for several hours and these camps plunge into darkness besides exposing them to mosquito bite. People cook their own food from the ration (rice, pulses and oil) provided by the government and vegetables provided by local support or NGOs. In most places people of all the communities are coming forward to extend support. Despite heavy odds people are at peace. I wish they had a creative engagement. They could be given some training or exposure in relevant trades. Students can be given tutorial sessions, game sessions or could go for jogging.

 

 

            Mine was a short visit that began with my arrival in Guwahati at 7 AM. From the airport I took bus to train station. At 9:45 I took North East Express and got down at Kokrajhar at 1:20 PM. I walked through the city and then took a tempo to Kashipara (8 km away). I visited a Muslim camp and walked 3 km to visit two villages. At 8 PM I met the DC. By that time curfew had started hence I stayed in the circuit house in a awesome room for Rs. 130. Next morning (August 4) at 7 AM, I walked to Bodo camp Swrang M.E. High School. People were nice. Some got annoyed when I mentioned Nellie massacre. From there I took tempo, minibus and bus to reach Dhubri by 12 noon. I walked to a relief camp and talked to people for one hour. This interaction was heartening. From there I went to Bholanath college. At 3:15 PM I met the DC and then left for Bilasipara. During 5 to 8:15 PM I visited 3 camps. Then took shelter in ABI hotel (for Rs. 250). It gave me the feeling of hardships faced by camp people as there was no light and mosquitoes were in abundance.

 

            At 6 AM on August 5 I left for Kashipara and from there to Kokrajhar. I visted the Commerce College Bodo camp. People treated me with warmth and showed appreciation for peace efforts. At 12 noon I took Kamrup express to Guwahati. After reaching there I called some friends and left for the airport en route to Delhi.

 

 

contact- tripathivipin@yahoo.co.in

 

 

 

This land is my Land- How are demographics changing in Assam and Bengal?


How are demographics changing in Assam and Bengal? And what does this mean for ‘indigenous’ communities? Garga Chatterjee considers the argument for territorial purity, in the Friday Times, Pakistan’s First Independent Weekly Paper


This land is my land 2 0 Bodo women cry at a relief camp at Bhot Gaon village after ethnic clashes in Assam

The Assam state of the Indian Union has seen violence flare up suddenly from July 6th. With more than 40 people reported dead and upwards of one and a half lakh displaced in a week, the Kokrajhar riots between Bodos and Muslims have again brought in focus certain issues that are not limited to Kokrajhar district, or for that matter to Assam. There will be the usual game of getting as much mileage from the dead and the displaced. There will be a lot of talk of Assam becoming another Bangladesh or even Pakistan, with careless fear-mongering thrown in for good measure. There will be still others who sell the absurd fiction that almost no illegal migrants from the Republic of Bangladesh exist in Assam. To go beyond this, let me focus on two contexts – regional and global.

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A Muslim man removes a tin sheet from his burnt house following ethnic violence
A Muslim man removes a tin sheet from his burnt house following ethnic violence
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If one looks at a special kind of map of the world, the type where different population densities are marked with different colours, something sticks out very starkly. The part of the world with one of the biggest continuous stretches of the highest range population density is Bengal – East and West. Now incompletely split along religious lines, the Bengals are veritable pressure cookers – with millions of desperately poor people looking to out-migrate to any area with slightly better opportunities. At this point, it is important to realize that when ethno-religious communities are awarded a ‘home-land’, be it a province or a country, a process of myth-making starts from that time onwards, which aims to create a make-believe idea that such a formation was always destined to be. In the minds of later generations, this solidifies into a concept as if this demarcated territory always existed, with vaguely the same borders, with vaguely the same culture and demography. This process is both creative and destructive. It is creative in the sense that it gives the ethnic-mentality a certain ‘timeless’ territorial reality that is often exclusive. The destruction often lies in the twin denial of the past of the region and also the rights of those who are neither glorious, nor numerous. With this in mind, let us come to Assam.

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To take the issue head on, the elephant in the room is the Muslim, specifically the ‘Bengali’-speaking Muslim in Assam. I saw ‘Bengali’ in quotes, as many of the ‘Bengali’ speakers in Assam are more correctly described as Sylhoti speakers. And Sylhet is an important part of the story. Today’s Assam state with its Axomia core and a few other communities is the successor to the much larger province of yore, which included the whole district of Sylhet, much of which is now in the Republic of Bangladesh. Sylhet has for a long time represented something of a frontier zone between Bengal and Assam. And most Sylhetis are Muslims. So when Sylhet was a part of the province of Assam before partition, the idea of Assam was very different. In the Assam legislature, most Muslim members were elected from Sylhet. In short, they were an important contending bloc to power. In fact, before partition, the premier of Assam for much of the time was Mohammad Sadullah, a Brahmaputra valley Muslim, who was solidly supported by the Sylheti Muslim legislators, among others. Though a Muslim Leaguer, he stayed back in Assam after partition. Unknown to many, the Assam province, like Bengal and Punjab, was also partitioned in 1947 – the only one to be partitioned on the basis of a referendum (held to determine the fate of the Muslim majority Sylhet district). The largely non-Muslim Congressites in Assam did not even campaign seriously for the referendum, for they were only too happy to see Sylhet go, so that they could have a complete grip over the legislature minus the Sylheti Muslim threat to power.

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Modern transportation now enables mass movements in short periods of time
Modern transportation now enables mass movements in short periods of time
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The Sylhetis are but reluctant Bengalis, but that is another story. What I want to impress here is that the origin of the feeling of being slowly outnumbered and besieged also has a certain past. This feeling never died out. The post-partition demographic shift of Assam has again started sliding back, with an increasing proportion of the populace now being Muslims. Whether it is differential fecundity rates or Bengali-speaking migrants from the Republic of Bangladesh, or a combination of both, the net effect is a slow growth in this siege mentality. It is important to note that there really are many illegal settlers from the Republic of Bangladesh. This has often led to an accusation leveled against the Congress party of shielding the illegal migrants by creating captive vote-banks out of their insecurity. This may be partially true, given its reluctance to fulfill the terms of the Assam Accord that was signed to end the Assam agitation of the 1980s. Among other issues, it sought to identify illegal settlers and take legal action. Given that onus is on an accuser to prove that someone is not a citizen of the Indian Union, rather than the onus being on a person to prove whether one is a citizen of the Indian Union, the illegal settler identification process has been a gigantic failure. So the issues remain, the tempers remain, so does the politicking and the volatility that could flare into violence, as it has done now.

Sylhet has for a long time represented something of a frontier zone between Bengal and Assam

Let us return to the population bomb that is Bengal. If it appears from the story till now that this is some Muslim immigration issue, I want to dispel it right away. To the east and north-east of Bengal are territories that have been inhabited by tribes for centuries. Due to the post-partition influx of refugees, some of these zones have essentially become Bengali-Hindu majority homelands. One prominent example is Tripura. This tribal majority kingdom, inhabited by many tribal groups, most notably the Riyangs, is now a Bengali-Hindu majority state. There is the same kind of tribal son-of-the-soil versus settler Bengali conflict as in Assam with a crucial difference. Here the game is over with the Bengalis being the clear victors. The future of the tribal groups possibly lies in tenacious identity-preservation in ‘Bantustans’ called autonomous councils or slow cultural assimilation into the Bengali ‘mainstream’. Sixty years can be long or short, depending on who you are.

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A similarly sad saga is unfolding in the Republic of Bangladesh where the government in its immense wisdom settled large groups of desperately poor landless Muslim Bengalis in the hill tracts of Chittagong. The Chittagong Hill Tracts, one of those ‘anomalies’ of the Radcliffe line, had a tribal-Buddhist majority all through the Pakistan period. The large group of tribes, the Chakmas being the foremost, have a distinctive culture, lifestyle and religion, quite different from the Muslim Bengali settlers. After active state-supported migration schemes, now the Chittagong Hill Tracts have a Bengali Muslim majority, except on paper. The army is stationed there largely to protect settler colonies as they expand. Clashes between the indigenous tribes and the settlers are common, with the military backing the settlers. Human rights violations of the worst kind, including killings, rapes, village-burnings and forced conversions, have happened, aided and abetted by the state machinery. The indigenous tribes of the Chittagong Hill tracts are fighting a losing game. Like Assam, here there has been an accord in response to insurgency by the tribes. The accord remains unimplemented. The state possibly believes that the indigenous tribes will take to Sheikh Mujib’s heartless advice to them in 1972 ‘to become Bengalis’.

Many of us have lost the sense of intimate belonging to a community

All of this is happening in a global context, where the questions of ‘special’ indigenous rights are being raised. Some of it takes the form of racial politics of the majority, as in certain European nations. There are the interesting cases of ‘cosmopolitan’ cities like Mumbai and Karachi – with sons-of-the-soil in and out of power respectively, but both with a strong undercurrent for rights of the local. It is easy to label these as ‘xenophobic’ or ‘prejudiced’, especially in the ‘interconnected world of the 21st century’ or whatever global consumer culture calls such dissidents now. Yes, this too is dissidence and of a primal variety that dare not tell its name in these times when the contours of what is dissident and what is sociopathy have lost their human connection, to become ‘discourse’ categories.

In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, clashes between the indigenous tribes and the settlers are common, with the military backing the settlers

I am not talking of ‘nationalism’ but a variety of ‘ethnocentrism’ which has known and lived in a territorial space and now finds too many ‘outsiders’ in that space, playing by different rules, making their ‘own area’ less recognizable, all too sudden. The reaction to this loss of familiarity and challenge to position from ‘outside’ groups constitutes a strain that cannot be shouted down for its supposed political incorrectness. While many may think that it is inter-connected-ness that feeds life, and that there are no ‘pure’ indigenous people anymore, the rate of such change is crucial. When some clans of Kanauji Brahmin migrants to Bengal became Bengalis no one knows, but now they are undeniably Bengali. At the same time, modern transportation now enables mass movements in short periods of time that were unthinkable earlier. Such migrant communities change local demography all too quickly and by quick I mean decades. Often, such migrations happen in spurts and successive waves, where kinship ties are crucial. Such settlers have more in common with co-settlers than the indigenous. Often the settlers have a perilous existence, partly due to the animosity of the indigenous people. This leads to huddling with knowns rather than huddling with unknowns. Thus this new ghettoisation, both geographical and psychological, inhibits the kind of integrative processes that in the past led to the formation of new, syncretic communities.

[box8]The notion of a legally uniform country, where anyone is free to settle anywhere else, is geared towards the rights of the individual, with scant heed to the rights of a community to hold on to what it has always known to be its ‘own’. The modern nation-state forces such communities into playing by the rules of atomization, for the only entity that the state seriously recognizes is the individual. And in a flat legal terrain, the rights of the citizen can be used against the rights of a community, not even his own. Bengal, Assam, Burma – these places have hard cartographic borders and soft physical borders. The nation-state aspires to a uniformly hard border, often working against the reality of culture, ethnicity and terrain. In the specifically charged context of demographic change, it is useful to realize that no one comes to live a precarious life in an unknown place with few friends and many enemies to embark on a 200-year plan to effect demographic change. People simply live their lives.

[box9]However, from the vantage of the indigenous, this sudden settlement is a change and a concern, and it animates itself as demographic projections. In the absence of any sanctioned way of controlling the speed of change or the nature of influx, ethno-religious theories of ‘being besieged’ provide a way to gain a wider moral sanction for extra-legal intervention. Our porous subcontinental realities require an approach that devolves power and rights that would protect against such massive change. Just like the elite quarters of the cosmopolitan city, everyone has a right to preserve what is dear to them, before it becomes dear to someone else. If this sounds like a scheme to rationalize the tyranny of a communitarian xenophobia, that is possibly because many of us have lost the sense of intimate belonging to a community. Living creatively with differences assumes a certain element of consent between communities. That consent is important. Fear of total change, loss of self-identity and self-interest hinders consent. Metropolitan diktats of assimilation deny communities that dignity. Communities assimilate in their own way. Speed is a new factor that needs to be dealt with creatively. Lack of a serious move towards according communities to determine the future of their locale and futures would end communities as we know them.

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