Assam – MASUM Report on Kokrajhar riots

August 28, 2012

The persistent violence in districts of lower Assam shook the democratic conscience of the country. The skirmishes and conflicts between warring factional identities took several lives. A sizeable section of populace took refuge to scattered ‘rehabilitation centers’ in Assam and neighbouing state of West Bengal. Though, rehabilitation seems to be a far cry as people are living in utter distress and duress, the every day life is under constant threat and situation compounded with absence of basic amenities.

The age old feud between Bodos and impoverished Bangla speaking religious minority took a perplexing proportion as the groups are not willing to succumb to rationality. The recent conflicts are only reminding the live loss during the Bodo- Adivasi discord in 80s and 90s. Bloody conflicts between Bodo and Muslims or Bodo and Santhals are recurring incidents in this part of Assam. The state has infamous distinction for Nelli massacre, in 1983; according the government estimate 2, 191 persons from religious minority were killed by the fanatics in these gruesome killings. During 1993 riots more than 5000 Muslims were forced to live in rehabilitation centers of Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar for a long. In 1994 more than 200 persons were killed and equal numbers of people were uprooted from their dwellings during Bodo- Santhal clash. In 1998, again riots erupted between the groups and in which 50 were killed. The rehabilitation centers were not spared. In Darang and Udalgiri districts nearly 70 persons were killed in 2008. The influx of Muslim minority from the Bengali speaking neighborhood and Santhals to Bodo area is a historical event. Influx took place in spates and British ruler was instrumental in this process. So, the process of migration and subsequent settlement has a definite historical backdrop. The consecutive governments, both in union and state failed to protect the rights of the Bodo people over their lands, though many a legislations were framed after independence. Similarly the Bodo movement, like their counterparts of north eastern states always excluded other identities and with chauvinistic attitude debarred their representations in democratic processes. The Bodo movement spoke little about their rights rather curtailment of the rights of other identities living at the area for many decades.

Nonetheless, the situation is grave and political community failed to deliver any immediate solution but many questions have been raised, regarding the constitution of Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) whether just, the representation / share of seats of non- Bodo identities in the council, cross border migration and settlement of minority community at the area, ‘foreign hands’ behind the riots as propagated and continuous suppression of identities at the area of council. The issue needs an in-depth analysis for permanent solution of the situation with a holistic approach on historical understanding of migration and subsequent settlement.

Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) with a mandate for restoration of human rights for every human being at everywhere tried to come up with a brief account of the unrelenting social discord between the groups, the inhuman condition of living at various ‘rehabilitation centers’ and inactive and / or overactive role and actions of police and other duty bearers of the state during and after the riotous acts.

Our fact-finding revealed that over 100 villages have come under attack, houses burnt, granaries razed, and domestic animals either killed or taken away. Over 50,000 people both from the communities of Bodos and Muslims — became homeless and thus have taken shelter in relief camps.

As per the decision of the organization a team consisted of three members namely, Smt. Susmita Roy Chowdhury, Sri Subha Protim Roy Chowdhury and Sri Jaipal Nandy left Kolkata for Kokrajhar, Assam. The team went out for fact finding and recording of statements in and around of Kokrajhar.

MASUM has fixed limited terms of reference (TOR) for its fact finding initiative in conflict zone of Bodo Territorial Council. In this given context, the activists from MASUM recorded versions of riot-affected in various centers, government officials, practicing medical professionals of various government health delivery units and representatives of Bodo Territorial Council and also conferred with historical documents and write ups to make a comprehensive report. Here are the testimonials following with our observations and recommendations:-

At first they met with Mr. Jayanta Narlikar –IAS (Deputy Commissioner & Chairman of DDMA, Kokrajhar, Assam) and he delivered the team members certain information regarding the rehabilitation of the homeless riot affected people and supplied them with a list of relief camps situated at Kokrajhar Sub-Division, Gosaibagan Sub-Division and Parbatjhora Sub-Division as on 02.08.12 (The lists are annexed with).

Mr Narlikar also informed that in terms of the decision of State Government the district authority has arranged for distribution of rice, pulse, baby food, biscuits amongst the people staying at the relief camps and they have also distributed medicines and rendered medical assistance to the ailing and wounded people of those camps. They have tried their level best to give adequate care and assistance to the ailing children and pregnant women at the relief camps. According to him in some of the areas the peace has already restored and they are continuously encouraging the people to return to their own villages. Although the situation was under control but there were tensions in and around Kokrajhar.

Then the team has visited a relief camp at Commerce College, Kokrajhar. This camp was mainly for the riot victims from the Bodo community. They took shelter at the different rooms of the college. A room of the college was converted into Relief Office and Mr. D.D. Bodo was in the charge of the office, who told the team members that under the direction of higher authority of the government of Assam they are taking photographs of the refugees for making a list. According to Mr. Bodo 600gms of rice for each adult person and 400gms of rice for each minor has been allotted per day and that apart 100gms of pulses has been further allotted for each per day for the people staying therein. These foods have been mainly supplied by the government of Assam and beside that different NGOs and the organizations of Bodo Student and Women (like ABSU, ABWB) are also rendering assistance to them.

At the time of visiting the relief camp the team members talked with some victims and asked them about the riots of their areas and the consequences and shared the experience with them. Here some extracts of the conversation with the victims are mentioned below:-

Mr. Pravin Nazarey (42yrs. old) of Vill- Bamungaor, P.S Kakrajhor said to the team member about his experience:-

“We were attacked by some miscreants in the morning at around 10am on 24th July 2012. There were about 1000 Muslim families in our village and the total population of Muslim would be around 15,000. Most of the Muslim families are recently moved at our village and they have come from outside of our area and started residing at our village. Only 10-12 numbers of Muslim families are staying at our village for a long time. The attackers were mostly outsiders and they ransacked the house and looted all the belongings of the people of our village. Though my house was not burnt but I have seen lots of houses were under blaze and destroyed by the attackers. It is fortunate that no one was killed by the attackers at my village but to see this grave situation we got frightened and shifted to this relief camp at night 00.30 am on 25th July ‘12. The frightened people of our area have started coming to this relief camp for shelter from 8pm of 24th July 2012 and it was continued till the morning of 3am of 25th July 2012. The distance of my village and the camp is 20kms. The MCLA of BTCLA helped many of us of our village to do this shifting to this relief camp safely”

The team has spoken to another victim Mr. Rakesh Basumatari (53yrs old) of Vill – Malgaon, P.S Kakrajhor.

He said – “We were attacked in the morning around 9.30 am on 24th July 2012. That time we were at the duty of giving guard to our village. There is a Muslim village namely Solmari which is just adjacent to our village, in fact you cannot call Solmari a village but rather a “Revenue Place”. Some Muslim families are living at Solmari for almost 20-22yrs, and in between them some old Muslim acquaintances of us have already conveyed regarding the probabilities of attack by Muslim on us. Infact our Muslim friends have alerted us regarding the attack from 20th July because from then there was tension in and around of our area. Police force did not turn up for any help or assistance. We thought that if BTC has its own force then they can rescue us, but it is very sad to say that BTC does not have its own force. In village our house was burnt by the attackers and I have lost all my belongings in this riot without any of my fault. The plot no. of my house was 33. Almost 50% of the total number of houses of my village was burnt by the attackers.

The team also spoke to the ladies at the camp.

Ms. Gita Basumatahari (27yrs old) w/o Fanindra Basumatahari of Village Malgaon, P.S. Kokrajhar , who lost everything in the riot and told our team :-

“We were attacked suddenly by Muslim and it was really surprising for us because we were residing in the same neighbourhood for so many years and we had good relation.. We did not expect this type of heinous act from them. But it is to be mentioned here that most of the attackers are outsiders and they ransacked our house, looted all our belongings. They even broke our tubewel and poisoned the water the well from where we have collected our drinking water. Government did not take any step against those Muslim trespassers who generally entered into our locality from Bangladesh and encroached the land, built the house and forcibly started residing there. On that ill fated day when we were attacked by the miscreants, to save from the hand of attackers I somehow managed to cross the river with my two children in the rain and took shelter at this camp”.

On the same day at evening the team visited to another relief camp which was situated at the Bhotgaon High School, Kokrajhar. Here the refugees were mainly from the Muslim community. In school a room was turned into Relief Office and Mr. Amjad Ali was in the charge of the office and Mr. Husen Farukh was his Assistant. From the conversation with Mr. Ali the team came to know that the refugees were mostly from the five Muslim majority villages where the households were burnt by the people of the community of Bodo. Mr. Ali has delivered the names of the five villages to the team members; those were Duramari, Hakaipara, Mujabari, Daoraighat, Chandmari. Beside that Muslims from other 6-7 villages, those were destroyed by the Bodos, were also took shelter at this school. Like other relief camps foods like rice, pulse, baby food and biscuit were supplied to the victims at the camp by the government of Assam. Here also the team members of MASUM spoke to some of the victims and listened the devastating experiences.

Mr. Mohammed Ali Seikh (50yrs.) of Vill- Mujabani, P.S Kakrajhor said to the team: – “We were attacked at by the attackers at the evening 5pm on 24th July 2012. The attackers put fire at our house and my mother was died due to severe burn. Sometimes ago the people of Bodo community destroyed the village Doramari by putting fire everywhere in the village and that time also we have noticed shockingly that after informing the police again and again about the incident, police did not turn up for help. We are really got frightened and helpless in this situation. Now the people of Bodo community destroyed at least 13 villages by setting fire. We did not notice any Bodo leaders to visit our relief camp. The MLA of our area is Smt. Pramilarani Bramha. When the Chief Minister has come to meet us at our camp then she was with him. The daag no. of my house is 155,157, 182 and 209 & Khatiyan-26. We have four rooms at my house and now everything is destroyed”

Then the team spoke to Mr. Ahmed Ali (26yrs) of Vill – Kankalgari, P.S Kakrajhor. He said “I have listened from my seniors of my families about the riot which was destroyed the life and livelihood of the people the then at the year of 1990. I was so small to remember all those incidents but in that time also our house which was in the village Malivhita was totally destroyed by the attackers and we became homeless and our family was fled away to Bhutan. Then after sometime they returned and started to live in this village at Kokrajhar and life was peaceful. But all of a sudden people became furious and started to destroy ruthlessly. Now this time I myself am experiencing the devastating effect of the riot. We became homeless in the year of 1990 and again now also we have lost everything for this riot. When the village Doramari was set under the blaze by the people of the Bodo community then police did not take any step against those miscreants and now as a result we became homeless. In our locality we have noticed that the people of Bodo community used to loiter in black dresses with pistol in their hands for the whole day. But when military has reached and curfew has been started those Bodo people has left our locality.”

Team has heard the experience of Smt Abiran Bibi (25yrs old) w/o. Mohamme Abu Fama Mondal of village – Mograpara, P.S. Kokrajhar

She said –“On that dreadful day in the evening my husband and other villagers were returning home from their day labourer job and on the way back they have noticed a bunch of people gathered on the main road near the village and they were all in army dresses. My husband and other got frightened and started running. And to see them running those people in army dress started firing at them. A bullet was hit at the leg of my husband and he fell down on the road. People got frightened so nobody went to him for rescue; he was left alone with lots of bleeding on the road till dawn. After that people brought him to Dhubri Hospital for treatment. From hospital we have shifted to this relief camp. At least 200 people were killed by the attackers in our locality and after killing people they instantly buried the dead bodies. The number they have buried there was around 100. Attackers also threw some dead bodies to the river and if you went to visit our villages then you can found some decomposed dead bodies there. We did not lodge any complaint at the police station for the bullet hit at the leg of my husband because we got frightened. When minister or other officials visited our camp and talked to us then I complained them verbally and explained them about the condition of my husband but till now I did not give any written complaint.”

Next day on 3rd August 2012 at morning the team left to visit the Sadar Hospital of the District Kokrajhar, namely R.N.B. Civil Hospital. There they met with Dr. A. K. Bramha – Superintendent of the Hospital. In their discussion the team heard a gist description of the riot from him. The Super has also shared the pathetic experience of the after effect of the riot – lots of wounded people has started to come helplessly for the treatment and as well as lots of dead bodies were also brought by the relatives. The condition of the hospital was in a total chaotic state. The superintendent also shared with the team about the incident when agitated people ransacked the hospital and destroyed lots of important articles of the hospital. He showed the team the copy of FIR against the miscreants lodged by him. The team has spent 5-6 hours at hospital.

On the same day in the afternoon at 4.30pm the team went to visit to a riot affected village, namely Nower Bhita under the police station of Dotoma in the district of Kokrajhar. The majority of people who was resided in this village was Muslim and the team got an information that 350 number of Muslim families were resided in this village. But at the time of riot all the houses of the village were put under blaze by the attackers and now the team did not notice a single person in the village. As a proof the team has taken photographs of this utterly destroyed village (Attached with). They only noticed half burnt houses, burnt dresses, burnt furniture and heap of ashes in the village. On the way of return from the village the team have noticed the nearby police station, which is Dotoma Police Station and there they went and met with the Officer in Charge, his name is Mr. Pradip Kumar Sarkar. In conversation with Mr. Sarkar , he has told our team that he joined in this police station just one month back and the riot and other violence was happened in his tenor. According to him nobody was arrested for the riot and other violent activities. To hear this shocking news the team asked him about the reason for not arresting anyone, then the O.C explained that he did not above enough force to face the riot and already he has sent a request for deploying more forces here but he did not receive any response from the higher authority. According to him after the incident of Antihara on 23rd and 24th July 2012 at least 9 villages were burnt. There were a village namely Brajakhal and 300 families resided there and in between them some were from bodo community, some were Muslim and others were Hindus. After the riot was started and begun to spread in the different areas of the district of Kokrajhar then the Muslim families of Brajakhal also fled away from the village. In between them some Muslim families came to the police station for doing FIR but they were very frightened. The team asked the OC about any FIR done by the police and Mr. Sarkar informed them that 9 numbers of F.I.R were done by the police.

After that the team went to visit the party office of Bodoland Peoples’ Front, who are now in the power of Bodoland Territorial Council. There they talked with one of the executive members; his name is Mr. Derhasat Basumatary. At the time of discussion it was revealed that trouble apparently began in the Bodoland districts. Be it mentioned here that the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was created following to the second Bodo Accord duely signed on the year 2003. It was intimated to them that two Muslim youths, Nurul Haque and Mazibur Rahman, were shot by unidentified miscreants on July 6 at Anthihara. The needle of suspicion was pointed at the cadres of the now defunct Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT), whose top leaders formed Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) after signing of the Bodo Accord and are now ruling the BTC. The BPF is an ally of the Congress since 2006. He also told about BTC agreement and after BTAD was created Muslims who were resided at Bodoland area started a committee namely, “Non-Bodo Suraksha Committee” and opposed BTC. Even Muslims have gone to High Court to stop BTC and Left parties of Assam gave them total support. As a sign of protest in that time the Muslims even done strike, road block etc. etc. in and around Kokrajhar. According to him if any Muslim was murdered in and around Kokrajhar then automatically they suspect that bodo people has done it. According to him it is all self pretensions by the local Muslim community to entangle the bodo people jut to put them into the trouble. When the team asked him whether the leader of BTC took any step to stop the riot then he said that there was no use of it because Muslims did not listen to them or believe them. Now the elected Muslim members of BTC joined the congress party. The Muslim fundamentalists of the adjacent districts of Kokrajhar were also played a major role by instigating and supplying the arms and ammunitions to the Muslims of Bodoland area for creating trouble at Kokrajhar.

Observations:-

1) An urgent and independent investigation on instigation and continuation of the riotous acts
2) The inclusion of district and state administrations on the ambit of investigation; must prosecuted for their uncaring attitude, nepotism and direct involvements in riots
3) The deliverances in the rehabilitation camps must be upgraded on accounts of medicine distribution, food, water and sanitation
4) Though, the administration fixed 15th August as deadline for return of all affected but it was not feasible, so a conducive atmosphere must be created for their return, giving security and availability of amenities as prime concern
5) Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) has 40 elected seats and 6 nominated by the state government, out of 40 elected seats 30 have been reserved for Bodos, 5 is for general category and rest for all. In BTC area, 29 percent belong to Bodo community, 28 percent are Muslims, so the reflection of demographic pattern is absent in representation and reservation of seats. Nevertheless, the BTC notification and distribution of representation is undemocratic and should be repealed immediately
6) There is a long history of riots in north eastern states, the successive state and union governments never shown their keenness to secede the vicious circle but always used the conflicting gentry for electoral purposes. In BTC area, all the identity groups; Bengali speaking Muslims and Hindus, Santhals, Rajbangshis all are insecure. An all-round comprehensive plan should be in place to counter hatred and riotous situation in between the groups
7) Bodos are not recognized as Scheduled Tribe outside the BTC area of Assam, Santhals are not being recognized as Scheduled Tribe in Assam, the purposeful flaw must be rectified
8 ) The people from north eastern states living other parts of the country being systemically threatened and encouraged to leave their places/ metropolises and process of polarization between north eastern people and people from other parts of the country has been initiated. In this regard the state and union governments made rhetoric but not taken any fruitful and trust building efforts. Union government should ensure the safety and security of the persons of north eastern states who are living their work places
9) The rumor mongers should be identified and prosecuted accordingly
10) The religious and political groups trying to affect the mutual trust and respects between the communities and identities for their ulterior gains. This acts are against the Constitutionality of the country
11) All the identities living inside BTC has been used time and again by the political forces for their mischievous gains. A section of minority community came from neighboring country Bangladesh has often distributed with ration cards and other citizenship documents by the political forces without a substantiated approach and understanding. The migrated people in search of living and livelihood while trying to get settled being attacked and ruined. The being accused as foreign fugitives or troublemakers. The inflow of impoverished populace across the borders for better pasture is an international phenomenon and that should be dealt with the basic tenets of human rights and international peace. It has specifically mentioned in Article 13 of Universal declaration of Human Rights as 1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state 2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. The Government of India, as part of United Nations is expected to follow the UDHR.