Archive for the ‘Report’ Category

FACTS FINDING REPORT ON RAJNIKHAL EVICTION IN DHOLAI AREA OF CACHAR DISTRICT

June 28, 2019

IMG-20190627-WA0018

The temporary tin-shade where the affected families presently staying.(image captured by Neharul Ahmed Mazumder)

This is a report based on a fact-finding visit to Rajhnikhal village where 80 famalies are left shelterless due to sudden and  inhuman  eviction by the Forest Department conducted by BHRPC team consisting of Mrs. Swapna Bhattacharjee, Mr. Nirmal Kumar Das, Mr. Dipankar Chanda, Mr. Neharul Ahmed Mazumder, Mr. Rofie  Ahmed and Miss. Taniya Sultana Laskar.

It was just after the Eid-ul-fitoor was celebrated in the  valley a shocking video of an eviction drive carried out in a Rajnikhal village under Dholai Constituency of Cachar District went viral in the social media. The local news papers also published stories on that during the following days. After coming across the news news BHRPC formed a facts finding team and visited Rajnikhal on 18/06/19 afternoon.

THE INCIDENT

Rajnikhal village is located in an interior area, almost 35 kilometers away along the NH 54 (old) NH no. 306 (new)  from Silchar Town under Narshingpur Block of Dholai Constituency in Cachar District. According to the District Census Handbook published by the Directorate of Census Operation, Assam, the Permanent Location Code Number of Rajnikhal village is  299636 in the Census of 2011.  The same census also informs that the said Rajhnikhal village has a population of 412 person containing in 83 households. According to that same survey it has 0 forest areas and 3.4 uncultivated land. All the inhabitants of that village belong to Muslim community and from Other Backward Class. They basically live upon the agriculture and related sources like fishing, farming, poultry and animal husbandry. But the villagers got a notice on 21/05/2019 to leave the village within 7 days issued by the Local Forest In-charge, Hawaitang range or steps will be taken against them. Seeing the notice there was a big hue and cry in the village. The inhabitants of the village like Lekoi Mia, Ynus Ali, etc started running pillar to post with the request to suspend the notice. They met every political representative of the area to save the roof above the heads of their children but no results.

IMG-20190622-WA0008

The house of Mr. Anam Uddin(41years) and Mrs. Saleha Begum(35years) seen in the picture with their 10 years old son Faruk Hussain . (Image captured by Neharul Ahmed Mazumder.)

On 06/06/ 2019 around 250 people from the forest department came armored with 11 elephants and almost 500  para-military force and forcibly demolished their houses including the village masque and school, perished their crops and vegetable gardens, cut almost all the fruit trees including thousands of battle nuts trees which resulted in almost full abrogation of their source of income. The demolition process started from 9 am and the forces left the village at around 3 p.m at the afternoon.  They left penniless and now leaving under a tinshade a little away from the village with their family including infants and children. One person namely Jitendra Koiri allowed them to stay temporarily in his piece of land. In this rainy season these people are in a really helpless and vulnerable situation.

IMG-20190619-WA0017

 Behind is the house constructed under Indira Awas Yojuna owned by late Mazammil Ali. Front house is a kachha house owned by Mr. Ala Uddin .His mother Razibun Nessa(62years) and his son Solman Uddin can be seen in the photo captured by Neharul Ahmed Mazumder.

Our team found that almost all the houses of the village were demolished including 11  Indira Awas and PM awas houses. “We are paying the Gaon Panchayet taxes regularly. We didn’t have to obtain any kind of NOC from the Forest to obtain the indira awas houses or any other government aid. Then, why this sudden eviction” asked Yunus Ali with tears in his eyes. Four pakka well which were constructed under the MNREGA scheme were also demolished that day. The Shongjogi Sikhsa Kendra established in the village by the government was also demolished which is in violation of the right to education of the children belonging to the village.  We have interviewed 9 pregnant women in the village who are exposed to serious health risk due to the eviction. In this crucial stage of their life they are leaving without a roof upon their head and eating kichdri  once in a day. The names of those women are:-

  • Najma Begum, W/o- Rashid Ahmed.
  • Sahanara Begum, W/o- Yasin Ali.
  • Abjana Begum, W/o- Ramij Uddin.
  • Rumi Begum W/o- Najrul Hussain.
  • Reksona Begum,W/o- Misba Uddin.
  • Anjona Begum, W/o- Ali Hussain Laskar.
  • Mumina Begum, W/o- Nur Uddin,
  • Afsana Begum,W/o- Gias Uddin.
  • Rustana Begum, W/o- Ajmal Uddin.

IMG_20190618_131311

An image of the preparation of meal for that day captured by Taniya Sultana Laskar.

There are almost 150 children who stopped going to the school since their school is demolished and now occupied by some of the sheterless families. The families also lost major portion of their source of income and now in risk of disease caused by starvation and malnutrition. There are 7 children including one especially able child namely Salman Ahmed S/o- Sultan Ahmed who have some chronic diseases like Astama, and who are exposed to a bigger health risk. The women in general are in risk of sanitation and menstruation related disease.

IMG_20190618_125909

Hafiza Begum is a 3 year old girl suffering from severe asthma sleeping in a floor prepared with bamboo.  

IMG-20190627-WA0020

A pillar bearing  signboard of a MNREGA work done in the village (image captured by Neharul Ahmed Mazumder)

FINDINGS:-

From the above findings, it is clear that:-

  1. The demolition was prima facie illegal as no adequate notice had been provided.The villagers alleged that the village is not at all a forest village or situated in forest land.  
  2. Undue excessive force was deployed to carry out the demolitions.
  3. The forced eviction which has rendered thousands homeless constitutes violation of the Supreme Court judgments which uphold that the right to shelter as a constituent of the fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution.
  4. The demolition has affected access to education of the children in the village and constitutes gross violation of fundamental right to education of the children.

IMG_20190618_132822

A girl namely Rushnu Begum affected with some unknown diseases. 

(Image captured by Taniya Sultana Laskar)

RECOMMENDATIONS:-

  1. An inquiry procedure should be drawn against forest personnel who used undue force against the residents and suppressed their rightful expressions of dissent.
  2. The Forest Department should compensate the people for the economic losses incurred by them due to this illegal demolition of their property and reinstate them as soon as possible.
  3.  The authorities should carry out a survey of the residents in the village along with the participation of people and draw a plan for rehabilitating and housing.
  4.  Sincere attempts need to be made to reconcile the right to shelter of the people with environmental concerns.
  5. A minimum needs scheme should be prepared and allotment of land should be done for all landless people of the country.

 

Advertisements

UN questions ‘statelessness and disenfranchisement’ of ‘minority groups’ in Assam

September 26, 2018

Special Rapporteur’s report to UNGA highlights plight of Bengali Muslims

UN-Human-Rights-Feature-Image

The UN Special Rapporteur has once again raised the issue of possible statelessness of millions of people in Assam in wake of the exclusion of their names from the National Register of Citizens (NRC). This is part of a report titled Contemporary forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance that was presented before the UN General Assembly.

The 22 page report condemns “nationalist populism that advances exclusionary or repressive practices” and addresses “ascendant nationalist populist ideologies and strategies that pose a sobering threat to racial equality by fueling discrimination.”

Over 4 million people have been left out of the NRC final draft! Most of them belong to socio-economically backward communities and live in rural areas. Many of them are women and children!

On the subject of the exclusion of minorities from the NRC in Assam, the report says,

Nationalist populist parties in other places have implemented administrative and other rules leading to the exclusion of minority groups from official citizen registries on the basis of claims that they are irregular migrants, notwithstanding evidence showing that they are entitled to citizenship. This in turn has led to statelessness, disenfranchisement and increased vulnerability to discrimination, including the denial of basic rights and access to public services such as health and education.

In May 2018, the Special Rapporteur addressed a letter to the Government of India concerning the updating of the National Register of Citizens, a process governed by local authorities in the state of Assam. The letter drew attention to the heightened concerns of the Bengali Muslim minority, who have historically been portrayed as foreigners despite having lived in India for generations, even preceding the colonial era. Since 1997, the Election Commission of India has arbitrarily identified a large number of Bengali people as so – called “doubtful or disputed voters”, resulting in their further disenfranchisement and the loss of entitlements to social protection as Indian citizens.

While many have affirmed that the updating process is generally committed to retaining Indian citizens on the National Register of Citizens, concerned parties fear that local authorities in Assam, who are deemed to be particularly hostile towards Muslims and people of Bengali descent, may manipulate the verification system in an attempt to exclude many genuine Indian citizens from the updated Register.”

The entire report may be read here.

This is the second time the UN has taken cognizance of the humanitarian crisis in Assam. In May 2018, in a letter to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, four UN Special Rapporteurs had said,

It is alleged that the Tribunals have been declaring large numbers of Bengali Muslims in Assam as foreigners, resulting in statelessness and risk of detention. Finally, it is alleged that the potential discriminatory effects of the updated NRC should be seen in light of the history of discrimination and violence faced by Muslims of Bengali origin due to their status as ethnic, religious and linguistic minority and their perceived foreignness. Although the Bengali origin Muslims in Assam descend from peasant workers brought from the former Bengal and East Bengal starting in the 19th century under colonial rule, they have long been portrayed as irregular migrants. As a result of this rhetoric, Bengali Muslims have historically been the target of various human rights violations, including forced displacement, arbitrary expulsions and killings.”

In light of this, it is clear that the NRC issue is under the UN scanner and that given the international scrutiny it will not be easy for divisive forces to function with impunity much longer.

——————————————————————-

(The story was first published in CJP and is available at https://cjp.org.in/un-questions-statelessness-and-disenfranchisement-of-minority-groups-in-assam/, this is only a reproduction.)

Assam: Woman human rights defender Christina Pyrtuh and her family assaulted, molested and driven away for anti-corruption works

February 18, 2018

Mrs. Christina Pyrtuh and her family were assaulted, molested and driven out of her home and village for protesting against corruption in implementation of schemes under the local area development fund of the member of legislative assembly (MLA) of Assam representing their constituency Katigorah in the district of Cachar in Assam. She also protested against malfeasance of funds meant for Indira Avas Yojana (now rechristened as Pradhan Mantri Avas Yojana). She and her family are now temporarily living in Meghalaya at great risks of danger to her and her children’s life and limbs. She and her family are being persecuted for her works of protest as a Human Rights Defender.

Mrs. Cristina Pyrtuh is a 34 years old woman from the Khasi community of the village Baikham Punji, under Kushiarkul Gaon Panchayat in Katigorah in the district of Cachar, Assam. Her father’s name is late Benjamine Suting. She has four children. She is a farmer by occupation. Inspite of her cardiac illness, she is a very active woman and aware of her rights and duties as a member of the society.  Her family includes:

  1. Pretane Pyrtuh 15 years old daughter of Christina Pyrtuh.
  2. Aryan Pyrtuh , 12 years old son of Cristina Pyrtuh.
  3. Dannyster Pyrtuh, 6 years old son of Christina Pyrtuh.
  4. Esharica Pyrtuh, 11years old. Daughter of Christina Pyrtuh.
  5. Stalbida Pyrtuh, mother of Christina Pyrtuh. She is almost 70 years old. She is wholly dependent on Christina Pyrtuh.

The Baikam Punji is one of the very interior Punji[1] under Kushiarkul Gaon Panchayat of Gumra area which is about 45 Kms away from Silchar, the district-headquarters of Cachar. About 40 families with 116 voters, mainly from Khashi community live there.  The average standard of living of the inhabitants is very poor. The main source of livelihood of the inhabitants is traditional farming.  Since it is a hilly area the only source of drinking water is a water reservoir constructed three years before. For primary health care service, a sub-center under Kalain Hospital has been set up in 2013 but it always remains closed and no doctor or staff has visited there since the construction[2].  Huge corruption is allegedly going on in implementation of different government schemes meant to be implemented by the Gaon Panchayat authorities, the local self-government institution. The only road through which they communicate has always been a kachhasarak[3]. It is only this year that an amount of 29 lakh 80 thousand rupees has been sanctioned by the local MLA from his MLA fund for construction of the road.

According to Mrs. Christina Pyrtuh, which account was also corroborated by the newspaper reports, there were allegations of gross corruption in the construction works of the said road sanctioned under the MLA fund. Villagers of Baikam Punji organized a meeting on the issue at the 1618 No. Baikam Punji L.P.School  on 19 December 2017.  MLA Shri Amar Chand Jain was also present there. Mrs. Cristiana Pyrtuh also participated in the meeting and raised her voice against such corruption allegedly committed by the GP president Bablu Das in collaboration with some of the local people like Dilip Pyrtuh, Jan-Mukhim, Daboymi Lamare, Sidwel Suchiang and the village headman Drickson Shyllain implementation of different government projects in the Punji. Mrs. Pyrtuh along with other villagers such as Than-Mukhim, Fiden Kamen as well as the local teacher Mr. Banamali Prashad alleged that apart from the poor construction of the roads, Mr. Bablu Das and his accomplices also adopted corrupt practices during the distribution of houses under the Prime Minister Avas Yojona as they did earlier when it was known as Indira Avas Yojona. After taking bribe, they had given the financial assistance to Rumen Suchiang whose husband is a BSF[4] personnel and who is the daughter of Jan-mukhim, one of their accomplices. Some family members of Dilip Pyrtuh also got the financial benefits.  Witnessing by his own eyes MLA scolded the accused persons and instructed the villagers to remain in correspondence with him and inform him about any further malpractices.

The accused persons got very angry and annoyed at the protesters including Mrs Pyrtuh. They organized a meeting of their own in the village and asked the villagers to boycott and ostracize the protesters. Then one of the accused Daboimi Lamare who is a neighbor of the Mrs Pyrtuh started abusing her often after getting drunk. He asked her to leave the village otherwise he said he was going to make her life worse than hell by cutting her water connection. Then on 29 December Mrs. Pyrtuh saw that the pipe through which her family got water from the local water-reservoir was cut down. She complained to the villagers who suspected that the accused Daboymi Lamare did this as he warned. When asked he admitted that he did it indeed because the pipe went through his land and he was not going to allow it any more. The villagers then suggested Mrs. Pyrtuh a new route to carry the pipe through avoiding the accused person’s land. She bought a new pipe and connected it through the way the villagers suggested. But on 31 December the new water pipe was wrecked again.  She was forced to fetch water in pitcher by herself from a distant river without the pipe.

On 1 January 2018 two of the accused persons namely Daboy Lamare and Jan-mukhim again attacked Mrs. Pyrtuh’s house, vandalized in the yards, abused the victim family with filthy languages and threatened them with death. In Mstr. Arayan Pyrtuh’s words, Daboy Lamare said, “I will flee to Bangladesh after killing you with my Do-nala and fouling the graveyard with the venom of your dead body.”  The whole night they remained near her house waiting for an opportunity to attack them.  The victim family got very scared and sent words to the villagers for help but nobody came forward this time.  On 2 January Mrs. Pyrtuh lodged a complaint to the police.

Following the complaint, the police registered an FIR vide the Katigorah P.S Case No. 08/18 and on that night the police came and arrested two of the accused namely Diboymi Lamare and Dilip Pyrtuh. However, the victim saw that Diboymi came back home that night itself and Dilip got released on the very next day.

After coming back home the accused persons got more enraged and they started a vicious campaign against Mrs. Pyrtuh. They went door to door trying to manipulate the villagers saying that she didn’t want the development of the village. Their campaign included attempt of her character assassination linking her with another person who also spoke out against them in the meeting.

On the other hand, due to shortage of drinking water the victim family fell ill and Mrs. Pyrtuh, Mstr. Dannyster Pyrtuh and Mstr. Aryan Pyrtuh, two of her children, had to be hospitalized in the Kalain Primary Health Center on 3 January, 2018. They were suffering acute diarrhea along with severe dehydration. Mstr. Dennyster Pyrtuh was referred to Silchar Medical Collage, Silchar. The victim decided to consult another earlier known doctor before taking him to the Silchar Medical College and fortunately with his medication the child showed improvement. She took him to home on 4 January, 2018.

After returning home some of the villagers informed her that they called one more meeting on 5 January, 2018 to settle the issue and she had to attend the meeting.  She went there bonafide keeping in mind the well-being of her children and hoping that now at least they would get enough drinking water but it turned out to be more of a nightmare.  When she went there one of the accused Shiduel Suchiang started clicking her photo from here and there. Then all the accused persons started pressurizing her to withdraw the case and not to give any statement to the press. The said Shudiel Suchiang also assaulted her in that meeting. They also threatened Mstr. Denyster Pyrtuh. Then on 5 January, 2018 at about 7 P.M Jan Mukhim came with some of his accomplices whom the victim family could not recognize and pelted stones to the victim’s house at the Punji. The inmates of the house had to run to a safe place nearby to save themselves. In the process Mrs. Stelbeda Pyrtuh narrowly escaped a fatal stone. The accused persons also went on abusing and threatening the whole family with death. The family had to spend the night in utmost fear and terror. And on that morning after spending a whole sleepless night they had to leave the Punji for a safer shelter. But before that she filed another complaint to the Gumra Police Investigation Center on the incident of stone pelting and threatening but no actions have been taken by the police. Right now, they are living with a relative in Meghalaya temporarily.  However, she regularly visits the Police Investigation Centre, Gumrah to know about the status of her case, although they did not pay any attention to her requests and no actions were taken as well.

Mother and children of Mrs. Chrinstina Pyrtuh after they were driven out of home

Mother and children of Mrs. Chrinstina Pyrtuh after they were driven out of home

Seeing no other options, Mrs. Pyrtuh contacted Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) and came to the office on 19 January 2018. Since the police was not taking any actions on her case, BHRPC advised her to give a representation to the higher police officials. Accordingly she met Superintendent of Police, Cachar on 23 January 2018 and submitted a representation requesting for investigation of cases and for providing security to her and her family. Then, on 24 January 2018 the Investigation Officer of Gumrah Police Investigation Centre called her over the phone and asked her to go to the police station. She went there with her son Aryan at 1.pm in the noon but was asked to wait outside. She waited till 6 pm but nobody bothered to talk to her. She was a cardiac patient and as it was a cold weather she felt ill. She was having serious breathing problems. The little one (her son) called one of her friends who immediately took her to the nearby Kalain FRU where she was admitted in serious condition. She was then referred to the Silchar Medical College on the next day but she opted to go to NEGRIMS in Shillong (Meghalaya) in view of threats to life and went there.

BHRPC also wrote to the SP on 12 February 2018 but no action was taken. Then an appeal dated 17 February 2018 was sent by BHRPC to the Director General of Police, Assam and other authorities requesting for appropriate actions.

Mrs. Pyrtuh and her family are staying in Meghalaya till today. The police are still inactive and no charge-sheet has been filed yet. BHRPC is concerned about the safety and security and well-being of Mrs. Pyrtuh, her mother and children.

……………………………………………………………..

For further information, Ms Taniya Laskar, Secretary General, BHRPC, may be contacted on 9401616763 and at taniyalaskar@gmail.com.

……………………………………………………………………………….

[1]                      It’s a small unit of some Khashi family living in an area under a leader known as the Head-man.

[2]                      As per the news paper report.

[3]                      A temporary road.

[4]                      Border Security Force.

Assam: Custodial death of Hasan Ali and death of Mohidul Islam in police firing

January 15, 2018

According to the newspaper reports, one Mohidul Islam, aged about 25 years, was killed due to police firing on 10 January 2017 in Darrang district of Assam. He was a part of people gathered to protest custodial death of one Hasan Ali (37).

Reports say, the police picked up Mr Hasan Ali from his house in Attakari No. 2 village in Doula locality under Darrang district on 9 January night on suspicion of possessing illegal weapons[1]. He was hale and hearty at the time. After a few hours in police lock up, he died. It is believed that he succumbed to torture inflicted on him by police to extract confession and information. After getting information of his death in police custody, people of the locality held a protest rally and then gathered in front of Daula Police Station at around 11 am on 10 January. The place is around 100 km away from Guwahati. According to reports, police tried to disperse the people by charging them with batons and tear gas. However, after a while they opened fire and killed Mr.Mohidul Islam and injured several others including one Mr Gulam Mustafa (60 years, and Ms Gul Rehana (14 years). The injured are admitted in the Guwahati Madical College and Hosipital.[2]  A passersby named Akbar Ali (25years), who was a specially-abled person, also sustained serious injuries and was admitted in Mongoldoi Civil Hospital. In chaos that ensued after opening fire on people, three police personal were also injured. [3]

Hasan Ali is survived by his wife and five children.  [4]

Photo of late Mohidul Haque shared on Facebook by one Mr Hussain Ahmed Madani

Photo of late Mohidul Islam shared on Facebook by one Mr Hussain Ahmed Madani

From the reports in the media it is apparent that police violated the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, held from 27 August to 7 September 1990 as well as other international human rights standards in use of force by police personnel and thus the state is responsible for the death of Mr. Mohidul Islam. In fact, in recent times using disproportionate force against protesting people has become a normalized in Assam. On 30 June 2017 one person named Md.Yakub Ali was killed police firing while participating in a protest rally against illegitimate inclusion of people as “D-Voters”. College students in Margheritha were beaten up with police sticks on September 19, 2017. Another similar use of disproportionate force was happened against peaceful protesters in Golaghat on December 19, 2017. In all these cases the victims are mostly people belonging to minority communities.

Deaths in such disproportionate use of force clearly amount to extra-judicial executions. This highhandedness of police is used to repress any legitimate protests against government policies and actions. This is systematic violations of not only right to freedom of speech and expression, right to freedom of assembly and right to freedom of association, but also the right to life.

As to the custodial torture and death, it is rampantly practiced in Assam as a normal course of investigating and combating crimes. This is despite the fact that a confession made to a police officer is not admissible as a evidence in court of law. India singed the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment but yet to ratify. However, torture is prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other treatises to which India is a state party. Torture is also prohibited under the peremptory norms of international law.

Although India is yet to pass a specific legislation prohibiting torture absolutely, it is already prohibited by the Constitution, particularly Article 21.

Most importantly, de facto impunity provided by the state to accused law enforcement officials is most glaring. It defeats the rule of law.

In these both custodial death and the death, a magisterial inquiry under section 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 should have been no such inquiry has been ordered. No FIR was registered against the perpetrators in both the incidents

BHRPC filed a complaint at the National Human Rights Commission praying, inter alia, for:

  1. A fair and impartial investigation by an independent body apart from the ordered police inquiry may be directed and ensured.
  2. The two-different investigation should be ordered, one in the custodial death of Mr. Hasan Ali and another in the killing of Mr. Moidul Islam.
  3. The ex-gratia amount of five lakh seems insufficient for the support of a family of six persons counting the expenses for the study of five of the deceased’s children. So, at least 10 lakh rupees must be paid to the next of kin of both the deceased as compensation.
  4. Compensation should also be paid to all other person who sustained injuries on that day.
  5. Long term measures should be taken to curb the torture and custodial death as well as disproportionate use of force resulting in death and injury of peaceful protesters.

For further details, please contact:

Taniya Laskar, Secretary General, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC)

Silchar, Assam. Email: bhrpc.ne@gmail.com, Mobile:+919401616763


[1] 1killed, 8 hurt in Assam highway firing, The Telegraph, Jan 11,2018 retrieved on Jan 13,2018.

[2] Cops fire at mob protesting custody death in Assam, Times of India, Jan11,2018, retrieved on 13,2018.

[3] Ibid ,1.

[4]Govt. announces Rs. 5 lakhs for families of 2 men killed in Dhula. Indian Express, Jan 12th, 2018, retrieved on 13th Jan, 2018.

Assam NRC process drives citizens to death: Case of Hanif Khan

January 15, 2018

This new year a sad news has shaken the people of Barak Valley, the southern part of North East Indian state of Assam comprising of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts. Mr Hanif Khan, young man of about 37 years of age, committed suicide hours after first part of the draft of National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is in the process of being updated in Assam was published at midnight on 31 December 2017. The draft did not have his name as he feared. He was terrified that he lost his citizenship and as a result he would be sent to jail and would be subjected to torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment.  All the local vernacular media as well as a section of the national media reported the incident. There is an atmosphere of fear and terror.

After learning from the media reports, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) decided to visit the family and gather first hand information of the incident and accordingly a team led by Dr Prasenjit Biswas  and comprised of Mr Oliullah Laskar, Mr Raju Barbhuiya and Ms Taniya Laskar went to late Mr. Hanif Khan’s house on 6 January 2018. The team talked with the wife of the deceased, their children, other family members and neighbors and gathered information as follows:

Youngest son of late Hanif Khan, his mother in law and Raksha Khan (from left) by Taniya Laskar

Youngest son of late Hanif Khan, his mother in law and Raksha Khan (from left) by Taniya Laskar

Mr Hanif Khan was a man of about 37 years. Neighbors said he was law abiding citizen and very mild and gentle in his manners. He had in his family his wife Ms Ruksa Khan, their three sons and a foster daughter. He used to serve as a hired driver to a family.

The illegal immigration issue has been a long standing, vexatious and a burning political issue in Assam for several decades. In 1983 near about 3000 people were massacred in Nellie area of present day Morigaon district. In the following three decades the people of Assam have come across many shifts in the political as well as social paradigms. Recently after Supreme Court’s directions, almost all the political parties and pressure groups agreed upon a correct and error-free NRC. But the process followed by the government to publish the same made most of the common people concerned. The modalities prescribed by the authorities required the citizens to submit a prescribed application form with specified documents issued before 1971 showing their or their ancestors’ citizenship and having link with the said ancestors in case the applicants did not have the pre 1971 documents due to being born later.

Later the modalities got modified and a family tree was required to be submitted by the applicants. Family tree was a documentation of the extended family giving names of all cousins and their family members. The authorities again sought to change the rules and declared that certificate issued by Panchayat (local civic body) secretaries as earlier prescribed would not considered valid. However, the intervention of the Supreme Court retained the validity of such certificates. The admissibility of the pre 1971 documents submitted as proof of citizenship and/or link documents were made subject to the verification of the records of the issuing authorities. The authorities would also conduct physical verification of the applicant citizens and their families in many cases. This made the people, irrespective of ethnicity and religious identity, enraged. People came out in the street and held protests in many places all over the state. Questions were raised as to how the authorities got the power to ask the citizens to prove their citizenship by producing documents. In a petition the Supreme Court directed the authorities to exempt the “original inhabitants” of the state from this rigorous test of citizenship. But the term was nowhere defined and no criteria were given to determine the originality of inhabitation. This created deep apprehension of racial discrimination and arbitrary procedure of updation of NRC among the people of Barak valley.

There has always been a perception among the people of Barak valley that they have been being discriminated by the linguistically aggressive politics of Brahmaputra valley of the state. In 1960 a bill was passed by the Assam state legislature making the Assamese language as the official language of the entire state of Assam including Barak valley. People came out in protest in unprecedented large numbers. During those protests, 11 people were killed in Silchar Railway Station on 19 May 1961. The government was forced to amend the bill and to make Bengali the official language for Barak valley. Ever since the 11 martyrs have been revered by the people and the 19th May observed as Language Martyrs Day in Barak valley every year. This perception of discrimination has again been reinforced by the supply of a Bengali application form with clearly visible Assamese linguistic influence.

There is also another phenomenon known as D-voters. Citizens’ names are arbitrarily tagged with D (dubious or doubtful) in electoral rolls. Their cases are referred to the Foreigners’ Tribunal. In Tribunal such a person has to prove his citizenship. The burden of proof is put on the suspect. In many cases the Tribunals declare such people foreigners based on minor discrepancy and spelling errors in the names of ancestors or the suspect, as the case may be, in pre-1966 documents. Moreover, in many cases notice are not served properly and the tribunals pass decision ex parte. Most of the people don’t have wherewithal to take recourse to higher courts. After the declaration as a foreigner by the Tribunal, police pick the persons up and put them in detention camps which are in fact regular jails. In the absence of a deportation treaty with Bangladesh or any other supposed country of nationality of the persons concerned, they are kept in jails with other convicted criminals for indefinite period. The reports of such midnight knocks are regularly published in newspapers.

Though it is not yet clear what will be the policy for the people whose names are not included in final NRC, to people it is a question between whether they would be sent to the dreaded detention camps directly or through tribunals.

The resultant apprehension of discrimination and fear of losing citizenship that gripped the people of Barak valley also got to Mr Hanif Khan. He was in a constant fear of losing his citizenship. Moreover, in Assam, there are incessant reports in newspapers related to arrest and detention of person belonging to the lower income-strata by the police, after the Foreigners’ Tribunals declare them as the foreigner. Moreover, recently nearly 45000 police personals and 50 army troops were deployed in different “sensitive areas” of the state. This was in addition to fact that the area was declared as part of “disturbed area” under the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958. This draconian law empowers even the non-commissioned members of the armed forces to use force even to the extent of killing against anyone who is suspected to have breached or about to breach law and order. The Act also bars the court to take cognizance of any case against the armed forces without sanction from the government of India. All this went to create an environment of reign of terror and an eerie silence among the people. Mr Hanif Khan got more terrified that pushed him to take such an irreversible step to end his life.

Mr Hanif Khan submitted NRC application in due time. A copy of the application is with the BHRPC. The application appears to be according to the prescribed rules. He established his citizenship with the prescribed documents beyond doubt. He claimed the inclusion of his and his family members’ name in the  NRC on the basis of voters list of 1971. He had shown his linkage with his father late Mr. Raj Mohammad Khan and mother late Ms Sahera Khan through voter list of 1971. He submitted the school  certificates of the children to establish linkage with himself. His wife Ruksa Khan’s inclusion is claimed on the basis of linkage with her parents Mr. Rahim Khan and Afushi Bibi through the same voter list of 1971.

Ms Ruksa Khan told the BHRPC team that since the time the verification process of NRC began Mr Hanif Khan was in a constant fear of police torture in case he loses his citizenship. As day of the publication of the first of draft NRC neared, he often hid himself if any police van passed through the high way near his house. Three months ago when he was still in his job he went to a place around 15 kilometres away from his house known as Udharbond. There he found an army vehicle behind his vehicle and he started running instantly and came to his house crossing 15 kilometres of distance right on his foot. Learning this, his employer released him temporarily from his service. Since then he stayed in his house and watched televisions for news and read newspapers and otherwise also tried to collect information about the NRC updation process. He would go on asking everyone about the rules and modalities of NRC and consequences of non-inclusion of his name. He was very concerned about the minor discrepancy regarding his age in one of the voters-list. The neighbours tried to allay his fears by telling him what they knew. But that did not seem to have assured him. His wife tried to take him to the doctor but he didn’t agree. She then asked help of the neighbours and had planned to take him to the hospital forcibly if necessary. But before that he went on missing since 7 pm on Sunday, 31st December 2017 the day when the draft NRC was going to be published. Ms. Raksha Khan stated that at irst she thought he came to watch news on tv but when he did not come back after midnight she started to search for him and was unable to find him thourghout the night. She first saw the body around 6.50 am next morning. Police officials reached the spot around 8.30 am and sent the body to Silchar Medical College and Hospital for post-mortem.

According to Mr Toibur Rehman, one of the neighbour present there, Hanif Khan was perfectly healthy and a well- mannered man. And never had any serious quarrel with anyone. But since the NRC updation process began he appeared to be very worried about it. He also added that another person in the locality namely Mr. Nur Jamal Laskar was also showing similar symptoms and he was under treatment and in strict care of the neighbours. Mr Tapu Das one of the member of the local Panchayat also confirmed the same information. On being asked he said that the NRC process is totally carried on by the Seva Kendras and local Panchayat was never involved in it and he was never informed about the modalities or any other thing. The Panchayat only carries out the duty of issuing Gaon Panchayat Certificates to those who apply for it.

It is to be noted here that this is not the only incident of NRC related suicide. Before that on 6 December 2017, a man aged about 56 years named Mr Akram Uddin Barbhuiya of New Ramnagar area in Cachar district  ended his life by hanging himself on the ceiling of his own room. He was also reported to have been worried over inclusion of his name in the updated NRC. .According to his family members he also went on asking everyone about the procedure adopted in updating NRC and NRC related documents were laying in the floor of the room where he hanged himself. Even two days before that, on 3 December 2017, another man Mr Anwar Hussain, a resident of Bahmura, of Goalpara district also committed suicide for the same reaon under the similar circumstances. According to newspapers reports, Anwar Hussain’s daughter Jahabnara Khatun was served with a notice for verification of the documents submitted for inclusion of her name in theNRC. Following that notice he was much tensed and in a constant fear that his daughter’s citizenship could be taken away.

The BHRPC believes that Mr.Hanif Khan was a victim of a clumsy, erroneous and arbitrary procedure of updation of NRC adopted by the state couple with the xenophobic rhetoric of politicians including members of the council of ministers. The state machinery failed to take the citizens in confidence that they are not going to be discriminated or not going to be victims of any kind of arbitrariness.

BHRPC filed a complaint at the National Human Rights Commission praying for:

  1. An interim compensation to the next of kin of the deceased pending the disposal of the case.
  1. A compensation of Rs. 10 lakh  to the next of kin of the deceased.
  1. and for conducting a study of the procedure of updation of NRC in Assam and to make recommendations so that human rights of the people are not violated in the process.

For further details, please contact:

Taniya Laskar, Secretary General, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC)

Silchar, Assam. Email: bhrpc.ne@gmail.com, Mobile:+919401616763

Assam human rights defender Mr Sishir Dey abused, threatened and booked for comment over Rajasthan murder

December 13, 2017

After practising lawyer and human rights defender Mr Sishir Dey of Karimganj district in Assam (India) posted a short satirical comment on facebook on 8 December 2017 denouncing terrorism in the name of Hindu religion and violent ideas of Hindu political groups, he received abusive and intimidating comments and outright threats with physical assaults and murder. The comment was made in the context of video of a gruesome murder of a migrant labourer in Rajasthan state on 6 December 2017 that was circulating on internet where the perpetrator was seen boasting about the murder and claiming that he did it as a warning against inter-religious relationship. A complaint was also filed at the Karimganj Sadar police station against Mr Dey. Mr Dey is at risk of physical and mental harm from the supporters of concerned political groups as well as of harassment by the police.

Sishir Dey

Sishir Dey

Mr Sishir Day is a lawyer practising at the Karimganj district courts. He is a voluntary member of Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (Registered vide no. RS/CA/ 243/B/61 of 2002-03), a voluntary human rights organisation mainly documenting and making legal intervention in cases of violations in Assam. He is responsible for reporting violations of human rights in the district. He is also honorary secretary of the district committee of Assam Mojuri Sramik Union (Registered Vide No. 2287 under the Trade Union Act) a lobour rights defending organisation. He is an active member of Forum for Social Harmony, a platform  fromed collectively by different social activists and human rights defender groups  of south Assam to combat the religious violence and protect peaceful co-existence of communities in the area.

On 6 December 2017 a video was uploaded on internet by one Shambhulal Regar or Shambhu Bhawani, an inhabitant of Rajsamand district in Rajasthan state. In that video it was seen that he was killing a man by hacking him with a hammer like weapon in cold-blood. He then burnt that man pouring some kind of liquid that looked like petrol over the body of that half-dead man. He said that he murdered that person because that person had committed “Love Jihad”, a term used by the Hindhu religious extremists to denote inter-religious marriage or relationship as a form of Islamic terrorism. Later on, the murdered man was identified as Mr. Afrajul Haque (aged 48), a migrant labourer from Maldah in West-Bengal state. That video went viral and created mixed reactions among people. The progressive, humanitarian and human rights defender groups condemned this brutal act and denounced those political and religious groups that support and encourage violence in the name of religion, religious identity and religious sentiments. However, some other people also tried to rationalise and justify this kind of violence and killings on social media platforms and applauded Mr Regar by putting his picture as their profile picture. In that context, Mr Sishir Dey posted a public ‘status’ on his Facebook wall on 8 December 2017 stating in Bengali that “রামভক্ত বাদরের দল ও তাদের পাশবিক সঙ্ঘী ভাবাদর্শ তথা হিন্দু সন্ত্রাশবাদ নিপাত যাক।” which translates as “Down with the Ram devotee apes, their Sanghi brutal ideas and Hindu-terrorism”. After he made the post, abusive and threatening comments started to pour in the comment section of his post. Abuses and threats were also posted by some people in their own facebook pages. They accused him of hurting their religious sentiments and threatened him with assaults and murders. On 10 December a complaint was also filed against him in the  Karimganj Police Station by Mr. Debdulal Das and Mr. Pankaj Das, both identified themselves as the President and Vice-President of Bharatiya Janata Party Yuba Morcha, North Karimhanj Block Mondal, the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP is the political party which is now running governments both at Assam state and Union of India. However, till the time of writing this report it could not be confirmed if the complaint was registered by the police.

After the BJP formed governments both at union in 2014 and in Assam state in 2016, India has been witnessing a rise of religious fundamentalism and politically motivated violence. Before, the perpetrators of violence committed in the name of religions and violations of human rights by state agencies did not enjoy the kind of political support and impunity as they are getting now. Many Muslim youth were killed in the name of cow protection, and protection of women from alleged “love-jihad” and other excuses.  South Assam, also known as Barak valley, is a relatively peaceful area in the state. But now it is evident that to gain political advantage a group of people are trying to flare up communal violence in the valley. Recently a relatively new Kolkata (in West Bengal state) based outfit known as Hindhu Samhati called a conference on 2 December, 2017 at Silchar, the main town in Barak valley, where some of their leaders delivered communally provocative speeches and tried to polarise people in the name of religion. One of their guest speakers Mr. Debatanu Bashu openly asked his followers to go for mass killing of the Muslim people in the valley*. In this connection a first information report (FIR) was registered by police but no further actions were taken. In this background it appears that the abuse, threats and complaint against Mr Dey were an effort to create an environment of fear among the human rights defenders and progressive community workers.

Mr Dey is at risk of getting physically assaulted and even killed by the extremists who issued threats. He is also likely to be harassed by the police in connection with the complaint against him, though it does not attract any penal provisions. There are also concerns about safety and physical and mental wellbeing of his family and friends and other human rights defenders working in Assam.

————–

* News report can be seen at https://youtu.be/pUTRegymhKs

 

Situational analysis of child marriages in Assam

November 5, 2017

The issue of child marriage is one of the emerging concerns among the developing countries. According to the 2001 census there are 1.5 million girls, in India, under the age of 15 already married.

Ignorance, illiteracy, poor health, economic and social backwardness, social practices and traditions, and the prevalence of child marriage is only a reflection of dismal situation. The repercussions of child marriage, especially for girls, are extremely adverse. With early marriage comes early pregnancy, putting the lives of both the mother and baby at risk.

Activists from HRLN and Barak Human Rights Protection Committee did a fact finding in Cachar District in Assam and has investigated the incidence, causes and effects of child marriage in the area. The following report outlines the facts and fundamental rights violations women and girls face in rural Cachar.

It is said that the Government and State Government are making an effort to curb the evil practices of child marriage in the county. But the question is “Is government successful in curbing the age old practices of child marriage in India? The attached report will answer the question by analyzing the child marriage situation in Assam and it status of implementation of child marriage laws.

Download the report

Read more: http://www.hrln.org/hrln/reproductive-rights/reports/1780-situational-analysis-of-child-marriages-in-assam.html#ixzz4xa90Byy2

Assam government white paper on foreigners’ issue

October 26, 2017

Home and Political Department of Government of Assam published a WHITE PAPER ON FOREIGNERS’ ISSUE on 20 October, 2012. A copy with annexure is uploaded here since it was taken down from the government website for reasons better known to them.

White-Paper

Annexure-1

Annexure-1A

Annexure-1B

Annexure-1C

Annexure-2-17A-except-9-and-12

Annexure-9

Annexure-12

AN-EXPLANATORY-NOTE

Assam: How authorities failed to check rampant child trafficking in Silchar

July 27, 2017

IN THE LAST DECADE, Assam has emerged as a hub for child trafficking. According to the National Crime Record Bureau’s 2015 data, Assam recorded 1,317 cases of child trafficking that year—the highest for any state in the country. These cases accounted for 38 percent of the national figures. In November 2015, the Crime Investigation Department of Assam released a report stating “at least 4,754 children” in the state had gone missing since 2012. Of these, the report said, 2,753 were girls. The report also said that in 2014 alone, 129 girls were forced into prostitution by traffickers.

Representative photo taken from internet.

Representative photo taken from internet.

The Price Of Life: The trafficked children of the red-light area in Silchar

By SARITA SANTOSHINI

IN MID DECEMBER OF 2011, Agnes Kharshiing received information that a 16-year-old girl had run away from Radhamadhab Road—a red-light area in Assam’s Silchar town—and returned to her home in Shillong. Kharshiing, who had been working for women’s rights for about six years, decided to seek the girl out. She found her in a Shillong slum, where the survivor was living with one of her siblings. She told Kharshiing about the horrific three years she had spent in Silchar—she had been sexually exploited, and put through physical and mental torture by clients, brothel owners and police officers. She also told Kharshiing of how common the trafficking of minors was in Radhamadhab Road.

Soon after, Kharshiing resolved to organise a rescue mission to Radhamadhab Road, and asked the girl if she would accompany her. The survivor agreed. The red-light area—the biggest in the Northeast by most accounts—is run from a narrow lane inside a quieter part of Silchar’s main market, in the heart of the town. The buildings and shanties on each side of the lane, along with a few smaller houses along connected alleys, are mostly brothels. There are roughly 70 such places, each of which can have up to 20 girls. Every house has an owner known as a “madam,” or “malkin,” who procures girls from traffickers and pays off the local police. The houses are guarded by well-built women. Outside, girls sit on stools waiting for customers.

Kharshiing contacted Anil Kumar Jha, who was then an additional director general of police in Assam, to help organise the mission. Jha was reluctant at first. “He said, ‘Why do you want to go there? It’s a dangerous area,’” Kharshiing told me over the phone last August. “‘They will attack us with daus’”—large Assamese knives. But the activist was adamant and managed to persuade the officer to offer help. (When I called Jha last December, he recalled providing assistance for the rescue, but did not comment on Kharshiing’s recollection of his initial reaction.)

On 20 January 2012, after a month of planning, Kharshiing and the girl who had escaped Silchar accompanied about ten personnel of the Assam and Meghalaya police to Radhamadhab Road. During the raid, which lasted about two hours, they searched about three or four brothels, including the one from which the survivor had escaped. The girl even showed Kharshiing the room she once lived in. “It was dingy,” Kharshiing recalled. “There was a picture of Jesus there.” Most of the lane lay dark and deserted, and the raid was prolonged due to the fact that nobody could be found. One girl, who had been trafficked from Shillong as a minor and knew Kharshiing, ran out of one of the brothels to the rescuers as she heard the survivor’s voice. She had spent years in the same brothel that the survivor had escaped from. The girl later told Kharshiing that the brothel owner had instructed the girls to hide prior to the raid, but she had decided against it.

Kharshiing now believes that the brothel owners were tipped off by the local police and hid minors working for them. But the rescue team still managed to rescue four girls, including a nine-year-old child whose mother had left her behind when she fled the brothel.

IN THE LAST DECADE, Assam has emerged as a hub for child trafficking. According to the National Crime Record Bureau’s 2015 data, Assam recorded 1,317 cases of child trafficking that year—the highest for any state in the country. These cases accounted for 38 percent of the national figures. In November 2015, the Crime Investigation Department of Assam released a report stating “at least 4,754 children” in the state had gone missing since 2012. Of these, the report said, 2,753 were girls. The report also said that in 2014 alone, 129 girls were forced into prostitution by traffickers.

“Assam, mainly Guwahati, serves as a transit point not just for the Northeast but also for other neighbouring countries,” including those in Southeast Asia, Miguel Queah, a child-rights activist, told me. A report published by the NGO Population Council in 2014 counted Assam among the four states where minor girls trafficked from Bangladesh were typically initiated into commercial sexual exploitation.

Due to ethnic conflicts and annual floods, which displace millions of residents, as well as the state’s long history of economic underdevelopment and poverty, a large section of Assam’s population is extremely vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers often lure parents into handing over their children by promising to find them well-paying jobs. Even though 501 people were arrested in Assam for sex trafficking between 2010 and 2012, the state recorded a conviction rate of just 1 percent in these cases.

Silchar, located in the state’s southernmost corner, has emerged as the trafficking trade’s most prominent destination. With a population of roughly 136,000, most of which speaks Sylheti, Silchar is the second-largest urban area in Assam, after Guwahati, the capital, but many locals believe that it is not sufficiently developed to be considered a city yet. Large open drains line narrow roads, and the town is struggling to deal with the increasing number of people, houses and vehicles. The town’s connectivity with the rest of Assam has improved significantly in recent years. A broad-gauge rail track was constructed a few years ago. Silchar’s airport has been seeing more traffic, which has meant affordable airfare. The surrounding national highways, too, are being renovated. The border of Bangladesh is only about three hours by road, which has brought a large number of immigrants into the town over time. Silchar is also easily accessible from the states of Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura.

There are no definite statistics or data regarding the trafficking of women and children to the red-light area in Silchar, but the prevalence of the activity is common knowledge among the town’s authorities and residents. Local and regional newspapers often report on the rescue of minors from the red-light area, which is constantly referred to as a trafficking hub. Civil-society organisations, including those that have worked closely with sex workers here, admit that the area is unsafe to enter for anyone who is not a customer or someone the brothel owners are familiar with.

A 2012 report prepared by a team of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights put the number of children inside the red-light area at 100. The report also stressed that “in spite of high risk of visiting the area, the Commission went ahead with its task” of reviewing it. According to many survivors’ accounts, trafficked girls in Silchar are often sent to red-light areas in other states for brief periods of time, which indicates an interstate nexus between brothels. A police station lies about 100 metres away from Radhamadhab Road, but there has been a spate of allegations that the local police is in cahoots with brothel owners.

Over a period of eight months, starting in August 2016, I spoke to many local residents of Silchar, two minors who escaped the red-light area, and several human-rights activists, social workers and senior police officers in the Northeast. Having studied multiple cases of rescue in this time, I learnt that in spite of rampant trafficking of children to Silchar for commercial sexual exploitation, the authorities have failed miserably in preventing these crimes, and in rehabilitating the survivors who have escaped or been rescued. On many occasions, children and young women have found themselves back in the red-light area after they were rescued. This state of affairs indicts not only the law-enforcement agencies, who have been accused of delaying investigations and abetting trafficking, but also the judiciary and various levels of government.

ONE WEEKEND IN AUGUST last year, I spoke over the phone with the girl who escaped Silchar in 2011. She is now 22 years old. When I asked her about her life, she said, “Where do I start? There’s too much to say. It might reduce you to tears.”

At a very early age, she lost her mother to cancer, and then her father, a wage labourer, to a stomach disease. She lived with her five siblings—three brothers and two sisters—in a rented home in Shillong. She was the third child, and her elder brother was the only earning family member. “I never went to school because we were poor,” she said.

Before she even turned ten years old, she was trafficked to Mumbai. She spent a year in an ashram in Thane district’s Dongri area. At this time the girl was not harmed—probably because she was too young, she said. She was rescued by the Shillong police and brought back.

The next time, when she was 13 years old, a man she knew, who worked as a driver in Shillong, asked her if she was willing to work in a biscuit shop in another town in Meghalaya in return for money being sent to her family every month. She agreed. “He gave me Rs 500 the day he took me away, and I remember giving it to my brothers and sisters, telling them I was going away for work,” she told me. When she arrived in Radhamadhab Road, she realised she had been sold into a red-light area. When the brothel owner asked her to sleep with customers, she refused. “The owner started hitting me and said she had bought me with money,” she told me. “So, I said okay, now I’ll have to somehow manage and live here. I used to cry every day, thinking of my brothers and sisters.”

Recalling her time in the red-light area, she said there were ten, twenty customers every day. “Sometimes two at a time. … We had to do whatever the malkin asked us to do.” The malkin would sometimes burn her with cigarettes. “She did not give me a single rupee,” the survivor added. “Sometimes I would force the customers to pay me directly. But she would find out and hit me before snatching the money away.” On days when the brothel was tipped off about a rescue operation, the girls were hidden in boxes or sent to a nearby hospital, where they waited until the raid was over. The girl also said she had gotten pregnant, and that the brothel had forced her to abort the baby. “They killed my baby when I was eight months pregnant,” she said. “The doctor gave me some medicines and it was done. They have no emotions there. They just want you to work.”

She told me that some girls are manipulated into believing that this kind of work is fine, but that she never bought that argument. “If someone selected me, I would turn my face away and ask him to get lost,” she said. “But I had to eventually go to him or my malkin would hit me.”

It was three years before she attempted an escape. This was the only part from her short life that she recalled with some positivity. One night, she received a severe beating from her malkin. “I told her, ‘Hit me as much as you want, but if I live today, I will make sure none of the young girls live here,’” she said. She had become friends with a girl from Guwahati, also a minor, who had been sold into the red-light area five years earlier. Both decided to escape.

The next morning, she told me, while it was raining, she asked her madam’s daughter, who was keeping a watch on the girls, to buy puris for breakfast. “As soon as she left, my friend and I made a run for it,” she said. “Some men tried running after us, but we escaped.” They took an auto first and then a bus, where some locals drew attention to them, saying they were from the red-light area, but they remained undeterred. They found a newspaper shop at a taxi stand, and sought help from the shopkeeper. “We were so hungry and thirsty,” she said. “We were not even wearing slippers or dupattas.” The shopkeeper allowed them to hide in his shop for a couple of hours as the malkin’s son, along with women from the red-light area, searched the taxi stand for them. He gave them food, some cash and a mobile phone, and bought them tickets on a shared jeep going to Shillong. A few army men in the jeep promised to protect them, and paid for their meals on the way.

The girls reached Shillong at 1 am. The survivor told me she was unable to find her old home, and that she and the other the girl spent the night under a pear tree. Over the next few weeks, she found her siblings scattered across the town. The girls managed to find a rented home, and lived there for a while. About three months later, the girl from Shillong asked her friend to go back home to Guwahati.

THOUGH EVIDENCE, especially in the form of testimonies, points to the fact that trafficking in Silchar has been mounting, there is little acknowledgement of the problem from government and law-enforcement agencies, even as many police personnel have been implicated in the crime. I confronted several police officers over the lack of action on the front.

“We can’t go by people’s perceptions, we need facts and complaints,” Rakesh Roushan, the superintendent of police of Cachar district, in which Silchar is the largest urban area, told me when I met him in his office in March. “Whenever there’s a complaint or we receive information, we take action.”

I told him that many of the children who have escaped or have been rescued from the red-light area have testified to unchecked trafficking of minors, and that many still remain inside. “We do not have information that things are happening on a large scale,” Roushan told me. “We do not think trafficking is a major issue here.” Roushan, who had been recently posted in Silchar, said he was not “up-to-date about all the previous cases,” and that he would be eager to look into them.

I then met Sudhangshu Das, the deputy superintendent of police, who was distracted through most of out conversation, having simultaneous discussions with a police officer called Swapan Dey and another journalist. When I got a chance to speak, I reminded him of our telephonic conversations and told him I wanted to discuss trafficking in Silchar. Das was insistent that I go inside the red-light area to clear my false perceptions about trafficking and the involvement of the local police. Most other people I spoke to advised me against visiting the red-light area on my own, but a few hours after speaking to Das, I decided take a look at the area from the outside. The entrance lane had been barricaded with a bamboo fence. Nearby, there were a few paan shops and small dhabas that sold home-brewed liquor. A local who was accompanying me was uncomfortable throughout. He said the residents were all aware of trafficking and police involvement, but there was little anybody could do, and they had decided to quietly go about their lives.

“Even if we shut prostitution down, it will spread everywhere,” Das had told me in his office. “It has already spread around Silchar. Prostitution is such an old profession.” I asked him about the children in the red-light area and if the police officers around it knew what was happening. Dey interrupted to say that they didn’t go into the red-light area looking for children—suggesting that he thought child trafficking was not a problem there. The police did go in, he said, to arrest men who had committed petty crimes, such as theft.

Das had another theory about the presence of children in the brothels. “The red-light area has been there since I was born,” he told me. “We don’t disturb it because the children are of the sex workers and the owners. Of course they will have children there.” I told him again that the children rescued from there had been trafficked, and asked him about specific cases, but he refused to answer my questions until I had visited the red-light area. After the interview, I learnt from an old newspaper article, republished in a research book by the Silchar-based NGO Barak Valley Welfare Development Society, that Swapan Dey, who is now in charge of the Udharbond police station, was one of four police officers suspended in 1999 for returning a girl who escaped from the red-light area to the owners of the brothel to which she had been trafficked.

Next, I visited the Silchar office of Ujjawala—a scheme by the central government to prevent trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. The staff there told me that 28 girls had been rescued from the red-light area since the scheme’s inception in 2012. Twenty of these cases were registered under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, they recalled, and only two cases had resulted in convictions. Survivors and their families were afraid of long legal procedures and the dangers involved in filing cases against traffickers, the staff said. The office had not received funds from the government for about two years. Every time they called the ministry of women and child development, they told me, they were informed that their funds were being processed. Ujjawala is now struggling to carry out its functions in the area.

In a statement to the press, in 2012, the then deputy commissioner of Cachar district, Harendara Kumar Dev Mahanta, said that the government had decided to shut down the red-light area since “such illegal activities cannot be carried out in the heart of the town.” But it is clear that the district administration did not follow the statement up with any concrete action. The government has not carried out any detailed investigation, survey or eviction in the area yet.

The only government body to visit the area with some regularity has been the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights. I spoke to Runumi Gogoi, who was the chairperson of ASCPCR until May this year, at her Guwahati office in August 2016.

Recalling a visit she made to Radhamadhab Road in 2015, she said that district administrators accompanying her walked with their hands covering their noses because of how unhygienic the place was. Gogoi said she believed that all trafficked minors had been hidden prior to her visit. Only the madams, she said, reluctantly came forward to talk. However, she happened to see a girl who seemed to be about six to seven years old. After exchanging a few words with her and the woman who claimed to be her guardian, Gogoi had reason to believe that the child would be put to work in a few years. I asked her if she could not have rescued the girl on the basis of her suspicion. “If I rescue one girl, what will happen? I won’t be able to go back inside again,” Gogoi said. Following her visit, she sent a proposal to concerned departments regarding the rehabilitation of the children of sex workers. She did not receive a reply.

IN THE AFTERMATH of the 2012 raid, which the girl who escaped Silchar in 2011 went on, Kharshiing heard more damning information from those rescued. One of them told her that when she had once tried to escape along with another trafficked girl, two policemen captured them and returned them to the brothel in exchange for a hefty sum of money.

In February 2012, Kharshiing filed two separate complaints with the National Human Rights Commission, or NHRC, on behalf of the survivors. One alleged that “the girls have been trafficked and sexually exploited and the perpetrators were assisted by the police of the Silchar Sadar police station”—which lies next to the red-light area—and the second demanded compensation for the survivors. In response, the NHRC called for an investigation into the involvement of police officers, and directed the Assam government to compensate survivors under the Assam Survivor Compensation Scheme, which provides a sum of Rs 1 lakh to any survivor of human trafficking who requires rehabilitation.

In a letter addressed to Kharshiing, dated 28 January 2014, the NHRC noted that Cachar’s superintendent of police had put down in a statement to the commission that the complainants had been unable to identify any policemen involved with the accused traffickers. But the commission added that the statement lacked merit since the policemen had not been called in for an identification parade. The NHRC further emphasised that “there appears to be a deliberate attempt to cover up the involvement of the policemen in the trafficking business and to save the policemen against whom specific allegation was made.” The commission said that it had asked the superintendent of police to send a report on further investigation by 5 March 2014.

Yet it was only in November 2015 that the police called one of the rescued girls for an identification parade. “We reached early morning but were made to wait till evening in the same police station whose officers were involved in exploiting the girls,” Kharshiing said. The girls identified Mintu Seal, an assistant sub-inspector posted in a police station in Karimganj district, and Tapan Nath, a former home guard, from a group of 20 men; both of them had earlier worked at the Silchar Sadar police station. A month prior to the identification parade, during the celebration of the sixty-seventh Assam Police Day, Seal had been one of 44 officers awarded a commendation medal by the then chief minister, Tarun Gogoi. The 22-year-old who escaped Silchar in 2011 also recalled with disgust during our conversation in August that Nath had once come seeking her services, and that she had declined.

Kharshiing has not heard from the police in the 18 months since the identification parade. The commission continues to await further information from authorities. Rajveer Singh, who was the superintendent of police in Cachar district from August 2015 to October 2016, told me over the phone in August that a charge sheet has been filed against the two officers, and that action would be taken according to court orders.

The 22-year-old escapee, in the meantime, went on another rescue mission with police from Assam and Meghalaya in 2014. She was pregnant then. She remembered that, on this mission, a particular obese officer from Guwahati had chatted and smoked with brothel owners and even offered to help them if they bribed him. “I did not have a phone or I would have recorded it,” she said. “I told him that this is not good.” The officer, annoyed, threatened to leave her in the red-light area.

She told me that many of the malkins tried to attack her and abused her. “But they couldn’t do anything,” she said. “The two Shillong police who were with me were very nice.” She recalled one of the malkins telling her, “You come here again and again to pull out girls, and finish our business? We won’t let you. We’ll finish you instead.” She said that they were able to rescue a woman and her child on that mission. There were many other girls who wanted to escape and be rescued, she told me, but they had either been scared into silence, or hidden away.

EARLY LAST YEAR, a rescue mission to Radhamadhab Road conducted by two NGOs—the Nepal-based Maiti Nepal and the Meghalaya-based Impulse—exposed serious flaws in the system meant to provide justice and relief to the survivors.

On 2 January 2016, a few days after two investigative officers of Maiti Nepal mapped out the red-light area for the operation, members of Impulse and the local police conducted a raid that led to the rescue of 11 girls, including three minors. Hasina Kharbhih, the founder of Impulse, who was a part of the operation along with another woman colleague, told me that, ahead of the raid, she had been in touch directly with Assam’s director general of police, Mukesh Sahay. She sought assistance from the local police only 15 minutes prior to the raid to ensure there was no tip-off, and yet, when the rescue team entered the red-light area, they found the gates locked and most children hidden away. Information had reached the brothel owners anyway.

The three rescued minors, all of whom were from Nepal, were sent to a government-registered rehabilitation home in Guwahati. The activist Miguel Queah, who spoke to the other eight rescued women while they were in the State Home for Women and Children in Guwahati, told me that they asked one question repeatedly: there were so many children in the red-light area so “why didn’t you rescue them?” One of the rescued women, a 27-year-old who had three sons and one daughter, told Queah that there were “pimps” who sourced women from all over the country and sold them to brothel owners in Radhamadhab Road. She also said that the brothel owners treated the women poorly and kept all or most of the money that came from the clients. Most of the eight rescued women said that initially they had been trafficked to the area or had been forced into sex work, but, eventually, they started pursuing the work willingly due to a lack of other options.

However, a 25-year-old said that she had been made to perform sex work against her will. She had been trafficked roughly ten years earlier, while still a minor, when she was employed as a domestic helper in a Guwahati home. She now wanted to return to her own home. She told Queah about being confined in a small room in Radhamadhab Road from 10 pm to 8 am every day, and being physically abused when she refused to work. Another woman sought government assistance so that she could save herself from being forced back into the red-light area. Two of the eight women rescued were from Nepal, Queah said, and were especially worried and vulnerable because their families back home had been severely affected after the 2015 earthquake. They did not know what to return to. Queah prepared a detailed report with all information for the court proceedings to follow. He also included specific recommendations and mentioned the fact that one of the women was willing to give up sex work and instead assist in curbing the trafficking of minors from Nepal into Silchar, if she was assured state protection.

But things turned out differently in the state home. In April 2016, a local Bengali daily reported that the women had been tricked back into the red-light area. In April 2016, the 25-year-old who was trafficked ten years ago escaped again and went to the police station to lodge a complaint against her brothel owner and her husband. Speaking to a few reporters, she recounted that when they were in the state home in Guwahati, brothel owners in the red-light area of Silchar contacted them through a few men. They offered to help the women search for their respective addresses so they could all return home. In spite of being suspicious of the offer, she recalled in the article, it was so intolerable staying in the state home that the women eventually agreed. According to many survivors, the state home has been hostile to them—they have complained of misbehaviour by staff, unclean toilets and a lack of food.

The women signed the required papers, and the state home agreed to release them, as documented in a court order in Queah’s possession. None of the concerned NGOs were notified. In a subsequent court hearing, men from the red-light area brought in people who posed as guardians for the women, and the women played along, believing that it was all for their own good. After the court passed its judgment asking that the women be sent to their respective homes with the “guardians,” the women were taken back to the red-light area. After about two months, the 25-year-old who was first trafficked ten years earlier mustered up the courage to escape following a bout of torture by her brothel owner. The article reported that she was angry and upset with the NGOs, which she said had rescued them but abandoned them in a sorry state.

Kharbhih, who only found out about the release of the eight rescued women during a visit to Silchar a few days after the court order had been passed, went seeking names and contact details of custodians with whom they were sent, without success. She was exasperated that her NGO had not been informed of the court hearing and the survivors’ subsequent release, even though the organisation is a petitioner in the case.

“Our recommendations were very clear,” Queah told me last August. “For the 25-year-old, we provided her home address and the name of her father, asking that her family be located, and a probation officer or the district social welfare officer study the social background of the family through a home visit. She, and the other women, should have been restored only after these verifications were done.”

Along with Queah’s detailed report, Kharbhih’s NGO, Impulse, had also prepared and sent a psychological report to the state home, saying that the eight women required a few more months of counselling and time to recover in the rehabilitation centre. “We sent a local team to Silchar to trace back the girls, but in the absence of sufficient information, like phone numbers, it wasn’t easy,” she told me over the phone last September. “It wasn’t easy to enter the red-light area again either.”

When I asked DSP Sudhangshu Das if he was aware of the eight rescued women being tricked back into the red-light area, he said he had received no such information. SP Rakesh Roushan, on the other hand, told me that he had heard that the eight women had willingly returned to the red-light area, and cited the incident as an example of how sex work was more of a social and economic issue than a criminal one. He said he was not aware of the details of the girls being tricked.

The case gets murkier. In a letter dated 1 June 2016, addressed to the superintendent of police, crime investigation department, Queah lodged a First Information Report stating that two of the three Nepali minors who were rescued along with the eight women had revealed in their counselling sessions that “one or more men from the NGO, involved in the rescue mission, had sex with them.” Queah requested investigation and action against the perpetrators. The letter was forwarded to Cachar’s then superintendent of police, Rajveer Singh, who told me last August that he was aware of the incident and that a case had been registered in Silchar. To date, however, the police have not responded to Queah’s letter, or approached the two girls for their statements. “I’ve worked on trafficking cases in several districts across Assam, and the SPs have always been responsive and willing to coordinate,” Queah told me. “This is the only time when there has been no correspondence or action at all in months.”

After spending about a year in a government-registered rehabilitation home in Guwahati, the minors were sent back to their respective homes in Nepal in December 2016. Kharbhih said she has written to the anti-human-trafficking unit headquarters in Guwahati, asking them to provide a directive to the AHTU branch in Cachar to speed up the investigation and provide an update regarding its status. In Silchar, Poulomi Dutta Roy, the former director of Ujjawala, has been volunteering on the case on behalf of Impulse, but said she has received little cooperation from the police so far.

When I met a child-rights activist familiar with the case in a coffee shop in Guwahati last August, he told me that he did not expect any justice for the Nepali minors in the case. The three Nepali minors all belonged to remote parts of Nepal, he told me. Two of them—one of whom worked in the red-light area in Silchar for two months and another for a year—had been trafficked by an agent who promised them well-paying jobs, while the third minor had been trafficked by a relative about five years earlier, when she was 12 years old. “They were so scared,” the activist told me. “They did not even reveal their real names for a long time. They couldn’t trust anyone.” In the counselling session, according to the activist, they recalled being beaten, watching others get beaten, and being locked up in small rooms time and again. If they ever tried to run away, the police would pick them up, sexually abuse them and drop them back at the brothel. They had been sent to other red-light areas as well, including one in Delhi for a brief period of time. “Most rescued girls recount similar forms of exploitation,” the activist told me. “But who’s listening?”

Since the rescue of the 11 girls in January last year, a staffer under the Ujjawala project in Silchar told me, the brothel owners have further restricted entry into the area to control the flow of information to outsiders. Queah and Kharbhih are adamant that a Public Interest Litigation be filed in the courts, as they think there is enough evidence to shut the brothels down, and rescue and rehabilitate all those trafficked. But even as this quest for serious action against the red-light area continues, the sexual exploitation of trafficked women seems to be spreading beyond the red-light area. According to Paulami Dutta Roy, there are now several trafficking networks in seemingly quiet Silchar, and prostitution is being carried out not just in the red-light area but also in rented flats and homes, where clients are directed through social media.

ON A COLD, GLOOMY MORNING this March, I met the girl who escaped Silchar in 2011 in a one-room shanty she lives in with her three children. We talked sitting on a wooden single bed, while her children fought and played around us. Before I met her, I had spoken to her twice on the phone last year, once in August and then in December. She had sounded upbeat during both of those conversations. But this time, she seemed tired and troubled. Her life since her escape had been fraught with struggle, and she repeated several times that the government should have compensated her with a house instead of with money.

She told me that one of her friends who had escaped had returned to the red-light area and that another had sold her own child to earn some money. “This other girl, I had rescued her in 2012, she sells drugs now,” she said. “She has such a good life now, she even owns a car. She asked me to do so as well, but I refused out of respect for Agnes. I told her that I don’t want to earn money by ruining someone’s life.”

She sustains herself on the income of her younger sister, who works as a nurse in a missionary home. She said she faces discrimination from local authorities because of her past. As a result, she has no voter card or ration card to help her avail of government subsidies and schemes. She tried building a house with the money given to her by the government, but said she was cheated, as the land did not belong to the person who sold it to her. She was forced to vacate the house. “What work will I look for?” she asked. “Who will give me work when I have three kids? If they had given me a house, I could live there peacefully and also open a shop or something.”

Most survivors face similar problems. In Ujjawala’s shelter home in Silchar, I met a 17-year-old who was trafficked to the red-light area when she was about 11 years old. A few weeks after she was taken in, her brothel owner forced her to take pills that induced menstruation, and put her to work soon after. She, too, recounted instances of torture. “My owner mostly kicked me here,” she said, pointing towards her pelvic region.

She also talked of being locked up, and of police officers who acted as informants for the brothel owners. “Some days we would not get time to eat, there were so many men coming in,” she said. “There would be more than five customers every day, all night and sometimes even during the day. We wouldn’t get much time to sleep. We even had to wake up from sleep and take customers sometimes.”

After spending about four years in the red-light area, she escaped to Guwahati. She spent a few months in a state home for children, and a few more in the Centre for Development Initiatives. There she was trained to be a domestic helper and provided with employment in a household.

But she fled again and returned to Silchar. This time, the brothel owner kept her in her own house and told her that she would put her back to work when the situation was better and the officer-in-charge at the Silchar Sadar police station changed. In the meanwhile, the owner tried to sell her into the brothels of Sonagachi in Kolkata, but, following X-ray tests (used to determine a person’s approximate age), they refused to accept a minor. “I had come back with a different motive, to fight and take away money from her,” she told me. “But I never succeeded in doing this.” In November, she fled from the brothel owner’s house and was directed to the Ujjawala home by the police.

When I met her, the 17-year-old seemed visibly distressed and confused. Having lost her parents, she only recalled the address of an uncle who was refusing to take her home. “I am not educated, but I hope I can find some kind of work. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll commit suicide,” she said, weeping silently.

The 22-year-old who escaped Silchar in 2011, too, said that she feels helpless to the point that she constantly considers returning to the red-light area. She has been forcibly evicted from houses multiple times in the past few years. “Actually, I was better off there,” she said. “Even if there was sadness, there were no hassles like this. But after coming back here, I have faced a lot of difficulty. … There, at least we got food to eat and a bed to sleep on. At least we didn’t have to keep listening to someone say ‘Empty the house now and leave.’”

A few minutes before we ended the conversation, while telling me how tired and angry she was, she trailed off and mentioned that Kharshiing had suggested that they go into Radhamadhab Road for a rescue again. “I want to go,” she said, fiercely. “Why should they keep children there?”

Sarita Santoshini is an independent journalist based in Assam, reporting on human rights, development and gender issues.

This report was first published in Caravan Magazine on 1 July 2017 and  is available at http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/trafficked-children-silchar-red-light-area . The report is reproduced here for wider dissemination.

In the name of protecting one-horn rhinoceros, forest guards in Kaziranga national park in Assam are allegedly killing villagers

February 2, 2016

Report by Danish Raza as published in the Hindustan Times

Ajit Doley, a farmer in Bhokot Sapori village, one of more than 100 fringe hamlets around Assam’s Kaziranga National Park (KNP), was uncomfortable about his son Horen’s friendship with Saleem Ahmed, ranger of the park’s Eastern Agaratoli range.

On June 25, 2014, two days after Horen, an LIC agent and a student at a college in Bokakhat, went missing, his father went to Bokakhat police station to lodge a complaint. He knew that one of Horen’s friends had last seen him with Ahmed in Bokakhat town. At the station, the police showed Ajit pictures of Horen’s corpse. A tall, lean man with sharp features, Ajit gasps in anger and sorrow as he recounts the events. He believes Horen’s friendship with the ranger cost him his life.

2

Assam, India – Jan 11, 2016: Raino at Bagori village Rang in Assam, India, and January 11, 2016. (Photo by Arun Sharma / Hindustan Times)

Assam’s Kazrianga National Park is famous for one- horn rhinoceros. In addition to being a tourist attraction, it is continuously on the radar of poachers who kill the rhinos for the horn which fetches $300,000 per kilogram in the international market. The horn is considered to be one of the most expensive contraband items in the world.

Records identify Horen (20) as a poacher killed by forest guards during an encounter in the Park. Ahmed was the complainant in the FIR lodged after the encounter. Horen’s body lay unidentified until his family claimed it. According to the family and their neighbours, the encounter was staged. “How come his dead body remained unidentified and we got no intimation regarding his death despite the fact that Ahmed knew him?” Ajit asks.

Horen’s killing follows the pattern of killings in the Park situated on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra river at the foot of the Mikir-Karbi Anglong hills: no eyewitnesses; strange circumstances; no further investigation.

The KNP is home to the world’s largest population of the endangered one horned rhinoceros that is under intense attack from poachers. The poachers are capitalising on the surge in the demand for rhino horn in Vietnam and China, where it is a status symbol and is also used in medicine. Sadly, it seems that the pressure to show results in the fight against poachers is turning KNP into a human graveyard with forest guards and state police often killing villagers instead of the real poachers.

In 2014, the same year that Horen was killed, the Park witnessed more than 20 fatal shootings at the hands of forest department staff. Many of those who died were locals who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. “Forest staff often take the help of villagers in menial jobs. Others enter the park for forest wood. And still others are kidnapped by members of vigilante groups who are under constant pressure from the forest department to give them leads on poachers,” said Jayanto Kumar Goswami, a lawyer and an activist based in Assam’s Golaghat district.

BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS

In their zeal, is the forest department and state police conducting extra judicial killings of local villagers, who may or may not have a criminal background?

According to government records, 134 rhinos have been killed in KNP between 2005 and 2015 for the horn, worth US $ 300,000 per kilogram, touted as one of the most expensive contraband items on earth. Sixty- eight poachers were shown shot dead in encounters in the Park in the same time period. However, circumstances of many of these shootings analysed alongside related legal documents, interviews with forest officials, local reporters and testimonies of families indicate that not all of them were poachers.

Various reports have documented that the Park is under- staffed and has been facing a fund crunch. Almost 20 per cent of positions are vacant in the Park and seven per cent of the deployed staff strength is physically incapable of performing protection duties, according to a report prepared by Park director M K Yadava

Nowhere is the problem more conspicuous than in the admission of the Park authorities that in majority of extra judicial killings in Kaziranga, gang leaders are able to escape and locals become casualties. “They lead from the front. Poachers are based in Nagaland and Manipur need their help as they are well versed with routes. They work as fixers, guides and porters,” said Amrit Bhuyan, Second Commanding Officer with the Assam Forest Protection Force, part of the Anti- Rhino Poaching Task Force.

A P Rout, Additional Director General of Police, Assam, and in-charge of the Task Force said, “Poachers are not from here except local guys, helpers and may be in stray case, a local shooter. Mostly they are facilitators.”

It is just like a border situation. It is comparable to the army on the border. When my man is standing in the 4 degree Celsius right in the dark when you cannot see one metre..there is a rhino lurking, riger lurking..i don’t question. Conservation is pretty tough.

– MK Yadava, Director Kaziranga National Park

report submitted by KNP Director M K Yadava to Gauhati High Court in May 2014 noted that the lower rung teams only get assaulted within the park boundaries, leaving the main organisers of the crime free to regroup, have new recruits, provide training, get new arms and make another attempt at poaching.

Yet, locals many locals such as Doley, Rahul Kutum and Gaoburha Kealing regularly get killed.

Consider the facts confirmed to HT by the forest department and state police, which raise questions about the authenticity of encounters in KNP:

Park authorities and state police could not provide HT with a list of ‘veteran’ or ‘most wanted’ poachers killed in these encounters.

While one would assume that there would be casualties on both the sides, no forest department staff has died in these encounters, confirmed the office of KNP’s divisional forest officer.

Contrary to popular perception that poachers are armed with sophisticated weapons, only 38 rounds of AK series weapons were seized during encounters in last 10 years.

There are documented cases of families of deceased getting FIRs lodged against forest staffers, a July 2010 notification says that prior sanction of the state government is required to prosecute forest officers.

Records show that in majority of cases, post encounter procedure such as filing of charge sheets, reporting these incidents within 48 hours to the NHRC and holding magisterial inquiries within three months are not adhered to by the encountering parties, in contravention of law. Out of 74 rhino poaching cases registered between 2002 and 2012, charge-sheets were filed only in eight cases, noted a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

GREY AREAS

The situation in Kaziranga is rich in ironies. It is tempting to believe that if the forest department is serious about law enforcement, the prosecution of offenders facing charges under the Wildlife Act must result in conviction. But records show that encounter killings in Kaziranga outnumbered convictions seventy times in the last five years.

An Assam Forest Protection Force personnel, part of Anti Rhino Protection Task Force, camping in Jakhalabandha. Since the formation of the Task Force in mid- 2014, the forest department, Assam Forest Protection Force and state police have been jointly involved in anti- poaching operations.

Yadava’s report attribute abysmal conviction rate to lack of exchange of information amongst enforcement agencies with regards to wildlife criminals. “It has often been seen that a poacher or a linkman has been arrested but multiple cases pending against them are not known to the arresting agency. Therefore bail is obtained easily as “first timer” who then gets back to doing the same business,” noted the report. “They could not prosecute even a single person for entering the park in an unauthorized manner. At the same time, they killed so many people alleging they were people who entered at night time with the purpose of poaching. Two developments do not match,” said Jayanto Goswami.

Paucity of resources to run the Park and lack of funds to gather intelligence, when seen with incessant fatal shootings offer another contrast. Twenty seven poachers were shown shot dead in 2014, up from seven in 2005, despite the fact that the staff is ill equipped and lacks modern gadgets (officials narrated many instances to this reporter when their .303 rifles or that of their colleagues could not fire); 20 per cent of positions are vacant in the Park; and seven per cent of the deployed staff strength is physically incapable of performing protection duties.

THE JUSTIFICATION

So what exactly is happening in Kaziranga? The most likely scenario seems to be that the pressure on Park authorities has led them to be trigger-happy, killing trespassers and individuals found inside the park at night.

“If there is a failure on our part, we earn flak from international quarters. This is not Assam specific issue,” said ranger Saleem Ahmed, ranger, Ahmed admitted that there have been cases of informers misleading his staff because of personal rivalry. In such cases, at the most they would summon the person. “But it cannot lead to encounter because an innocent person never goes inside the Park,” he said.

Echoed A.P. Rout,“It is a reserved sanctuary. The fellow is not supposed to be there. Night time if somebody is coming, whether he is a wood cutter or poacher, how does someone know?” he said.

M K Yadava said given that almost 70 per cent of people in the fringe villages fall in Below Poverty Line category, there was a need to sensitise them not to help wildlife traders for easy money. “Conservation efforts cannot succeed unless these people are made stakeholders,” said Yadava.

At the same time, he appeared to be proud of the way his forest staff was working in hostile conditions. Yadava maintained that not a single innocent person has been killed during encounters. “They are constantly fighting two enemies viz poachers and wild animals. They are on duty when it is pitch dark and the temperature is freezing. I cannot question their actions. And mind you, poachers do not wear special dresses,” he said.

MURDER MOST FOUL?

“Oh, we know his son, why did they have to kill him,” cops at Jakhalabandha police station in Assam’s Nagaon district murmured as Kachu Kealing collected the dead body of his 25 year old son Gaonburha Kealing on the night of December 26, 2013. Villagers claimed that same evening, some farmers saw him on his way to the forest in search of his cattle. Earlier that day, Gaoubhura worked in the field with his father and cooked a meal. When he left home around 10 am and did not return, Kachochan reached the Sikuni Bagh forest camp- where suspected poachers are routinely detained- to be informed that he may check the dead body which arrived at the Jakhalabanda police station hours ago.

4

Assam, India – Jan 06, 2016: Name: Father of Gaonbura Killing his residence at killing Village, Jakhlabandha in Assam, India, and January 6, 2016. (Photo by Arun Sharma / Hindustan Times)

Photos of Gaonbhura’s dead body, copies of which are with HT, show it riddled with three bullets and sickle wounds jabbed around the abdomen, waist and behind his back.

According to his family and neighbors, Gaonbhura was stunted and was least likely to be involved in any activity related to rhino horn trade.

Kachu Singh Kealing, father of Gaoburha Kealing, a native of Rangaloo Kealing village in Assam’s Nagaon district who got killed during an encounter inside Kaziranga National Park in December 2013. Although the killing created an uproar putting the forest department in a tight spot, it did not amount much.

Goubhura’s killing triggered a furious uproar in the area. Various tribal groups and students’ bodies including the All Assam Tribal Sangha, an umbrella body of different tribal organisations held a roadblock protesting the killing.

Ditumoni Gogoi, secretary, CPI (M-L) of Kaliabor sub division, one of the participants at the protest said, “Many such killings were happening in and around Nagaon at that point of time. In most of the cases, protests remain specific to the village of the deceased. But this one became a rallying point and people of nearby villages also took to streets in solidarity with the family.”

It is a reserved sanctuary. The fellow is not supposed to be there. Night time somebody coming…he is a wood cutter or poacher…how does someone know.

– AP Rout, Additional DGP (STF), Asssam

The Additional Deputy Commissioner of Kaliabor sub division in Nagaon ordered an inquiry and action against officials if found guilty. The Circle Officer provided the family with a sum of Rs 10,000 to perform Gaonbhura’s last rites. The Sub Divisional Officer wrote to the DFO requesting him to look into the possibility of giving job to one of the family members on compassionate grounds.

In response to a complaint filed to the Assam State Human Rights Commission (AHRC) by the family, a fact finding team led by the principle chief conservator of forests, Assam, declared that Gaonbhura was a poacher and was killed by forest guard on duty. But the family claims that the Commission’s fact finding team never consulted or involved them or anyone known to Gaonbhura in the entire enquiry depriving them of their right to a fair hearing.

Forest director told HT that as per his information, Gaonbhura was not innocent but his department was trying to help the family on compassionate grounds.

THE POACHER WHO WAS NOT

On June 1, 2010, almost all local dailies in Assam carried on front pages the the news of Rahul Kutum’s killing and the resulting protests. “Hundreds of local people of Silveta area under Bokakhat subdivision of Golaghat district have rocked the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) today in protest against the killing of an innocent youth- Rahul Kutum, by the Kaziranga forest guards, making him a poacher fraudulently,” published The Sentinel.

5

Assam, India – Jan 11, 2016: Name: Family Members of Rahul Kutum at his residence at Silbheta Village, Golaghat, in Assam, India, and January 11, 2016. (Photo by Arun Sharma / Hindustan Times)

Kutum, a minor, along with three others were shot dead in the Bogpur area of the national park on May 21, 2010. Pictures circulated to media (copies with HT) and Kutum’s post mortem report show his dead body carrying unnatural injury marks. “There were marks indicating that both his hands were tied with rope like material,” said Dhrubajyoti Saha, local reporter with Asomiya Pratidin, who covered the encounter. “It is difficult for me to vouch for anyone’s innocence. Involvement of villagers in wildlife trade cannot be ruled out, but killing people like this cannot be a solution,” he added.

Bhakto Bahadur Thapa, uncle of Rahul Kutum, a minor who was shot dead inside the Kaziranga National Park in May 2010, showing documents related to Kutum’s case. The case was widely reported in local media and many officials from the forest department were named in the FIR lodged by Kutum’s family.

Villagers of Silveta gave a memorandum to Golaghat Deputy Commissioner demanding a fair inquiry into the incident.

Kutum’s uncle Bhakto Bahadur Thapa told HT that an individual named Hariprasad Doley of Agoratoli area had helped the KNP officials to plan the killing. After a complaint was lodged by Kutum’s family, the Bokakhat police arrested Doley under section 302. The FIR also named then DFO and one forester Nazrul Islam. Doley got bail after spending three months in prison.

No action was taken against the forest officials. The incident was reported to AHRC but the case file was closed in February 2012.

The report is reproduced from the Hindustan Times where it carries more pictures and 3 valuable charts showing a comparison between the number of Rhinos and Poachers killed from 2005 to 2015,  Rhino population and Rhino poaching over the years.