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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.

The sufferings and satisfaction of the forgotten people of the neglected part of Assam called Barak valley

January 23, 2016

Prasenjit Biswas

SilcharSocial psychologists argue that they have two basic functions — to alter the perception of being “happy” as “satisfied” and to turn the notion of “bad” into “good”. These changes, needless to say, drive individuals and collectives towards believing that the wish is fulfilled. In the case of Assam’s Barak Valley, such is the level of satisfaction at the running, at long last, of the slow-moving passenger train over the hill tracts of the Borail range, from Silchar to Lumding and then to Guwahati. After a wait of nearly two decades, the metre gauge conversion work was completed and the first goods train flagged off on 21 November. Regular passenger services started two weeks ago. Already there is a clamour for more daily services.

Located disadvantageously, the Barak Valley until 1948 was part of erstwhile Sylhet district of Assam. It faced immense difficulty in keeping itself connected. Deliberately neglected, isolated and shabbily represented by an incompetent selfseeking political class, the valley kept treading a lonely path of building up a few institutions.

The broad gauge connection now can improve not just the supply but the demand side of the economy as well. So far this has been inelastic and rigid in the absence of supply chains. Both in terms of transport of goods and services and reduced internal and external transaction, business is bound to look up now. In other words, the broad gauge, as an infrastructural investment by the government, is a right step in the direction of improving both supply and demand sides of Barak Valley’s existing Robinson Crusoe economy.

When economy suffered, a set of traders, allegedly in nexus with officials, funders, suppliers and contractors, kept changing goalposts and causing inconvenience to the aam jantawith regard to simple travel between Silchar and Guwahati. Landlocked Tripura, Mizoram and parts of Manipur were made to suffer because Barak Valley is their only outlet to the outside world. They had to pay higher prices for food and other essential items.

The cost of fuel, education, healthcare and any dream of building a home and marrying off daughters and sisters or going on a pilgrimage or a tour, all very basic to human dignity, eluded the ordinary valley-dwellers. To add insult to injury, came the rhetoric of being called a “pariah in Axom” or a “Bong from Barak”. The residents resisted unto the last this onslaught on culture and language of Barak Valley.

Those returning home from colleges and universities, some often bruised for life and even eliminated for being toppers, suffer middle- class pangs. For manual labourers, returning home without being paid, disappearing without the government being in the least concerned, harassed for being Muslim or Bengali at checkpoints on the borders of Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram, added more strings to this saga of pain and torture. Ironically, Mizoram opposes broad gauge as it feels it is a vehicle of access for those hapless Vais, as outsiders are known in the state.

Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

Amidst all this, quiet flows the Barak. The bus lobby made money, charging and extorting from students, labourers and other travellers. Sending goods became officially and unofficially duty-bearing, as one was forced to pay sales tax, service tax, transport tax, gate tax, goonda tax and all other forms of extortion. Any import to Barak Valley likewise attracted extra payments. At the end of the spectrum, the poor buyer and low-income lot were pushed to slow starvation, while those who enjoyed the spoils led a five- star life. Their property, their buildings crossed permissible limits and banks started obliging them.

On the flip side, since the 1980s, coins and small change were scarce among rickshawpullers, daily wage earners and others and they are virtually left without means. With the coming of the broad gauge all this is bound to change. The traders of Crusoe’s economy have started taking joyrides in the new trains, apparently to ascertain how the new line would affect their business and income. On the inaugural run of the train these traders were said to have mixed with passengers to enjoy the ride. The joy lies in reduced transaction cost for them. This year even during the worst floods the price of onions did not rise beyond Rs 20. They need to rework their strategy of profiteering.

Certainly cement, iron rods, bricks and other building materials, clothes and many such monopoly items could still be an abundant source of black and white profit.

How can a passenger train and a few goods trains ensure great revolutionary transformation? Here comes the rope-trick of turning “bad” into “good”. Railway tunnel numbers seven to 12, falling on the diverted track between Harangajao and Maibong, deviate at 35 degrees from the erstwhile alignment on tectonically-shifting ground and the rainy season serves to relay the conditions of existence of ordinary people in the predictable event of landslides. Nevertheless, the broad-gauge is here and so far so good. Public sentiment prevents people from even speaking of such a possibility

The same company that could not make part of Mahasadak (East-West corridor) between Haflong and Jinam Valley, had been seemingly the main contractor to build tunnel numbers 10, 11 and 12. These tunnels are areas of concern. Here comes the geological reality of Barak Valley being surrounded by hills on three sides. These hills are no doubt more vulnerable, homes to extortionists, and yet they maintain a similar condition of life, the only difference being the Sixth Schedule and the Inner Line Permit that separates the people of Barak Valley from any comparable economic and social support. The valley, therefore, is pushed to the bottom when it comes to business, thanks to both inside masterminds and outside adversaries.

One of the major sources of sustenance of the valley is its 100-odd tea gardens. Starvation deaths, low wages, inadequate rations, no significant healthcare and education, poor maternal health, lack of water and sanitation and a producers’ market of depressed buyers have a multiplier effect in incidences of voodoo, witchhunts and day-night gambling. A brothel at the heart of Silchar since World War II remains a gulag of the trafficked. Recent beef politics, sporadic polarisation games, grabbing agricultural land and a massive culture of speed money, starting from death certificates to electricity connections, logging, violation of the Conservation Act in letter and spirit — all this table talk could be listened to in idle office gossip off a winter evening. Sewage remains chocked , there is no solid waste processing and blocked drains and natural water courses show that the rich are actually very poor.

Being a valley amidst hills, it is like a long forsaken brother whose sisters have forgotten it. The condition of the Shillong-Silchar National Highway (No 6), the entry point to the valley, is in a state of Harappan ruin. One is reminded of how a powerful Central minister inaugurated a tunnel to prevent landslides at Sonapur, while another state minister ensured that the National Highway is no longer maintained by the Border Road Task Force. This single act of removing the BRTF turned the eminent domain into a hunting field of poor roadwork to be dilapidated in no time for the next bonanza. The feast is on at NH 6 and the ordinary people’s route to entry and exit is in the doldrums with of course the hope of broad gauge not betraying the happiness shown by the people. The feast is on through multiple checkgates at Digarkhal and other places with impunity.

An iconic Left member of Parliament, Nurul Huda, who represented Silchar, quietly sold off his home when he could no longer bear with this leaking pipe phenomenon and now that he is no more, people of the valley are left with very little by way of a visionary roadmap. Indeed, the valley has no voice anywhere. This is the social pain that drives the ironically happy people of the valley.

The piece has been first published in the Statesman under the heading of The tragedy of a valley amidst hills.

Dr Prasenjit Biswas is professor of philosophy at North Eastern Hill University, Shillong and Vice Chairman of Barak Human Rights Protection Committee.

কীটনাশক থায়োমেট-এর অপব্যবহারে বিকলাঙ্গ শিশু জন্মাচ্ছে কাছাড়ের ভুবন ভ্যালি চা বাগানে

November 21, 2015

ভুবন ভ্যালি বাগান কর্তৃপক্ষ খেলছে এই ভয়ানক মৃত্যুর খেলা। যার পার্শ্ব প্রতিক্রিয়া স্বরূপই বাগানে ব্যাধিগ্রস্ত শিশু জন্মাচ্ছে বলে শ্রমিকদের সন্দেহ।  লিখেছেন তানিয়া লস্কর ও প্রশান্ত কুমার রায়


Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

কাছাড় জেলার দক্ষিণ প্রান্তের একটি শান্ত স্নিগ্ধ চা বাগান ভুবন ভ্যালি। গত ২০১২ সালে হঠাৎ করে শিরোনামে উঠে আসে এই আপাত অখ্যাত বাগানটি। সংবাদ মতে বাগানটি হঠাৎ করে লক আউট হয়ে যাওয়ার ফলে চা শ্রমিকদের মধ্যে অভাব অনটন বাড়ছে এবং অনাহারে মৃত্যুর ঘটনাও ঘটছে। বেসরকারি সংস্থা বরাক হিউমেন রাইটস কমিটির রিপোর্ট মতে সে বছর অনাহারে এবং এর ফলে উদ্ভুত রোগের ফলে মারা যায় প্রায় ৩০ জন মানুষ। পরে সংস্থার তৎপরতায় ভারতীয় মানবাধিকার কমিশনের হস্তক্ষেপে প্রায় ১৩ জন লোক ক্ষতিপূরণ লাভ করে। এবছর ফের আরেকবার বাগান শ্রমিকদের তাড়া করেছে ক্ষুধা আর অপুষ্টির ভূত। ইতিমধ্যে প্রায় ৪ জন লোক মারা গেছে এবং হাসপাতালে ভর্তি হয়েছে আরো পাঁচজন। এছাড়াও প্রতিদিন বহু লোক নতুন করে অসুস্থ হয়ে পড়ছে।

বাগান শ্রমিকদের মতে গত অক্টোবর মাসের প্রথম সপ্তাহ থেকে হঠাৎ করে বাগান ম্যানেজার ওমপ্রকাশ তিওয়ারিকে পাওয়া যাচ্ছিল না। দুর্গাপুজোর সময় বাগানে বোনাস তলব কিছুই হয়নি। এমনকি শ্রমিকদের বকেয়া পাওনাও অনেক জমেছে।

এমতাবস্থায় শ্রমিকরা মালিকের ওপর আর ভরসা রাখতে পারছেন না। যদিও খবরটি সংবাদপত্রে প্রকাশিত হওয়ার পর চা মজদুর ইউনিয়নের নেতারা, জেলা প্রশাসনের প্রতিনিধিবর্গ তথা রাজনৈতিক নেতারা বাগানে ছুটে গেছেন এবং জেলা প্রশাসনের উদ্যোগে রাষ্ট্রীয় গ্রাম সরোজগার যোজনার অধীনে কাজ শুরু হয়েছে। কিন্তু চেংজুর ডিবিশন এর শ্রমিকদের অভিযোগ, তাদের এলাকায় কাজটি এস্কেলেটর জাতীয় মেশিন লাগিয়ে করানো হচ্ছে এবং শ্রমিকরা কাজ পাচ্ছেন না। এছাড়া বাগান পরিদর্শনে গিয়ে কর্তৃপক্ষের আরো একটি অন্যায় আচরণ নজরে পড়ে। দেখা যায়, বাগানে শারীরিক তথা মানসিক ব্যাধিগ্রস্ত লোকের সংখ্যা প্রচুর।

শ্রমিকদের জিজ্ঞাসাবাদ করলে তারা জানান, বাগান কর্তৃপক্ষ কীটনাশক হিসেবে ‘থায়োমেট’ নামে এক ওষুধ ব্যবহার করে। এই ওষুধটি ব্যবহারের প্রকৃত বিধি হলো, ভূস্তরের কমপক্ষে আঠারো ইঞ্চি গভীরে প্রয়োগ করতে হবে। অথচ ভুবন ভ্যালি বাগানে এটি চারাগাছের ওপর প্রত্যক্ষভাবে ব্যবহার করা হয়। গরু ছাগল ইত্যাদি গৃহপালিত জন্তুর আক্রমণ থেকে চারাগাছকে রক্ষা করতে এই পন্থা অবলম্বন করেছে কর্তৃপক্ষ। কারণ এই ওষুধযুক্ত চারাগাছ খেলে জন্তুজানোয়ারের মৃত্যু অবশ্যম্ভাবী। এই সুযোগেই কর্তৃপক্ষ খেলছে এই ভয়ানক মৃত্যুর খেলা। যার পার্শ্ব প্রতিক্রিয়া স্বরূপই বাগানে ব্যাধিগ্রস্ত শিশু জন্মাচ্ছে বলে শ্রমিকদের সন্দেহ। শ্রমিকরা আরো জানালেন, তারা কর্তৃপক্ষের কাছে এর বিরোধিতাও করেছিলেন। কিন্তু কর্তৃপক্ষ জানায়, তাদের কাছে এই প্রয়োগের পারমিশন আছে, যা টি-বোর্ড থেকে পাওয়া।

বাগানের পরিস্থিতি সামাল দিতে প্রশাসন এবং রাজনৈতিক নেতারা এবার তুলনামূলকভাবে বেশি সক্রিয় হলেও এর কিছু কিছু জরুরি বিষয় রাজনৈতিক ডামাডোলের আড়ালে ঢাকা পরে যাচ্ছে।

প্রথমতঃ বাগানে একশ দিনের কাজ (নরেগা বা মনরেগা) শুরু করে সাময়িকভাবে শ্রমিকদের খাদ্যের অধিকার সুরক্ষিত করা গেলেও তাদের রোজগারের সুরক্ষা কিন্তু দেওয়া হচ্ছে না। ফলে চা শ্রমিকরা মানসিক অবসাদে ভুগছেন।

দ্বিতীয়তঃ একটি বাগানের স্থায়ী মজুরদের খালকাটা, পুকুর খোঁড়ার মতো কাজে লাগিয়ে দেওয়াটা কতটা যুক্তিযুক্ত? এবং এর ফলে অন্যান্য মজুরি শ্রমিকদের রোজগারের যে সমস্যা হচ্ছে তা কী করে সমাধান করা হবে? তাছাড়া বাগানের এই অস্থির অবস্থার ফলে বহু অল্পবয়সী শ্রমিক বাগান ছেড়ে অন্য রাজ্যে পালিয়ে যাচ্ছে।

চতুর্থতঃ বাগানে যে রাসায়নিক প্রদূষণের অভিযোগ উঠেছে, সে বিষয়ে কী পদক্ষেপ নেওয়া হচ্ছে?

এমতাবস্থায় বাগান শ্রমিকরা এক চরম হতাশায় ভুগছেন। প্রতিবছরই একই লড়াই লড়তে হচ্ছে শ্রমিকদেরকে। কর্তৃপক্ষের অবহেলা আর অমানবিক কার্যকলাপের ফলে প্রায় হাজারখানেক পরিবারের ভবিষ্যৎ প্রবল প্রশ্নচিহ্নের মুখে দাঁড়িয়ে আছে।

(প্রতিবেদনটি প্রথম প্রকাশিত হয় সংবাদ মন্থনে।)

প্র্তিবেদক তানিয়া লস্কর গৌহাটি হাইকোর্টের আইনজীবী ও বরাক হিউম্যান রাইটস প্রটেকশন কমিটির আইন বিভাগের সদস্য এবং প্রশান্ত কুমার রায় সমাজকর্মী ও সাংবাদিক।

Over 150,000 families in Assam have been displaced due to floods and erosion but the state does not see any problems

October 5, 2015

Assam’s nowhere people

Amarjyoti Borah

For seven years, Abdur Khan has been calling the makeshift camp, a thatched one room on an embankment, his home. A resident of Assam’s Balimukh village in Morigaon district, he moved out of his village along with his wife and two children. “We were a prosperous farming family with 9.6 hectares (ha) of cultivable land, a power tiller and a house. Today, I work as a daily labourer,” says Khan. The land that Khan owned started to degrade during the floods in 1998. “We never thought that the entire land will be degraded. But the Brahmaputra completely engulfed our land during the 2007 floods,” he says, his voice choked with emotion.

A flood-affected family in Goroimari village in Assam's Kamrup district (Down to Earth)

A flood-affected family in Goroimari village in Assam’s Kamrup district (Down to Earth)

Khan is not alone. State government data shows over 150,000 families have been displaced in the past decade due to soil erosion in the state, and 37,000 of the families have been rendered homeless in the past five years. About 100 families live along with Khan.

With each flood and with every bit of land eroded, new camps are fast cropping up. The state government doesn’t keep record of them as these are not official camps. These people don’t even have basic amenities. “You can call it a life sans any recognition,” says Khan. There are hundreds of such camps across the mighty Brahmaputra and several other rivers in the state.

Currently, the state is facing one of its worst floods in recent decades. Some three million people have been affected in 80 per cent of the state by floods in the last six months. Floods are not new, and land erosion is a recognised problem in the state. Assam loses 8,000 ha of land to rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Barak and their tributaries every year (see ‘Eroded’). The width of river Brahmaputra has increased by up to 15 km at some places due to bank erosion. According to experts, though Assam has always been vulnerable to floods, the Great Earthquake of 1950 led to massive changes fostering erosion. “The river became more unstable after the earthquake and the shifting of channels and erosion became more severe and frequent,” says Parthajyoti Das of Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based organisation working on environment.

Chronic erosion

However, in a criminal interpretation of government provisions, the state government refuses to take up rehabilitation of erosion-induced displaced people. By law, flood is recognised as a natural calamity, thus qualifying for relief and rehabilitation. But, the resulting soil erosion is not treated as a calamity.

The government has not set up even a single relief camp till date for the erosion-affected families. The displaced people set up their own camps. A 2014 study, Disaster recovery and resilience: Case study of Assam floods, by Sneha Krishnan, a PhD candidate at University College, London, says government assistance is only limited to immediate relief as long as families are living in state-run flood camps. Such camps are temporary and for those who can come back to homes after the flood recedes. “It is not only the state, even humanitarian agencies were not forthcoming to support or assist—as many considered erosion to be a chronic problem,” says the report.

However, the state government is aware of the ever-expanding unofficial camps. Assam Revenue Minister Bhumidhar Barman told Down To Earth that there should be around 30,000 makeshift camps in the state where erosion-affected people are staying. “We do not have comprehensive data because the camps have been set up by the people and not by the state government,” he adds. The actual figure could be much higher, say experts. “There are close to 100,000 erosion-affected people in Dhemaji, Morigaon, Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts alone,” says Sosi Bordoloi of Women Development Centre, a non-profit based in Guwahati.

Photo from DownToEarth

Photo from DownToEarth

More bad news

This year, the population of the unofficial camps is set to swell due to the current floods. “The flood has been very severe, and several new areas have been flooded,” says Basanta Das, Assam’s water resource minister. “Over 1.6 million people residing in 2,000 villages have been affected this year. More than 226,000 people displaced by floods have been shifted to relief camps across Assam,” says Das.

But, will these people come back to their homes? State officials say several villages have been completely swallowed by the Brahmaputra this year. For example, nothing remains of Mikirgaon and Jotiapur villages in Morigaon district. This means that these people will scavenge every possible vacant land and settle in makeshift shelters. Soon nobody will recognise them.

The 230-odd families who were residing in these two villages have now set up camps on embankments nearby. Mikirgaon resident Purnakanta Basumatary says he has lost everything to the floods. The 56-year-old farmer says he had a big house and a comfortable living. All that remains of his belongings is a car that is parked outside the camp. “I do not know what the future holds for us. All that I had earned in my lifetime has been reduced to nothing,” he says. “We have no other option but to wait here, as we have lost all our land with no government help in sight. The best option for us is to make the embankment our new home,” says 45-year-old Jishu Hazarika, who recently shifted along with his wife and two children.

Relief tremors
The unofficial camps may also soon crumble. Most of these camps are located on embankments constructed to hold back water from rivers. Experts warn that most of these embankments are old and now highly prone to breaches. “There are a total of 449 embankments in Assam covering an area of about 4,350 km. The state water resource department has identified 950 km of these embankments as extremely vulnerable and about 2,390 km embankments as vulnerable to flood and erosion,” says Luit Goswami of Rural Volunteer Centre, a non-profit based in the flood ravaged district of Dhemaji.

Former Assam Water Resource Minister Bharat Chandra Narah says most embankments and other flood protection measures had overshot their effectiveness period. “Most of the embankments along the Brahmaputra and its tributaries were constructed between 1965 and 1995, and they have already crossed their period of effectiveness,” Narah adds. Goswami says the life span of an embankment is not more than 20 years, but most of the embankments in the state are over 45 years old. “The embankments have weakened and are not able to withstand the high thrust of floods,” he says.

Families living in the camps know about the threat, but they say they have nowhere else to go. “In their local history, many embankments have been washed away in the past 20-30 years. In recent years, the embankments could hold for only one or two years. In Morigaon in 2013, the newly-built embankment was breached and villages were inundated. The communities were concerned that the delineation of embankment layout happened without relocation and resettlement plans of the government in place,” says the 2014 report.

Living on hope 
This March, the state government took the first step towards recognising these camps. It declared a special scheme in the chief minister’s name to rehabilitate erosion affected families. “The government has allocated Rs.5 crore in the current year’s budget for the scheme,” says Bhumidhar Barman, Assam’s revenue and disaster management minister. The implementation of the scheme will take time as the first big challenge for the government is to identify the camps. “As per the information received from 15 districts, some landless people affected by erosion are now living in other parts. Some are living on embankments and on roadside, while others are living on leased land,” he says. In these 15 districts, 880 villages eroded completely and 67 villages were eroded partially. The state has to search for these people.

Acknowledging the problem of erosion is the first logical step, say experts. This will enable the state government to start investing for the rehabilitation of the families. The state government has so far failed to utilise its disaster fund. “The Assam government has Rs.1,425.45 crore under the State Disaster Response Fund, which is yet to be utilised,” says Sarbananada Sonowal, Union sports minister and MP from Assam.

The next step, say experts, has to be towards mitigation to reduce erosion. The 2011 Committee for Developing Mitigation Strategies for Brahmaputra River Basin Flood and Erosion Problem, which had experts from Assam and the US, found the key reasons for erosion were “aggradation” (raising of the river bed due to sediment deposition), intense “braiding” and large water discharge. The committee suggested a combination of measures including strategic dredging, protection of erodible bank materials with anchored bulkhead or tie back sheet piles, spurs, toe and bank revetments.

It also suggested improvement of data quality and quantity by extending rain, flow and sediment monitoring network using state-of-the-art equipment and considering physical modelling to study severe and potential scour sites.

Meanwhile, the displaced families continue to live under the fear of eviction. They also live in the hope that their leaders will soon provide them with land for rehabilitation. “Leaders from all political parties visit us before each elections, be it the Lok Sabha, the state Assembly or the Panchayat elections. They pay us Rs.100-500 and assure us that we will get land soon. Most of us are hoping that the leaders will deliver on their promises,” says Rahim Ali, who lives next to Khan in the camp at Balimukh village.
“Till that time, we are on our own.”

(First published in the Down to Earth and is available at

How the NRC updation in Assam threatens to render a large section of Bengali settlers in the state stateless

September 13, 2015

Joydeep Biswas

A riot victim woman whose house was burnt down by the militants takes shelter at a relief camp in Narayanguri village in Baksa district of Assam. Photo: The Hindu

A riot victim woman whose house was burnt down by the militants takes shelter at a relief camp in Narayanguri village in Baksa district of Assam. Photo: The Hindu

Very few in mainland India are aware at the moment that a process of citizens’ registration on the basis of racial profiling is under way on the eastern fringe of the country. The national media — both print and electronic — has not cared even to report the ongoing preparation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), leave alone analysing the legal nuances involved in the action and the possible plight of the ‘denizens’.

This exercise, initiated through a gazette notification dated December 5, 2013 by the Registrar General of India, was initially due to be completed within a time span of three years. But the judgment delivered by a Division Bench of the honourable Supreme Court (Coram JJ, R. Gogoi, R.F. Nariman), dated 17 December 2014, advanced the due date of publication of the final NRC to January 1, 2016. The whole exercise, set off in a selective manner only for the State of Assam, is meant for detection, detention and deportation of the illegal migrants who crossed over to Assam from Bangladesh on or after March 25, 1971.

The vexed issue of infiltration and expulsion of foreigners in Assam, which has dominated the political theatre of the State for over three decades, has got close links with the very history of the subcontinent. Colonial history of the State dates back to 1826 when, under the Treaty of Yandabo, the then geography of what is now called Assam came under the British rule. And the tract was made a part of the Bengal Presidency which, of course, included the erstwhile East Bengal as well.

The first partition of Bengal

In a different turn of events, Cachar, now one of the three districts forming the Barak Valley in southern Assam, was annexed by the Britishers after the fall of the Kachari Kingdom in 1832, and was also made a part of the huge Bengal Presidency. Such arrangements were made much before the first Government of India Act, 1858 through which control over the Indian territories held by the British East India Company was vested in the British queen.

They effectively meant that people of Bengal and of Assam — transcending ethnicity, language and culture — lived within the same administrative jurisdiction and under the same political dispensation.

In 1874, by a whimsical decision of the British government, two districts of East Bengal — Sylhet (along with Cachar) and Goalpara — were separated from the Bengal Presidency, and were joined with Assam to create a new administrative unit which was placed under a Chief Commissioner. This was technically the first Partition of Bengal, a development that unfortunately escaped the attention of the mainstream scholarship.

Much has been written and read about the partition of Bengal in 1905, and its eventual rollback in 1911. However, surprisingly enough, historians of modern India have shown cruel indifference to the cultural knifing of 1874, due to which the Bengalis of Sylhet and Goalpara of the then East Bengal, for no fault of theirs, had to shift their allegiance to a completely different cultural geography.

The colonial power had its own fiscal logic. Sylhet, a revenue-rich district in British India, was tagged with a revenue-deficit Assam to address the administrative purpose of fiscal rationalisation. These two districts thereafter continued to exist inside the administrative boundary of Assam for the remaining length of the colonial rule. In 1947, Sylhet was lost to Pakistan on the basis of the outcome of an allegedly rigged referendum.

The communal carnage that took over the subcontinent resulted in the biggest displacement of people in the recorded history. The humanitarian crisis had its ramifications both on the eastern and the western boundaries of the newly liberated India. But in terms of number, intensity and continuity, impact of the exodus felt on the eastern front far exceeded that on the west. The internal political turmoil, coupled with communal riots first in East Pakistan, and then in Bangladesh, made sure movements across the boundary remained a regular feature even after 1971.

This repeated redrawing of political map of Assam, along with that of the twin valleys of Surma and Barak by the colonial rulers, showing utter disregard to the sentiments of the Assamese and the Bengalis, is causally connected to the emergence of the parochial political patriarchs who assumed power in the Assam in the post-Independence India. Assamese middle-class saw in the British actions of administering Bengali settlement on their own land an evil design of linguistic hegemony. Hence, in the post-colonial Assam, they tried to correct history.

In a bid to retaliate, the Assamese elites, who by then had got a fair share of political power, began to treat Bengali settlers on Assam’s soil as ‘cultural foreigners’. The genesis of the anti-foreigner movement, spearheaded by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) during 1979-85, thus, dates back to the series of above happenings where politics played mayhem with culture.

The bogey of ‘infiltration’

There was no evidence provided by either the government or the academia about the scale of cross-border movement of people. Despite that, the xenophobic movement launched by the AASU during the early 1980s was successful in convincing the Indian establishment that a ‘marauding infiltration’ by Bangladeshi nationals from across the border was putting the Assamese language and culture in great danger.

The six-year-long violent agitation, which left hundreds dead and thousands traumatised, culminated in the inking of the Assam Accord on August 14-15, 1985. This tripartite memorandum of settlement between the Centre, the Assam government and the AASU leadership was considered ‘historic’ in the Brahmaputra Valley. The Citizenship Act, 1955 was suitably amended by the Parliament to incorporate Section 6(a), bringing in a special provision of citizenship for Assam.

The legislative passage engineered by the Rajiv Gandhi government, which had a brute majority in both the Houses, did not care for the history, geography and anthropology of colonial Assam. The Nellie pogrom of February 18, 1983, in which more than 2,000 Bengali-speaking people, including women and children, were butchered, was conveniently forgotten by the Indian state. That gory incident has never been given enough attention in the media.

Legitimisation of racial violence

Successive governments have not been able to bring the killers to justice. To the contrary, the metamorphosis of AASU into Asom Gana Parishad and its eventual victory in Assembly elections has practically legitimised the racial killings.

The Bengali speaking citizens in Assam now face a new kind of terror, this time, from the Indian government. On the strength of an agreement, the State government is now active in the preparation of the National Register of Citizens. This is aimed at labelling lakhs of Bengali-speaking citizens as ‘illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators’.

The relevant rules and provisions in the statute book, including the Citizenship Act, 1955; the Foreigners Expulsion Act, 1946; the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950; the Foreigners Tribunals Order, 1964; and the Citizenship Rules, 2003 (as amended in 2009 and 2010), have all been very carefully crafted over the years to evict from Assam the Partition victims of erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

The Indian government has decided to upgrade the NRC only for the State of Assam even though, ideally, the exercise should have covered the entire country. The purpose of this official action is not difficult to decipher. The stringent set of conditions attached to the process requires the Bengalis of Assam to prove their Indian citizenship solely on the basis of their or their ancestors’ names appearing on the electoral rolls published up to 25 March 1971 and the NRC of 1951, failing which they would be thrown out of the updated NRC.

To make things complicated for these people, such electoral rolls are found to be both incorrect and incomplete. On the other hand, their Assamese and tribal counterparts would find easy inclusion, by virtue of being the ‘original inhabitants of Assam beyond reasonable doubt’.

The key question that confronts us now is: what would happen to these hapless Bengali settlers? In the absence of any bilateral arrangement between India and Bangladesh, the latter is not ready to take them back. This implies that lakhs of such Indian citizens, who have had their names on the Indian electoral rolls for the past four decades, and who are in possession of Electoral Photo Identity Card, would be rendered stateless. Going by the existing deportation norms and practices, they will just be evicted to the no man’s land on the Indo-Bangla border, that too in the dead of night. It will be a shameful moment for India, a proud signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

(Joydeep Biswas is an associate professor of economics in Cachar College, Assam (Central) University.E-mail:

The piece was first published in the Hindu and can be accessed here

NRC fiasco: things you must know about the national register of citizens

July 3, 2015

By Aman Wadud

These days NRC is dominating debate and discussion in Assam. NRC (National Register of Citizens) was first prepared in 1951 based on census of that year. The Supreme Court in a judgment has asked the Centre and the state government to update NRC for Assam in a time bound manner. The NRC will now be updated to include names of those persons or their descendants whose name appear in the NRC, 1951 or in any of the Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24thMarch,1971 or in any other admissible documents issued up to mid-night of 24th March 1971. These documents together are called legacy Data and included in List A. Another set of document will be required to prove linage with the person whose name appears in pre 24th March 1971 documents/ Legacy Data, these are included in List B.


Challenges before citizens: NRC is huge process touching the lives of entire population of Assam, even new born will also be included in updated NRC. Updation of NRC is more than thirty years old demand. One of the demands of Assam agitation leaders was to update NRC free of any illegal immigrants. Government after government kept deferring it. Even the Assam agitation leaders who formed a political party and was in power for ten years did not update NRC. Finally after Supreme Court’s order the process of updation of NRC has started in Assam.  The Centre, the State government and its institutions should have taken all necessary steps to make the entire process convenient for masses. To the contrary, the NRC updation process has been made inconvenient, cumbersome and utterly confusing. The NRC application form  is a clumsy and complex piece of paper for general citizens.   Till date two people have committed  suicide and more has attempted to end their lives failing to find name of their ancestors in Legacy Data.

Everyone except whose names appears in Legacy data should prove their linkage with the person whose name appears in Legacy Data. There are seven  documents in List B to prove linkage, which are- birth certificate, land documents, board/university certificate,Bank/LIC/PO documents, Circle Officer/GP Secretary Certificate, Electoral roll, ration card and at number eight it is mentioned that any legally acceptable documents  can be submitted to prove linkage. But it is not mentioned anywhere what exactly are these documents which has been termed as legally acceptable document. Although one might argue that documents mentioned in List B are extensive , they forgets that there are lakhs of children from poor families  who doesn’t have birth certificates, and they are too young to get themselves enlisted in voter list. It is not possible for these poor parents to get issued a birth certificate for their grown up children.

A new born gets birth certificate free of cost if issued within 21 days of birth, parents has to pay huge bribe if they want birth certificate for their issues after this period. These children will be left with no documents to prove their relationship with their parents and ancestors. To make things worse even School certificates are not been accepted as valid document to prove linkage. NRC updating authorities definitely did not spare a thought for these children or they would have included Gaon Burah certificate or  certificate provided by schools in List B to prove linkage. There is no explanation why Gaon Burah certificate is not accepted as legally acceptable document. A Gaon Burah or a village headman is a civil post , the office of the deputy commissioner of the district is the appointing authority of a Gaon Burah. Certificate issued by Gaon Burah is also accepted in judicial proceedings, wonder what stopped NRC updating authorities to include Gaon Burah certificate in List B. Lakhs of parents all over the state are having sleepless nights failing to obtain any certificate to prove that their own children are actually their own. Some parents have fallen prey to frauds who are selling fake birth certificates for few hundred rupees. If at all non inclusion of certificate issued by Gaon Burah and school certificates in List B is helping anyone, it is helping these frauds who are selling fake birth certificate to innocent and impoverished parents. If these parents are caught submitting fake birth certificate they might be prosecuted and put behind bar for cheating, thus causing more misery to their existing impoverishment.

Certainly NRC updating authorities could have done away with these hardships that many parents are enduring. Apparently NRC updating authorities has taken a decision to include Gaon Burah certificate in List B , but that decision has not been implemented till this piece is written. With just one month left for the last date for submission of NRC application form , NRC updating authorities is still undecided whether to include Gaon Burah certificate in List B. There could two be reason for this – either NRC updating authorities has mala fide intention or they are supremely incompetent. Either of these is uncalled for and unacceptable. One of the worse affected people of this entire fiasco is Nur Islam. Nur Islam hails from a backward area of Barpeta district, where I met him during one of many NRC awareness meetings. He is father of four children, and no one has birth certificate. When I asked him to get issued birth certificate for his children, his reply made me speechless. Nur Islam says “I somehow makes two ends meet by working as a daily wage laborer, how can I spend thousands of rupees for birth certificates?.” Assam has many such Nur Islam, they are suffering only because of reprehensible attitude of NRC updating authorities. Inclusion of Gaon Burah Certificate and School certificate in List B would have solved problems for lakhs of Nur Islam.

Indian citizens who came to Assam from other state after 24th March,1971: Legacy data has been uploaded for those who were resident of Assam before 24th March, 1971. Those who came from other state of India after 1971 will naturally face problems in applying for NRC. They will have to fill up column 12 of the application form by mentioning the complete address from where they or their ancestors came and provide documents proving the same. There are many impoverished people who came to Assam post 1971 or even after that and settled permanently here. Many never returned to their place of birth and don’t have any connection to the place from where they migrated. One of them is Ismail Siddique, I met him at a NRC awareness meeting. Siddique is 60 years old, he is settled in Baksa district of Assam. Siddique was born in Uttar Pradesh , he eloped with a girl from other religion and came to Assam as a teenager. Ismail Siddique has never returned to his place of birth, he says he don’t even remember the name of his village now. He will fail to provide any documents to prove that he migrated from Uttar Pradesh. Ismail Siddique is certainly not an exception. Will failure to mention name of place from where he migrated and submitting documents to  back the claim  result non inclusion of his name in updated NRC ? Will citizens right be curtailed for people like Ismail Siddique. These apprehensions have turned in to nightmare for people like IsmailSiddique.

There are many who came to Assam from Bihar, they came to Assam for a livelihood and settled here. Many know the place of origin but do not have any documents to prove. Even for a certificate from District administration or Gaon Panchayat they will have travel all the way to Bihar. Some people will be succeed to provide documents but many will fail to get necessary documents from their state of origin.

To add to worries and apprehension NRC authorities doesn’t have any comforting reply for these people. NRC Seva Kendra official are clueless , so are NRC call centre employees. At NRC call centre the standard answer is : people who came to Assam from other state post 24th march 1971 will face problem. This is nothing short of  making mockery of  Fundamental Right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of  India.

Moreover there are large numbers of Assamese who lived in areas which are not parts of Assam now. Like those who lived in the then capital, Shillong and voted there. The names of those people are not found in Legacy Data. Although they have option to submit other admissible documents, but how many have preserved such documents? It goes without saying that they are in fear of getting their name dropped from updated NRC.

Married Women who migrated to other place: A married woman has to submit legacy data of her ancestors and prove linkage with them. She can prove linkage with any legally acceptable documents including certificate of Secretary, Gaon Panchayat countersigned by Circle officer/BDO/Executive magistrate. On the face of it this doesn’t seem to be a problem. But this is huge problem for women who doesn’t have birth certificate or any educational certificate issued by board/ university. As they are married off early their name also doesn’t feature with father’s name in the voter list at parental home. In absence of any other legal documents a married women can get a certificate from Secretary Gaon Panchayat countersigned by Circle Officer/BDO/Executive magistrate. Initially in many areas Circle Officers refused to sign such certificate; it was only after pressure from various organizations that Circle Officers are  putting sign on such certificate. Moreover there was no format of certificate with Secretary, Gaon Panchayat, it was provided after lots of hue and cry.

In the three 6th Schedule Areas of Assam – Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao and Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) , there is no Panchayat. NRC updating authorities should have made alternative arrangements in lieu of Certificate issued by Secretary, Gaon Panchayat, but no arrangements were made. Here too only after several organizations approached NRC authorities and appraised about this serious lapse it authorized Lot Mandal to issue certificate. The way  NRC updating authorities acted it raises several doubts about their intention and left no doubt about its incompetency to handle a process which includes entire population of the state.

Violation of Supreme Court Order: The Supreme Court vide its order dated 16.07.2013 in WP( C) 274/2009 (The case by which Supreme Court ordered to update NRC in a time bound manner) has directed to publish the copies of NRC 1951 and electoral rolls up to midnight of 24th March 1971 and make it available in all areas of the state up to the village level. The Supreme Court said ,  “If these modalities are to be worked  out,  the  extracts  of  National Register of Citizens of 1951 as well as the  Electoral  Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971 will have to be  published  and made available in all the areas of the State, up to the Village level.”   But surprisingly only copies of NRC 1951 and electoral rolls of 1965,1966,1970 and 1971 has been published, it is to be noted that in many areas  copies of NRC 1951 has not been made available even though people of those areas have certified copies of NRC 1951. The entire electoral rolls since Independence to 1965 is completely missing. People of villages like  Salakati, 1 No. Bhumki, 2 No. Bhumki, Chautaki Part 1, Chautaki Part 2, Baddapara, Pollapara, Kauniabhasha, Uzanpara, Kauniabhasha Maspara, Kauniabhasha Munshipara, Kauniabhasha Milmilipara, Joraigaon, Kurshakati, Khakrabari, Chitla, Fakiragram, Bhotgaon, Kashipara  etc of  Kokrajhar district  have certified copies of NRC 1951 but it has not been uploaded with Legacy Data code. These are only few villages of one district whose Legacy data of  NRC 1951 has not been uploaded, in 27 districts of Assam there are thousands such villages.

According 6A of the Citizenship Act, amended after Assam Accord,  those who came to Assam on or after 1st day January  1966 but before 25th day of March 1971, should get themselves registered and  will be barred from voting for ten years. There is fear  among people that if they submit electoral rolls of 1966 to 1971 they will be denied voting rights for ten years. Although NRC updating authorities  has published advertisement not to believe in rumours but the fact that NRC application form has different column for  NRC 1951 and different column for  Electoral Roll(s) up to 24th March 1971, the advertisements has not helped in mitigating apprehension of people that their voting rights could be curtailed after updation of NRC.

People has legitimate reason to fear and apprehend that their voting rights could be curtailed. NRC is been updated to solve the problem of  illegal immigration in Assam, this issue has been bread and butter for many chauvinist organizations. They surely will not let this issue die. People apprehend that after updation is completed there could be another round of agitation to deny voting rights for ten years for those who submits electoral rolls  issued between 1stday January  1966 and 25th day of March 1971. Several articles by self styled intellectuals has  appeared in major News paper stating how names of illegal immigrants has made its way in to Legacy Data. Although it is virtually impossible but such irrational views are gaining popularity among those who don’t want to believe in reality.

Sheer lack of uniformity among NRC Seva Kendra’s and authorities: No two Seva Kendra employees or call centre employees speak in same language. Even higher officials like Deputy Commissioner and Circle officers very often has different answer for similar queries. It would be unfair to blame these officials who are not decision making body. The blame solely lies on the NRC updating authorities and Register General of India.

Apparently a year ago a Handbook for Updation of NRC, Assam on the line of Manual of Instructions issued by the Election Commission has  been prepared by the State Government and sent to the Registrar General of India (RGI) for approval. This Handbook gives detailed practical steps to be taken by various officials involved in NRC Updating work and elaborates on the detailed workflow and operating procedure, provisions for training and monitoring and supervision, media and publicity activities etc.

This handbook is yet to see light of the day. Last date for submission of NRC application forms is just a month away and public has no idea about NRC handbook. In the name  of NRC awareness, advertisement with very limited information is published in news papers. Very lately audio visuals promos has been launched. NRC Seva Kendra also provide couple of pages of printed materials which bore instructions on how to fill the complex application form. No one knows why information are so limited, one wonders why NRC updating authorities are working in such secrecy that even basic information on technicalities are difficult to find.

In spite of such lackluster preparedness, myopic style of working and innumerable loopholes in the process of updating NRC , the general masses specially those Indian citizens who are often abused as illegal immigrants are leaving no stone unturned to make the process of updating NRC a successful one. Their only hope is that after NRC is updated politics around the issue of illegal immigration might come to an end. But will the vested interested groups, from whom the issue of illegal immigration is bread and butter allow the issue to die?

The author is a Lawyer based in Guwahati. He tweets @AmanWadud

(First published in India Resists and available at

Supreme Court directives regarding arrest of accused by police for offences punishable with seven years imprisonment or less

July 3, 2015
Supreme Court Guidelines regarding arrests of the accused by the police in cases punishable with 7 years imprisonment or less issued Arnesh Kumar Vs. State of Bihar and Another (Criminal Appeal No. 1277 of 2014):
1.All the State Governments to instruct its police officers not to automatically arrest when a case under Section 498-A of the IPC is registered but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters laid down above flowing from Section 41Cr.PC;
2. All police officers be provided with a check list containing specified sub- clauses under Section 41(1)(b)(ii);
3. The police officer shall forward the check list duly filed and furnish the reasons and materials which necessitated the arrest, while forwarding/producing the accused before the Magistrate for further detention;
4. The Magistrate while authorising detention of the accused shall peruse the report furnished by the police officer in terms aforesaid and only after recording its satisfaction, the Magistrate will authorise detention;
5. The decision not to arrest an accused, be forwarded to the Magistrate within two weeks from the date of the institution of the case with a copy to the Magistrate which may be extended by the Superintendent of police of the district for the reasons to be recorded in writing;
6. Notice of appearance in terms of Section 41A of Cr.PC be served on the accused within two weeks from the date of institution of the case, which may be extended by the Superintendent of Police of the District for the reasons to be recorded in writing;
7. Failure to comply with the directions aforesaid shall apart from rendering the police officers concerned liable for departmental action, they shall also be liable to be punished for contempt of court to be instituted before High Court having territorial jurisdiction.
8. Authorising detention without recording reasons as aforesaid by the judicial Magistrate concerned shall be liable for departmental action by the appropriate High Court.
9. We hasten to add that the directions aforesaid shall not only apply to the cases under Section 498-A of the I.P.C. or Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, the case in hand, but also such cases where offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may be less than seven years or which may extend to seven years; whether with or without fine.
10. We direct that a copy of this judgment be forwarded to the Chief Secretaries as also the Director Generals of Police of all the State Governments and the Union Territories and the Registrar General of all the High Courts for onward transmission and ensuring its compliance.

Adivasis in Assam: Extermination without a camp

February 13, 2015

By Suroj Gogoi and Prasenjit Biswas

Adivasis, fled from homes. Photo by the Hindu

Adivasis, fled from homes. Photo by the Hindu

Repeated genocides in Assam and justification and rationalization of the same can be seen as the severest form of crime against humanity that one can imagine. It is the most reprehensible form of hatred that is committed and perpetually pushed under the carpet. Located in the foothills of Bhutan, the villages where 81 or so Adivasi persons were exterminated in the recent killings by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit faction) is no less than a genocide. Apparently the motive for such killing is attributed to Adivasi villagers helping the army and police in busting camps of Bodo militants. Seemingly they turn out to be the easy targets for insurgent firepower.

The adivasis, therefore, remain in a state of being exterminated. If camps mark the predicament of a modern fragmented society, one might say that the Adivasis are permanently thrown into shelters and camps as internally displaced. An estimated 2.75 lakh people of Adivasi origin are settled in about 250 camps across Udalguri and Chirang. They are decamped before the act of being camped and by the very act of remaining in the state of being camped they are rightless and defenseless. Herein we find a sense of perennial othering which subverts any democratic attempt to empower them with right and dignity. They are othered in a state of displacement and pushed form their settlements to an uncertain destiny. This continual displacement completes the fate of marginality. The process marks an inner othering of the marginalized that actualizes fragmentation of mainstream social identities of Assam.

Identities at struggle

Demands for autonomous council in the name of a tribe or community, claims for ST status and more importantly, exclusion of others from such constitutional benefits remained as the prime motivating force for exclusivist struggles of both armed and democratic kind. Among such marginalized ethnic groups, the Bodos have been in the forefront is carving out a Bodoland Territorial Council comprising of four districts of Assam, namely, Baksa, Chirang, Kokrajhar and Udalguri. Repeated mass killings, enforced displacement of minorities in Bodoland areas have been a constant feature of civil and political life. Chronicles of targeting the Adivasis comprising of migrant and indentured labourers from Chhotanagpur plateau have been written on the corpses of the innocent since 1993. After an apparent truce since formation of BTC under the leadership of Hagrama Mohilary, the same politics of minority bashing returned in Bodoland, much to the dismay of the political leadership. A host of non-state actors belonging to various frontal organizational and espousing the Bodo cause have been raising the pitch for a separate Bodoland that evidently resulted in ethnic cleansing one after the other. The democratic voices within Bodo ethnic formations such as student and literary bodies, human rights groups and other civil society bodies are seen helpless before the might of the smoking gun wielded by the non-state actors.

The grim situation for democratic forces in Bodoland not only prevailed within competitive electoral politics but it also engulfed the social and cultural life of multi-community, multi-linguistic Bodoland area. A regimen of suspicion, repressed anger and a pathologically divisive drawing of internal boundaries marred the very sanctity of living a life and participating in common economic and trading activities. Centuries old migrant labourers settled in and around tea garden areas of Northern bank of Brahmaputra are the worst victims of this deterioration of law and order and debasement of values of a common social life. They have been otherized just as Muslims have been, labelling them as outsiders in Bodoland. The main motive for such a denial of access to shared lived space only proves the point that Bodoland is only for a certain community.

The Assam Accord

The Assam accord of 1985 provided an immediate context for an assertion of Bodo identity, as they were not represented adequately in the new formation of Axom Gana Parishad that ruled Assam for two terms between 1985-89 and 1996-2001. The dominant caste Hindu segments of Axomiya nationality apparently marginalized the tribal and the indigenous segments that included a powerful minority such as Bodos. Often separatist and often by throwing up the claim of being indigenous in Assam, the Bodos not only gave rise to contestation against dominant caste Hindu Axomiyas, but it carried the seeds of an exclusivist homeland demand in the form of ‘divide Assam fifty-fifty’. It was not clear whether the fifty percent territory that they demanded would include other Non-Bodo communities such as tea tribes, Adivasis, Muslims and even Axomiya speaking people.

A family moves to a safer place after ethnic clashes in Tenganala village, in Sonitpur district in the northeastern Indian state of Assam December 24, 2014. Photo: ENCA

A family moves to a safer place after ethnic clashes in Tenganala village, in Sonitpur district in the northeastern Indian state of Assam December 24, 2014. Photo: ENCA

Another significant dimension of the Assam accord has been a rhetorical and confessional politics of self-preservation that directed its anger against the spate of migration from Bangladesh. The ubiquitous Bangladeshi became a convenient label for targeting the linguistic minorities by denying them their linguistic, cultural and economic rights. Invariably such a denial took the form of linguistic aggression as well as a chauvinistic rejection of their claims of recognition. The historic Assam Accord that ended the Assam agitation gave way to multiple ethnic and linguistic conflicts in which the marginalized communities were often pitted against one another. Apart from a go all Bangladeshi infiltrator, Adivasis became a soft target and the chain of victimization included inter-tribal and inter-ethnic clashes. Overall, this turned out to be a larger process of fragmentation of Axomiya nationality into sub-national and susb-sub-national identities. The Assam Movement that largely mobilised the common people on the common grounds of understanding for the removal of the ‘illegal migrants’ ended up with a vicious cycle of violence between the self and the other.

It is not only the militants who carry such visible forms of violence of killing women and children, violence to these people at the margins are carried out in everyday life by oversensitization and is legitimated by the ‘son of the soil’ theorists. An academic and intellectual legitimation to Othering resulted in a distinct self and other after the Assam movement whereby the ordinary people were instructed and imparted with a sense of immediate othering. They were told to fear the other and hate them in their everyday life. The regional political parties and the insurgents mobilized this very psyche to garner support and take the movement away from any democratic imagination. Those ruptures are felt even today very strongly.

 Ethnic identities in North-east have become non-negotiable in the proximity of near group formations in a manner so much so that the presence of other is seen as depriving the self. Bodoland is a classic example of ethnocracy where peace building is a metaphor to delayed violence. Between autonomy and insurgency, the idea of Bodoland managed to create thousands of internally displaced people and silently observe hundreds die. The recent attack by NDFB (Songbijit faction) on the Adivasis opens up new possibilities of violence and also new victims for violence.

The overall situation can be characterized as ‘a state of exception’ that uses political violence on the marginalized segments to leave them as remainders, or, camp dwellers, in a state of permanent displacement. The example of Lakhmi Oraon, a braveheart brutalized during an Adivasi protest rally in 2007 onward to repeated mass killing leave the Adivasis in an enhanced state of exclusion and endangerment. As a social group, their existential condition can be described as a state of exterminated and seized bodies.

Suraj Gogoi is a Research Scholar at Delhi School of Economics, Department of Sociology and Prasenjit Biswas teaches Philosophy at North Eastern Hill University, Shillong and works as a human rights defender with Barak Human Rights Committee (BHRPC), Assam.

 The piece was first published in Kafila and available at

10 Reasons Why AFSPA Must Go

February 6, 2015


10 Reasons Why the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) Must Be Repealed

By Waliullah Ahmed Lashkar,

1. A draconian law: The AFSPA is a piece of colonial legislation that gives the armed forces of India unfettered power: (i) to use lethal force on civilians even to the extent of causing death on mere suspicion that they may cause breach of any law or order, (ii) to search any dwelling places by breaking them on mere suspicion without warrant and (ii) to arrest people without warrant and to keep them in custody for unspecified time and more importantly the Act also bars the judiciary to question any acts of the armed forces operating under the Act in areas declared disturbed under the Act.

2. Its continuance is based on lies: The Government of India took the plea that it is a temporary measure for meeting an extra-ordinary situation and it would be withdrawn as soon as possible. This plea was taken in parliament when the Act was being passed, in the Supreme Court in the Naga People s Human Rights Movement case in 1997 and in international forums including the United Nations Human Rights Committee. It is now 53 years in North East and 21 years in J & K. If a measure for this length of time is temporary than what is permanent?

3. The provisions of the Act militate against the purpose of its enactment: The non-state armed groups (insurgents, extremists or terrorists, whatever you may call them) need to be dealt with and contained because they violate rights of the people to live peacefully, they try to impose their will on the people and the state unlawfully and violently trampling the constitutionalism and the rule of law that are sine qua non for civilised human existence. It is the mandate of the state to maintain the reign of law and constitution and the writ of the government established by law along with ensuring security and safety of the person and property of the citizens. But when the state through its security forces and law enforcement agencies commits more atrocious acts than the acts which it professes it is fighting the difference between the non-state terrorists and the state gets blurred.The armed forces of India when operate under the AFSPA do not act for enforcement of the constitution and the law of the land or for protection of the life and property of the citizens. Because, they operate outside the constitutional and legal system of the land. The AFSPA places them above the constitution, law and human rights obligations. The AFSPA gives them the power to commit atrocities and wreak terror on the citizens which they are supposed to combat and prevent and protect the citizens from, with additional guarantee of immunity from any accountability. The mischief that is addressed in the statute is doubled by its provisions. To purportedly prevent the people from the terror of certain armed groups the sate itself has unleashed its unmatched terror upon the very people under the AFSPA. And it is not only in law but very much in practice.

4. Problematic political premises: The political premise of the Act appears to be very problematic in the sense that it seeks in essence to impose “Indian-ness” through violence on some of the people of the country who are deemed not to be adequately “Indian”. This is apparent from the facts that despite naxalism being claimed as the biggest threat to the national security the Act is not extended to the naxal affected central India. Rather, it is stated that the responsibility to deal with such problems rests with the state governments, which is very true. This discriminatory attitude can not be explained in any way other than the racial reading of the situations and believe in fascist violence. The “Indian-ness” as it was understood by our freedom fighters and for which they embraced martyrdom is not one which would needed to be or which could be imposed through violence. However, it should be more than clear that we are not seeking extension of the AFSPA to any other part of the country since we want total repeal of the Act. There are many draconian pieces of legislation in force in naxal affected areas, though not of the nature of AFSPA, such the Chhattishgarh Public Security Act etc. which are also needed to be repealed. The phenomenon called naxalism has arisen largely due to the deprivation, discrimination and exploitation of the tribal people of the area. These problems need to be addressed politically and through peaceful means.

5. A fraud on the constitution: The Act provides more than emergency powers to the armed forces fraudulently bypassing the provisions of the constitution of parliamentary oversight over the exercise of such powers. The constitution also imposes duties upon the Union Government to perform its obligations under the international treatises. India is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR) which provides for derogations of some the rights in times of emergency declared legally, which are nonetheless derogated by the Act without such declaration. It is to be noted that the Supreme Court did not examine the compatibility of the Act with the international human rights laws in the Naga People s Movement for Human Rights.

6. The law lacks legality: Both the procedural and substantial requirements of legality are conspicuous by their absence in this Act of the parliament. On the procedural level it is to be noted that the Act came not only as a product of a “decision” by the political executive (i.e., as an ordinance on 22nd May, 1958) but also subsequently escaped more or less unscathed from the “legislative oversight function” of a democratically constituted Parliament on 18 August, 1958. And finally, rather than returning the legislation to the Parliament again for reconsideration, the President readily gave his assent on the legislation, thus making it into a law on 11 September, 1958. On the substantial level the Act does not pass the test of precise definition as its terms are too vague and it also provides powers/measures disproportionate to the mischief it is intended to address.

7. Arbitrary application: Not only the framing of the Act and its provisions are arbitrary but also the application of the Act by declaring certain areas as disturbed is also arbitrary inasmuch as the declaration of areas which are not disturbed in the sense in which the term is contemplated in the Act. For example, the southern part of Assam comprising of the districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi that is known as Barak valley is declared as disturbed area under the Act which can not be said disturbed in any meaning of the word. There has never been any insurgency in the area. And the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi proudly declared it as Valley of Peace admitting the fact.

8. Recommendations of the government committees: Every government committee which examined the Act opined against its continuity in the present form including the Administrative Reforms Committee headed by Mr. Birappa Moily. Most importantly, the Committee to Review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 chaired by Justice Jeevan Reddy unambiguously recommended total repeal of the Act.

9. Militarisation of democracy: The ethos and practices inaugurated, nurtured and sustained by the Act has led to critical erosion of normative (norms) and institutional mechanisms of a civilized democratic life which are critically manifest as (a) the near collapse of Criminal Justice System and (b) culture of impunity of unbridled violence in peoples life. The mockery of democracy is such that it can be termed as democracy at gun point.

10. Traumatised society: Actions taken under the Act caused hundreds of extra-judicial killings, rapes, torture, enforced disappearances forcing the people to live an uncertain terror-striken life bereft of human dignity. It has made the whole society mentally sick and traumatized.And on many other reasons.

The author is an advocate at Gauhati High Court and human rights defender with Barak Human Rights Protection Committee.

(The piece was first published by India Resist and is available at:

The price of tea from death valley

September 20, 2013
  • From: The Australian
  • August 31, 2013

AS India’s well-fed politicians bickered over a proposed Right to Food bill this week in New Delhi, workers in some of northeast Assam’s most remote tea gardens were literally starving on their feet.

Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

In seven months last year, 34 people died of starvation or malnutrition-linked diseases on a single tea estate, Bhuvan Valley in southern Barak Valley, when owners temporarily shut operations and stopped paying workers for demanding better conditions and eight months of owed wages.

“It was more like Death Valley than Bhuvan Valley. People were dying from one house to another,” says Prasenjit Biswas, who chairs the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee that brought the issue to the attention of authorities. Under pressure from the government and National Human Rights Commission, the owners restarted operations but the deaths have continued.

From the roadside, Bhuvan Valley looks just like the gardens of Eden on the tea packets from which so many Australians brew their tea; flashes of colourful saris amid land lakes of topiaried green that seem to levitate above hillocks and plains.

It is less picturesque up close.

As tired, bony women file from the gardens at dusk, Mannu Ravidas, a casual tea labourer, waits for his wife.

Like most of the workers here he was born on the estate, descended from the original tribal workers trafficked to Assam from central India during British rule.

His ribs protrude from his body and his legs bow outwards in the tell-tale sign of rickets, a common affliction among workers.

Ravidas, 50, says during last year’s closure his family “went hungry every day”, and his father eventually died.

“We are still hungry,” he says. “We eat rice and roti two times a day. One meal is full, the other half. We give my two children more than we eat ourselves but things are much worse than they used to be. When they were small they did not need so much.”

His wife is the only permanent tea labourer in the family. She receives 72 rupees ($1.20) a day, and weekly subsidised rations of 5kg of rice and 3kg of flour that looks like sawdust.

To supplement her meagre income, Ravidas buys sacks of rice and resells them by the roadside.

“So many people fell sick and died, including children,” says Champa, who heads the garden’s women’s panchayat (council).

“Things improved a little when the new manager came but now he has gone and we’re worried. He tried to get a doctor for the dispensary here, and for the owner to pay us the money he owes, but the owner refused so he left.”

The same thing happened before last year’s deaths and workers here are again frantic with worry.

With no manager to endorse their daily pickings, how will they be paid?

Assam produces half a million tonnes of strong black tea annually, filling the tea bags of some of the most recognised tea brands sold in Australia, including Liptons, Twinings and Tetley. It represents half of India’s total tea production.

Trying to understand the anachronistic slavery like labour system and working conditions of labourers in tea industry in Assam that drive them to starvation deaths. In Bhuvan valley tea estate on 19 August 2013 Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, Amanda Hodge and Dr Prasenjit Biswas. — at Bhuvan valley Tea Estate, Cachar, Assam.

Trying to understand the anachronistic slavery like labour system and working conditions of labourers in tea industry in Assam that drive them to starvation deaths. In Bhuvan valley tea estate on 19 August 2013 Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, Amanda Hodge and Dr Prasenjit Biswas. — at Bhuvan valley Tea Estate, Cachar, Assam.

But declining productivity — and hence profits — in many Assamese tea gardens has had an alarming impact on the health and living standards of tea workers. Barak Valley has the lowest-paid tea workers in India, with a minimum wage of R72 a day — less than half the federally mandated minimum daily wage of R158.54 and at least R12 less than workers in neighbouring valleys.

Estate owners say the rest of the wage is paid in kind, through the provision of housing, pensions, food rations and proper healthcare — services they are compelled to provide under the Tea Plantation Labourers’ Act.

In reality, many estates fail to deliver even basic services such as clean water, and owe their workers millions in unpaid wages.

Fair Trade Australia spokesman Nick Tabart says while consumers have successfully pressured the coffee and chocolate industries into improving wages and conditions, the tea industry lags way behind. Of 900-odd tea gardens in Assam, nine are Fair Trade certified.

“We’re well aware that (Assam) is a region that requires attention,” he told The Weekend Australian.

But the biggest barrier to securing living wages on tea estates is decades of low prices, underinvestment by tea estate owners and a “difficult legacy” of bonded labour.

Nirmal Bin’s wife Basanti was 33 when she died on July 30 after a four-month illness. She was a permanent Bhuvan Valley tea worker and so entitled to medicines from the garden’s “dispensary” (just an outbuilding tacked on to an overgrown ruin) to treat her diagnosed kidney disease. “But they would only give us paracetamol,” he says.

Many retirees on the estate have been forced back to work because owners refuse to pay out their pensions from the state’s Provident Fund — money deducted from wages that should have been accruing over decades.

Tea garden owners are required to match that sum each week but the union admits proprietors of Bhuvan Valley and at least nine other local gardens have not done so.

“Their wages are very low, there are no other facilities, housing, medicine, drinking water,” says BN Kurmi, a union official based in the regional capital of Silchar. “If we are more strict then (the owners) will close the gardens and then again the starvation will come.”

Kurmi admits many workers are exploited and that the union “failed” the starving labourers of Bhuvan Valley last year.

It is still failing them.

Behind the dispensary, Imti Rani Dushad is awaiting a pension payout following the death of her husband last year from tuberculosis, which he probably contracted from the canal water that workers relied on until a water treatment plant was finally built a few years ago.

He died inside the dirt-floor hut in which she must now raise their five children alone. The long-closed dispensary reopened a week later.

Now her greatest fear is that she too will fall ill.

“There’s no hope for me or my children,” she says. “How can I improve our condition? My neighbours can’t help me. Their condition is as bad as mine. Except for human sympathy they can’t offer anything.”

In another hut, Sri Charam Baruri nursed his dying mother last year. Her death was long and painful but he doesn’t know what killed her.

His wife, the mother of four children, died a few months earlier, from another mystery cause that may have been meningitis.

In the looming dark — there is no electricity — worker after worker comes forward to tell of their losses.

India’s federal Tea Board says many of the 109 tea gardens of Barak Valley have been neglected by the tea owners, who lease the land from the state.

“We’re focused on helping them improve methods and quality,” says R Kujur, the board’s assistant director in Silchar, though workers’ welfare is a “state government concern”.

To rejuvenate declining tea estates the Tea Board is offering up to R80,000 per hectare to gardens willing to pull unproductive bushes and plant better performing varieties. Aware that publicity of shocking labour conditions — combined with a slide in tea quality — can hurt the industry, it has introduced a certification scheme and is pushing for proprietors to sign on.

“It will take time to motivate the owners and labourer but I can assure you that within three years you will see a huge difference,” Kujur says.

Bhuvan Valley is replanting 20ha of bushes but the Tea Board is still working to get gardens like Craig Park on board. The once grand estate’s tea bushes are producing 50 per cent less leaves than a decade ago.

The district’s deputy commissioner described conditions at Craig Park as a “sorry state of affairs” and noted many workers had died while awaiting retirement payouts. Labourers fear the garden will eventually be closed.

If that happens, thousands of workers will be forced off the land — with nothing to show for generations of cheap toil.

Published at The Australian and available at


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