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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

Assam: After violence, anxieties of land and identity are still haunting the people

October 18, 2012

The Times of India

Harsh Mander

Although Assam has disappeared from the front pages of national newspapers, large populations still live in makeshift, underserved camps, racked by memory, fear and uncertainty, with little prospect of an early return to their homelands. Legitimate anxieties of land and identity have acquired an urgent grammar of violence and hate, and irreconcilable divisions have grown further between estranged communities.



During my journey to relief camps in Dhubri, Chirang and Kokrajhar, housed in the classrooms and courtyards of schools, I found that government had ensured basic food rations and primary healthcare services. For the rest, people mainly had to fend for themselves. There was no bedding, no mosquito nets, toilets were scant and choked, and there was little water for drinking and bathing. People who had fled their burning villages or rampaging mobs had few clothes or utensils. Children were the worst hit. There were no child care services, or temporary schooling. Everywhere i found a longing to return home.

The stories we heard in both Bodo and Bengali Muslim camps were disturbingly similar, of neighbours turning into murderous mobs, of torched and ransacked homes, of looted livestock, and of fearful flight. Many escaped only in fear, even though their settlements were not attacked, and in these villages, men return to guard their homes and fields, leaving the women and children in camps.

There are legitimate anxieties and grievances on both sides of the dispute. Udoyon Misra writes eloquently of the ‘ever so heavy’ burdens of history of indigenous Assamese peoples like the Bodos, of ‘land, immigration, demographic change and identity’. He describes massive land alienation of the Bodo plains tribal people who were shifting cultivators with few land records, by industrious and aggressive Bengali Muslim immigrant cultivators.

Successive governments in both the state and the Centre have failed to effectively seal borders, and to identify and repatriate illegal immigrants. The Bodos worry also about being culturally swamped in their traditional homelands, not just by Bengali Muslims but also other communities such as the caste Hindu Assamese, Koch-rajbanshis, Santhals and Bengali Hindus.



The Bodo accord of 1993, which belatedly gave administrative autonomy to the Bodo people in their traditional homelands in which they already were reduced to a minority, unfortunately also created an incentive for driving out people of other communities and ethnicities. The first attacks by armed Bodo militants on Bengali Muslims occurred in 1993 itself, and these have recurred sporadically against also Santhal adivasis, who are descendants of tea garden workers who migrated centuries back. Clashes occurred in 1994, 1996, 1998 and 1999. Around one and a half lakh people displaced by these clashes – both Bengali Muslim and Santhal – continue to live in camps up to the present day, an entire generation of forgotten internal refugees with no home. The government took no decisive steps to help these refugees return to their homelands.

This remains a festering wound on the psyche of the Bengali Muslim, as also the fact that not a single person has been persecuted for the gruesome slaughter mounted in Nellie in 1983. They complain that all Bengali Muslims are tainted as Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, whereas demographers confirm that only a small fraction of the immigrants are actually illegal settlers who slipped into the state after the agreed cut-off date of 1973. Many have learnt Assamese, and wish to be accepted as legitimate Assamese citizens.

This already fraught environment, of legitimate competing anxieties and grievances of diverse communities, has deteriorated sharply because of the implicit legitimisation of violence as a means to resolve these competing claims. People sympathetic to the concern of Bodos and other indigenous tribal communities suggest that the violence to which they have resorted in recent decades is unfortunate but understandable. This is rendered more dangerous because of the easy availability of sophisticated arms among the surrendered Bodo militants, who were never effectively disarmed.

On the other hand, apologists for the Bengali Muslim violence justify it as being ‘only retaliatory’. This is slippery ethical territory, because the same argument was used to justify the post-Godhra massacre, as well as the slaughter of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. There is disturbing evidence of growing radicalisation of a small section of the Assamese Bengali Muslim, of a kind which was remarkably absent among the victims of the Gujarat violence. The latter have remained unshakably committed to the democratic, legal and non-violent resolution of their grievances, despite the brutal slaughter and systematic subversion of justice and reconciliation by the leadership thereafter.

BTAD Assam (Courtesy IDSA)

BTAD Assam (Courtesy IDSA)

There are wide demands today that only those Bengali Muslims in relief camps should be allowed to return home who can first prove their legal status. The acceptance of this demand would further incentivise the mass violence which resulted in their displacement in the first place. There isno doubt that the rights of indigenous communities to their land, forests and culture need to be defended, and illegal immigration effectively blocked.

But there should be no compromise, even by implication, with violence as a means to achieve these demands. People in both new and old camps must first be res-tored to their homelands unconditionally, and assisted in rebuilding their houses and livelihoods. Only then should a just and caring state intervene to ensure that the legitimate concerns of both indigenous people and settlers are met, by processes which are lawful, humane and non-violent.

The writer is a social activist.

First published in the Times of India and is available here

Assam: The displaced Reangs in Hailakandi district

October 3, 2012

The Reangs are a tribe mostly living in Mizoram state of North East India. They are also known as Brus.  Their displacement is mainly the result of the ethnic clash with the dominant Mizos in Mizoram.

In this Article (The Displaced Reangs in Hailakandi Districtby Abdul Mannan Mazumder and Bornali Bhattacharjree, an attempt has been made to reflect briefly on the displacement of this small ethnic group as a good number of Reangs took shelter in the Assam–Mizoram border in the southern-most part of Hailakandi district of Assam in 1997.

The Article was published in an anthology of papers/articles on Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) in North East India titled Blisters on their Feet: Tales of Internally Displaced Persons in India’s North East edited by Samir Kumar Das and published by Sage Publications in 2008.

It is posted here only for information of the concerned and interested people and not for any commercial purpose. Readers/viewers are requested to get a copy of the book for reference and other purposes.

(BHRPC does not guarantee the authenticity of the statistics and information cited in the article and the authors/editor/publisher are solely responsible for views expressed.)

To view/read/download click here.




India: Proposed reform in criminal justice administration takes away basic human rights and freedom

August 14, 2012

Forwarded statement

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) forwards the statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) August 13, 2012 on the proposed reforms in criminal justice administration in India that proposes a rights trade-off in the excuse of national security, including the negation of the fundamental right to silence and the presumption of innocence. The principle of ‘preponderance of probabilities’ will find itself introduced into criminal trials to convict a person, rather than the requirement of ‘conclusiveness in proof’, the current norm. Statements made by persons to the police during investigation would become admissible as evidence without adequate verification. Expert opinions would be treated as substantive evidence and not as estimations. The trials of offenses punishable with a maximum sentence below 3 years would be reduced into summary proceedings. The draft policy would allow the state to restrict at whim the very scope of the concepts of freedom of opinion and expression. The freedom of the media to report cases, and expose crimes, including those of corruption at high places, would be relegated to the dustbin of history.

INDIA: Reform dishonesty first

August 13, 2012

The government is again planning to change the criminal justice mainframe of the country. Again, the ruse is that of justice to the people and national security. The proposal is open; its true purpose clandestine. If the 2007 report of the Committee on National Policy on Criminal Justice, chaired by Dr. N.R. Madhava Menon, is what has lead to this reform proposal, heed the sign that reads: caution.

On August 9, Mr. Mullapally Ramachandran, union state minister at the Ministry of Home Affairs, stated in Lok Sabha that his ministry is planning to effect a comprehensive change to the criminal justice landscape of the nation. The minister said the overhaul would include amendments to the Indian Penal Code (1860), the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973), and the Indian Evidence Act (1872), collectively known as the criminal major acts.

The ‘reform’ plans to closely consider proposals made by the Committee chaired by Justice V. S. Malimath on reforms of the Criminal Justice System (2003), and the Draft National Policy on Criminal Justice, submitted to the government by Dr. Menon (2007). The Draft National Policy document is itself, in fact, nothing but a summary of the earlier Malimath Committee report.

Mr. Ramachandran informed the House that his ministry has sent its suggestions to the National Law Commission, with a request that the Commission detail the legislative changes needed to bring about the reforms the ministry have in mind. However, neither did the minister care to elaborate, nor did any Member of Parliament think of demanding, the details concerning the proposed reforms. And, no such information is available in the public domain, even at the Home Ministry’s website.

The minister also failed to inform the house whether there would be any public consultation. Given the precedence, there could be some token consultation. Given the history though, not many civil society groups will participate meaningfully, even if they have knowledge of such consultation. This is because the criminal justice system remains a blind-spot amongst Indian civil society groups. Thus, either way, public at large will not be consulted, even though the ‘reforms’ propose to substantially take away their fundamental freedoms.

If the draft national policy is the guideline for the proposed reforms, soon Indians will find their civil rights substantially curtailed. It is a literal death trap for fundamental freedoms. Telephone conversations and other communications will be intercepted by state agencies, acting with statutory impunity, redefining thus the very notion of privacy and privilege in communications.

The draft policy proposes a rights trade-off in the excuse of national security, including the negation of the fundamental right to silence and the presumption of innocence. The principle of ‘preponderance of probabilities’ will find itself introduced into criminal trials to convict a person, rather than the requirement of ‘conclusiveness in proof’, the current norm. Statements made by persons to the police during investigation would become admissible as evidence without adequate verification. Expert opinions would be treated as substantive evidence and not as estimations. The trials of offenses punishable with a maximum sentence below 3 years would be reduced into summary proceedings. The draft policy would allow the state to restrict at whim the very scope of the concepts of freedom of opinion and expression. The freedom of the media to report cases, and expose crimes, including those of corruption at high places, would be relegated to the dustbin of history.

If the national policy as proposed by Dr. Menon’s committee were to be implemented by requisite legislative and constitutional amendments, the relationship between the state and subjects will be re-defined. The amendments will take away the scope of fair trial, since what the police say would soon become proof for conviction. It will, of course, reduce delays in adjudication. This is because it would hardly leave any need for adjudication. Since the policy does not speak about reforming the police by imposing accountability upon the force, the rich and the powerful will still manage to escape investigation, trials and convictions. The national policy only speaks of awarding more powers to the investigating agencies, which, as it is, today, are selectively used and would remain the same. The government has already spoken its mind in failing to implement the Supreme Court’s directives in the Prakash Singh case, watershed directives towards independence and accountability in the criminal justice system. Continued and shameless ignorance of the Court’s directives on one hand, and the institution of these ‘reforms’ on the other, the country will have to continue contending with the same criminals in uniform, policing the people, the only difference being enormous enhancement in police powers, and consequent reduction of individual freedom. With these changes, India will become a police state.

To justify the draconian proposals, Dr. Menon’s committee has liberally used presumptions and surmises, laced together with weaselly generalisations. The draft policy, as far as addressing issues that have rendered the criminal justice system in India a complete failure goes, is a non sequitur. The committee is of the opinion that the Indian state is ‘soft’, which has rendered crime control impossible in the country, and hence has recommended the changes cited above.

It has, in no uncertain terms, discriminated regions in the country, as ‘terrorist’, where it prescribes the role played by the state as an iron fist as just and right, never-mind the fact that such thinking has only helped worsen the living conditions in these regions, with innumerable instances of human rights abuses committed by state and non-state actors.

The committee has, in unambiguous terms, used exceptions such as terrorist attacks as excuse for the dilution of civil liberties, and has encouraged the state to constitute a national framework that could curtail fundamental freedoms to ensure security. The committee has cited restrictions made in other countries as an excuse to justify similar changes in India, suggesting a subjugation of the intellectual sovereignty that Indians must maintain when legislating. The committee’s opinion of blindly following the ‘global trend’ to restrict freedoms suggests two elementary flaws made by the committee: 1) it shows that the committee’s process was not consultative enough, and 2) it shows how, with a single presumptuous sweep, the committee negates the civil liberty movements in the rest of the world that are fighting against such draconian state controls, and how, with equal contempt, the committee treats the collective intellect of the common Indian person. The committee is sure it knows what liberties India should and should not have.

The Menon Committee’s draft national policy emphatically suggests standardising exceptions into norms. On one occasion it quotes an anonymous lawyer, who, according to the committee, demands drastic changes in legal procedures to mandate that the accused, by law, ‘assist’ the court in testifying against himself / herself. To justify formulation of draconian state control in the name of security, the committee repeatedly uses the term ‘public expectation’ in reference to the duty of the state to provide security even at the cost of fundamental freedoms. However, in reality, the committee never approached the public to seek its views.

The policy document and those who drafted it lack the basic honesty expected of such proposals and bodies. They failed to point out the elephant in the room: that the problems affecting the criminal justice system in the country are deep-rooted corruption within the police and within all tiers of the judiciary; ineptitude; an assortment of crimes, including that of torture, committed by law-enforcement officers with impunity; lack of professionalism and any form of training and opportunities for enforcement officers to cultivate the same; and a close to non-existent prosecutorial framework.

There has been so far no attempt by the government to study these evils that have held the country’s justice apparatus at ransom. Without this, propounding that the public gift away their fundamental freedoms to guarantee security is nothing less than fraud upon the country. The only result will be ensuring the security of tenure for criminals in seats of power in the country. Unwillingness to end the aforementioned issues is what adversely affects justice administration in India. It is not a passive oversight, but an active pursuit, easily apparent if one only considers the minimal resources allocated to justice institutions; today, the judiciary is literally smothered out due to lack of adequate funds.

What is the security a citizen can expect when law-enforcement officers only attract deep contempt from the public and display shameless ineptitude in discharging their duties? What is the meaning of protection when police officers rob money and life out of the people and are more feared for rape and murder than street thugs? Where is the value of civilian law-enforcement when the officers mandated to enforce the law breach all laws possible? What is the meaning of ‘reform’, when the officers of the state who are to be reformed are forced to continue in the public perception as criminals in uniform?

Committees constituted to play background scores to a treachery, not advocating reforms where they are needed, and proposing to filch away even those few, but crucial, freedoms that protect common people today – with or without the protection of their state and its agencies – are the real security threat to the nation. Such committees would suggest anything required by those that constitute them. These committees have nothing in common with the larger mass of the country. They have no understanding of how ordinary Indians struggle daily to survive, protecting themselves from criminals in uniform.

Six or seven clandestine paper presentations held at universities, where the public has no access, cannot be the basis for the formulation of a national policy that could diminish fundamental freedoms in India. But the fact is, such a policy is now in place to be implemented and the term ‘public demand’ is used liberally in the policy document, as an excuse to justify parochial, restrictive and draconian changes to be brought into the national legal mainframe.

Security of life and property of the citizen is directly proportional to what is implied as ‘national security.’ Unlike exceptions of violence sponsored by anti-state entities, every day in the length and breath of the country, fundamental rights of the people are brutally violated by law enforcement agencies, especially the local police. Not a single attempt has been made in the country to criminalise violence committed by law enforcement agencies, often in the name of social control, and crime investigation.

Every police station in India routinely practices torture. It is performed publicly, without any form of legislative or practical control. Police officers and policy-makers equally believe that torture is an acceptable means of crime investigation. Just as it is done in the Menon Committee, the country has failed to treat this single fatal cancer, something that has rendered the entire police service in India as nothing more than a group of uniformed thugs lacking moral and operation discipline.

Conditions are far worse when it comes to paramilitary units stationed along the borders and in areas where they are deployed to assist state administrations, like in Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal. There is no data available in the public domain as to what actions are initiated upon complaints of human rights abuses committed by these forces. As per the information collated by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), there is little doubt that the Border Security Force (BSF) stationed along the Indo-Bangladesh border is a threat to national security. They engage in crimes like rape, torture and extrajudicial execution in routine. The BSF is a demoralised and corrupt force that engages in all forms of corruption, including anchoring trans-border smuggling.

If national security is of any importance, law enforcement agencies must be held accountable, as must members of submissive and myopic committees that advance dangerous proposals, set to further harm lives of their country-men.

Information provided at the National Bureau of Crime Records for the past several years only advances this argument further. According to the Bureau, in 2011 there were only 72 reported cases of human rights abuses alleged against the police in the entire country. Out of this only 7 were cases of alleged torture. There were only 6 cases of illegal arrest and detention, and only 1 and 3 cases of alleged extortion were reported from Punjab and Delhi, respectively. In states like Assam, Bihar, Goa, Jharkhand, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Sikkim and Tripura there were no cases of human rights abuses registered for the year! To say that the statistics mock reality would be an understatement.

India does need reform. It should begin with ending the practice of shameless lying.

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For information and comments contact: 
In Hong Kong: Bijo Francis, Telephone: +852 – 26986339, Email:

The statement can be accessed on the AHRC website at



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