Archive for the ‘Urgent Appeal’ Category

Urgent appeal: Include the excluded people in the citizens’ register (NRC) for Assam, India

August 6, 2018

On 30 July 2018 the Government of India published a draft register of citizens residing in the state of Assam. This draft register admittedly excluded more than four million people who submitted applications for inclusion of their names. These four million people are at the risk of being rendered stateless.

People waiting to check their names in first draft of NRC publish on 31st December 2017

People waiting to check their names in first draft of NRC publish on 31st December 2017 (Photo: thehindiu.com)

Please sign the petition here

The main reasons for exclusion of such a large number of people include:

  1. Having no acceptable documents of pre-1971 as is required for inclusion.
  2. Having no acceptable documents to establish relationship with an ancestor who has a pre-1971 document.
  3. Non-acceptance of otherwise valid documents like school certificates and certificates of birth given by hospitals etc.
  4. Failure to verify submitted documents by the authorities.
  5. Non-acceptance of oral evidence.
  6. Not having an opportunity to establish citizenship by birth under section 3 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 by producing birth certificate or other admissible evidence of birth in India within the period specified.
  7. Non-application of subsection 7 (a) of section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
  8. Non-application of Proviso to section 2 of the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950.
  9. Little or no application of Sub-paragraph 3 of Paragraph 3 of the Schedule titled Special Provision as to Manner of Preparation of National Register of Indian Citizens in State of Assam framed under Rule 4A of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 in certain areas including South Assam and West Assam. And so on.

However, there is still a window of Claims, Objections and Corrections which will start and applications from the excluded applicants will be accepted from 30 August 2018 to 28 September 2018. The disposal period and procedure are yet to be notified.

Many of the people who are at risk of being rendered stateless can be saved and included in the register if the procedure of dealing with, and disposing of, the applications are formulated keeping in mind the humanitarian aspect of the process.

Please sign the petition here

In view of this it is suggested that the following points should be considered while framing Modalities in the Form of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP):

  1. Claims:

(1) At the minimum, six months’ time should be given for submitting applications for claims. Otherwise, a lot of people who have their origin in other states outside Assam or who work as migrant labourers in other states or abroad will be grossly prejudiced.

(2) An opportunity to establish citizenship by birth under section 3 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 by producing birth certificate or other admissible evidence of birth in India within the period specified should be given to the applicants.

(3) An opportunity should also be given to the applicants to establish citizenship before 7 December 1985 being the date on which Act 65 of 1985 that incorporated section 6A in the Citizenship Act, 1955 came into effect since as per subsection 7 of section 6A the provisions of section 6A is not applicable to them.

(4) The persons to whom Proviso to Section 2 of the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 applies should be included in the NRC on the basis of direct or circumstantial evidence.

(5) While considering Claims applications, Sub-paragraph 3 of Paragraph 3 of the Schedule titled Special Provision as to Manner of Preparation of National Register of Indian Citizens in State of Assam framed under Rule 4A of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 should be applied in appropriate cases. One of the reasons for exclusion of such a large number of people is little or non-application of this provision in districts of Barak valley and West Assam. There were people inhabiting in the area now under the 3 districts of the valley for centuries before it was annexed to the British domain by the East India Company and later joined with Assam.

(6) Those minor children whose parent/s is/are included in the final draft but who themselves are excluded from the list due to defects in link documents should be included on the basis of oral evidence or they should be given an opportunity to obtain other documents including birth certificate without hassles. Otherwise, it would be absurd to think that such children emigrated from Bangladesh leaving their parents behind.

(7) In case of married women certificate issued by Panchayat secretaries should be accepted as a link document. Such certificates have been allowed in case of married women after a lot of consideration by the Hon’ble Supreme Court because there is a possibility that no other documents will be available for them. Supporting oral evidence should also be admitted in such cases.

(8) Where the applicants fail to prove link with accepted legacy person by producing prescribed documents but insist on the relationship, they should be given an opportunity to prove the claimed linkage by DNA test conducted outside Assam at the state expense.

(9) No original application or claims application should be rejected on the ground that the documents submitted could not be verified. Their cases may be kept on hold until verification is done. Verification is the responsibility of the state.

(10) Any valid document establishing relationship with the legacy person of the applicant including PAN and ADHAAR cards should not be rejected on the ground that pan card is issued after 2015 and ADHAAR card is not being issued in the state of Assam officially.

(11) Minor mismatches and discrepancies in names, addresses, ages and other details in the documents relied by the applicants should be ignored and the probative value of the documents should not be considered affected.

(12) Order rejecting original application or claims application should record reasons for such rejection in detail dealing with each ground separately.

  1. Objections:

(1) No objection application should be accepted unless the person objecting knows the person objected to personally and sets forth reasonable grounds for such objection in the application.

(2) The notice of hearing in case of an objection should clearly state the grounds of objections to enable the concerned person to prepare her rebuttal. Such notice should be served with all seriousness giving at least six months’ time personally by the local NRC Seva Kendra (NSK) officials. Unless there is an endorsement of the notice receiver, the service should not be treated as complete.

(3) Without giving an opportunity of cross-examination of objector no objection should be accepted.

  1. Corrections:

(1) Officials who know the language of the applicant well shall be entrusted with the task of correcting names and other details.

(2) There should be a separate system of transliteration in Bengali and other languages to avoid spelling errors in names and other details published in those languages.

Please sign the petition here

Assam: Abuse, threats, intimidation and false case against human rights defender, scholar and writer Prof. Tapodhir Bhattacharjee

July 9, 2018

Assam human rights defender and renowned literary theorist and litterateur of South Asia Mr. Tapodhir Bhattacharjee has been abused, threatened and booked for an article written by him exposing the discriminatory and arbitrary procedure of updating of National Register of Citizens (NRC).

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Prof. Tapodhir Bhattacharya

Please sign the petition HERE

Following the publication of an article in by Professor Tapodhir Bhattacharjee, on Tuesday 3rd July, 2018 in the “Aajkaal“, a leading Bengali daily news-paper published from Kolkata, West Bengal, titled “Assam e Bangalir Shoroshojja” meaning “Bengalis on a bed of thorns in Assam” pointing out the racist and anti-people aspects of ongoing updation process of National Register of Citizens in Assam, at first, a section of electronic as well as print media based in Guwahati including the Pratadin Times, News 18 Assam etc. and “Edinor Sangbad”, “Axomiya Pratidin” among the print media branded him as a conspirator against the Assamese community. Then on 8 July a complaint was filed for registering a false criminal case against him in Dispur Police Station purportedly under section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Mr Tapodhir Bhattacharjee is a renowned and award winning literary theorist and critic and exponent of the contemporary theory and comparative aesthetics. Along with it, he is an essayist, poet, story-writer and the editor of a widely circulated little magazine “Dwiralaap”. He is a dedicated Human Rights Defender and at present works as the President of the Citizens Rights Protection Co-ordination Committee(CRPCC). This organization has been working against arbitrary deprivation of citizenship rights of the citizens and against continuous enforced statelessness of people of Assam for a long time. He is also an honorary member of Barak Upottoka Bongo Shahitto O Sanskriti Sammelan (Barak Valley Bengali Literary and Cultural Association), a prestigious body of litterateurs and intellectuals of South Assam. He is also the former Vice-Chancellor of the Assam University, Silchar and Tagore Professor of Delhi University. His father late Mr. Tarapada Bhattacharya was a freedom fighter and a member of the Assam Legislative Assembly from Katigorah Constituency, Cachar. Both of his parents were teachers. His wife Mrs. Swapna Bhattacharya is also a renowned and award-winning story-writer. Defaming and intimidating a person of such a stature and popularity is designed to stop him from his constant work mainly through writing and raising awareness for protection of basic human rights of linguistic and ethnic minorities of Assam as well as other human rights defenders working on the issue of arbitrary deprivation of citizenship rights of people in Assam.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed governments both at centre in 2014 and in Assam state in 2016, one hundred more Foreigners Tribunals were set up and a large number of people including the indigenous people of Assam were served notices by these Tribunals and in many cases notices are not properly served and decisions are taken ex -parte declaring the person referred to in the case as a foreign national under a procedure that puts burden of proof on the suspect. After such decision, people are kept in detention centres indefinitely. Moreover, since the updation of National Register Citizens for Assam is going on in the state under a questionable procedure, a sense of helplessness and desperation have developed among the vulnerable groups of people to such an extent that at least ten people, including a man from indigenous Boro community and rest from people of Bengali origin, have committed suicide. More recently through a letter dated 11 June 2018 addressed to the Minister of External Affairs, Government of India, United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on minority issues, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary from of racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, the Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief have expressed their concerns and asked for a report from the Government of India on the issue of discrimination faced by people of Bengali origin. In such a scenario the term “bed of thorns”, which is a metaphor taken from the Indian epic Mahabharata, appears to have been used in the post-editorial essay to denote this extremely stressful and uncertain situation prevailing in Assam as an outcome of discriminatory, arbitrary and irrational procedure adopted by the NRC authorities.

The complaint filed in Dispur Police Station is has invoked section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Section 153A provides punishment for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony and is non-bailable. The opinion piece penned by Mr. Bhattacharya does not by any stretch of imagination falls under any penal provisions of law, let alone section 153A, IPC. He critiqued the state policies and actions that are resulting in arbitrary deprivation of citizenship of a large number of citizens of India including people of indigenous communities through a procedure already questioned by the United Nations Special Rapporteurs. There is not a single word in his entire essay that is calculated to promote enmity between communities. Rather the write-up seeks to promote harmony between communities through promotion and protection of equal rights of people of all communities living in Assam. The speech in the article is well within the protection of Article 19 of the Constitution of India as well as Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966. And it does not fall under any of the eight items enumerated under Article 19(2).

His works as the president of CRPCC and member of other civil society organizations as well as in his individual capacity fall within the meaning of human rights works as contemplated under the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as such he is also protected under the declaration as a human rights defender.

In this background it appears that the defamation, threats and the false complaint against Mr Tapodhir Bhattacharya is an effort to create an environment of fear among the human rights defenders and progressive community workers. It is to be mentioned that earlier also in the 1970s and 80s, hundreds of community workers were killed in Assam after branding them as “Badan” meaning “conspirator and traitors”.

Therefore, Mr Tapodhir Bhattacharajee is at risk of getting physically assaulted and even killed by the extremists. He is also likely to be harassed by the police in connection with the complaint against him. There are also concerns about safety and physical and mental well being of his family and friends and other human rights defenders working in Assam, particularly on the issue of arbitrary deprivation of citizenship.

 

Please sign the petition HERE

 (For more information,  Taniya Laskar may be contacted at bhrpc.ne@gmail.com.)

CJP Urgent Appeal: Stop Move to Make Assamese Muslims Homeless & Stateless Sign our Petition NOW!

April 26, 2018

(BHRPC forwards this Citizens for Justice and Peace petition to protect bonafide Indian citizens from enforced statelessness)

A humanitarian crisis is underway in Assam as you read this. The National Register for Citizens (NRC), a record of ‘legitimate’ Indian citizens living in Assam, is being updated for the first time since 1951. The ostensible objective is to weed out ‘Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’. However, the numbers tell a chilling story… one of a conspiracy of ‘othering’ and exclusion.

NRC Appeal

Representational image by CJP

3.29 crore people from 68.27 lakh families in Assam have submitted over 6.5 crore documents with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to prove their Indian citizenship. But the NRC recently published a list of only 1.9 crores as legal citizens.

A huge number of 1.39 crore Assamese, almost all Muslim, are under threat of having their legitimate citizenship revoked. CJP believes this is discriminatory. Join us and raise your voice against this injustice. Sign our Petition NOW!

  • We demand an immediate halt to this anti-constitutional and potentially polarizing move.
  • We demand an end to this attempt to brand all Muslims as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
  • We demand that corrupt local officials are NOT empowered with coercive powers to unilaterally decide fates of entire families.
  • We demand a stop to dividing Assam for narrow political gains.

Raise your voice against this now. Sign our petition.

The appeal was published on CJP website and reproduced here for wider dissemination.

Assam: Another arbitrary eviction drive in Kaziranga National Park renders hundreds of people homeless

February 13, 2018

Pranab Doley of Jeepal Krisak Sramik Sangha put out an urgent appeal on Assam government’s latest round of arbitrary eviction drive on 12 Feburay on his facebook page. According to him, this is just another brutal eviction that follows the game of dispossession that rules the state of Assam. This time the people living in the 6th addition of Kaziranga National Park, Assam were evicted.

According to the appeal, on 12 February 2018 since 9:30 am in the morning hours there has been an indiscriminate demolition of khutis (bamboo huts of cattle herders) in the disputed territories of the 6th addition to Kaziranga. The villagers have recorded cases of harassment and torture of children and elderly persons alike who have been in their khutis to attend to their cattle.

Photo courtesy Pranab Doley

Photo courtesy Pranab Doley

New Bitmap Image

Photo courtesy Pranab Doley

Eviction of about 70 khutis has taken place today in the area of Kathanibari, Kumurakati (stretch of 8/9 km) extending up to Sila-mari. This whole space is dominantly used by the Muslim cattle herders to graze their livestock.

According to the information from the locals, the Forest Minister of Assam, Pramila Rani Brahma, visited the area just after the poaching of a Rhino was declared, and she arbitrarily decided to evict the area urgently, without taking into consideration rights of the people. Till now a number of more than 65 khutis have already been demolished with bulldozers; even now while writing, men, women and children are being brutally harassed by the forest department of Kaziranga National Park, accompanied by the police and paramilitary personnel, leaving people in a state of fear and panic. There are in total a number of more than 70 khutis which are being planned to be cleaned up.

A forest range officer declared with pride that the place is not under eviction but “ejection”, which signifies the continuity of evictions on the same people as the herders have nowhere else to go with their livestock but to rear them in the same place by repeatedly facing evictions. He also expressly mentioned that there is no clear demarcation of the borders of the 6th addition, and cleaned up actions take place from time to time without any eviction notice; the same place has been already ‘cleaned up’ twice in 2017. All this without taking into consideration the rights of people who have multiple time submitted petitions and claims demanding their grazing rights be recognized.

The area under eviction has been traditionally used by farmers and cattle grazers’ families since 1940/50s, they had access to much interiors of Kaziranga National Park as portrayed in the grazing permissions by the government. Since 1985, an area of 37,6000 hectares has been contested and notified in 1999 under 6th addition of Kaziranga National Park, as part of the buffer zone. This area which has been a contested territory since then, includes the north bank of Brahmaputra river, and the sand bars (chapori), a mobile land which get continuously reshaped by the endless movement of the river.

Taking the excuse of Rhino poaching, a high militarization and coercive policy use in Kaziranga National Park continues to be exercised against the poor farmers whose life depends on natural resources. The Kaziranga administration started its project of extension on revenue land, which has never been under forest department and for which taxes continue to be paid by the forest dwellers to the revenue department.

Now the question is of continuous violation of the fundamental rights of the people living in this area. The 6th addition has been notified without being settled in accordance with the due process of law. It has not taken into consideration the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 as amended in 2006. Thus the area has been encroached by the Kaziranga National Park forcefully evicting the traditional dwellers from their sources of livelihood. No notification and no consultation has taken place in violation of the sec. 4(2) of FRA and sec. 38(V) of WLPA, under which the rights of traditional forest dwellers have to be settled. This also goes against the concept of buffer areas, under which the 6th addition falls, which is supposed to promote co-existence.

Pranab Doley and  Someswar Narah of Jeepal Krisak Sramik Sangha and Ananta Hazarika of Krishak Mahasabha issued an appeal to the authorities urging them to immediately stop violations of the rights of the people, and to respond to the appeal of the people to recognize their customary grazing rights under the existing law. They stated that this was required to stop the endless conflict which continues to create poverty and insecurity amidst the most vulnerable communities of India.

For further details Mr Pranab Doley of Jeepal Krisak Sramik Sangha may be contacted at pranabdoley08@gmail.com

Urgent appeal regarding abuse and threats received by human rights defender Bondita Acharya

April 21, 2017

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee forwards this Urgent Appeal issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission regarding gross abuse and serious threats received by human rights defender Bondita Acharya:

INDIA: Assamese Human Rights Defender Bondita Acharya violently threatened on social media.

 

April 19, 2017

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-023-2017

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19 April 2017
———————————————————————
INDIA: Assamese Human Rights Defender Bondita Acharya violently threatened on social media.
ISSUES: Cyber Abuse, Cow Slaughter, Freedom of Speech and Expression
———————————————————————
Dear Friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing about the death threats, rape threats and other abusive messages received by renowned Human Rights Defender, Bondita Acharya, in Assam. She shared her thoughts on a social platform in Jorhat, condemning the arrest of three people for the possession of beef.

CASE NARRATIVE:

On April 4th, three people were arrested by the police in Johrat, Assam. A complaint was made by the local BJP leader Mridupawan Bora. He accused them of offending religious sentiments, because they were in possession of 500 grams of beef meant for consumption. Since one was a minor, the other two were arrested and charged under Section 295 (a) of the IPC and the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950 (hereinafter the Act).

According to MASUM, our partner organisation, Bondita Acharya posted her comments on the incident on a social media website on 6th April 2017. Reports state that she had commented that even people from higher castes of the Hindu community eat beef in the state and it was not just Muslims who consumed beef. This angered some people. She received death threats, rape threats, threats of acid attacks and sexually abusive comments. All this for condemning the arrest of three people, and expressing her views on the matter of beef consumption in the state.

On April 9, Acharya filed a complaint with the Superintendent of Police at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Guwahati. She attached screenshots of comments made against her on social media. AHRC has been given access to these by MASUM. Reportedly no action has been taken on her complaint to date. According to a statement issued by ‘Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression’ (WSS) of which Acharya is a member, the Bajrang Dal has issued a press release demanding a public apology from her for her criticism of the arrests.

BACKGROUND

According to the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, under which the three were arrested, cattle slaughter is allowed only under certain conditions. As per Ss. 5 and 6 of the Act, cattle cannot be slaughtered unless a certificate in writing from the Veterinary Officer is obtained for the purpose. Nowhere does the Act state that possession or consumption of beef is criminal or prohibited.

It is becoming increasingly common for people to take refuge in the anonymity and assumed safety offered by the Internet. It allows them to make violent threats and abusive comments, especially against women, on social media platforms. Recently, the young activist, Gurmehar Kaur, was at the receiving end of similar vitriol for sharing her views on the India-Pakistan impasse. In this case, Acharya has also been subject to terrible abuse online. And this is simply because she stated what she feels with respect to beef consumption habits in Assam and the North East. The police must ensure that crimes of this nature are swiftly investigated, utilising the best technology and skills available and prevent religious fundamentalists from having an upper hand.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Bondita Acharya is a human rights defender from Assam, in north-eastern India, and a member of Women in Governance (WinG) Assam. She is also the Northeast coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA) and a member of the network Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS).


SUGGESTED ACTION

Please write to the following authorities requesting that Ms. Acharya and her team are provided protection and her complaint is registered and enquired into speedily by the investigating agencies.

The AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Michael Forst, urging his intervention in this matter.

To support this case, please click here:

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SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ………………..,

INDIA: Assamese Human Rights Defender Bondita Acharya violently threatened on social media.

Name of Victim: Bondita Acharya, Human Rights Defender in Assam
Name of Alleged Perpetrators: Members of a Social Media Platform
Date of incident: 9/10 April, 2017
Place of Incident: Johrat, Assam

I am writing to you to voice my deep concern about the death threats and rape threats and sexually explicit abuse received by Bondita Acharya, Human Rights Defender. She received all this on a social media platform for expressing her views on the consumption of beef by Hindus and commenting on the arrest of 3 persons for the same.


On April 4th, three people were arrested by the police in Johrat, Assam after a complaint was made by the local BJP leader Mridupawan Bora. They were accused of offending the religious sentiments of the people, because they were in possession of 500 grams of beef meant for consumption. Since one was a minor, the other two were arrested and charged under Section 295 (a) of the IPC and the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950 (hereinafter the Act).

According to MASUM, AHRC’s partner organisation, Bondita Acharya posted her comments on the incident on a social media website on 6th April 2017. Reports state that she had commented that even people from higher castes of the Hindu community eat beef in the state and it was not just Muslims who consumed beef. This angered some people. She received death threats, rape threats, threats of acid attack and sexually abusive comments on social media. All this for condemning the arrest of three people, and expressing her views on the matter of beef consumption in the state.

On April 9, Acharya filed a complaint with the Superintendent of Police at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Guwahati. She attached screenshots of the comments made against her on social media. AHRC has been given access to these by MASUM. Reportedly no action has been taken on her complaint to date. According to a statement issued by ‘Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression’ (WSS) of which Acharya is a member, the Bajrang Dal has issued a press release demanding a public apology from her for her criticism of the arrests.

According to the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, under which the three were arrested, cattle slaughter is allowed only under certain conditions. As per Ss. 5 and 6 of the Act, cattle cannot be slaughtered unless a certificate in writing from the Veterinary Officer is obtained for the purpose. Nowhere does the Act state that possession or consumption of beef is criminal or prohibited.

It is becoming increasingly common for people to take refuge in the anonymity and assumed safety offered by the Internet. It allows them to make violent threats and abusive comments against women on social media platforms. Recently, the young activist, Gurmehar Kaur was at the receiving end of similar vitriol for sharing her views on the India-Pakistan impasse. In this case, Acharya too has been subject to terrible abuse online simply because she stated what she feels with respect to beef consumption habits in Assam and the North East. The police must ensure that crimes of this nature are swiftly investigated, utilising the best technology and skills available.

A little about Bondita Acharya – she is a human rights defender from Assam, in north eastern India, and a member of Women in Governance (WinG) Assam. She is also the Northeast coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA) and a member of the network Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS).

I therefore request you to ensure that:


• Ms. Acharya’s complaint is registered and swiftly investigated to bring the perpetrators to book for the cyber abuse

• The safety and security of Acharya and her team are ensured by providing her with protection
• Investigate into the case of the 3 people arrested for cow slaughter as they were allegedly merely in possession of beef and that is not a criminal act as per the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950

I look forward to your prompt action in this matter.

Yours sincerely,

______________

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Justice H.L. Dattu, Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
Manav Adhikar Bhawan
Block-C, G.P.O. Complex, INA
New Delhi-110023
Email:cr.nhrc@nic.in

2. Shri. Mukesh Sahay
Director General of Police (Assam)
Ph: 03612450555
Email id: dgp@assampolice.gov.in

3. Shri. R Chandranathan
ADGP, CID, Assam
Email: : adgp-cid@assampolice.gov.in / ssp-cid@assampolice.com

4. Shri. RP Meena
IGP (Special Branch) , Jorhat, Assam
Ph: +91 96549 58803
Email id: igp-security@assampolice.gov.in

5. Michael Forst
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Palais Wilson
United Nations Office at Geneva
CH 1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland
Email: urgent-action@ohchr.org

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Program
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

 

 

Assam: Human rights defenders intimidated and beaten up in Karimganj district allegedly by a government official and his hired goons

December 18, 2015

Anti-corruption and labour rights activist Mr Shyamraj Rajbhor and his wife Ms Aradhana Rajbhor, who is an activist in her own right, were badly beaten up causing serious injuries on 2 December, 2015 allegedly by Mr P K Roy, Block Development Officer (BDO), Ramkrishna Nagar Block (in Karimganj district of Assam) and his accomplices presumably to intimidate them and members of their organisation Mojuri Sramik Union (MSU) into silence on the matter of alleged corruption relating to allotment of a house under Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), a central government flagship programme to provide housing for the rural poor in India. Despite filing complaint to the police and district authorities no actions against the alleged perpetrators have been taken. Mr and Ms Rajbhor and members of the MSU are apprehending more such attacks in view of lack of any deterrent actions and preventive measures.

Background: The MSU is a trade union registered under the Trade Union Act, 1926 vide registration number 2648 dated 29/10/2015. The main office of the union is located at Ratanpur Road, Hailakandi district in Assam. The primary objectives of the union include: 1. Ensuring security and welfare of the labourers of unorganised sectors and the tea garden labourers; 4. Proper implementation of the government schemes and programmes meant for the welfare of the poor people such as (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), IAY etc.; 4. Proper implementation of Public Distribution System etc. They mainly work through peaceful street activism like rally, demonstrations etc.; and also use Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005 to expose and fight corruption whenever necessary and other legal mechanisms including litigation in courts of law, if necessary.

34 year old Mr Shyamraj Rajbhor is the Secretary of Block Committee of the MSU for Ramkrishna Nagar Development Block and Ms Aradhana Rajbhor (32) is his wife and a member of the union. Both of them are residents of village Rajnagar (Post Office: Purva Harinagar) under Ramkrishna Nagar Police Station in Karimganj district, Assam. At the time of attack they were involved in works on alleged corruption relating to allotment of fund for IAY house. At the local level the authority of such allotment rests with the BDO.

According to leaders of the union, documents obtained through application under the RTI Act suggested that there were mis-allocation and misappropriation of fund under IAY scheme. The union members said that it was found that fund for a house had been allotted to a person who did not come under the category specified for the scheme because their name was not there in the lists of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families for whom the scheme is meant. The MSU, therefore, filed a complaint on 16 June, 2015 regarding the matter in the BDO office. The BDO after a long delay conducted a hearing on the case and said that he would inspect all relevant documents and would also conduct a spot verification on 2 December, 2015. But on the stipulated date when Mr Shyamraj Rajbhor went to the BDO office to produce the documents obtained through RTI application as well as the lists of BPL candidates of the area etc., he found that the BDO had already left the office. When Mr Rajbhor called him up he was asked to go to the house of one Mr Ravi Malakar of village Rajnagar in Ramkrishna Nagar area.

The incident: According to Mr Rajbhor, he along with some other union members and the supposed beneficiaries of the IYA in the area who were deprived due to the mis-allocation went to the said house, but the house owner did not permit them to enter his premises. Later on, after further telephonic conversations with the BDO, who was already inside the house, Mr Ravi Malakar informed that he would allow only Mr Rajbhor to come inside and meet the BDO. Accordingly Mr Rajbhor accompanied the house owner and met the BDO.  Mr Rajbhor produced the documents regarding the alleged wrong allocation of IAY housing fund but the BDO claimed that the documents were false and the particular house regarding which the complaint was made was that very house of Mr Ravi Malakar. But when Mr Rajbhor insisted that it was not true, the BDO got furious and started abusing and hitting, punching and kicking him. Then the other eight persons present there, who were allegedly hired by the BDO, namely Mr Shibu Das, Mr Paplu Dev, Mr Jontu Das, Mr Piklu Dev, Mr  Shundangshu Dev, Mr Moni Malakar and Mr Ravi Malakar also started beating him up. They repeatedly punched him on the head, face and other parts of the body. They also kicked him when he fell down on the floor. Hearing hue and cry generated by this Ms Aradhana Rajbhor also entered the premises and came forward to help her husband. She was also assaulted and molested by the perpetrators, according to her. When the other persons along with the driver of their vehicle tried to enter the premises another two persons stopped them in the gate and threatened to beat them up brandishing bamboo sticks. They also snatched the files containing the documents regarding the alleged corruption. When Mr Rajbhor almost became senseless the perpetrators took him aboard a Bollero car and started to move the vehicle but again threw him out a few metres away. Then his companions took him and his wife to the local hospital from where they were referred to the Santosh Kumar Roy Civil Hospital in Hailakandi town. They were admitted there and treated for seven days. Thereafter, they were released with the prescription of one month’s complete bed rest. At the time of filing this report they were still under medications.

Aftermath: A complaint detailing the incident was lodged on 2 December, 2015 at Ramkrishna Nagar Police Station. According to the MSU members, no case was registered till date and the statements of the victims and the witnesses were not recorded. According to Union President Mr Altaf Khan, “the attitude of the police is very questionable as the miscreants are not arrested till now”. Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) is concerned that if no action is immediately taken against the alleged perpetrators the path of justice for the victims may get difficult and such intimidating attacks on human rights defenders working in the area may be repeated.

Recommendations: 1. A case under the appropriate sections of law should immediately be registered against the accused BDO and his accomplices.

  1. All the accused including the BDO should be arrested immediately.
  1. A prompt and objective investigation into the case should be conducted under the supervision of a Deputy Superintendent of Police leading to filing of charge sheets as soon as possible.
  1. Adequate amount of interim compensation as well as ex-gratia for their treatments should be paid to the victims.
  1. The state should provide security to the leading members of the Mojuri Sramik Union and other human rights defenders who are at risk of such attacks.
  1. An additional case of misappropriation of public money by the public servant must be registered regarding the wrong allotment of Indira Awas Yojana.
  1. Any other appropriate actions for creating a safe and friendly environment for those who are defending rights of people guaranteed under the constitution of India and human rights treatises to which India is a state party.

Urgent Appeal: Call 09266802178 to demand repeal of sedition laws

December 15, 2012

Support the campaign of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) to repeal the draconian SEDITION LAW created by the British to stifle India’s freedom movement.

Today, the law is used in democratic India by the government to suppress criticism and crush dissent in violation of our Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, including the Right to Dissent.

We need your support to spread the campaign, so please urge everyone you know to call 09266802178 and pledge their support in demanding the repeal of this anti-democratic law.

Hunger Alert: Urge India to save her people from hunger death

May 21, 2012

Dear friends,

Very shockingly, the enforced conditions of starvation and famine and resultant tragedy of hunger deaths of the tea workers of Assam still persists with its all menacing ugliness. Labourers of tea estates in this North East Indian state known worldwide for tea production are dying one after another due to malnutrition and lack of proper health care.

So far 15 workers of a particular tea garden in South Assam died and several others are counting their days, according to the information available with the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC).

 Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 Further information:

The BHRPC conducted a fact-finding study during the last days of January 2012 in the Bhuvan valley tea garden after receiving reports of hunger deaths and released a fact-finding report on 1 February revealing information about deaths of 10 residents of the estate allegedly caused by starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper health care. After that deaths of four more persons were reported.

The latest unfortunate death was of Lakhi Prasad Dushad, a permanent worker of the estate and a resident of North bank division who died on 3 May 2012.

He was only 38 years old. He left behind him his wife Imti Dushad (aged about 30), his sons Kishan Dushad (15), Eleven Dushad (13), Sujit Dushad (11), Hitesh Dushad (8) and 5 year old daughter Sweetie Dushad. Their survival is uncertain and matter of grave concern.

Lakhi Sabor, wife of Giridhari Sabor of Boali area in the garden. She is very weak and has low appetite and low vision.

Lakhi Sabor, wife of Giridhari Sabor of Boali area in the garden. She is very weak and has low appetite and low vision.

It all started in this tea estate, owned by a private company based in Kolkata (West Bengal),  when the owners closed down the estate on 8 October 2011 and abandoned the labourrer, about 500 of whom were permanent and another 1000 casual workers, in response to their demands for payment of outstanding dues of wages, increase in the wages which was about Rs. 41,00 for casual workers and Rs. 55.00 for permanent workers and far below the statutory minimum wages and payment of other withheld benefits. He illegal closure of the estate resulted in loss of means of livelihood of the workers that pushed them into the condition of starvation and famine leading to the deaths and death-like condition of living. The rights of plantation workers to fair wage, bonus, provident fund, housing and basic medical facilities in accordance with the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 have not been enforced. In the course of closure, the government also failed to make any intervention to guarantee their fundamental rights to live with dignity. It is further found that basic medical care and food distribution for the poor under the government schemes including the ICDS did not properly reach even those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it was one of the causes that led to the deaths.

Even after deaths of so many people the central government ofIndiaand the state government ofAssamhave not yet taken any effective actions for amelioration of the situation except some inquiries designed to serve as a cover-up. Therefore, workers in the garden are still dying.

In view of the above and the commitment ofIndiato the protection of human rights of every citizen and prevention of starvation deaths, the BHRPC urges that:

A. The authorities should provide urgent relief to the tea workers in terms of food supply and medical treatment to prevent further deaths and deterioration of health conditions of sick workers and their dependents.

B. The authorities should conduct a prompt, impartial and objective inquiry into the situation of the garden to fix responsibility for the deaths and the conditions that led to this situation including corruption in implementation of government welfare schemes and non-adherence to the provisions of the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 and other laws applicable in the estate management by an independent commission of inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of a high court or the supreme court and comprising of, among others, medical experts, nutrition experts, labour rights and human rights experts.

C. The officials or other persons who would be found negligent and derelict in their legal duties and responsibilities that directly contributed to the developing of the situation that led to the deaths should be prosecuted according to law.

D. The kin and the dependent of the deceased person should be provided with adequate reparation so far money can provide.

E. The authorities should ensure that all outstanding dues of the labourers are paid immediately and the wages of all tea labourers ofAssammade equal for the time being and that the tea gardens are run according to the laws providing all rights and benefits to the labourers under the laws.

In sum, we would also like to see assumption of some moral responsibility for these calamitious circumstances of death under conditions of hunger and malnutrition, instead of a mere legalistic standpoint. We expect that the Govt. at the state and the Centre should speak the truth and does not issue mere denials in a circumlocutory fashion. In this situation of famished deaths, “ought” is more important than “is”.

Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 

Bablu Bauri lying in his courtyard. His father Atul Bauri died of hunger recently.

Bablu Bauri lying in his courtyard. His father died of hunger recently.

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More information:

The sources of important information in detail about the starvation deathsand the condition of the tea workers that can be found in the internet are given below:

 

BHRPC reports on the continuous tragedy in Bhuvan valley tea estate

1. Preliminary fact-finding report:

            Tea labourers dying of hunger in Assam

            (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/hungeralert1/)

 

2. Update-I:

 

            Situation of hunger deteriorates in Assam tea garden

            (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/situation-of-hunger-deteriorates-in-assam-tea-garden/)

3. Update-II:

             Two more people died in Assam tea garden

             (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/hungeralert3/)

4. Update-III:

            Assam government’s actions regarding starvation deaths are inadequate and misleading

         (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/assam-governments-actions-in-starvation-deaths-are-inadequate-and-misleading/)

5. Update-IV:

             Deaths continue unabated in Assam tea garden

            (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/hungeralert4/)

6. Update-V:

             Another death in starving tea garden of Assam

            (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/hunger-alert-5/)

 

Reports and actions by other organizations:

1. Hunger Alert issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

            INDIA: Assam government failed to ensure the right to life with dignity of tea plantation workers leading to ten deaths

            (http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAC-002-2012)

2. Update on the AHRC Hunger Alert:

            INDIA: Two more estate workers die from starvation while the government denies responsibility

            (http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAU-001-2012)

3. Preliminary report of the People’s Rights Forum and other oganisations:

            Other civil society groups corroborate hunger deaths in Assam tea garden

(https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/bhuvan-valley-other-ngos/)

 

News reports and articles in the media (important ones only)

1. 19 January 2012:

            Inquiry into Cachar hunger deaths

            (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120119/jsp/northeast/story_15021706.jsp) –News report in the Telegraph

2. 5 February 2012:

Swami Agnivesh writes to Assam CM on starvation deaths

(http://www.sentinelassam.com/cachar/story.php?sec=2&subsec=12&id=105944&dtP=2012-02-05&ppr=1) – News report in the Sentinel

3.  9 February 2012:

            Tea workers die of starvation

            (http://www.asianage.com/india/tea-workers-die-starvation-031) – News report in the Asian Age

            Rights group seeks prove into starvation deaths

            (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-02-09/guwahati/31041559_1_starvation-deaths-rights-group-inquiry-panel) – News report in the Times of India

4. 21 February 2012:

Stay hungry: The story behind Assam tea

(http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arijitsen/148/63192/stay-hungry-the-story-behind-assam-tea.html) – News reports and talk show in CNN-IBN

5. 25 February 2012

Did they die of hunger? The Question Haunts Barak Valley

(http://tehelka.com/story_main51.asp?filename=Ne250212Hunger.asp) – Current Affairs report in the Tehelka Magazine

6. February 2012:

            Tea Industry in Barak Valley vis-à-vis Assam and The Plight of The Tea workers (http://swabhimanngo.blogspot.in/2012/02/tea-industry-in-barak-valley-vis-vis.html) –Blog Article in Swabhiman

7. 5 March 2012:

            Team of doctors confirm malnutrition of tea workers

            (http://www.deccanherald.com/content/232180/team-doctors-confirm-malnutrition-tea.html) – News report in the Deccan Herald

8. 13 March 2012

Dispur rap on garden for deaths

<http://vv.telegraphindia.com/1120314/jsp/northeast/story_15246290.jsp&gt; – News report in the Telegraph

9. 1 April 2012:

Bhuban Valley TE labourers not getting loans from PF

(http://sevensisterspost.com/?p=1944) – News report in the Seven Sisters Post

10. 4 April 2012:

            Assam government fails to protect right to life with dignity of tea workers

            (http://newsblaze.com/story/20120404060251zzzz.nb/topstory.html) – Op-ed article in the Newsblaze

11. 18 May 2012

            The dark side of India’s tea industry

            (http://www.france24.com/en/20120518-india-tea-estates-assam-malnutrition-workers-rights) – News report and analysis in the France 24 Television

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Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 

––––––––––––––––––––––

Guwahati, Assam

21 May 2012

Fore any clarification or further information contact:

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Mobile: +91 9401942234

Email:wali.laskar@gmail.com

New born baby dies at hospital in Assam due to negligence of doctors

April 11, 2012


The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has learnt that a new born baby died at a hospital in Assam within about 50 hours of his birth on 1 April 2012 due to negligence of doctors. An expectant mother in labour was brought to the S K Roy Civil Hospital in Hailakandi at about 1pm on 30 March. No doctors saw the woman and with the help of nurses she had to give birth to a male child. It was a forced birth. The conditions of both the mother and child started to worsen soon thereafter. Still no doctors in the hospital saw them. They then went to the Silchar Medical College and Hospital, Silchar (SMCH) and the baby died there at about 6pm on 1 April. It was the first child of the couple.

After the BHRPC first learnt about the incident from local newspapers (see 5 April 2012 issue of the Dainik Nababarta Prasanga, a daily Bengali newspaper published from Karimganj, Assam) on 5 April, it contacted the family and verified the information given in the newspapers and collected other relevant information.

According to the information, the unfortunate parents are Mr Bijoy Dev and his wife Ms Tumpa Dev. They are residents of Ward No. 10,College Road, Hailakandi town in the district of Hailakandi. Mr Bijoy Dev is a small shopkeeper and provides the family from earnings of his pan shop (a small store where shopkeeper sells a mouth-freshener chewing item prepared by mixing different types of areca nuts, betel leaf, tobacco etc. according to order of the customer) that he runs  in front of his house. His wife 20-years-old Tumpa Dev conceived the baby for the first time. After conception the couple were seeing Dr Shubhendu Chakrabarti regularly at his private chamber. Although Dr Chakrabarti is a government doctor posted at the S K Roy Civil Hospital he has his private practices like almost all other government doctors inAssam.

Mr. Bijoy Dev stated that when Ms Tumpa Dev went into labour at the normal time on 30 March her husband and other relatives brought her to the S K Roy Civil Hospital at about 1pm. But there were no doctors on duty in the 100-bedded hospital. Dr Shubhendu Chakrabarti was in Guwahati, the capital city ofAssam. Therefore nurses tried to help her. After much agony and tribulation she delivered a baby at 4pm. It was a boy. However, his condition was critical. He could not breathe properly. The nurses started giving him oxygen. Meanwhile the father of the baby and other relatives were desperately looking for a doctor. They were informed by the hospital staff that at that time Dr D K Dev should have been in duty. They went to his residence. Mr Bijoy Dev’s older brother Mr Joydeep Dev and brother-in-law Mr Rajesh Dev urged Dr D K Dev to come to the hospital and do something to save the life of the new-born. Dr Dev told them that he was tired since he was at a health fair at Bilaipur, a remote village in the district for the whole day. He refused to help the baby in his fight for life. In the meantime, health condition of the mother also started getting worse.

The relatives then went to another doctor of the hospital Dr Abul Hussain at about 10pm. He was at home but refused to visit the hospital. He asked them to bring the patients at his house. The mother and baby then were brought to the place of Dr Hussain who after examining them wrote a prescription. Mr Bijoy Dev told the BHRPC that Dr Hussain told them that the condition of the baby and mother became so serious due to the forced delivery. According to him, it was a fit case of caesarean section. The doctor told that he was of the opinion that if the delivery would have been caused through caesarean there would not be any complexities since the baby appeared otherwise alright.

Mr Bijoy Dev stated that after they got the medicines prescribed by Dr Hussain from an outside drug store they brought the baby and his mother back to the hospital. One Dr L D Sinha came on duty next day morning. When the medicines prescribed by Dr Hussain failed to check the deterioration of the health condition of both the mother and her baby Dr Sinha referred the patients to the SMCH. At about 7.30 am on 31 March they were brought to the SMCH and were admitted in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology. Dr P Nath, an associate professor in the department examined them. Dr Nath also confirmed the findings of Dr Hussain that the forced delivery caused the complexities. According to Mr Bijoy Dev, the doctors and the staff at the SMCH tried their best to save the baby but he was declared dead at about 6pm. However, Mr Dev also informed the BHRPC that the hospital did not provide them with any medicines and he had to buy them from outside stores.

This appears to be a clear case of causing death by negligence within the meaning of section 304A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 if the opinions of Dr Nath and Dr Hussain are to be believed even if keeping in mind the rules laid down by the Supreme Court of India in Jacob Mathew Vs State of Punjab (2005) (Appeal (Crl.) 144-145 of 2004) for application of the section in cases of negligent and rash acts or omission of doctors.

Most importantly, it is a prima facie case of violations of fundamental right to life as laid down in Article 21 of the Constitution of India. In a catena of cases the Supreme Court held that the right to health care is a part of the right to life.

The negligent conduct of the doctors, particularly that of Dr D K Dev, that caused the death of the baby also amounts to violations of the rights enshrined in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 that reads: “(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” 

“(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”

The allegations also constitute violations of provisions of legally binding human rights instruments to which Indiais a state party. Such as the right to life provided under Article 6 of the International Covenant o Civil and Political Rights, 1966. Clause 1 of the Article lays down: “1. Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

As a positive entitlement the right to health and health care is recgonised in  Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 which says: “The right to the highest attainable standard of health”. The General Comment 14 the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that the right to health requires availabilityaccessibilityacceptability, and quality with regard to both health care and underlying preconditions of health. This case is a glaring instance of gross violation of this universally recognised provision.

Further, it is also a case of violations of relevant provisions of other United Nations convention such as Article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979 (CEDAW)[1] and Article 6 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (CRC)[2].

After documentation of the case BHRPC filed a complaint at the Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Assam State Commission for Women (ASCW). Letters were also sent to the other authorities including the prime minister ofIndiaand the chief minister ofAssamurging them to take appropriate actions including:

 1. a prompt, objective and exhaustive investigation into the alleged negligence of Dr D K Dev and other doctors of the S K Roy Civil Hospital, Hailakandi;

 2. payment a prompt relief in terms of money to the parents of the baby pending the inquiry/investigation;

3. adequate reparation in terms of monetary compensation to the parents of the baby for loss of life of their son and for suffering physical and mental agony;

 4. prosecution of the alleged negligent doctors for fixing their criminal liability;

At a time when the government of Assam is busy advertising its ‘achievement’ in the health sector with much fanfare it will be interesting to follow the actions of the government that may be or may not be taken in response to these specific allegations.

11 April 2012

Guwahati,Assam

For any clarification or more information you may contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Mobile: +91 9401942234

Email:wali.laskar@gmail.com


[1] Article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979 (CEDAW) reads:

“Article 12

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.

2. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph I of this article, States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.”

[2] Article 6 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 provides:

“1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.”

The Assam government’s eviction drive in Karimganj violates human rights

April 5, 2012

Press statement                                                                                                                                                                                       

For Immediate release

The Assam government’s eviction drive in Karimganj violates human rights: BHRPC

The government ofAssamhas sent a 160 member-strong task force of forest officers to forcibly evict both the ‘encroachers’ and ‘other traditional forest dwellers’ living in the reserve forests of Karimganj district. A huge police force from both the state police and the central reserve police force (CRPF) have been placed at their disposal. The BHRPC is deeply concerned about the danger of forcible eviction of an estimated 300 families of forest dwellers living in Patharia reserve forest for generations.

In the course of a fact-finding study conducted by the BHRPC in Patharia reserve forest that has approximately 7647.300 hectares of land it was revealed that some businessmen grabbed lands measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) falling in and around Patharia reserve forest for rubber cultivation allegedly in connivance with the local politician Minister of state for co-operative and border areas development Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The lands provided the residents of Satkoragul, Mokkergul and Bhitorgul villages in Nilambazar with the only means of livelihoods and dwelling places. As the rubber planters grabbed their lands the villagers lost their livelihoods and now living half-starved for months. Although the Minister later denied his involved he maintained that the lands belonged to the land and revenue department and the department has leased the land to a non-government organization called Asalkandi Grameen Bikash Kendra, while the forest department claimed that the lands belong to it. The villagers claim that although the largest part of their land falls in the reserve forest, one part is farag (Zamindari) land and another small part is government khas (unalotted) land.

After the villagers staged several protest demonstrations and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) registered a case (NHRC Case No. 99/3/10/2012) in the matter on a complaint filed by the BHRPC and the matter was brought to the notice of other authorities including the Prime Minister, the government of Assam made some moves, most of which are in not in right intent and directions. Two deputy rangers, one assistant ranger and one beat officer in the forest department were suspended for dereliction in duties. On the other hand, two officials of the revenue department posted at the Nilambazar circle office were also suspended for fabricating false lease documents showing forest land as land under the revenue department as found by an inquiry conducted by Karimganj sub-divisional magistrate N Shanti Singh. Despite a writ petition is pending before the Gauhati High Court in the matter of claim of the forest department that farag title has no validity and the entire plot of land is forest land, the government has started forcible eviction even from these disputed parts of land. The task force has been deployed apparently to recapture the forest land from rubber planters as well as other ‘encroachers’. The operation has been going on since 3 April in Dohalia reserve forest and at any moment they can use force against the inhabitants of Patharia.

When contacted by the BHRPC (on 4 April) the conservator of forest, southern range, Mr. Abdus Shahid Laskar has confirmed that the government does not recognize the forest rights of the traditional and other traditional forest dwellers under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. He warned that the land-grabbers and the forest dwellers would be dealt with similarly. By launching a misinterpretation of law he categorically asserted that anything that has happened after declaring the area as reserve forest in 1920 has no validity implying that any human settlement made after that year can not be considered under the Forest Rights Act in flagrant contradiction to the express provisions of clause (o) of section 2 of Act that defines “other traditional forest dweller” as any member or community who has for at least three generations prior to the 13th day of December, 2005 primarily resided in and who depend on the forest or forests land for bona fide livelihood needs. He also falsely claimed that there was a public hearing held by the British colonialists in 1920s and they did not find any human habitation within the area. Nonetheless, the dwellers claim that they have been living there for generations spanning more than 75 years.

Moreover, the forcible eviction involves violations of a host of fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution ofIndiaas well as basic human rights enshrined in the international human rights instruments such as right to life with dignity, right to livelihood, right to adequate housing, right to freedom of residence etc. Especially for people who settled in reserve forests and eke out a livelihood in connection with their habitat and environment by cultivation or other professional activities are now facing a grave threat to their livelihood, as their access to their forest habitat will predictably be denied to them, in case of the effectuation of the eviction drive.

The BHRPC thinks there are strong reasons to suspect the bona fide of this drive of forced eviction since there are many a cases when forest land has been reclaimed from forest dwellers only to be utilized in the interest of a class of rich businessmen, local mafia and other vested interests. Needless to say, such a powerful lobby of interests is also acting behind this move by the forest department to evict and reclaim the forest land so that they can take over slowly the land recovered. There is no guarantee that the land that is reclaimed by way of eviction today will remain as forest land tomorrow, once there are no forest dwellers. Such a land could be easily utilized by vested interests for their own purposes even while keeping the land under the ownership of the forest department. Reserve forest without dwellers in every part ofAssamis getting denuded in the absence of any accountability of the concerned government and its agencies. Two categories of land could be identified in cases of reclamation: land with unspoilt forest and land with denuded forest. Patahria forest, being of the first category constitutes an easy allurement for vested interests to work through abuse of legal power of forest department and police to deny rights of settlers as per Forest Rights Act. The disused rights of forest settlers of Patahria wields this cruel promise of reclamation, a programme that only marks use of brute force against helpless victim-residents in Pataharia forest.

The BHRPC has filed a supplementary submission at the NHRC in the case that was registered in this regard urging the commission to pass an interim recommendation calling upon the authorities to halt the eviction drive immediately and stop the destruction of vegetables and other crops grown by the villagers; to take urgent actions to restore immediately possession of the land to the villagers and reiterated its earlier demands that the villagers should be provided with adequate monetary compensation for loss of property and mental agony caused by destruction of forest and vegetables and corps grown by them, dispossession of land and threat of imminent danger to life and limb; the victims and witnesses should be provided with adequate security; a prompt, fair and objective inquiry should be conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation particularly into the alleged crimes and involvement of the minister therein; the rights of the other traditional forest dwellers under the FRA, 2006 of the villagers who have been living there for generations should be recognized; the khas lands that are possessed by the villagers uninterruptedly for generations and who are otherwise landless should be settled in their names as per government policy; and all other actions and measures necessary to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to life with dignity under adequate standard of living by the villagers should also be taken.

For more information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 9401942234

5 April 2012

 Guwahati

This statement was also forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission and can be accessed at their website at http://www.humanrights.asia/news/forwarded-news/AHRC-FST-023-2012