Archive for the ‘Enforced displacement’ Category

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.

Photo: thenational.ae

Photo: thenational.ae

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.

Photo: samaylive.com

Photo: samaylive.com

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 herehttp://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Violence-in-Assam-has-subsided-but-anxieties-of-land-and-identity-are-still-haunting-the-people/articleshow/16855324.cms

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.

 

 

 

Assam: Heal thy injuries in/ of Bodoland

August 10, 2012

Dr. Prasenjit Biswas*

In the fragmented imagination of a homeland in ethnic territories of Assam, comparatively later migrants are perceived and portrayed as a demographic threat. The issue is whether a majoritarian ethnic ownership over land and territory need to portray the presence of migrants as necessarily illegal. The issue keeps the ethnic pots boiling much after there is a cut-off criterion is drawn out in Assam Accord, 1985 as well as in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Accord, 2003. Both these accords emphasized on the protection and preservation of Assam’s indigenous communities against any endangerment; demographic, loss of land to ‘outsiders’ and ‘foreigners’ and above all, assured political power to the governing elites of the indigenous communities. Such Statist concession made middle class Assamese and Bodo Indigenous nationalism aim at a greater share over power and resources by way of protective discrimination and by going to the extent of denial of legitimate package of rights of others. Such significant others include immediate neighbours: Santhals and Minority Bengali Muslims both clubbed as illegitimate migrants in indigenous land, who have to face a continuous othering in the domains of politics, culture and even in employment.

Photo: samaylive.com

Photo: samaylive.com

The logic advanced for the illegitimacy of immigrants’ rights extends from their being latecomers to attribution of conscious demographic invasion by them to a paradoxical exclusivist claim over certain powers and resources with its corresponding denial to any claims-making by the ethnically different and the immigrants only produce irreconcilable fragmentation. Right now three out of four Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts and its adjoining minority dominated Dhubri district are in a state of bloodletting, communal killings and massive displacement of population. Vulnerable segments of both the Bodo and the Bengali Muslim communities are physically and emotionally brutalized, many are internally displaced and many see no hope of ending ethnic hatred and competitive barbs of aggression and victimization. Apparently conflicting members of both the sides are now caught on the point of no return and as long as they cannot return to their homes, the fear of the other could be given a xenophobic hall-of-mirror effect. The fear that indigenous Bodos are outnumbered and endangered cannot be pathologized without keeping the vulnerable indigenous masses in camps. Similarly, for keeping the Bengali Muslims in a pathological state, recurrent incidents of violence would completely demoralize and uproot them from whatever little legitimacy they enjoyed in the shared lived space with Bodos.

Magnification of such fear among the displaced by demonizing them as untrusworthy and treacherous will create a further divisive and communally charged politics and culture of survivorship. Drawing a thick line between survivors of Bodoland clashes with ineffective political and economic rights is an extra-Constitutional means , which is supposed to serve unrestrained group rights. Such a feeling is expressed by some Bodo leaders when they say those who live in Bodoland must accept the leadership of the Bodos, an exercise of dominant identity-based leadership. Indeed such a leadership has been accepted by all the non-Bodos with some amount of reservation. The bone of contention between the Bodo leadership and the Bengali Muslim leadership in presenting the number of camp dwellers assumed a shrill denial of the proportion of displacement by calling it an attempt to rehabilitate those who are not genuine victims from Bodoland area.

If victims lose genuine-ity just because they are displaced and are living in camps in adjoining places such as Dhubri, Bilasipara or Bongaigaon, isn’t the ethnic hatred marring the way of restoration of justice, honour and peace for the victims? Denial of the rights of the internally displaced Bengali Muslim populace in terms of the right to return by targeting them by selective armed violence is totally unacceptable by any human rights standards. The core value of shared citizenship, then, stands completely negated.

Photo: Thehindu.com

Photo: Thehindu.com

Some amount of counter-violence from the victims in such a troubled situation can fuel greater violence and displacement. Indeed varying degrees of such counter-violence, starting from mob killing of four gun wielding Bodo attackers to burning down of Bodo homes in areas dominated by Muslim Bengalis certainly alienated a large scetion of Bodos from Bengali Muslims. Further, such counter-violence created a great opportunity for ex-militants to wield their might, whom the government so far could not tackle with its local police and central paramilitary forces. Such targeted unrestrained attacks on Muslim Bengalis have gone much beyond retribution and retaliation now. Holding on illegal deposit of arms to target victims is another trait of ethnic supremacy apart from legitimate hold over power and resources. BTAD conflict shows the uncanny power of holding small arms and their use in securing advantage in an unequal hit back campaign against the immigrants.

Obviously winners take it all. If land is major concern then occupying land vacated by Muslim villagers and the use of arms in displacing them reveal high profile pecuniary interest of land grab. While one is concerned about saving the tribal land and probably would like to see full land rights under Sixth Schedule be restituted to Bodos, can one agree with the perverse and diabolic designs of land grab by displacing a victim of violence under the pretext of securing land rights for the indigenous? One of the Assam legislative assembly members alleged that demolition work is going on in those plots where burnt down houses of immigrants stand. Are we going to see high-rises in those waving paddy fields, which ironically this year would only reap the harvest of ethnic clashes and no rice of togetherness for Bodos and immigrants.

When does affirmation of group rights under protective discrimination become a license to deny neighbour’s basic human rights, especially in creating adverse conditions of loss of dignity and infliction of humiliation? Group rights based on territoriality, descent and origin cannot form a basis of denial of citizenship rights of the riot displaced vulnerable population of a certain ethnic and religious origin, just because they are not us.

Photo: thenational.ae

Photo: thenational.ae

From the point of view of the displaced victim, the Other is the aggressor and if the victim could be dubbed as an encroacher, it makes them soft targets without any claim to justice and rights even when their rights are flagrantly violated. Those who uphold rights of indigenous groups cannot be disrespectful of the right to life and dignity of even the non-citizen. The question of greater privilege enjoyed by immigrants does not arise as such a situation is completely counter-intuitive with some exception of some prosperous individuals from non-indigenous social groups. Although none of the displaced victims from both Bodo indigenous and immigrant community dare to think of any comparative post-riot advantage to follow from such differential treatment, yet the misconception of a forced eviction of the immigrant is growing in the name of ensuring land rights to Bodos.

By adopting a language-game of difference and othering in the discourse of indigenous rights, greater the offensive against the Other, the greater is the use of mendacity: as if one is experimenting with the possibility of greater victimization going beyond camps, deportation and other non-humanitarian and yet legal means- as if a ranging lawlessness is instituted within the apparatus of the law, as if violence is the law. In such a situation justice for the violated is never an issue, the only issue is Lebensraum for an ethnic homeland. More seriously, is the political and cultural imagination of a separate Bodoland fitting into the notion of a unified Assam? Or Assam’s unequal, asymmetric and uneven ethnic plurality needs to reduce itself to enclaves of ghettoized homogeneity, xenophobia and sameness of identity? Can’t the identity be plural and deterritorialized and can’t it accept an outside political and cultural space that is different from itself? There could be two specific reasons for not accepting such a doctrinaire pluralism: one that the majority, if there is any, is yet not ready to accept that there are others and two, Others are unacceptable because they would demand their legitimate share from what one thinks as one’s sole privilege. Such is the blind, almost bordering on hatred campaign against those who have been there for three generations in today’s Bodo areas. When the constitutional means are available to ensure protective discrimination in terms of full political power with the Bodo community, where is the fear?

Photo courtesy: Jagaran.com

Photo courtesy: Jagaran.com

So, Indian Muslims are termed as Bangladeshis with a motive to undermine them. Let a single person killed be proven as a Bangladeshi. Non-Indigenous people in Bodoland are not Bangladeshis, as they have not migrated there after constitution of BTAD. The BTAD was constituted and Bodo leadership accepted the presence of this segment of people and they got also elected by their votes in assembly and parliament. One can understand the apparent rage that was generated after killing of four Bodo ex-cadres of the Bodo Liberation Tigers, erstwhile Bodo armed outfit. Isn’t it possible to understand each other’s agony and pain without taking resort to hatred and violence?

What could be achievements of killing innocent victims? Can we break away from a process of ethnic co-existence and reciprocity just because there are few cases of violence? Can we sacrifice the sense of belonging together? Drawing a line between genuine Indian citizens and illegal immigrants became a provocation to such breakdown of ethnic relations. It is the job of the State, to uphold the rule of law and prevent any attempt to assume due process of law in one’s hand. Quite like the Gujarat riots of 2002, the state machinery is still not able to intervene effectively in terms of restoring confidence in the displaced people. The irresponsible and mindless acts of violence against defenceless indigenous and migrants propelled by violence-countre-violence vicious cycle can only turn Bodoland into a disturbed area and there’s no gainsaying that human security will be its worst fall out.

* The writer is Director, Research, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), Silchar, Assam.

Constructive engagement elusive at India’s Second UPR at the UN

May 31, 2012

India dodged recommendation for repeal of AFSPA

New Delhi, May 29, 2012 – India’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) under the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 24 May 2012 in Geneva. The review was marked by a general lack of acceptance of human rights challenges in the country and a mere reiteration of domestic laws, policies and Constitutional provisions by the Government of India (GoI). Regrettably, the answers of the government did not address critical issues related to gaps in implementation of laws and enjoyment of rights, with India’s Attorney General (who led the government delegation) stating in his opening address that, “India has the ability to self-correct”. According to Miloon Kothari, Convenor of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR): “By employing a defensive and largely selfrighteous position at the HRC, GoI has, at least in its initial response at the HRC, once again lost the opportunity to constructively engage with the UN human rights system and in accepting the enormous human rights challenges it is faced with.”

Of the eighty countries which participated in India’s UPR – a peer-review process of the human rights record of all UN member states – many reiterated the recommendations made during India’s first UPR in 2008 to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention against Enforced Disappearances (CED). GoI accepted both recommendations four years ago but they have remained unfulfilled. On the question of torture, GoI referred to the Prevention of Torture Bill (PTB), which is pending before Parliament, without commenting on the non-compliance of the PTB with CAT’s definition of torture. WGHR regrets that GoI left many questions unanswered, including desisting from commenting on the ratification of CED.

WGHR is also disturbed thatIndiadodged the recommendations for repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by referring to the Supreme Court’s upholding of its constitutionality and by citing Army’s human rights cell as a redressal mechanism. Ms. Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer and member of WGHR, expressed serious concerns at GoI’s misleading response to the HRC, which camouflaged the systematic impunity enjoyed by armed forces for human rights abuse in the Northeast of the country and Kashmir: “The refusal and reluctance of GoI to squarely address the issue of impunity under AFSPA, in spite of numerous recommendations by international bodies, government appointed committees and UN Special Rapporteurs is unacceptable in a country that proclaims to be the largest democracy in the world.”

Strong recommendations were made toIndiaon the need to impose a de jure moratorium on the death penalty. The government’s response, that simply cited its de facto policy of awarding death penalty in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, is also deeply unsatisfactory in light of statistics that show an increase in the number of death sentences awarded by the courts.

There were recurring concerns by many states on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and belief, anti-conversion laws and targeting of religious minorities. Surprisingly, while GoI has initiated a Communal Violence Bill to address the issue of violence against religious minorities, it expressed uncertainty before the HRC for the need for such a law. The Indian government’s insistence at the international level that existing laws and judicial decisions are sufficient to deal with egregious violations such as torture and attacks on religious minorities is very disappointing, when new laws on these issues are being debated at the national level.

On the multiple recommendations it received on the need to ratify the Optional Protocol (complaint mechanism) to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), India once again stated that its domestic legal remedies were adequate to address gender-based discrimination. Many states also recommended withdrawal of GoI’s reservation to Article 16 of CEDAW – which guarantees non-discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family life – and emphasized the need to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. WGHR deeply regrets the fact that GoI did not engage substantially with recommendations made on issues relating to women, including maternal mortality, prenatal sex selection, infanticide, sexual and gender-based violence, political participation of women, sexual harassment at the workplace, early/child marriage, harmful traditional practices, honour crimes, and trafficking.

Sadly, GoI failed to use the UPR as an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to bridge the gap between the law and the grim statistics on various forms of gender-based violence. Its tendency to rely upon domestic law repeatedly to explain the multiple challenges to the attainment of gender equality is disquieting, especially when access to justice remains a barrier for many, and several domestic laws are inconsistent with the universal standards on sex equality.

WGHR, however, welcomes GoI’s positive shift on the issue of homosexuality, which was raised by many countries. The government affirmed its support of the High Court of Delhi judgment decriminalizing homosexuality and stated that it would take a sensitive view of the matter that has been appealed in the Supreme Court.

The human rights of children received significant attention at the HRC. States repeatedly raised issues related to child mortality, child labour, child sexual abuse and trafficking. Many governments stressed the need for a reduction of the excessively high rates of maternal and child mortality and urged the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals in that regard. It was also recommended thatIndiaratify the Third Optional Protocol (establishing a communications procedure) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A notable number of states also reiterated the need to ban all forms of child labour. The GoI stated that it was “fully conscious of issues pertaining to child labour” but that there was “no magic wand to address it”. This stand is oblivious to the fact that the legal scenario in the country has changed as being at school and not at work is now a fundamental right for all children from 6 to 14 backed by a powerful Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The logical corollary of this change is for GoI to revisit its stand and amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

Given the scale of poverty and large-scale denial of socio-economic rights in India, the insufficient attention given to economic, social and cultural rights at the UPR – with the exception of health and education – was disturbing. WGHR hopes, however, that references by member states to the need for more attention to housing for low-income groups and reduction of slums; more focus on poverty alleviation; removal of rural and urban inequities; and improvement of access to water and sanitation, will be turned into recommendations by the HRC before the adoption of the outcome document on Wednesday 30 May, 2012

On the critical issue of the right to adequate and nutritious food, it is disturbing that GoI has dismissed the need to universalise the Public Distribution System, which operates on the basis of an unrealistic poverty line and excludes genuinely poor rural households due to targeting errors, corruption, inefficiency and discrimination in distribution. GoI has also failed to respond to concerns about the rights of peasants and farmers, the issue of unprecedented numbers of farmers’ suicides and the endemic malnourishment that still persists in the country, as recently acknowledged by the Prime Minister himself.

Overall, WGHR regrets that GoI desisted from responding to most of the substantial comments, questions and recommendations by states. According to Miloon Kothari: “It remains to be seen whether GoI will take a constructive view and accept the many recommendations it will receive from the Human Rights Council on 30 May and engage in a genuine dialogue, including cooperation, with the UN between the second and third UPR. The opportunity also still exists, prior to the final adoption ofIndia’s report in September 2012, for GoI to begin a process of serious consultations with civil society and independent actors – including human rights institutions – at home. It is only when such steps, consistent with a democratic mode of governance, are taken that the UN will be convinced that GoI is serious about fostering an atmosphere that will contribute to an improvement in the adverse human rights situation on the ground.” 

For more information, contact:

 Miloon Kothari, Convenor, Working Group on Human Rights inIndiaand the UN (WGHR) phone (Geneva): +41 792020679; email: miloon.kothari@gmail.com

 Vrinda Grover, Lawyer – phone: +91 9810806181; email: vrindagrover@gmail.com

 Madhu Mehra, Director, Partners for Law in Development (PLD) phone: +91 9810737686; email: programmes@pldindia.org

[The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN – a national coalition of fourteen human rights organizations and independent experts – works towards the realisation of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social human rights in India, and towards holding the Indian government accountable to its national and international human rights obligations. For information on WGHR, please visit: http://www.wghr.org]

See the original statement here.

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