Posts Tagged ‘North East India’

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

July 27, 2017

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

Representative photo taken from internet.

Representative photo taken from internet.

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

By SARITA SANTOSHINI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Text of the Judicial Inquiry Report on torture and killing of Manorama Devi by the Assam Rifles

November 29, 2014

Thangjiam Manorama Devi was a Manipuri village girl who was brutally tortured and subjected to gruesome sexual violence before she was killed by a team of the para-military force Assam Rifles in 2004. The incident caused widespread outrage and anger and sparked public protest leading to a judicial inquiry into the matter. The report of the inquiry was never made public until this year when the Supreme Court of India asked for it in connection with hearing on a PIL seeking probe into custodial deaths in the north-east States. The report exposes the Assam Rifles efforts to cover up the incident by lodging false FIRs and trying to avoid inquiry by unjustifiably invoking the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958.

Thangjam Khuman Leima Devi, mother of Thangjam Manorama, at her residence in Imphal in 2004.

Thangjam Khuman Leima Devi, mother of Thangjam Manorama, at her residence in Imphal in 2004.

Here are a few highlights of the report as prepared by Krishnadas Rajagopal and published in The Hindu:

She was found dead with multiple gun shot injuries on her private parts and thighs at Ngariyan Yairipok Road, hardly two km away from a police station, states the report.

The judicial inquiry report on the murder of Thangjam Manorama, a Manipuri girl, in 2004, handed over to the Supreme Court recently after being kept under wraps for over a decade, reveals the “brutal and merciless torture” by a 17 Assam Rifles team.

The murder gave renewed impetus to calls for withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

After a decade of remaining under wraps, the report by the Judicial Inquiry Commission graphically reveals the last hours of “brutal and merciless torture” Manipuri village girl, Thangjam Manorama, suffered at the hands of a team from the 17th Assam Rifles before she was shot dead.

The Manorama case led to widespread protests against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and spurred calls for a review of the law, especially by the Justice J.S. Verma Committee in 2013.

The report, submitted to the State government way back in December 2004, was never made public.

This week, the government handed it over to the Supreme Court. The court had demanded it as part of a hearing on a PIL seeking probe into custodial deaths in the north-east States.

“This is one of the most shocking custodial killing of a Manipuri village girl,” C. Upendra Singh, retired District and Sessions Judge, Manipur, who was Chairman of the Commission, wrote.

He describes how Manorama was picked up by “a strong-armed troops of 17th Assam Rifles” in the night between July 10-11, 2004 from her home in Imphal East District. She was found dead with multiple gun shot injuries on her private parts and thighs at Ngariyan Yairipok Road, hardly two km away from a police station.

The report details how the incidents of the night started with her younger brother, Thangjam Basu, watching the Hindi film Raju Chacha half past midnight, heard some noise outside. Within the next few minutes, the Assam Rifles party crashed into the house. The report said that Manorama, who was “clutching on to her mother Khumaleima”, was dragged out screaming “Ima Ima Khamu (mother, mother please stop them)”.

The report said she was tortured on her front porch, as the family watched. It said how Basu remembers hearing his sister’s “muffled and dimmed voice saying Ie Khangde (do not know)” to the troops’ questions. It said the men then took her away to “places”.

The report said that the two FIRs filed by the 17th Assam Rifles claimed she led them to recover Kenwood and Chinese grenades and an AK 47 rifle. It said she tried to escape and was shot in the legs. The FIRs claimed she had bled and died.

The Commission report blamed the police for leaving the investigation to the “discretion and mercy” of the Assam Rifles. It narrated how the Assam Rifles had invoked the AFSPA with the Enquiry Commission.

Mr. Singh said he countered that his enquiry was only a fact-finding exercise, and sanction under Section 6 of AFSPA would only come later when the personnel is found to have done wrong.

The Commission said not a single one of the 16 bullets fired at Manorama hit her legs. The report called the escape story a “naked lie.”

The report said most of the injuries would reveal that she was shot when “helpless”. It said some injuries suggest sexual assault too. The Commission had examined 37 witnesses.

Download full text of the report here.

Assam Clashes: From Humanitarian Crisis to Ethnic Pluralism

August 6, 2012

Prasenjit Biswas*

The perpetual fear in the eyes of 126 years old Jagat Basumatary and his wife Malati Basumatary in a camp 70 kms away from their home located at Bengtoli village of Chirang district tells it all. Jagat Basumatary’s appeal for peace and tranquility in the midst of attack and counter-attack raises a concern for mutual respect and bond between Bodos and Bengali Muslims. The apparent difference of identity between an immigrant Bengali Muslim and a Bodo indigenous person gets dissolved in the remarkable story of Parbotjhora subdivisional area of Kokrajhar where both the sides resisted any attempt to disturb peace. So also goes the example of Kukurmari village at Chirang district where both the communites stood guard at each other’s doors.

Assam map

Assam map

Among the most dastardly attacks on human dignity and persona is the one in which Sumana Basumatary, a woman in her late thirties had to leave her house at Salkocha-Bansbari at Kokrajhar district with two of her minor children leaving behind her husband Chubja Basumatary, suffering from typhoid and immobile. Sumana recounted the horror tale of watching her house burn with her husband inside. The whole household, paddy-stack and the animals reared were reduced to ashes. In another incident of retaliation four members of the family of motor mechanic Manowar Hussein were subjected to brutal attack. Reportedly four members of his family, namely, Manowar Hussein, his wife Bachibon Bibi, son Muktar Hussein and three months old daughter Rukchana Khatun were abducted. Bachbon Bibi was allegedly raped and murdered. The same fate was meted out to Manowar Hussein and their three months old daughter, while the son Muktar Hussein sustained injuries. All the four of them were thrown into Gaurang river from the bridge over Ganga talkies in Kokrajhar town. The surviving son Muktar Hussein could recount the horror tale to the rescuers, who could rescue him from the river in a badly bruised state. The whole story came out in vernacular media. In another such pathological incident, the dead body of a deaf and dumb person was found floating on the river Champaboti at Khagrabari of Bongaigaon district. The dead man was identified as Samsul Hoque by his family members, who went missing after some armed men attacked their home and village at Khagrabari.

Photo: samaylive.com

Photo: samaylive.com

The spate of hatred and mistrust led to a huge exit and displacement of a massive population of about 4 Lakhs from their villages spread across three Bodoland territorial autonomous districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang and Baksa and its adjoining Dhubri district. Almost 400 villages belonging to both Bodo and Muslim communities are vacated. The condition of the relief camps has been such that there is widespread food poisoning, viral fever and dysentery resulting into at least thirteen reported deaths including six infants. Apart from total absence of a sense of human security, the poor hygienic conditions in the camps only tell the apathy of the both local and the state government.

Photo courtesy: Jagaran.com

Photo courtesy: Jagaran.com

Much after the initial spate of riots, on 1st of August, there are incidents of arson and burning down of homes at Majorgaon in Chirang district, where rioters burnt down seven houses belonging to victims of the minority community. Once again there is a planned flare up in Chirang district. In another similar incident, houses at Churaguri village near Bijni township of Chirang district are again set on fire by an armed mob in presence of Police and security officials. Already 40 houses of the same village are burnt down on 24th July and on 2nd august, rest of the houses are all burnt down. The whole action is carried out apparently keeping in view that the Muslim inhabitants should not return and reclaim their households. The whole incident happened when some of the affected people were returning from Matilal Nehru relief camp at Bijni to their households at Majorgaon near Bijni town. On the assurances from the government; they thought they can safely return now. They were astounded to see the presence of some people in fatigue, reminding them of the trauma that they already suffered. Soon after, the remaining seven houses were gutted in presence of police. Many of the Bodo inhabitants are still refusing to go back to their homes, as they fear retribution and retaliation. Out of the 43 camps in Bijni and Kajalgaon subdivision, there are still over a lakh of minority Muslim population. A contradictory pattern emerges in these camps. As Bodo inhabitants are going back to those villages which are not affected by violence but from which people took shelter out of apprehension, the minority population from 29 villages of Chirang district worst affected by arson and killing are still not out of the trauma of what they have gone through.

Photo: Outlook.com

Photo: Outlook.com

The worst affected areas where sizeable number of deaths occurred are Gosaigaon subdivision and in and around Kokrajhar town. A large number of villages dominated by minority population were burnt down. The villagers were forewarned by the neighbours to leave for safe shelter and as they left homes, the homes were easily burnt down. Such villages include Duramari, Moujabari, Hekaipara, West Tabuchar, Namapara, Nayapara, Kalapani, Bamungaon etc. in Kokrajhar, from where large number of people came to safe shelters. A few who were left to take care of abandoned homes were also killed by armed gangs.In Gosaigaon area, villages such as Ballamguri, Hacaharabari, Palasguri, Malguri etc, are burnt down. Large scale arson continued in these villages for a week since 19th July, despite some presence of security forces. In two other districts of Chirang and Baxa, villages are burnt down in a similar fashion. Some of the worst affected villages of Chirang district include Bechborbari, Nathurbari and Mothapur in Bijni subdivision ; Ulubari and Pakriguri in Kajalgaon subdivision.

Photo: Thehindu.com

Photo: Thehindu.com

The account of such rioting and displacement brings to mind the existing public discourse of immigrant versus indigenous conflict. What is very peculiar in this situation is the claim made by some of the indigenous pressure groups that most of the displaced Muslim Bengali minorities are not genuine Indian citizens. As the homes of these people are burnt down, it is quite possible now to turn them into Bangladeshis. As their return to homes is becoming more and more insecure, what is needed to be done is not merely a packaged rehabilitation, but saving the camp dwellers from this test of citizenship to which they are sure to fail, owing to burning down of their last shred of papers.

Although the immediate context of the entire rioting is now known as killing and counter-killing between Bodo and minority Muslim groups, yet a look at demographic situation would be worth. In four BTAD districts out of a total population of 31,55, 359, Bodo and other plain tribes are only 10,50,627. But in terms of land holdings, Bodos have higher access and ownership to land as their land rights were safeguarded by chapter X of the Assam Land and revenue regulation Act,1886. So the picture that emerges is that the effective right to livelihood and hold over land by the Bodos is in no way threatened by the presence of Bengali Muslims, Asomiya and other plain non-tribal communities.

Photo: Thehindu.com

Photo: Thehindu.com

The absurd question is, can anyone reverse this demographic picture overnight by ethnic cleansing and displacement?

Photo: thenational.ae

Photo: thenational.ae

The Bodoland territorial Council accord signed between GOI and leaders of Bodo liberation Tigers (BLT) in its clause 4.3 allowed the non-tribals to hold onto their existing holdings; while both the Bodo and non-Bodo people, in general, could buy and sell land after due legal formalities. The argument that land held by Bodos will be bought over by crafty Muslims does not hold much water, as the indigenous Bodos continue to depend on their farmland and homestead economy. As a matter of fact, the Bodos allow share-cropping on their land by Muslim peasantry, which is a culture of shared livelihood that no amount of violence can erase. In a nutshell, Bodos do enjoy full political power in the Bodoland autonomous area, while Non-Bodos enjoy other economic, social and cultural rights. Measures of protective discrimination under sixth schedule of the Constitution are working well for Bodos and other tribal communities. Therefore, there is no effective endangerment and emasculation of the rights of indigenous population in the whole of Bodoland as some make it out to be. Ethnic violence is only a symptom of breakdown of ethnic inter-relationship in an ethnically plural society of Bodoland, within which every community is actually secured and protected with their due constitutional rights. The contributions made by Muslim Bengali citizenry to the indigenous economy and society and to the growth and sustenance of Asomiya as state language of Assam cannot be shelved under the carpet by any deviant categorization. The shared space of life between Bodos and Muslim Bengalis also cannot be destroyed by violence alone, as the life-force generated by such camaraderie is far stronger than any disruptive attempt. The rhetorical difference between Bengali Muslims and Bodos is only a hypothetical ploy to experiment with various contingencies of political power sustained by an engineered trauma and insecurity, which needs to be dealt using law. It is also not yet too late to realize that peace and tranquillity between ethnic minorities in a ethnically plural Bodoland is the only way to ensure social justice and economic progress.

Photo: ibtimes.com

Photo: ibtimes.com

 

* The writer is Professor at the Department of Philosophy in the North Eastern Hills University, Shillong, Meghalaya and Director, Research, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), Silchar, Assam.

 

NHRC moved over custodial death and communal clash in Assam

July 19, 2012

Media brief for immediate release—

19 July 2012

 NHRC moved over custodial death and communal clash in Assam

 Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has moved the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) over custodial death of Ajijur Rahman of Kalain in the district of Cachar in Assam. A complaint has been filed at the NHRC based on the report of a fact-finding study conducted by the BHRPC on 19 July 2012. The study found that Ajijur Rahman, an old man of about 60 years, was picked up on 7 July from his home by a police team led by a probationary Indian Police Service officer Mr Y T Gyatsu and he was tortured to death at the police lock-up of Kalain patrol post.

The report released on 19 July[1] has also dwelt on the communal clash on 4 July at Kalain bazaar that led to the illegal arrest and brutal killing of Ajijur Rahman. The report categorically says that negligent and inefficient handling of the situation by the authorities including executive magistrate Ms Khaleda Sultana Ahmed, Deputy Superintendent of Police (probationary) Mr Iftikar Ali and in-charge of Kalain police patrol post Mr Anowar Hussain Choudhury were mostly responsible for the clash. They failed to handle the mob frenzy. It is claimed that they could take measures including lathi charge and tear gas fire. These measures could disperse the mob. Due to the negligence and inefficiency of the authorities about 18 people were injured in the clash. Six of them sustained serious injuries. It amounts to violation of human rights within the meaning of section 12 (a) (ii) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

It is also found that efforts of forcible enforcement of strikes on 4 July by supporters of the Hindu Jagaran Mancha and communal mass hysteria of some Muslim youths of Kalain were also responsible for the communal clash. The BHRPC maintained that every citizen and group of citizens has the right to protest and call strike provided that it is peaceful and the organizers do not force others to take part in the protest. The Mancha broke the conditions for legitimacy of the strike by forcing others.

The fact-finding report further dwelt on the efforts of effecting communal divisions in Barak valley over the controversial conversion and second marriage of Dr. Rumee Nath, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Assam. It is stated that the right to get converted into any religion is a part of the freedom of conscience and free profession of religion guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution of India. Per se inter-religious and inter-caste marriages are also recognised by the Special Marriage Act, 1955 and such marriage should be encouraged as they can promote harmonious communal co-existence and secularism. However, in case of Dr. Nath the things are a little different. She was a married woman with a two years old child. Bigamy or living with another person as man and wife during the subsistence of earlier marriage prima facie amount to offence against the institution of marriage. Abandoning a 2 year old child is cruelty on the child and violation of child rights. These grievances against her could be legitimately vented through legal means and judicial process and which was what her first husband resorted to.

It is further alleged that some groups conjured up spectre of ‘love jihad’ and started campaign against inter-religious and inter-caste marriages, friendship between girls and boys belonging to different communities. These activities are assault on the rule of law.

The report stated that a very influential politician of the ruling congress party in Assam Mr Gautom Roy, Minister for Public Health and Engineering (PHE), at a public function organised to mark 3 years of Assam government issued a call to the public to beat up any boy who marries a girl from a different community and to hand over the girl to her guardians. Provoked and encouraged by this call a mob of more than one hundred youths attacked Dr Nath and her ‘second husband’ at about 10pm on 29 June 2012 at Hotel Nakshatra in Karimganj where she was staying for the night after visiting her constituency.

The BHRPC could not confirm any direct links of the minister with the attack on Dr Nath and the mob that attacked her. But it is obvious that his call to beat up such couples definitely encouraged the mob. The comment of the minister is not only against the established constitutional canons of the land and principles of human rights but also a provocation to breach the public order and a call towards further lawlessness and jungle raj. Any person including a minister may disagree with any law and in such cases he should propose repeal or amendment of the law if he is sincere in his opinions. A minister who is part of the party that rules at the central and state governments should have proposed amendment of Article 14, 21 and 25 of the constitution and the Special Marriage Act, 1955 if he sincerely thought that conversion and inter-religious marriages are undesirable. By provoking youths he betrayed his motives.

The attack on Dr Nath is a manifestation of desperate reactions of patriarchy and its interests against the empowerment of women and empowered women. These are attacks on expression of moral agency in women. She was abused and attacked only because she was a woman.

Apart from the brutality of police personnel, Ajijur Rahman was a victim of the situation that was thus created.

 For any clarification and more information you may contact:

 Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

 Mobile: 09401942234

Email: wali.laskar@gmail.com


 

 

 

NHRC seeks report on extra-judicial killings in Manipur

June 6, 2012

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued notices to the secretary, ministry of home affairs of the government of India, district magistrate and district superintendent of police of Ukhrul district of North East Indian state Manipur asking for a report on the alleged torture and the extrajudicial killing of three indigenous Meitei people in a staged encounter by the personnel belonging to 23rd Assam Rifles (AR) under the command of Major Hanuman near Maphou Dam, Nongdam village of Ukhrul.

After registering a case on a complaint filed by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee based on the information received from Manipur based human rights organization Centre for Organisation Research & Education (CORE), the NHRC issued the notice.

The information provided by the CORE reveals that on 8 May 2012, Major Hanuman (then Captain) of 23rd Assam Rifles, a aramilitary force of the central government of India, approached and requested Mr Laishram Shyamkishore, 70 years old village elder of Tunukhong Awang Leikai, Imphal East District, Manipur, to persuade his son, Mr Laishram Nobin (alias Khuman) and his son’s friends to surrender themselves and live in peace. Shyamkishore considered the possibility and secretly made arrangements for his son to surrender himself before the state authorities. It was reported that, at the instruction and arrangement of Maj. Hanuman, Shyamkishore accompanied his son to the meeting place where Nobin was supposed to surrender himself. This meeting did not materialise.

On 9 May 2012 at 7.30am, Shyamkishore, his son and two friends met Maj. Hanuman at Hidalok, which was approximately half a kilometer away from the bus stop at Loupheng village near Maphou Dam under Litan Police Station. They were wearing track suits (civilian clothing). Shyamkishore witnessed the three men hand over an M-16 rifle, one Lethode gun, 50 live rounds of ammunition and three Lethode bombs as a symbol of formal surrender to the 23rd AR. Maj. Hanuman expressed happiness at their peaceful surrender and asked Shyamkishore to return home in peace and Shyamkishore returned home that same morning.

On 10 May 2012, local dailies reported that three underground suspects had been shot to death in an encounter with 23rd AR personnel. The conflict was stated to have lasted an hour and to have been near Chadong Tangkhul village under Litan Police Station around 11am. The 23rd AR personnel were reported to have found the three dead bodies in the aftermath of the encounter. The force also recovered an M-16 with a grenade launcher, magazine and 55 live rounds, one 9mm carbine, magazine with three live rounds, one Lethode gun with three rounds and one fire case, one carry bag and one ammunition pouch. The 23rd AR also issued a statement claiming the deceased had been active in and around Maphou Dam, engaging in extortion and deliberately interfering with the construction of the Dam. The three bodies were handed over to the Litan Police Station.

According to the information, Shyamkishore became suspicious and anxious when he received news of the “encounter”. He immediately went to the Regional Institute of Medical Science (RIMS) Imphal morgue and was shocked to discover the bodies of his son and the two other men he had convinced to surrender to the 23rd AR the previous day. He was further surprised to find that the bodies were not in the dress the three men had been in just the previous morning. Instead of the track suits (civilian clothing), the three men were fitted out in camouflage fatigues. An examination of the bodies further revealed evidence of severe torture. Mr Irengbam Roshan’s body had been badly mutilated; his genitals had been crudely removed. One of Mr Ningthoujam Ingocha’s eyeballs had also been gouged out.

Manipur

North east Indian state of Manipur

The CORE further stated that “Shyamkishore believed he was doing the right thing for the sake of the community, for justice and peace and for his son’s future when he reasoned with the three men to turn themselves in. He probably prevailed on them to do so out of their trust in and respect for Shyamkishore. The three men were ready to submit themselves to the law, to surrender also their weapons and to be held in custody; this also required respect for and immense faith in the judicial system. What was so particularly perverse was that Shyamkishore was instead unknowingly made complicit in his own son’s torture and murder, and the murder of his son’s friends. This utter betrayal by the very people who should be moral exemplars to civil society should trouble and grieve the Central Government over and beyond the dubious methods employed by the AR personnel, because the motivation, means and ends of law enforcement have been polluted by impunity and fear of such.”

After registering the complaint as case No. 66/14/13/2012-PF, the NHRC considered the matter on 24 May 2012 and passed an order saying “Transmit the complaint to Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India and DM and SP, Ukhrul district, Imphal calling for an action taken report within two weeks.”

 

6 June 2012

Guwahati, Assam

Human Rights in India: Status Report 2012

June 3, 2012

Human Rights in India: Status Report 2012

This brief status report of human rights in India gives a general overview of the most critical human rights issues in India today. It has been drafted by the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR), a platform of some of Inida’s important human rights groups, as a background document to assist in the preparation of India’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that took place in Geneva on 24 May, 2012.

The UPR is a unique process conducted by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC), involving a review of the human rights record of all 192 UN Member States once every four and a half years.

The WGHR submitted a stakeholders’ report to Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) in November 2011. The present report is a more detailed and comprehensive version of WGHR’s stakeholders’ report that includes:

Information gathered from five regional and one national consultation held with civil society across India from August to October 2011;

Case studies that illustrate the text of the report;

WGHR’s initial response to the Government of India’s national report to the second UPR;

An up-to-date analysis of the status of implementation of the 18 recommendations made to India during the first UPR.

It is amply evident from the report that much remains to be done to improve the human rights situation inIndia. The scope of the UPR is enormous as it covers all recognised international human rights. If we take almost any of these human rights, the situation inIndiaremains challenging; yet the scope for improvement is immense. If the required positive changes are to take place, however, a radical change in national and regional actions by governments at all levels is necessary. The report highlights some of these required changes.

The opportunity offered byIndia’s second UPR at the HRC should not be underestimated. The clear direction that can emanate from the second UPR’s recommendations largely depend, however, on the approach adopted by the Indian delegation during the UPR in May 2012. We all look forward to a shift away from the defensive posture adopted byIndiain the first UPR to a constructive engagement with the HRC. Such an engagement can only prove fruitful if the deliberations during the UPR debate and the resulting recommendations are placed within the space of the recognition of human rights (through laws, policies, administrative actions and budgetary allocations) and their implementation.

We hope this report will contribute to such a debate at the HRC.Indiamust meet the human rights accountability challenge posed by the contents of its own Constitution and the international human rights instruments it had ratified. To meet this enormous challenge, nothing but a radical shift in economic, security and social policy is needed. It is hoped thatIndia’s second UPR will provide solid recommendations to make such a radical change possible, which is urgently required to reverse the adverse human rights situation faced by a significant part of the people ofIndia.

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC, though is not a formal member of the WGHR, participated in the preparation of the report. Dr Prasenjit Biswas and Mr Waliullah Ahmed Laskar took part in the North East regional consultation held in Shillong and the former represented the BHRPC in the national consultation in New Delhi. Along with reports on starvation deaths of tea labourers in Assam the BHRPC also provided inputs in other subjects.

The report can be downloaded from here and from the WGHR website.

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

Mega Dams In North-East India: Are They Necessary?

April 26, 2012

A civil society group from across the country studied the impact of mega-dam projects on life and livelihood of the people in North East India. The group in its interim report demanded suspension of construction of dams until a cumulative study that engages with the people finds it beneficial to go ahead with the projects. The report as published in the Countercurrents.org is re-posted here.

Interim Report and Press Statement of CDRO Fact Finding into Mega Dams in North-East

Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation, comprising of 20 civil and democratic rights organisations from across India decided to undertake a fact finding into the impact of big/mega dam projects coming up in the North Eastern states on the life and livelihood of the people. Reportedly more than 168 MoUs/MoAs have been signed by the Arunachal Pradesh government alone. CDRO believes that such projects, be they so called Run of the River or Storage dams, affect not only people whose land will get submerged upstream but also people living in the downstream area. We also believe that affected people comprise those whose life and livelihood is intricately linked with the river beyond, since water flow will impact agriculture, fisheries, river transportation. Construction of concrete dams in a high seismic zone with sedimentary rock is in itself a mark of utter irresponsibility. Besides, natural floods carry sediments while man-made flood through construction of dam brings sand which destroys cultivable land. Also worth noting is that the seven North Eastern states are plagued by multiple problems born of neglect, discrimination and exploitation of resources accompanied by fear of the people about demographic transformation with the influx from outside threatening their way of life and further militarisation of the region.

The team split into two groups; one headed towards upper Assam and another towards Tipaimukh dam site. The first team visited North Lakhimpur, Dhimaji in Assam and Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh covering Lower Subansiri, Lower Siang and also downstream area of Lohit and Dibang river projects in Tinsukhia district. The second team visited Tipaimukh project which would affect people living in Manipur, Mizoram and Assam.

Given below are highlights of what people felt would be the consequence of the projects on their life and livelihood:

I. FIRST TEAM REPORT:

1. Lower Subansiri is allegedly a Run of the River project with storage capacity which would submerge 70 sq kms upstream. The 2000 MW project is being constructed for NHPC by Larsen and Toubro and Soma when fully constructed will have a height of 115 metres. While officially only 31 families would be displaced according to Walter Fernandes, no less than 700 families would be affected. About 3436 ha of forest land would also get submerged and wildlife habitat. Lower stream the impact would be even worse since fear of river drying, fluctuation in water flow, likely increase in deposit of sand over presently cultivable land, destruction of aquatic life which destroy livelihood of 39 lakh fisherfolk, not to forget river transportation. The man-made flood created by 405 MW Ranganadi dam on 14th June 2008 was repeatedly referred to by people to remind us of the possible damage that can be caused to life and livelihood by natural or man-made flood. The difference between peak and lean flow, according to people, is such that likelihood of flash flood increases manifold.

The nature of protest currently in form of four month long blockade of vehicular traffic carrying construction or other equipment meant for the dam, is a clear sign of collective resistance.

2. Lower Siang is again allegedly a Run of the River project with storage capacity which would submerge and restrict habitation in upto 106 kms. Apart from this at height upto one km has been declared as no-man’s land and reserved for compensatory forestation for the company. The 2700 MW project was awarded to Jaiprakash Industries. Siang’s Adi community considers the river as sacred and fears that 35 villages would be affected. Thus their community land which is cultivable and rich in flora and fauna would be wiped out. . IN 34 villages ninety percent of people have affirmed through signature their opposition to the dam. They fear that their culture and people face annihilation. It is this that drove them to protest the construction of dam recently. And fear mixed with anger remains strong among people here.

Lower stream people, especially Mishing community, reside along the river bank. They along with others who live in the plains downstream apprehend that their livelihood would be wiped out since river flow would both impact cultivation as well as fishery on which most of the people depend.

3. Lower Dibang is a 3000 MW storage dam of NHPC with a height of 288 metres which submerge 45 kms upstream wiping out 30 villages. This will affect nearly 50% of Idu-Mishmi community and their community land. If the argument of development and employment opportunities do get created by this project then considering the skilled and qualified people among the Idu-Mishmi they stand to lose. We are told that this generates the fear that people from other parts of India would garner the maximum benefit. This will also nullify whatever protection is offered by the Constitution. The agitation since 2006 has ensured that 11 times public hearing has had to be postponed.

The fear in the downstream area is once again that their life and livelihood would be adversely affected. We do wish to point out that the anti-dam movement is still in its infancy in these parts. But the fear is palpable.

4. Demwe Lower Hydro-electric Project has been given to Athena Demwe Power Ltd. and is said to be Run of the River project to generate 1750 MW and will submerge 26 square kms of land to make way for a reservoir. 1416 (One thousand four hundred sixteen) ha of forest would also be lost in the process. Its height is 163.12 metres. Public hearing was confined to an area of 5 kms below the dam site. One of the fallout of this project would be the damage caused to Dibru Saikhowa bio-diversity area as well as other bio-sphere reserve in Assam.

While people speak in downstream area about the consequence of the Lohit project on their land and livelihood it is yet to take an organised expression.

II. SECOND TEAM REPORT

1. The proposed Tipaimukh project conceived in 1970s and is being currently implemented by NHPC, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) and Govt. of Manipur, despite serious opinions of the people to the contrary. It will submerge around 25,822.22 hectares of land ONLY in Manipur apart from Mizoram. The project is going to destroy at least 7.8 mn full grown trees and bamboo bushes. It will be 162 mtrs in height and is supposed to produce 1500 MW of electricity. 12 villages with a population of 557 families /2027 ST people (of the Hmar and Zeliangrong tribes) will be displaced. Most of these figures were disputed by people and activists of organizations working in the area because effects of the dam on the people, land and environment of the down-stream areas have not been evaluated by the government agencies.

There has been a simmering of resistance to the proposed project. Some people perceive it as not only a dam but also a threat to their material existence and life, culture and history. There has been recently some rallies, as the cycle rally by the Village Women Coordination Committee on the 19 Feb Sangaithal area, (Imphal), Jointly organized demonstrations(as the 14th mar 2012 event at Nungba Bazar, Tamenglong )) etc. And the resentment is gathering momentum.

The statutory Public Hearings, for the project, has been fraught with problems and there has been a great deal of dissatisfaction over the way these have been manipulated. The public hearings started in the year 2004 (Darlawn, Mizoram) and continued sporadically till the last one at Tipaimukh on the 31st march 2008. People at Tipaimiukh, have told us categorically they were not heard and what was the decision of the Public Hearing, they said, had already been taken by the officials who had come. There has been a protest against Public Hearing also (Kaimai, Tamenglong district March 2008).

What we have listed above is only a small sample of the impact of the dam on life and livelihood of the people both upstream and downstream. The fact of the matter is that nearly every river will have several dams each; Lohit basin will have 10 dams, Subansiri basin 12, Dibang basin 12, Siang basin 39, Kaming basin 43….These figures can go up were all data made public by the Arunachal government. To build so many dams in an area which is earthquake prone carries incalculable risk for all living beings.

Each MoA is accompanied by monetary advance by project developer to the Arunachal Pradesh government at the time of signing the deal. This implies that the project gets sanctioned even before any of the mandatory reports and clearances is given.

This makes the entire scheme of building projects which will destroy the Brahmaputra basin a colonial project meant to benefit rest of India at the expense of North East. It is also of interest to note that maximum numbers of the projects have been awarded to private companies. Most of the projects lack Impact Assessment Studies. Indeed some which claim to have got this study done are confined to between 5 to 10 kms. Siang river project indeed claims that no agricultural land would be submerged whereas nearly every household in 35 villages would lose their cultivable land! The misinformation by the authorities is accompanied by deliberate attempt to hide the truth from the people by manipulating studies.

We demand:

Suspend construction activities until the cumulative impact study of the entire north east, which involves engagement with the people who will get affected by construction of these dams.

The fact finding was conducted by following organisations:

1. Asansol Civil Rights Association (ACRA), West Bengal

2. Coordination for Human Rights (COHR), Manipur

3. Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS)

4. Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR)

5. Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR), Andhra Pradesh

6. Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi

Source: http://www.countercurrents.org/crdo250412.htm accessed on 25 April, 2012.

Reporter assaulted in Assam for exposing corruption in government works

April 10, 2012


Introduction:

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) is deeply concerned over an incident of assault of a reporter in Cachar district in Assam while he was returning home after collecting information and taking photographs of alleged irregularities in works under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (NREGA) in Borkhola development block area. The victim was severely beaten up that caused serious injuries including breaking of his teeth. The incident happened at a place a little away from a work site at Sonapur Gaon Panchayat (GP) on 28 February 2012.  The attackers were allegedly workers of a political party. Although the police registered a case against the attackers, instead of investigating the case, they registered another false case against the victim allegedly due to political interference. The victim is still traumatized and can not go out for work for fear of loss of limbs and life.

The case:

The BHRPC received a written communication from the victim Mr Sibir Ahmed Barbhuiyan on 7 April 2012 giving details of the incident and other relevant information. Mr Barbhuiyan is aged about 34, son of late Basarat Ali Barbhuiya and a resident of village Chandpur Part-III under the jurisdiction of Borkhola police station (PS) in Cachar. He is presently working as a local correspondent with the Dainik Jugasankha, a local daily news paper published from Baidyanath Sarani, Rongpur, Silchar-9. He also does a part time job as an insurance agent with the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). It is also stated that Mr Barbhuiya also works as the president of a village level non-government organization named Borkhola Gram Bikash Parishad that aims to work for equitable and sustainable development of the villages in Borkhola block particularly by ensuring proper implementation of the government rural development schemes. It is registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 vide No. RS/CA/243/G/32. However, the BHRPC could not thoroughly inquire into the works and activities of the NGO and its members.

According to the information provided by the victim, on 28 February he went out for works in the morning as usual. After the day’s work when he was returning home at about 9 pm some job card holders under the NREGA informed him that the GP president (elected head of the village level local government body) Ms Nazima Begum Laskar and its secretary Mr Shew Kumar Pandey caused deployment of Excavator and Tripper machines for soil excavation at the construction work of a village road from Dispur to Ashrab Shah Mukam in Sonapur GP and that the machines were at work at the time.

The work was sanctioned under the NREGA which is an Act of parliament ofIndiaenacted to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. The use of machines in such works defeats the very purpose of the legislation. The operational guidelines for implementation of the law issued by the Ministry of Rural Development, the nodal ministry of the government ofIndiafor implementation of the Act, also categorically say that no contractors and machinery is allowed and a 60:40 wage and material ratio has to be maintained. Therefore, Mr Barbhuiya felt he was duty bound as a working journalist and social worker to capture the evidence of violations of law in camera. Accordingly he went to the work site immediately and shot some photographs.

 According to the information, after taking photographs when he reached Ashrab Shah Mukam a group of about 12 people led by one Liakat Ali Barbhuiya attacked him. Some of the attackers were identified by him as (1) Liakat Ali Barbhuiya, son of late Mujibur Rahman, (2) Abdul Mannan, (3) Jelu Mazumder, son of Gousul Mazumder, (4) Gousul Mazumder, (5) Anor Uddin, (6) Manjurul Haque, son of Nur Uddin, (7) Babul Ahmed, son of late Mujibur Rahman and other 4/5 unidentified persons. All of them are residents of village Sonapur under Borkhola police station and local workers of the congress party, the ruling political party inAssam. The victim stated that the attackers started beating him and continued to box and punch him till they broke one of his teeth and he fell unconscious. The victim alleged that the attackers then took away all his belongings including a camera (canon 14:4), a gold ring (4 Ana), two mobile handsets (Nokia 3110) with SIMs bearing numbers 9401311524 and 9854901235, one HMT wrist watch and Rs. 33,000.00 (thirty three thousand) cash of insurance premium that he collected that day and some important documents etc.

The victim further stated that when his senses returned he found himself confined in a nearby house belonging to one of the alleged attackers Gousul Mazumder and he sensed that they were preparing weapons to kill him. At this point in time the officer In-Charge (IC) of Bhangarpar police outpost Mr Robin Hazarika reached the spot who rushed after receiving information about the incident and rescued the victim but did not nab the attackers and recover the stolen stuffs and thus they fled away at his arrival. Mr Barbhuiya was then taken to a local hospital and later shifted to theSilcharMedicalCollegeand Hospital, Silchar (SMCH) where he was admitted in the surgery department and received treatment until he was released on 5 March.

The police officer told the victim that he needed to visit the police outpost in order that his complaint was registered while the victim was in severe need of urgent medical attention. Mr barbhuiya could not visit the outpost that night as he was at the Sonapur primary health centre (PHC). However, he managed to file a written complaint on 29 February at the Bhangarpar outpost. Still the police did not register the case promptly, let alone taking any actions. When the health condition of the victim deteriorated and he had to be rushed to the SMCH on 1 March and the police was repeatedly urged to take actions the Borkhola PS registered a case against the alleged attackers vide Borkhola PS Case No. 29/12 dated 1 March 2012 under sections 341, 326, 506, 379 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) for wrongful restraint, grievous hurt, criminal intimidation, theft and joint commission of the offences respectively. Sub-inspector of police Mr Robin Hazarika has been made the investigation officer (I/O) of the case.

Mr. Barbhuiya, however, alleged that even after registration of the case the I/O did not take any actions against the accused and investigation of the case did not proceed at all. No statements of the witnesses recorded. No stolen goods recovered. No arrest of the accused was made though they were roaming free. It is alleged that the police facilitated grant of pre-arrest bail of the accused persons from the Gauhati High Court by sending a biased and false report of the case to the court without investigations. After being repeatedly urged to take actions as per law, the officer told that he could not take any actions as he was asked by Dr Rumee Nath, the member of Assam legislative assembly (MLA) belonging to the ruling congress party and representing Borkhola constituency, not to take actions, the victim alleged in his written communication addressed to the BHRPC.

The victim further alleged that he believed that the attack on him was carried out at the behest of the MLA who wanted him to be killed because as a scribe he reported at different times stories containing allegations of corruption made by the people against her. He also mentioned that foundation stone of the particular NREGA work where he found violations of laws was laid by her and the local monitoring body is comprised of party workers loyal to her including the GP president and Liakat Ali Barbhuiya and some other attackers. However, when the BHRPC contacted Ms Nath for her side of the story she did not respond.

It is also alleged that under political influence the police registered a false case against the victim based on a complaint filed by one Ms Champarun Nessa (aged about 45 years) of village Sonapur Part-I vide Borkhola P.S. Case No. 30/12 under sections 341, 354, 376 and 311 of IPC on 1 March 2012. The sections invoked provide punishment for wrongful restraint, assault or criminal force on woman to outrage her modesty and rape. Although the case involves serious offence of rape the self-proclaimed rape victim was not medically examined and her statement was also not recorded by a judicial magistrate. The BHRPC believes that this case against Mr Barbhuiya is absolutely false and malicious filed with malafide intention of abusing the legal process to subvert the object of law, to weaken the case against the alleged attackers of Mr Barbhuiya, to harass and intimidate him. It goes against reasons and common sense that a person who sustained injuries amounting to grievous hurt within the meaning of section 326 of the IPC would be able to commit offence like rape soon thereafter. In fact, it has become a practice for unscrupulous influential persons to procure some complainants and cause registration of serious offences against human rights defenders and anti-corruption activists.

In view of the position and intent of the people against him and the negligence of the police in their duties and their abetment in harassing and intimidating the victim, he is apprehensive of more attacks and seriously concerned for his life and limbs and police harassment as well as for those of his family members and members of the Borkhola Gram Bikash Parishad. He said he always feels that his life and liberty is at risk as the alleged perpetrators are at large and consequently he could freely move and work.

The rights:

The BHRPC thinks that the information reveals a prima facie case of violations of fundamental rights of the victim to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a), the right to practice profession of one’s choice guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (g) and the right to security and physical and psychological integrity under Article 21 of the constitution of India as read by the Supreme Court of India. The non-investigation of his case by the police also entails violations right to truth, justice and reparation.

It is also a prima facie case of violations of human right ‘to freedom of opinion and expression’ as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. The rights violated in this case are also guaranteed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 to whichIndia is a state party. This covenant including this Article is a part of the Human Rights Protection Act, 1993 by virtue of section 2 (1) (d).

It is obvious that the attack was carried out, if not to kill him, to take away the sense of security under which comfort Mr Barbhuiya works legitimately and peacefully both as a journalist and president of the Borkhola Gram Bikash Parishad against corruption and irregularities in implementation of rural development scheme of the government for practical realization of the rights of the people, particularly their social and economic rights. These circumstances make the definition of human rights defender as understood in the context of the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (also known as the declaration on human rights defenders) applicable in the case.

Human rights works including socio-economic and cultural rights by peaceful and legitimate means are both duty and rights of every individual as spelt out in the declaration on human rights defenders. Particularly Article 12 of the declaration imposes duty on the State to “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or dejure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present declaration.”

 The Protection of Human Rights Act also mandates the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to inquire, suo motu or on a petition presented to it by a victim or any person on his behalf, into complaint of (i) violation of human rights or abetment thereof or (ii) negligence in the prevention of such violation, by a public servant under section (a) 12. It is also the mandate of the NHRC to encourage the efforts of non-governmental organisations and institutions working in the field of human rights under clause (i) of the same section, which includes protection of defenders.

The actions:

In view of the circumstances the BHRPC wrote to the authorities including the prime minister ofIndia, the chief minister ofAssam, the president of the All India Congress Committee and the chairperson of the Press Council of India and also filed a complaint at the NHRC urging them to cause the relevant authorities:

 1. to conduct a prompt, objective and exhaustive investigation into the alleged assault on Mr Sibir Ahmed Barbhuiya, failure of police to perform their legal duties in investigating the allegations and the role of MLA Dr Rumee Nath in the alleged violations of human rights;

 2. to take all necessary measures to protect the physical and psychological security and integrity of Mr Sibir Ahmed Barbhuiya and his family and all members of Borkhola Gram Bikash Parishad and their families;

3. to provide adequate reparation in terms of monetary compensation to Mr Sibir Ahmed Barbhuiya for loss of his equipments, documents and other valuables and for suffering physical and mental agony;

 4. to guarantee that human rights defenders in Assam are able to carry out their legitimate human rights works without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including assault by goons and police harassment;

5. to guarantee that citizens and particularly the journalists in Assam are able to exercise their right to freedom of thought and expression without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including assault by goons and police harassment.

10 April 2012

Guwahati,Assam

For any clarification or more information you may contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Mobile: +91 9401942234

Email:wali.laskar@gmail.com

Bhuvan valley: Stay hungry and shut up

April 3, 2012

‘Stay hungry and shut up’ seems to be the food security policy of Assam government

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar[1]

Uma Goala, 5 year old daughter of Munia Goala of Chengjur in the tea garden suffering from low appetite, vomiting and fever.

Uma Goala, 5 year old daughter of Munia Goala of Chengjur in the tea garden suffering from low appetite, vomiting and fever.

Those whose near and dear ones reportedly died of hunger and lack of medical care in Assam are now being told to shut up and say only what they are told to say. In a tea garden in the North East Indian state where more than 14 people died of hunger, malnutrition and lack of medical care are now being harassed and pressurized into signing papers stating that all is well with them. With the help of their husbands and other male members of their families, workers and helpers of the Anganwadi centres under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) in the Bhuvan valley tea garden of Cachar district took signatures of the labourers and other villagers on 31 March 2012 on a paper that stated that the beneficiaries were being provided with sufficient nutrition and other services as required under the scheme and that they did not have any complaint regarding functioning of the centres. They took signatures of particularly those residents who provided the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), the local rights group that brought the cases of hunger deaths in the garden into the light, with information about their situation during its fact-finding study.
The BHRPC reported that the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, a tea garden owned by a private company based in Kolkata, which employed about 500 permanent and another 1000 casual workers, was abandoned by the owners in October 8, 2011 without paying the workers their outstanding wages and other dues. It resulted in loss of means of livelihood of the workers and pushed them into the condition of starvation and famine that led to the deaths of ten people till 27 February 2012. According to the fact-finding report[2] issued on 1 February, the workers were deprived of their rights as they were forced to do overwork and were paid very low wages (Rs. 41.00 for casual workers and 50.00 to 55.00 for permanent workers) without being provided with any medical treatment while working and, after closure, had the payment of their wages, provident fund and bonus suspended. 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 implemented. In the course of closure, the government 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 have not properly reached even those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it was one of the causes that led to the deaths.
Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

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

Even after publication of the disturbing reports, the authorities did not take any effective actions except re-opening of the garden on 9 February 2012 while maintaining that the deaths were not caused by starvation[3]. The situation, therefore, continued to worsen. The BHRPC again on 11 February reported about critical health conditions of 43 other people[4]. Among them two more people died on 18 and 22 February[5]. The chief minister of Assam wrote a letter on 29 February giving details of actions taken by the government while at the same time he still maintained without any proper inquiry that these deaths were not caused by starvation. Actions of the government were, at beast, inadequate and misleadingsaid the BHRPC in a statement[6]As a result, deaths continued unabated in the tea garden and on 10 March the BHRPC had to report two more deaths[7].
On the other hand, after publication of the reports some human rights groups, individual rights defenders and section of national media conducted independent investigations and took up the issue. Among the groups the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a Hongkong based rights body, taking up the case wrote to the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food and issued two hunger alerts world wide[8]. The Varansi (in Uttar Pradesh) based rights group People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) also sent letters to the authorities in India. Another civil society team from Guwahati visited the tea garden on 22 and 23 February. The group was comprised of Saito Basumatary, coordinator of the People’s Rights Forum, Wilfred Topno, president of Adivasi Sahitya Sabha- Assam, Stephen Ekka, director, of the PAJHRA, Godfrey Here, secretary of the Nawa Bihan Samaj and Rejan Horo, organizing secretary, central committee of the AASAA  and issued a statement corroborating the findings of the BHRPC after they made an extensive study of the situation. New Delhi based noted social activist Swami Agnivesh also engaged with the government in dialogue and pressed for the amelioration of the situation[9].
Apart from carrying stories on the situations in the garden by some national media outlets such as Indo-Asian news services, press trust of India and papers like the Asian Age, Times of India and the Telegraph (Kolkata), the CNN-IBN[10] and the Tehelka magazine conducted their own inquiry. The CNN-IBN continuously aired news on the situation and held a talk show while the Tehelka magazine published an in-depth story[11].
Meanwhile, on the complaint of the BHRPC the Supreme Court commissioners on the right to food took cognisance of the matter and asked their Assam state advisor for a report.[12] The national human rights commission also registered cases and started proceedings.[13]
Villagers taking bath in the cannel, the only source of water.

Villagers taking bath in the cannel, the only source of water.

These interventions generated certain amount of heat that was felt by the relevant quarters in New Delhi and Dispur. And reportedly even the prime minister’s office was asked to look into the reports forcing the Assam CM to act[14]. But instead of taking substantial and prompt actions, he ordered an additional chief secretary Mr. PK Choudhury to conduct an inquiry and minister for excise and sports Mr. Ajit Singh to keep vigil on the situation. He held a meeting to discuss their feedback and decide further actions on 11 March. From the reports in the press it seemed that the government was trying to shift the entire blame on the estate management who, according to the chief secretary, was not responding to official communiqués from the deputy commissioner as well as the labour department and “neglecting” the garden[15].  The reports were totally silent about the stand of government on the role of its officers, particularly those who were responsible to ensure that the gardens were run in accordance with law, and those who were responsible for proper implementation of the flagship schemes. However, it is learnt that the CM instructed the officials to cause some ring wells dug in the gardens to make drinking water available for the residents and to take some other ameliorating measures[16].

But the woes of the labourers were far from over. There was complaint that labourers were not getting loans from provident fund to get over their cash crunch as the authorities did not released the fund even though the management had already paid 50% of the arrears of PF through the district administration. Even the PF claims of the dead labourers were also not being cleared. It was also alleged that the Anganwadi centres were not providing food staffs and other services of their mandate, doctors were not available in the estate hospital and problems of drinking water, sanitation and electricity worsened. When the BHRPC drew attention of the district magistrate/deputy commissioner (DM/DC) Mr Harendra Kumar Devmahanta he ordered two separate inquiries into the grievances about functioning of Anganwadi centres and release of PF giving the responsible officers 10 days time. And he said that he was active in ensuring potable water, medical facilities and electricity in the tea estate. A water supply plant will be set up and till it is done water would be supplied daily by tanks. Besides, a doctor from the nearby primary health centre (PHC) would visit the estate hospital once a week, till a permanent doctor was be appointed, he assured.[17] The meeting between the BHRPC members and the DC took place on 30 March and it was attended by two additional DCs, assistant labour commissioner and district social welfare officer. The last mentioned officer is responsible for running ICDS in the district.
The Supreme Court of India directed the central and state governments to universalise the functioning of ICDS and stated that “(t)he universalisation of the ICDS involves extending all ICDS services (Supplementary nutrition, growth monitoring, nutrition and health education, immunization, referral and pre-school education) to every child under the age of 6, all pregnant women and lactating mothers and all adolescent girls”.[18]
The central government formulated a Nutritional and Feeding Norms for SNP[19] in ICDS and it was approved by the Supreme Court.[20] It states that “children in the age group of 6 months to 3 years must be entitled to food supplement of 500 calorie of energy and 12-15 gm of protein per child per day in the form of take home ration (THR). For the age group of 3-6 years, food supplement of 500 calories of energy and 12-15 gm of protein per child must be made available at the Anganwadi Centres in the form of a hot cooked meal and a morning snack. For severely underweight children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years, an additional 300 calories of energy and 8-10 gm of protein would be given as THR. For pregnant and lactating mothers, a food supplement of 600 calories of energy and 18-20 gm of protein per beneficiary per day would be provided as THR”.[21]
It can be shown in a table more conveniently with money ear-marked for each beneficiary in each category:
Category
Rate in rupees per beneficiary per day
Calories
Proteins in gm
Children below 6 years
4.00
500
12-15
Severely malnourished children
6.00
800
20-25
Pregnant and lactating mothers
5.00
600
18-20
Table-I[22]
Rs. 4.00 is ear-marked for every adolescent girl per day.
It is another question as to whether this money can still buy that much calories and proteins even after three years of severe food inflation from the time of approval of the Supreme Court and particularly in this part of the country which is known for high prices of food stuffs.
As per the Supreme Court rulings, this nutritional support shall be provided 300 days in a year by providing for 25 days per month.
Now, let us take a look on how all these get translated in the ground in the form of actual dietary intake by the beneficiaries. A famous(!) statement of the then Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi may be remembered that only Re. 0.15 would reach the actual beneficiary from Re. 1.00 meant for the poor and the remaining Re. 0.85 would get siphoned off by those who were entrusted with the task of reaching the beneficiaries with the benefit of the money. Still the situation is same if not worse. The BHRPC team were told during their fact-finding study visit on 27 February by the residents of the Bhuvan valley that there were 7 Anganwadi centres in the garden but none of them were properly functioning. They were opened only once or twice in a month. It indicates that the children and women of the tea garden were receiving about 0.01 per cent of the money allotted for their nutritional support and some health services. The situation has certainly improved since.
But how much improved? A typically ‘well-functioning’ Anganwadi centre in Cachar district gets approximately Rs. 1,200.00 per month. The break-up may be shown in a table:
Category
Total number. of beneficiary
Rs. per head per day
Total amount per category per day
Children below 6 years
50
4.00
200.00
Severely malnourished children
Nil
6.00
Nil
Adolescent girls
38
4.00
152.00
Pregnant and lactating mothers
22
5.00
110.00
Total
—–
——
462.00
Table-II[23]
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.

For one month the amount stands at Rs. 462.00 x 25 days = Rs. 11550.00, say 12000.00. When this scribe talked with the worker of such a typical centre she confided with the condition of anonymity that Rs 3000.00 is taken away by the supervisor apparently for himself/herself, child development project officer (CDPO), the district social welfare officer and other higher-ups, Rs. 1000.00 by the president of the centre management committee and another Rs. 1000.00 by the member secretary of the committee and Rs. 500.00 by each worker and helper from this 12000.00 and the remaining Rs. 6000.00 is spent on the beneficiaries.

The worker of a centre is ex-officio member-secretary of the centre management committee and in most cases her husband or any other member of her family or any relative is the president, though the rule book says the president should be the member of the Gaon Panchayat elected from the area covered by the centre.
If the 7 Anganwadi centres in the Bhuvan valley tea garden function as per rules in the book apparently a worker will incur a loss of Rs. 1500.00 (1000.00 as member secretary and 500.00 as worker), president Rs. 1000.00 and helper Rs. 500.00 of their ‘extra-money’ per month. But it is not important for them that this ‘sacrifice of extra-money’ can go a long way to save some precious human lives. So, they coerced the labourers and other villagers to sign a paper stating that the beneficiaries were being provided with sufficient nutrition and other services as required under the scheme and that they did not have any grievances regarding functioning of the centres.
The presence of the district social welfare officer in the meeting of 29 March and he being ordered to submit a report within 10 days about the complaint regarding function of the ICDC, and the incident of taking forcible signature of the Bhuvan valley residents on the very next day can not be a mere co-incidence.
It is a very sorry and sad commentary on the sense of responsibility as well as humanity of some of the officers and public servants who govern the people and implement the government policies, laws duly passed by legislative bodies and orders made by law courts.
It also shows that the Assam government has not only failed to protect the right to life with dignity of the tea workers in the Bhuvan valley by ensuring availability of adequate food, water, sanitation and health care but it is now also  taking away right to make noise, yell, cry and weep at the time of dying from hunger.

[1] The writer is a human rights defender based in Guwahati, Assam can be reached at wali.laskar@gmail.com

[2] Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). “Tea labourers die of starvation due to exploitation of garden management and government apathy in Assam.” Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 2012. Web. 1 February 2012 <https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/hungeralert1/>

[3] “Bhuvan Valley: no hunger deaths.“ Sakalbela 18 February 2012 Silchar ed. Print.
[4] Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). “Situation of hunger deteriorates in Assam tea garden.” Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 2012. Web. 11 February 2012 <https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/situation-of-hunger-deteriorates-in-assam-tea-garden/>
[5] Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). “Two more people died in Assam tea garden.” Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 2012. Web. 23 February 2012 <https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/hungeralert3/>
[6] Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). “Assam government’s actions regarding starvation deaths are inadequate and misleading.” Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 2012. Web. 3 March 2012 < https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/assam-governments-actions-in-starvation-deaths-are-inadequate-and-misleading/>
[7] Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). “Deaths continue unabated in Assam tea garden.” Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 2012. Web. 10 March 2012   <https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/hungeralert4//>
[8] (a) Asian Human Rights Commission—Hunger Alert Programme. “INDIA: Assam government failed to ensure the right to life with dignity of tea plantation workers leading to ten deaths.” Asian Human Rights Commission, 2012. Web. 7 February 2012  <http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAU-001-2012/AHRC-HAC-002-201>
    (b) Asian Human Rights Commission—Hunger Alert Programme. “INDIA: Two more estate workers die from starvation while the government denies responsibility.” Asian Human Rights Commission, 2012. Web. 27 February 2012  < http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAU-001-2012>
[9] “Swami Agnivesh writes to Assam CM on starvation deaths.” The Sentinel. Web. 5 February 2012 Silchar ed.  <http://www.sentinelassam.com/cachar/story.php?sec=2&subsec=12&id=105944&dtP=2012-02-05&ppr=1>
[10]  Sen, Arijit. “Stay hungry: The story behind Assam tea”. IBNLive. Web. 21 February 2012. < http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arijitsen/148/63192/stay-hungry-the-story-behind-assam-tea.html>
[11]  Choudhury, Ratnadip. “Did they die of hunger? The Question Haunts Barak Valley.” Tehelka 25 February: 10-11. Print.
[12]  “SC Commissioners take note of starvation deaths.” The Assam Tribune. Web. 2 March 2012 Guwahati ed.  <http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=mar0212/state07>
[13] NHRC Case No.  51/3/2/2012
[14]  “Dispur rap on garden for deaths” The Telegraph. Web. March 2012 Kolkata ed. <http://vv.telegraphindia.com/1120314/jsp/northeast/story_15246290.jsp>
[15] Ibid
[16] “Government will run the garden in case owners unable: Gogoi.” Dainik Samayik Prasanga 14 March  2012 Silchar ed. Print.
[17] Roy, Sipra. “Bhuban Valley TE labourers not getting loans from PF.” The Seven Sisters Post. Web. 1 April Guwahati ed. <http://sevensisterspost.com/?p=1944# >
[18] People’s Union for Civil Liberties Vs. Union of India and Others (Writ Petition (civil) 196 of 2001); date of Judgement: 13/12/2006 in IA Nos. 34, 35, 40, 49, 58, 59, 60, 61 and 62
[19] SNP stand for Supplementary Nutrition Programme.
[20] People’s Union for Civil Liberties Vs. Union of India and Others (Writ Petition (civil) 196 of 2001); Date of Judgement: April 22, 2009
[21] Ibid
[22] Ibid
[23]  It is a hypothetical table based on survey of several Anganwadi centres and meant to show break-up of a typical centre in Cachar district. It needs to be noted that they don’t maintain list of severely malnourished or underweight children.