Posts Tagged ‘Silchar’

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

July 9, 2018

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

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Prof. Tapodhir Bhattacharya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Please sign the petition HERE

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

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.

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

January 23, 2016

Prasenjit Biswas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voters of Silchar prepare their own manifesto

April 27, 2014
Consultation on People's Manifesto at Silchar, Assam

Consultation on People’s Manifesto at Silchar, Assam

 

Report of Consultation on Peoples Manifesto at Silchar

Introduction: So far we have seen that the political parties of the country prepare their manifesto before elections and place it before people and on that basis we elect our representatives. But from this year a new process has been started by a forum named Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) and it has taken an initiative to “let people define our national priorities” that is, the general people will prepare such manifesto comprising of their demands and place it before the political parties and will go for election on the basis of their commitments to work for the fulfillment of these demands.

To prepare such a manifesto at the Silchar Loksabha constituency level the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) organized a consultation programme on 13th of March 2014 at Madhya Sahar Sanskritik Samiti Hall in collaboration with Wada Na Todo Abhiyan.

Plan of the Programme: 1. ‘Wada Na Todo Abhiyan’ activists identified Silchar Loksabha constituency as one of constituencies where initiative for people’s manifesto writing process can be taken. BHRPC agreed to work on this as per guidelines of the WNTA as applicable in the particular circumstances of the locality.

2. BHRPC held two group discussions on 8 and 9 March 2014 at its city office at Silchar, Assam. A draft proposal of demands was prepared which was later circulated among the invitees.

3. Invitation to the consultation was sent to the district offices of all political parties along with 40 civil society organizations. The invitation letter was accompanied by the draft list of demands prepared during the group discussions.

4. For better conduct of the meeting BHRPC activists held a preparatory meeting of BHRPC members at the office where responsibilities were distributed among the workers.

Nature of the Programme: It was a consultation programme in nature where the various aspirations, grievances and demands were raised by grass-root activists and other individuals. The proposals raised were thoroughly examined by the participants and after many additions, subtractions and supplementations a list of 40 demands were adopted as the People’s Manifesto for Silchar constituency for 2014 parliamentary election.

Report of the programme: The following persons participated in the consultation:

Sl. No.

Name

Organisation/Address

Phone No.

1

Nirmal Kumar Das

Asom Mojuri Sramik Union

9435238753

2

Sanjib Roy

Cachar Hindibashi Chatro Parishad

9864282564

3

Ali Reja Osmani

Model Society Assam

9435578622

4

Sihab Uddin Ahmed

Humanity Foundation

 

5

Dr. Subir Kar

Aam Admi Party

9435171933

6

Dipankar Bhattacharjee

Jana Jagaran Mancho

9101236867

7

Shahajahan Laskar

BVSDS Malugram

9435352831

8

Sabana Ahmed Mazumder

Human Rights Oorganisation, Cachar

8486674573

9

Somar Bijoy Chakraborty

Barak Upatyaka Bangho Sahityo Snskriti Sammelon

9435372983

10

Dipangshu Sekhar Das

Bengali Jatio Parishad

9577748247

11

Saidul Hoque Laskar

Kishan Vikash Samiti

9435696872

12

Abhijit Biswas

AGP

9401848581

13

Nazir Hussain Laskar

Samaj Bandhab

9854894018

14

Haridas Dutta

Nagarik Sartho Rakha Sangram Parishad

9435173535

15

Suraj Panday

Y.S.P.

 

16

Bishnu Paul

A.C.S.Y.S.P.

9613710937

17

Abdulla Laskar

Samaj Kalyan Club

9435793013

18

Joynal Abedin

Editor, Islamic Dristikon

9401853244

19

Sadhan Purkayastha

Amora Bangali

9435621159

20

Bayanul H. Laskar

Cachar Kalyan Sangstha

9435431745

21

Ajmal Hussain Laskar

Raja Friends Club

9401140398

22

S. Herajit Singh

COPE

9954736835

23

Abdul Noor Choudhury

MMDO Assam

9854348131

24

Jishnu Dutta

SAFE

9401534808

25

Krishanu Bhattacharjee

Peoples Science Society

9957196871

26

Abu Taher Barbhuiya

DOPS

9706058617

27

Abbas Ali

SBI Employee Association

8724979120

28

Taniya Laskar

BHRPC

9401616763

29

Shyamal Dey

Rongpur Bajar Samiti

 

30

Debashish Das

Silchar

995434138

31

Abdul Mannan Barbhuiya

Consultant, ADB, World Bank

9706170713

32

Jasim Uddin Barbhuiya

BHRPC, Barkhola

9435898241

33

M Baby Chanu

Social Worker, Rongpur

9401700389

34

Faruk Ahmed Barbhuiya

BHRPC, Udharbandh

9435295460

35

Arun Kumar Goala

BHRPC, Badribasti

9859939193

36

Raju Barbhuiya

BHRPC, Kashipur

9435212453

37

Moinul Hoque Barbhuiya

BHRPC, Rongpur

9401684594

38

Altaf Hussain Laskar

 

9435909820

39

Dipak Sengupta

Secretary, Barak Upatyaka Bangho Sahityo Snskriti Sammelon

9435173280

40

Abid Raja Mazumder

Retd. Pricipal, Nehru College, Pailapool

9435260893

41

Pran Dev

President, YSP

9435201072

42

Manabendu Bhumij

YSP

9707887774

43

Fulan Ahmed Barbhuiya

Samaj Kalyan Club, Didarkush

9401326308

44

Aftabur Rahman Laskar

BHRPC, Rupaibali

9435883413

45

Dipu Laskar

Silchar

9859808205

46

Jakir Hussain Talukder

Dudhpatil, Silchar

9706239204

47

Kalam Ahmed Barbhuiya

Sarvajanin Seva Saangha, Banskandi

9957626130

48

Ramchandra Hajam

Pailapool

9859888697

49

Jia Uddin Choudhury

Sec., Manipuri Muslim Dev. Org.

9859525526

50

Husham Uddin Choudhury

MMDO

9435635262

51

Kabir Ahmed Laskar

Malugram

9854585839

52

Neharul Ahmed Mazumder

BHRPC

9435989997

53

S Sharmila Singha

BHRPC, Rongpur

9085483788

54

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

BHRPC

9401942234

55

Sadique Mohammed Laskar

BHRPC

9435201685

 

Before the consultation begun registration of the participants started at 11 am and was facilitated by Ms Sharmila Singha and Mr Arun Goala. Ms Taniya Laskar, Ms Baby Chanu, Mr Fanjaobam Loknath and Mr Aftabur Rahman Laskar were given the responsibility to note down the consultation process in Bengali and in English.

The consultation started at 11.30 am with the proposal of Mr Sadique Mohammed Laskar, who worked as host of the event that Mr Waliullah Ahmed Laskar would moderate the consultation and the proposal was supported by all. After the chair was taken by Mr W A Laskar, the participants introduced themselves. Then Mr Neharul Ahmed Mazumder delivered a brief welcome address where he also described the concept of People’s Manifesto and basic principles of the process. With an introductory remark the moderator then invited Mr Sadique Mohammed Laskar of BHRPC to present his proposals of demands. The proposals raised by him given below:

  1. Construction of Silchar-Lumding broad gauge rail lines must be completed within 2014.
  2. Construction of Silchar-Saurastra Maha Sadak must be completed within 2014.
  3. In addition, an alternative road from Silchar to Guwahati should be constructed as soon as possible.

In response to the proposals Mr Sahajahan Laskar of Barak Valley Social Development Society pointed out that a defined route of such a road should be prepared. Mr Sihab Uddin Ahmed of Humanity Foundation informed that such a defined route had already been prepared and submitted to the State Public Works Department and it could be collected and considered. Mr Debashis Das raised a demand for an alternative rail way service from Silchar to Guwahati via Harengajao. The proposals were accepted.

  1. Infrastructural development of National Institute of Information Technology at Silchar.

Regarding this proposal Mr Samar Bijoy Chakrabarty informed that recently a proposal was advanced by the director of NIIT that some extensions of the institute would be made at some places outside Barak valley. Mr Chakrabarty saw in this proposal some design to remove the NIIT from Silchar. He, therefore, specifically insisted that the infrastructural and academic development should be done at Silchar campus only. The participants agreed to make the demand accordingly.

Then Mr Nirmal Kumar Das of Asom Majuri Shramik Union presented his proposals as follows:

1. Dredging of the river Barak and in appropriate cases its tributaries should be done to control the flood situation and to facilitate water transportation in Barak valley.

2. A law should be enacted ensuring traditionally enjoyed rights over land, water and forest for those who have been enjoying such rights traditionally for at least three generations but do not hold any legal titles and which rights do not come under the Forest Rights Act.

3. To enact Janlokpal Bill as a law.

4. Power should be devolved to the smaller administrative units. The devolution should be through an autonomous system of governance with two houses for a region within the states. The autonomous region should be demarcated not on the basis of ethnicity but on the bases of geographical unity, economic backwardness and administrative convenience. The lower house will consist of general representatives of people and the upper house will be comprised of one representative of each ethnic and/or linguistic group living within the region irrespective of the number of the people belonging to such communities to protect the community rights.

Taking part in the discussion Mr Sihab Uddin Laskar added to the first demand that the river Barak should be tapped and tamed and used for agricultural purposes with lift irrigation.

Mr Dipak Sengupta of Barak Upotyoka Bango Sahityo O Sanskritik Sammelon argued that Barak valley needs an Autonomous Economic Council. The moderator pointed out that the proposal for devolution of power made by Mr Nirmal Kumar Das is a broad based proposal and based on the right to self-governance and it also can address the specific situation of Barak valley. Constitution of Autonomous councils here and there would not solve problems. Rather this type of piecemeal patchwork is a characteristic of counter insurgency policy of the government which in effect causes more ethnic bitterness. All regions should be given equal importance and all people should get the benefit of devolution of power equally.

Next presenter of proposals was Mr Neharul Ahmed Mazumder and his proposals were as follows:

  1. Full implementation of the provisions of the Right to Education Act in their letters and spirits including the provisions of 25% reservation for economically backward students in nongovernment schools.

 

The moderator added that for such implementation there needs to be periodical social audits and public monitoring. Mr Nirmal Kumar Das suggested that the audit and monitoring should be done by educationists who are not affiliated with any political parties. Dr Subir Kar noted that the basic problems faced regarding social issues are mostly non-implementation of welfare legislations including RTE. He, therefore, thought that establishment of a national implementation monitoring commission can be considered.

 

  1. To repeal the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 and to bring those who violated human rights in the garb of working under the Act to justice.

At the invitation from the moderator most of the participants expressed their opinions that the proposal was proper and must be included in the manifesto.

  1. To construct a women’s hostel in Silchar for girl students and working women.

The proposal was supported by the participants.

4.    To establish a world class super-specialty hospital like AIIMS in Silchar.

Responding to this proposal Mr Sanjeeb Roy said that in the year 2008 Kanchi Shankaracharya Trust took an initiative to construct a Kanchi Super Specialty Hospital at Arunabandh tea estate at Udharband of Cachar. The owners tea garden also gave their no objection certificate over 30 acres of land. For unknown reasons no further steps were taken.

Ms Taniya Laskar said that there were objections from the tea workers to construct the hospital as they were to be evicted from their houses and rendered homeless. Dr Subir Kar also pointed out that the hospital should be run by government or by a charitable trust so that the poor people can access the service free or with nominal fees.

It was said from the chair that if the labourers are in danger of being evicted and rendered homeless without their proper rehabilitation the hospital should be constructed elsewhere and with their proper rehabilitation the hospital can be constructed at the proposed site if the garden is closed and the trust is a charitable trust and the hospital will be open for all free or with nominal fees. Otherwise, he opined, the government of India should construct the hospital at a proper place.

5. To resolve the traffic situation of Silchar town at least 3 flyover should be constructed over the national highways. One is at Sadarghat point over the NH 37, another is at at Tarapur point over NH53 and the other is at Rangirkhadi over NH54.

The participants expressed their agreements with the proposal.

Ms Taniya Laskar, then, presented some more proposals. They are as under:

1. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 should be implemented fully and particularly Shelter Homes under the Act should be constructed in every block of three districts of Barak valley.

2. A fund should be allotted for raising awareness among the general people regarding superstitions and social evils like with-hunting, dowry, female foeticide etc.

3. Those communities belonging to tea tribes who are recognised as Scheduled Tribes elsewhere should also be given ST status in Assam.

4. The tea tribes of Assam should be provided with facilities of primary education in their mother tongues.

5. 33% seats should be reserved for women in all political, administrative and other government as well as non-government jobs.

After a little discussion all participants agreed to these proposals.

After that Mr Waliullah Ahmed Laskar proposed the following demands:

1. A National Hunger Monitoring Commission should be established as an autonomous statutory body like the National Human Rights Commission but with state commission and field offices at the district level to monitor hunger situations in the country. The Commission may be comprised of the persons of legal background like retired Supreme Court and high court judges, medical experts, nutrition experts and social activists. The field offices should identify situations of hunger or malnutrition and monitor them by recording symptoms related to malnutrition periodically and monitoring the implantation of flagship schemes related right to food. The commission may also take actions on complaint/information of hunger deaths and investigate the reported cases and such other functions.

The Commission can also be called the National Nutrition Commission or by any other appropriate name.

To this proposal Mr Abdul Mannan Barbhuiya suggested the body should be a constitutional one. After some discussion it was agreed that a statutory body will serve the purpose.

2. As the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 perpetuates the archaic labour system by providing for a system of labour which has become a modern form of slavery and bonded labour system because the Act provides for payment of wages both in cash and kind like housing facilities, medical care etc. and wages are far less than the minimum wages prevailing in the state under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. The Act also closes door the right to choose their vocation for the labourers by providing that the housing facilities are provided by the estate owners. It is obvious that if the labouers choose another vocation they will be evicted from the houses and will be rendered homeless and such situation they will not be in a position to exercise their right to choose vocation. This feudal system of labour should be replaced by one which is in conformity with modern socio economic situations and basic human rights norms.

Responding to this proposal Mr Sanjeeb Roy said that there is difference between wages paid in Brahmaputra valley and in Barak valley which is 75.00 and 85.00 respectively. Mr Nirmal Kumar Das proposed that the wage should be 145.00 which is the minimum wage for unskilled labourers in Assam. Mr Moinul Hoque Barbhuiya commented that a part of wages are paid in kind so it comes to the minimum wages. Responding to the comment made by Mr M H Barbhuiya many of the participants expressed their views that the payments in kind are not properly made and it also curtails the bargaining power of the labourers. Therefore, the system of making payment in kind should not be there and the wage should at least equal to the minimum wages.

3. There are about 2 lacks voters in Assam who are dubbed as D (doubtful) voters in electoral rolls and they are debarred from exercising many citizenship rights including casting their votes. The process of dubbing the D-voters is arbitrary as it does not provide for right to a fair hearing to the concerned persons. The procedure followed by the Foreigners Tribunals in determining citizenship of an accused is not in conformity with the international standard and due process norms. The alleged country of origin (Bangladesh or Nepal) does not reconise the procedure and its outcome on this ground. Therefore, a person found to be not Indian citizen by the tribunal is not accepted by his/her alleged country of origin as its national or citizen. They are rendered stateless which is against international law.

India, therefore, needs to negotiate with Bangladesh and Nepal a treaty providing for a mechanism for determining citizenship of persons whose nationality and citizenship is under doubt and the procedure of repatriation of those who are found to be not Indian citizens. The mechanism and its procedure should be compatible with international human rights and refugee laws.

In response to the proposal Mr Sadan Purakayastha said that these D-voters as well as many others whose citizenship status are doubtful are kept in detention camps in inhuman conditions violating their human rights. He also added that those who came to India due to civil disturbances in their country of origin should be given Indian citizenship. Mr Jishnu Dutta wondered why only Bengalis are D-voters and not Nepalis.

Responding to the comments Mr W A Laskar said that we can demand that rights violations in detention camp should be stopped and the alleged cases should be investigated and those who came to India from other countries due to civil disturbances may come under the definition of refugee under international law and we can demand that they should be treated as per refugee law.

4. The Police Act, 1861 is a colonial piece of legislation and the Supreme Court of India directed the Union and State governments to amend the Act incorporating its 7 directives issued in Prakash Singh case in 2006 in letter and spirit. The 1861 Act should be repealed and a new central Police Act as per Supreme Court directives should be passed as a model for the states.

The participants agreed to this proposal wholly.

Then, Maulana Joynul Abedin, editor of Islamic Dristikon, presented 3 proposals regarding minorities as given below:

1. Reservation for minorities in political positions, government jobs and in education should be made in proportion to their populations even if it needs amendment of the constitution.

Mr Abid Raja Mazumder responded to this proposal saying that instead of expressly demanding reservation we should demand implementation of the recommendations of Sachar Committee and Ranga Nath Mishra Commission. The moderator said it is better to make a demand specifically.

2. The Communal Violence Bill should be passed.

The participants expressed their agreement to the proposal.

3. A law should be passed providing for payment of adequate compensation to those who were put in jail under charges of terrorism but later acquitted by the courts.

To this also the participants expressed their agreement.

After this, Mr Faruk Hussain Barbhuiya put the following demands before the participants in the consultation for inclusion in the manifesto:

1. A Passport Seva Kendra should be opened at Silchar to collect applications for passports from people living in Barak valley.

The participants agreed to this demand.

2. An office of, at least, a deputy or an assistant director of pensions should be opened in Silchar as plying through Silchar and Guwahati causes hardships to the senior citizens.

The moderator said that this demand pertains to state government.

Then Krishanu Bhattacharya of People’s Science Forum, taking part in discussion asked for the details of national hunger monitoring commission and requested to demand a development monitoring commission and to ensure civil society representation in its composition.

The moderator responded by repeating the proposal for national hunger monitoring commission as stated above and also pointed out that the idea of development monitoring commission is very good but it needs further discussion.

Mr Neharul Ahmed Mazumder again came out with a demand that the Kumbhirgram Airport, Silchar should be brought under civil aviation and to make it serve 24×7.

Then Professor Subir Kar put forward the following demands:

1. Silchar-Kolkata waterways via Bangladesh should be reopened.

2. Karimganj-Kolkata railways via Bangladesh should be reopened.

3. All tea workers’ families should be brought under BPL category.

Then Mr Abdul Nur Choudhury of Manipuri Muslim Development Organisation put forward a demand that the Manipuri community should be recognized as Scheduled Tribe (Plain).

Mr Ali Reja Osmani of Model Society, Silchar presented the last proposal demanding that a policy for management and recycling of e-waste should be formulated.

The consultation then came to an end with a brief remark of moderator thanking the participants.

NHRC pulls up Assam over hunger deaths and rights violations

May 29, 2012

Guwahati, 29 May 2012: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) pulled up the government of Assam over hunger deaths of tea labourers and other cases of human rights violations. In its camp sitting in Guwahati held on 28 May 2012 the NHRC heard about 50 pending cases relating to Assam state of North East India.

’Out of 17 cases, which the full commission heard, at least 6 cases were closed after the commission got satisfactory answers from the state authorities. In the other cases, the commission has given time to the authorities to respond to its recommendations. The commission recommended about rupees (Indian currency) 1.8 million (18 lakh) as monetary relief in different cases of human rights violations’, NHRC said in a release to the press.

‘In the matter relating to starvation deaths in the Bhuvan valley tea estate in Cachar district, the commission has asked the state government to pay rupees 0.2 million each to the two tea garden workers and rupees 0.1 million (1 lakh) each to about 13 dependents of the workers who died due to starvation. The Commission has also directed the state government to inquire whether the Tea Association of India (TAI) was distributing the food grains properly among the workers or not’ said the NHRC. The government provides the tea workers with food items from the Public Distribution System (PDS) through the TAI which is not favorably seen by the commission.

The NHRC release further stated that in a case relating to rehabilitation of children rendered orphan or destitute in communal riots in upper Assam districts, the commission asked the state government to identify the child victims without any further delay and give financial assistance to them and sent compliance report along with proof of payment within eight weeks. The Commission observed that it is the negligence of officers that led to orphaned children not getting timely assistance despite the fact that so many years have past since the riots.

In the cases relating to force prostitution of three women in Cachar district, the commission asked the state government to pay rupees one lakh each to the three victims. The government was also asked to inquire whether there was any organized activity going on in the state ofAssamto bring girls from Meghalaya to Cachar and Silchar and forced them into prostitution. The authorities have been asked to take action against the guilty.

On the issue of witch hunting, the state authorities admitted that this practice is prevalent in backward and distantly located places. During last five years, about 88 women and over 40 men  became victims of such incidents. The commission has asked the state authorities to create awareness among people and strive for fast investigation and speedy trial in incidents of witch hunting to at the deterrent.

The commission also heard encounter and custodial death cases in its two division benches and asked the police authorities to scrupulously adhere to its guidelines and submit all the reports to the commission timely for early disposal of such cases.

The Assam based human rights group Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), the group that has been reporting the starvation deaths of tea workers and fighting for their cause and complainant in several other cases, said that this move of the NHRC to dispose of pending cases expediently and to reach out to the remote areas in a bid to sensitize the government officials and talk with the civil society groups are great steps and have been long overdue. This will go a long to protect rights of the people encouraging the independent human rights defenders and the recommendations and observations of the NHRC will work as strong disincentive to the potential violators among the officials.

Other civil society groups corroborate hunger deaths in Assam tea garden

April 27, 2012

A civil society group comprising of several non-government organisation presented report of their study on the starvation deaths of workers in the Bhuvan valley tea estate in Assam on 25 February 2012 before media in Guwahati that corroborated reports of the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) The Guwahati based civil society group further claimed that “twelve people have died due to starvation and the condition of 45 other labourers is still serious in the Bhuban Valley tea estate. The management decided to close down the estate Oct 11, 2011 and it led to starvation as the labourers have no other option to earn their livelihood.”

The preliminary report that they have issued is posted here.

CIVIL SOCIETY INQUIRY REPORT OFBHUBANVALLEYTEA ESTATE DEATHS

CACHAR:ASSAM

PRESS RELEASE

Introduction

Till now 11 persons have died since the tea garden was locked on 11 October 2011. The news of the death of 10 people in Bhuban valley Tea Estate in Cachar district had appeared in the electronic and print media. In order to understand the ground reality and in order to verify the cause of the death, a team consisting of members from civil society visited the site on 22 and 23 February 2012. Saito Basumatary, coordinator of People’s Rights Forum, Wilfred Topno, President, Adivasi Sahitya Sabha-Assam, Stephen Ekka , Director, PAJHRA, Godfrey Here, Secretary, Nawa Bihan Samaj and Rejan Horo, organizing secretary, central Committee AASAA made an extensive study of the situation.

The team visited the families of the victims, interacted with the members , met the garden assistant manger, panchayat members, health department and labour department. It interviewed the people concerned and collected relevant data. It met the members of other activist groups like – BHRPC (Barak Human Rights Protection Committee), Monierekhal Tea Estate Youth Club and Seva Kendra .  It discussed  individually and with the groups on the issue of the death of workers during the lock out period.

Bhuban Valley Tea Estate is situated about 50 km away from Silchar and falls under Motinagar Police station in Lakhipur constituency. On 14 January 2012 Sentinel news paper had carried the news of death of 10 workers from the tea garden. Thereafter it also appeared in the electronic media. The tea garden has 900 ha of land with tea plantation and labour hamlets.  According to its register 480 permanent members  and  some 500 temporary labours work in the tea plantation. The total population of the tea  plantation is about 2000.

  • Name & Adress :BhubanValleytea Garden, P.O. Motinagar        Dist: Kachar
  • Tea Garden owner : Ghanasham Sarda, Mr.Basant Barua (Director)
  • Population:  2000,House hold around 1000 Permanent Labour:  480 including sub-staff.
  • There are three division of Bhuban Valley TE, 1.Moti Nagar Division, 2. Chaigur Division, 3. North Bank Division.
  • Tea Garden management  closeted T.E. on 11 october 2011 without any notice to the tea garden labourers

 Background

The Bhuban Valley TE is said to be owned by Sarda Company. However, it appears to have been mananged by different individuals. Prior to 2002, the tea garden did not seem to have problem. However later the people were not getting their PF and other benefits.  It was discovered that the PF was not deposited for several years which amounted to Rs. 65 lakhs. The management showed that due to lack of profit from the garden they were unable to deposit the amount. When these poor household have been given opportunity  to work around with living wages and better management of the garden, the laborers would not have been led to such acute poverty. The estate is poorly managed and with much negligence of the management for the well being of the laborers. As a result the estate management may have suffered lost and the blame has been always on the poor laborers for the non-productive works. And these might have resulted for agreement after agreement between the management and union of laborers especially leader mostly influenced by political purposes by imposing unconstitutional provisions on the poor laborers for productive works. But these provision seems to have been unworkable and the blame has been of unproductive works of the laborers by the management. As such there have been lock out in the tea garden without prior notice to the laborers.

However on the other side of the story, the cause of poor management of the estate has many reasons. Firstly the actual owners of the estate are stranger to many of the laborers and district officials. Poor laborers, who have already retired, have never seen the real owners. It is reported that since the owner has many other businesses in other places and the actual owner never comes for managing and monitoring the estate. So the management seems to be a proxy management through staff and other close individuals. Even this is vivid clear when in one of the prosecution cases against the management, that the individual who are managing on ground and paper commented in the appeal cases mentioning they are not the real owners and so unable to be prosecuted.

During the lock out every work was suspended. The tea garden dispensary was closed, the people had no work and no pay. Most of the families being dependant on the tea garden, were driven to go to the forest and sell fire wood, look for work in nearby village, where they were compelled to work for less money than in the tea garden. In the garden they were paid Rs. 51/- where as they were forced to work for Rs. 40/- or 30/-.

Findings

Livelihood

During the lockout period the some labourers were taken to the other tea gardens for work, few were going for daily wage in nearby villages and some of them were going out to collect firewood and sell them in the market place. Young boys and girls are migrating to other cities in search of work to support their family members.

When the labourers are taken to the other gardens for work where they are paid Rs.50.00 as wage, when they are going to work in the nearby villages they are paid Rs.30.00 – Rs.40.00.

They collect “Kham Alu”, “Pan Alu” and Kola phul etc. from the nearby forest and hill for their survival

Wage

  1. Wage of this tea garden is @Rs.50/- per day whereas wage in the other Barak valley Tea Estates is @Rs51/-, Brahmaputra valley is @Rs71.51/- andWest Bengal@Rs.85/-
  2. Ration 6kg per 2week,
  3. One third of the house hold are fully dependent on Tea Garden if garden is closed they can not survive.

The people do not have any other source of income.

Health

During the lock out period the hospital was closed though a pharmacist was looking after the tea garden hospital. At the same time they do not have enough money to diagnose and treat them with the private practiceners or take the patient to the town.  There is a PHC at Sonai (about 8 km) and a Sub-Centre at Motinagar (around 2 km) away.

It was found that many children and adults were suffering from different diseases.

Drinking Water& Sanitation

The tea garden set up lacks drinking water facility. There are two ring-wells which are hardly 8-10 ft deep and during this period it is dry. There is one PHE unit setup at the Tea Garden in the year 2011 but it is non functional.

The people walk up to 4-5 km up on the foot hill to collect water from a spring, or collect water from the nearby ponds and canals which is unsafe for drinking purpose.

People are undernourished and prone to various diseases.

Women are anemic. Children are malnourished.

 VIOLATION OF LEGAL PROVISIONS

There is violation of Plantation Labour Act.  No provision of drinking water facilities, housing, medical facilities.

When the company is not able to provide the life saving measures. The management of the company should be handed over to the government.

DEMANDS

The health condition of the people is in critical stage. The critically ill women and children particularly need immediate care. Even after the tea garden opened on   7 February, two more people have died all due to lack of sufficient food and medicine.

  1. extra allocation of pds ration

There is need to provide them relief by way of supplementary food articles for at least 6 months.

  1. Immediate and proper medical support

Even though there is tea garden hospital which is provided with some minimum medicine during the last week, there is no nurse and a doctor. A doctor with a nurse should be provided with medicines.

  1. Drinking water facilities

PHE water supply should be made functional and water supply connection should be set up to the hamlets where the tea workers inhabit

.

  1. Management

There is alleged problem of ownership of the tea garden. We hold Government responsible for the ill management and for all the mishap on the tea workers. Government should take responsibilities as the tea gardens are not able to manage themselves.

  1.  IMPLEMENTATION of supreme court order

The supreme court order of provision of basic food and nutrition to the people has not been followed. The management should be taken to tasks.

  1. Entitlement

All the entitlement of the government such as 100 days of work, job card to even permanent workers family, proper distribution of the PDS, provision of housing should be immediately.

  1. Provident Fund

Criminal procedure should be taken for the years of PF that has not been deposited by the tea management.

SIGNATORIES

  1. WILFRED TOPNO                                         2. STEPHEN EKKA

President Adivasi Sahitya Sabh                           Director, PAJHRA

  1. SAITO BASUMATARY                               3. GODFREY HERE

Coordinator, People’s Rights Forum                Secretary, Nawa Bihan Samaj

  1. REJAN HORO

Organizing secretary, AASAA

Central committee

Annexure(1)

Death list

Death ListLbetween Oct 2011 to Feb 22.

Name of  Death person Sex Age Address
  1. Nagendra Bauri
M 60 North Bank Division
  1. Panchami Bauri
F 3 North Bank Division
  1. Sonamoni Pandey
F 65 North Bank Division
  1. Ratana Gowala
F 35 Chingur Division
  1. Rameswari Kurmi
F 45 Motinagar Division
  1. Subasini Paul
F 70 Do
  1. Sancharan Bauri
M 75 North bank Division
  1. Atul Bauri
M 60 North Bank Division
  1. Susom Tanti
M 45 North Bank  Division
  1. Rasis Dusad
M 85 North Bank Division

17th Jan

  1. Belboti Bauri
F 75 North Bank Division

18th Feb.2012

  1. Jugendara Bauri
M 55 North Bank, Division

22nd Feb.2012

Situation in the Barak valley Tea Garden

There are 106 registered Tea Garden out of that 7 tea garden are closed or Abandoned tea Gardens. Situation may be worse or similar to Bhuban valley Tea Garden. Those tea Garden are the following:

  1. ChargolaValley
  2. Durganagar TE
  3. Modon Mohon
  4. Sreebehula TE
  5. Sengla Chera T.E(taken by new company)
  6. Chincoorie TE
  7. Sarswati TE

ooooooo

(Read here  first report,and  update iupdate iiupdate iiiupdate ivupdate v,update vi)

.

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.

Reports on starvation deaths in Assam

March 17, 2012

Tea Labourers dying of hunger in Assam

Residents of a tea garden in South Assam are dying reportedly of hunger, malnutrition and lack of medical care. Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has so far learnt about 14 recent deaths, prima facie, caused by starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper medical care in the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, a tea garden owned by a private company based in Kolkata, in the district of Cachar in North-East Indian state of Assam. As the Tea Estate, in which about 500 permanent and another 1000 casual workers were working, was closed down in October 8, 2011,  they lost their jobs and till 27 February 2012 ten workers lost their lives. According to the fact-finding report issued by the BHRPC on 1 February, the workers have been deprived of their rights as they were forced do overwork and were paid very low wages without being provided any medical treatment while working and, after closure, had the payment of their wages and their provident fund 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. It is further found that basic medical care and food distribution for the poor have not reached those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it is one of the causes leading to the deaths.  Even after the publication of the disturbing report the authorities did not take any actions except re-opening of the garden on 9 February and denial of starvation deaths. Therefore, the situation continued to worsen. The BHRPC again on 11 February reported the critical health conditions of 43 other people. Among them two more people died on 18 and 22 February which was also reported by the BHRPC. 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 said that these deaths were not caused by starvation without any proper inquiry. Assam government’s actions were, at beast, inadequate and misleading,said the BHRPC in a statementOn the other hand, deaths continue unabated in the tea garden and on 10 March the BHRPC reported two more deaths. Thereafter also the tragedy continues and another worker died on 3 May.

The situation is very disturbing and the studied silence of the authorities is more disturbing. The BHRPC has started an online petition urging the authorities to prevent the deaths.

Please sign petition here supporting campaign to save the labourers. or for detail information read the first reportupdate iupdate iiupdate iiiupdate ivupdate v,update viupdate viiupdate viii.

Deaths continue unabated in Assam tea garden

March 10, 2012

Two more deaths again in Bhuvan valley tea estate

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has learnt about two more deaths in the Bhuvan valley tea garden of Cachar district inAssam. According to information, a 7 days old baby and about 70 year old Balaram Bauri of North Bank Division of the tea estate died on 6 and 7 March, 2012 respectively. Now the toll stands at 14 according to the confirmed information available with the BHRPC.

This tea garden owned by a Kolkata-based private company was closed from 8 October, 2011 to 8 February, 2012 and the labourers were abandoned by the owners. About 500 permanent labourers and more than this number of casual workers had not been paid their outstanding wages for 9 weeks, bonus for years and other statutory benefits including provident fund dues. There were no facilities of health care, drinking water and sanitation. Government public distribution system and other welfare schemes including Integrated Child Development Schemes were virtually non-functional. These circumstances led the labourers in a condition of starvation and malnutrition resulting in several deaths.

The BHRPC reported (the report at https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/hungeralert1) 10 deaths on 1 February following its fact-finding study and claimed that the underlying and contributory causes of all deaths were starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care going by the definition of starvation and malnutrition provided in the National Food Security Bill, 2010 drafted by the National Advisory Council and the Starvation Investigation Protocol prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioners on the right to food. The BHRPC again reported (see the report at https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/situation-of-hunger-deteriorates-in-assam-tea-garden/) serious health condition of 43 other people of the tea estate on 11 February. Two people among them Belbati Bauri and Jugendra Bauri later died on 18 and 22 February respectively. This was also reported (see the report at https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/hungeralert3/) by the BHRPC on 23 February.

The deceased 7-days-old baby was daughter of Nikhil Bauri and Duhkia Bauri. After re-opening of the garden on 9 February, the garden hospital run under the National Rural Health Mission was revived but no qualified and permanent doctor and nurse have been appointed. There is also no electricity and water available. The Bauris had to go to the Primamry Health Centre at Sonai, a place about 20 km away from the garden, where Dukhia delivered an underweight baby and she fell seriously ill, according the garden sources.

Deceased Balaram Bauri, aged about 70, was a retired permanent worker of the tea estate.  He became weaker day by day and his body got swollen. His son Ranjit Bauri is a permanent labourer. Ranjit claims after re-opening of the garden on 9 February he was paid only Rs 460/- and was provided with 2 kgs of rice, 1.2kgs of flour per week at Rs 0.54 per Kg and additional amount at Rs 10/- per Kg. He said that he could feed his family 6 properly during the 4 months of the closure of the garden and even thereafter. According to him, his father died in condition of starvation and for lack of proper medical care.

It is to be noted that the Arunodoy Sanga, a non government organisation based in Silchar, held a health camp in the garden on 4 March. A team of 5 doctors from Civil Hospital, Cachar Cancer Hospital and Kalyani Hospital who reportedly examined around 500 patients of the tea garden corroborated the phenomenon of malnutrition stalking the workers and their families. Doctors recommended for immediate supply of nutritious food and sustained treatment of the labourers. No visible and reasonable steps have been taken by the authorities in this regard.

10 March, 2012

Silchar,Assam

For more information contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 94019 42234

(Read the first preliminary reportupdate iupdate iiupdate iiiupdate ivupdate v,update vi)