Assam: The Shame Unlimited: Field Notes on Khagrabari to Baguriguri

By Abdul Kalam Azad,

Last night I returned from the troubled land BTAD’s Baksa and adjoining Barpeta district of Assam. We met the family members of four Muslim petty traders, who were abducted and killed by suspected Bodo militants on 11th of July, 2014. Four people including two minors from Baguriguri villager under Bornagar Revenue Circle of Barpeta district went to collect lemon from one Umesh Bodo’s lemon garden at Samthaibari village under Labdanguri Police Station of Baksa district of BTAD (Assam).

Assam_The Shame Unlimited_Field Notes on Khagrabari to Baguriguri

I was accompanying a team of journalists from national and international media. We reached Barpeta Road by morning of 14th July, 2014. Without wasting time we directly moved towards the village Baguriguri of Barpet district to visit the families of victims. We were stopped by the police at Khaibari just few kilometres from Barpeta Road town. A huge troop of Army was supporting the police team to put into action section 144 of IPC. We were suggested to get an order from District Magistrate to enter to the village. When we called the District Magistrate of Baksa, he assured us that the curfew would be lifted by 2:00pm and then we can proceed to our destination. Keeping in mind the timing one of our media team member approached the District Magistrate’s of Barpeta and an order was obtained to visit the families of the deceased persons at Baguriguri. But when we again reached Khairabari, surprisingly, the police didn’t allow us to move as we were supposed to travel a few kilometres through Baksa district. They asked to get another order from DM Baksa, but they wouldn’t allow you to go to DM’s office! On the other hand District Administration of Baksa didn’t relax or withdraw the curfew by 2:00pm though there was no report of any law and order breakdown in the district. It seems this whole exercise was put in place only to keep the family members of the deceased out of reach of any journalist, activists, aid agency or even one cabinet minister from Assam Government.  Thus our entire effort got spoiled!

At evening, DC Barpeta informed that the curfew has been relaxed for 3 hours i.e. 4:00pm to 7:00pm due to Ramadan. Next day morning, while going to village we didn’t observe any police picket or even patrolling in our entire journey from Barpeta Road to Baguribari via Damani, Katajhar, Rangachara, Kajiyamati, Sukrumbari etc. We were in belief that the curfew might have been lifted.  But does lifting curfew mean total desert of security forces from such an area which has witnessed repeated instances of terror attacks? Last month one driver was killed at Oxiguri just few kilometres from Samthaibari under Labdanguri Police Station.

While interacting the family members of the victims, we came to know how brutal can be the Assam Police! The family members of three deceased Saddam Hussain (13), Rahul Amin (45) and Atowar Rahman (27) decided not to bury their dead bodies until the Chief Minister of Assam pays a visit to the village and assures of adequate security measures and justice to the traumatised families and villagers. The police arrested more than ten agitated villagers, brutally tortured them and imposed a total ban on the movement of the villagers by announcing the same though loudspeakers in entire locality. Eye witnessed told us that at mid night around 40 to 45 vehicle of policemen came to the village, pressurise victim’s family members to bury the dead bodies without delay. The police also threatened that if the dead bodies are not buried the arrested persons will also not be released and strongest criminal cases will be slapped on them. Finally, the dead bodies were buried without proper religious and cultural practice (Janaja) at 1:00am in absence of the villagers. The family members and the villagers see it as an utter disgracefulness towards the dead bodies.

The family members of the victims and the villagers are demanding a CBI probe into the killings and police inaction. It is worthy to mention here that Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi ordered NIA probe into Khagrabari Massacre of Baksa district of BTAD; but the same has been revoked for unknown reason. In Assam there is long history of police inaction and impunity. Not a single perpetrator of communal and targeted violence has been punished so far including the infamous Nellie massacre where more than three thousand Muslims were killed within couple of hours in broad day light in 1983. The history of impunity in BTAD area is more grave and shocking, the tripartite BTC accord signed in 2003 by Government of India, Government of Assam and BLT provided impunity to all perpetrators of ethnic violence since 1987. This culture of impunity is seen as one of the major cause of growing rate and recurring violence against the non-Bodos, especially Muslims. The survivors of 1994 Bashbari Massacre are again the victim of Khagrabari Massacre. A survivor of Bashbari Massacre who bears a bullet mark on his neck and lost his mother in 1994 massacre in relief camp was again targeted in the recent massacre of May, 2014 and lost his daughter. Justice is a distant dream for these ill fated Muslims living in BTAD area.

The socio-economic conditions of the victim’s families of Samthabari killings are as pathetic as the victims of Khagrabari massacre. There is no all weather roads, no electricity, no drinking water, no medical; nothing which can be seen as a sign of development in the village. So is the economic condition. Abdur Rashid, father of deceased Saddam Hussain (13) told us that his personal income is not enough to meet the family needs. Saddam, a Madrassa student went to work with his uncle to earn few hundred rupees to tailor a new kurta (shirt) for the upcoming Eid. The situation at Atowar Rahman’s family is more grime. Atowar Rahman (29) was the only bread earner for his 5 member family. He was killed on 11th of July along with Saddam (13), Abu Bakkar (14) and Rahul Amin (45). His wife is inconsolable; she can’t think how she will look after four children without their father. She breaks down while remembering how Atowar managed food for their hungry kids. Meanwhile, government has declared an ex-gratia of Rs. Eight lakhs to the nearest keen of the deceased.  But can the money provide a sense of security and protection to children and the young widow?

By noon, we returned from the village Baguriguri. We interacted with a small gathering of villagers at Sukrumbari. The village Sukrumbari has a mixed population and it is in between of Baguriguri of Barpeta district and Samthaibari of Baksa district.  The villagers told us that they don’t have any bad blood with the Muslims of Baguriguri and Bodos of Samthaibari. They have a good relationship with people of the adjoining villages irrespective of language and religion. In fact a Bodo woman showed the escape route to one of the survivors Taj Uddin. The villagers feel that security arrangement should beef up in the area to control the activities of the militant. Until we reached Katajhar Bridge over river Beki we didn’t observe any police patrolling in the entire area, the area which is known as the corridor for the movement of Bodo militants.

After crossing the bridge I called the boat operator, who plies his country boat between Bhangarpar Bazar of Narayanguri and Khagrabari. We had a plan to visit the relief camp at Khagrabari. The boat operators told me that the administration has discontinued the boat service. It was in fact shocking news to be heard! The internally displaced persons who were taking shelter in a camp set up by administration in an isolated village use the boat to connect with the outer world. If the boat service is really discontinued how the IDPs will survive? Their livelihood system has been completely messed up by the violence. Nobody earns a single penny that they will be able to pay the fare of the private boat service!

After the reaching the camp we came to know how the discontinuation of boat services has affected the IDPs and creating a circle of difficulties. Since the discontinuance of boat services no medical team has visited the camp, whereas the children are suffering from fever and other diseases; there is nobody to help them out from the hell called camp. Humanitarian organization ‘Save the Children’ has built a Child Friendly Space (CFS) for the massacre affected children near the camp. They also recruited two volunteers to work with the children to bring them back to normalcy. Since the discontinuance of boat services no one has been able to attend their duty. One young lady while struggling to cook her Iftar in an open oven told us that the government has discontinued the boat services so nobody can see their plight. She also said “We would have been died out of hunger if we didn’t receive the aid from private donors”. She alleged that government wants them to leave the camp and go anywhere.

We are informed that the administration is going to dismantle camp very soon. As the administration has provided Rs. 50,000/- as rehabilitation to make houses. It can easily understand that a mere amount of Rs. 50000/- will not enable the victims to rebuild their houses who lost everything in the massacre.

Some observers think that the killing of four Muslims at Samthaibari has a deep rooted connection with Khagrabari Massacre. The student’s organizations and other right organizations were mounting pressure on the administration to arrest the mastermind Amiyo Kumar Brahma, application for cancellation of bail and proper relief and rehabilitation of victims and survivors of the massacre. On last of June, 2014 the victims and survivors of Khagrabari massacre sat on fast-unto-death mainly demanding the above mention actions. The administration was bound to give an assurance with a time frame to action. But the administration failed to meet their assurance. The local activists think that the administration is hand in glove with the perpetrators and the Samthaibari incident is a handiwork of such force which enjoys administrative patronage to destabilise the democratic movement of IDPs of targeted violence for justice. Only a high level probe can unearth this alleged nexus among administration, politicians and the anti-social elements.

(The writer is a student of social work with specialisation in Community Organization and Development Practice at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Guwahati Campus. More at http://abdulkazad.wordpress.com/)