Friday, July 27, 2012

Appeal to NHRC - Assam - Urgent Action Required

Appeal to the National Human Rights Commission on Humanitarian Crisis in Assam -- URGENT INTERVENTION NEEDED

Prominent citizens, activists and scholars have written an URGENT APPEAL to the National Human Rights Commission Chairperson K G Balakrishnan to immediately intervene for a non-partisan and comprehensive investigation/overview of the Humanitarian Crisis that has struck assam. By today 300,000 displaced persons were lodged in 203 Relief camps and while water, food and medicines were still to reach the NHRC mandate and presence would give confidence to the people ridden by conflict. The appeal complaint in the form of a letter (pasted below) also warns of the divisive discourse that has unnecessarily coloured understanding of the factors behind the conflict.

Teesta Setalvad, Mumbai

July 27, 2012

Justice KG Balakrishnan
The Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission

Dear Sir,

We write this with anguish and concern as citizens committed to its deep secular and peace loving ethos, to urgently intervene through a Special Rapporteur visit of the conflict ridden parts of Assam. The Humanitarian crisis has reached staggering proportions with approximately 3,00,000 persons in 203 camps in the state. Access to water, food and medicines has been poor and only from today (according to our conversations with the State DGP Shri JN Chaudhary) have basic amenities started reaching the affected communities. An independent visit by your esteemed self to monitor the disbursement of basic amenities will spur on the authorities as also restore the confidence of the people who s fundamental rights have been affected due to the escalation in conflict. We expect to have detailed figures from the state DGP in a few hours which we shall also pass on to you Sir).

Extensive reportage of the plight of displaced persons from Khokhrajar camps have been covered; similarly the plight of internally displaced refugees in the camps at Dhubri where residents belong to the Muslim minority need focus. At such critical and sensitive times –especially when we have divisive forces who would like to reduce all discourse to a communal one it is imperative that a holistic and even handed picture of thje plight of all those affected is given. Consciously or inadvertently, one sided portrayals can create local, regional and national perceptions that can further polarise and aggravate the situation.

In 1999 the NHRC intervention in the aftermath of the Orissa Cyclone and then in 2001 after the Kutch earthquake (Gujarat)  raised ordinary’s people faith in the National body committed to fundamental freedoms and human rights. We hence appeal to you Sir to take steps forthwith to ensure that NHRC intervenes and sustains its intervention through a monitoring of the conflict and crisis.

Sir, on July 25, 2012, the signatories to this appeal had written in an Open Letter to Shri Tarun Gogoi, the  Chief Minister of Assam  as head of the government in Assam to take all steps to ensure that violence stops, security is given to all displaced and dishoused by the violence so that they may return to their homes forthwith; adequate reparation for the lives lost and homes and other properties destroyed is paid and more than anything else a Fair and Time Bound Judicial Investigation by a Sitting HC Judge is conducted into the build up and fallout of the violence.

What concerns us deeply is the divisive discourse that seeks to create legitimacy for the violence by words and phrases like "infiltrators." Since the mid 1990s tensions have simmered between the majority Bodo Councils and other settlers, including Muslims, despite the fact that the latter’s status was recognised in the Assam accord. Yet under the guise of discriminating between the two a small skirmish blew into a full blown communal conflagration; while the ethnicity of the over 42 persons who lost their lives does not matter, the fact that the five persons who lost their lives to police bullets are from the minority has generated fear. There are now close to 3,00,000 persons in relief camps and they must be assisted with due security to return to their homes immediately. Dialogue must begin between the majority Bodo villages and the other settlers, who include Muslims, settlers for integrated rehabilitation. The conflict in the Bodo Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) has unfortunately brewed between the Bodo majority and the non-Bodos that include Muslims, Koach Rajbongshis , Santhals and Adibashis –not just Bodos and Muslims as being portrayed. It is a conflict related to access of land and representative governance.

Respecting your commitment to intra community peace we appeal to you to respond to this anguished appeal.

On July 6, 2012, two Muslim leaders were shot dead by Bodos at Fakiragra of Kokrajhar district and two others- Mohibul Islam and Abdul Siddik Sheikh, the founder President of Bodoland Muslim Students Union and former President of All Assam Students Union were injured with bullets on July 19, 2012. The tense atmosphere was further fuelled when four ex BLT cadres with arms reached to Narabari near Joypur of Kokrajhar district on 20th July at 8-30 PM on two motorcycles and started firing openly threatening Muslim residents of the area. This aroused the local residents who fought against the ex-BLT cadres, caught them and killed them.  The dead have been identified as Pradip Boro (32), Jwngshar Boro (36), Nip Goyari (25) and Jamin Goyari (24).

The next morning people of Kokrajhar took out a procession carrying the bodies of the four youths killed the night before. Chandan Brahma, PR Brahma, MLA, Derhasat Basumatary, EM, BTC, MK Brahma, EM, BTC and other top leaders of BPF were present in this procession. These incidents led to the burst of a conflict that had, by  now turned communal in BTAD between the Muslims and the Bodos. A group of Bodo cadres got violent with arms and started killing the innocent Muslims. In the wee hours of  July 21, 2012 they shot dead Sahadat Ali (50), Fozela Bewa (45), Monjela Begum (6), Azad Ali and Robiuddin Sheikh (10). All the deceased belonged to one single family. Many such attacks have been reportedly carried out by the Bodos in other parts of the district where few other Muslims died and many more got injured. This communal violence in the subsequent days spread all over the BTAD areas where innocent people lost their lives and many got injured. Though the official toll of lives lost is 45, it is feared that in actuality, the death toll is much higher than the official claim.

Terrorised Muslims and Bodos of the BTAD have left their houses and have taken shelter in different camps. In the riot thousands of houses of hundreds of villages of Kokrajhar and Chirang districts of the BTAD areas have been burnt into ashes. Many of the victims have found shelter in the houses of their relatives outside the BTAD area. In some retaliatory attacks Bodos have also lost their lives and many of them too have taken shelter in the relief camps.

The casual attitude of the administration, at least initially, as the build up took place from July 6 onwards and the delay in calling in the army has aggravated matters. There are allegations that the Assam police and Army even remained silent seeing the Bodo miscreants roaming around with arms. Statements made by leaders of different factions in flaming the situation also need to be studied and acted against. It is in this context that the loose use of the term “infiltrators” has been used to create further confusion and polarise the local and national discourse. The Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has clarified in a press meet held in Guwahati that no such elements were involved in the clashes and these allegations were baseless. The Minister appealed to his own colleagues to restrain themselves from making such comments for the sake of maintaining peace.

The need of the hour is to ensure the return of all displaced persons including all non Bodo communities to their lands and villages. The National Human Rights Commission needs to perform the role of a neutral and impartial agency committed to the fundamental rights, regardless of caste, tribe or community. Sir we appeal to you in this connection.

In anticipation of an urgent response,

Yours Sincerely,

Teesta Setalvad, Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace, Mumbai
Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, Mumbai
Prabhat Patnaik, Delhi
Harsh Mander, Delhi
Mallika Sarabhai, Ahmedabad
Dolphy D’Souza, Mumbai
Ram Puniyani , Mumbai
Irfan Engineer, Mumbai
Hasan Kamal, Mumbai
Zafar Agha, Delhi
MM Tirmizi, Ahmedabad
Javed Anand, Mumbai
Rupa @Tanaz Mody, Ahmedabad
Sairabehn Salimbhai Sandhi, Ahmedabad 
Salimbhai Noormohammed Sandhi, Ahmedabad
Tanveer Jafri, Surat
Rajendra Prasad, Delhi
Ram Rahman, Delhi
M K Raina, Delhi
Rohit Prajapati, Vadodara
Trupti Shah, Vadodara,
Juzar Bandukwala, Vadodara
Cedric Prakash, Ahmedabad

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