Assam:Time to end 'THE CRUEL RHETORIC'

Published: January 7, 2015 - 17:30 Updated: January 14, 2015 - 16:35

Why is civil society never part of the peace process?

Patricia Mukhim Shillong 

No words are strong enough to condemn the recent terror attacks in Bodoland, Assam. While the rest of the world was preparing for the birth of Christ, the prince of peace, peace here was shattered by bullets that blew little infants and their
mothers to smithereens.

A highly placed official, who accompanied Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Bodoland on December 24 on a fact-finding mission, was shattered by the sight of the killings. His comments are telling. He said: “Northeast is fast degenerating into a psychopathic society, or how else do you explain groups of people thrusting the barrels of their guns in the mouths of infants and blowing them off?”

Seeing the carnage at ground zero is different from reading about it in the newspapers or seeing bits and pieces of edited images on television screens. The worst part about the narrative of Bodoland is that the state is seen more and more as being complicit with militants by its acts of omission and inability to prevent the seasonal carnage.

What is clear from the recent bloodbath, where adivasis have been the victims, is that the series of peace treaties signed by the Government of India as a panic reaction to such killings have backfired and created in their wake the so-called breakaway groups that unleash terror with renewed vengeance.

The National Democratic Front of Bodoland is now a group of three, one of which (the Ranjan Daimary faction) is in peace talks with the Government of India. The anti-talks faction, led by IK Songbijit, called the National Democratic Front of Bodoland(S), is being masterminded by him from somewhere in the jungles of Myanmar. His whereabouts are as shady as the man. It is learnt from sources that Songbijit gave precise orders to his bloodhounds that so many people should be killed by such and such date. His cadres have no escape but to carry out his orders. The latest number of 85 dead and over 300 missing will soon become just a figure even as the Police Chief of Assam makes pedantic comments to cover up his department’s inability to stop
the carnage.

Without being parochial, one is tempted to ask: Would the Assam government be so apathetic if the victims of the carnage were Asomiyas of upper Assam? About 98% of the administrators of Assam are non-tribals with very little concern for what happens to the most deprived sections of the tribals and adivasis who have been the backbone of the tea industry for decades. The adivasis are truly children of a lesser God in every way. Those who claim to represent them in the State Assembly and in Parliament have been self-serving ego maniacs. The adivasis have had to fend for themselves each time the Bodo militants are on an ethnic cleansing spree.

This started in 1998. Many
adivasis, evicted from their homes since then, continue to live in camps. Their children, born in the camps, have now turned into adults in those very camps. Assam, in fact, has the largest number of internally displaced persons and the government goes about its business as usual since adivasis are not a votebank that can upset anyone’s applecart.

The ruling dispensation in Delhi has taken a dilettante view of the problems in Assam. Each time there is a massacre, the Home Ministry officials get into a huddle to propose peace talks with the killers. The Home Minister, a politician, looks at what political capital can be reaped from such a truce. He is least bothered about the implications of a senseless truce which only gives birth to more violence-prone rebels who veto the peace proposals.

This saga has been repeated time and again in the Northeast. How we wish the people who carry the hopes and aspirations of millions in this region stop playing politics with human lives! Someone has rightly said that a shallow understanding by people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Union Home Ministry officials may have goodwill in trying to stop repeated bloodbaths by militant groups in different states of the
Northeast, but they have a very shallow understanding of the social ethos and public disenchantment about
militancy per se.

The response has always been security-centric, hardnosed and has no soft contours because non-partisan civil society groups are never part of the peace processes. They are never asked to give their considered opinions. The talks are always between those who do not represent the people and the government which has the capability to buy peace with its generous package, including a general amnesty for heinous crimes committed against humanity.

In the latest killings in Assam the Intelligence Bureau is accused of having actionable information, which it failed to act on. Is the IB accountable to anyone for this grave offence, or is it simply an agency that tells people in power just what is music to their ears? This agency needs to be brought under greater scrutiny and its role in insurgency-affected regions needs to be critiqued. Other than the NDFB (S), other actors who are paid to prevent such horrendous activities and have failed to do so should be held accountable and asked to answer for their failures. Otherwise, such killings will be repeated in the future as well.

Rituals in blood have been a repeated saga of Congress rule in Assam yet the state and its bureaucratic architecture is allowed to carry on with their cavalier attitudes. The very idea of democracy is torpedoed, so much so that today only a section of the articulate elite inhabiting the neon-lit spaces in the metros have the right to any kind of governance. The rest of the population is left to its wits and repeatedly displaced by cycles of violence. It is evident that the state government has failed miserably and consistently to contain terror attacks on the innocent. Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister, only has a set phrase of excuses and a sickening, abhorrent rhetoric that would not be tolerated in other civilised societies.

The NDFB (S) needs to be dealt the same kind of cruelty it has inflicted on the innocent in Bodoland. There can be no mercy for those who do not know its meaning. It is said that people commit crimes because the rewards of crime far outweigh the rewards of a good life. It is important for governments to make it very clear to criminals that crime does not pay.

Will the Union Home Minister, after his visit to Bodoland, take this lesson and put to rest the idea of peace talks with gun-toting militants? The ‘Hug the Thug’ theory has failed to bring lasting peace in the Northeast. This idea of welcoming criminals and killers with a red rose and giving them the status of heroes has made a mockery of our governance system. We can all see it so clearly, but the government (central and state) seems to be intoxicated by these reductionist gestures. As a result, the public has lost faith in governments and the system of governance.


This story is from print issue of HardNews