4.6 lakh people have been rendered homeless in Assam’s ethnic strife, reminiscent of the gory tales during Partition. NGO members from Hyderabad speak of their experience there.
“Unless the bands of armed berserk men are disarmed, peace cannot be restored in Assam,” exclaims a member of a team from the City, who took the challenging task of studying the ‘worst human tragedy of Independent India’.
Some 4.6 lash people have been rendered homeless in Assam’s ethnic strife, reminiscent of the gory tales during Partition. People driven out of their villages are now sheltering in 120 refugee camps, which support between 1,000 and 25,000 each. Four districts in the largest north-eastern state have completely shut down, prompting a shift in demographic.
The two-member team of Help Hyderabad, an NGO, that toured extensively the four troubled districts called Bodoland, said, “If the Centre does not intervene, this humanitarian crisis might become worse. As people in most of these camps are suffering from dysentery, typhoid and viral fever, the death rate would increase and reach uncontrollable levels,” warns Khalid Rasool Khan, founder-member of the NGO.
Even though several NGOs are supporting the displaced, the help is meagre. Now with the government announcing closure of these camps before August 15, no one knows where these women and children will go, as most of their homes have been gutted or bulldozed. Moreover, each house in the neighbouring villages is also accommodating two to three families on humanitarian grounds, but it is exhausting for the people sheltering the homeless.
In 1996, ethnic violence left 3,000 adivasis dead in a single night and 20,000 homeless, most of whom continue to live in camps till date. It is said that the attacks by Bodos on adivasis on that day completely changed the way adivasis were living. Now, adivasis have their own militias, completely armed to the teeth. “Similar would be the consequences, with Muslims arming themselves against the Bodos to protect themselves if the government fails to restore their confidence,” points out Zahid Qadri, another founder-member who accompanied Khan.
They added that if the Congress government, both in the state and at the Centre, keeps quiet, it may set a dangerous precedent in India. Identity politics will prompt swift solution to ethnic cleansing elsewhere. “Already there are several regions in India striving for statehood. What if the frustrated Telanganites resort to such measures to get a separate state?” asks Qadri.
According to the team, the state Congress was playing into the hands of Bodos who are fighting for autonomy. If the 11 Bodo MLAs withdraw their support, the Tarun Gogoi government may fall. It is one of the reasons that the affected people have lost trust in the government and state’s police. The Centre, with the help of paramilitary forces, should restore trust of the people before it is too late, points out the team. Bodoland of four districts consists of 29 per cent Bodos, 35 per cent Muslims (mostly Bengali-speaking, living there prior to Independence), 25 per cent adivasis and the remaining population consists of Ranbhansis.
The team’s tour lasted six days. They visited 10 camps, eight offering shelter to Muslims and two for displaced Bodos (4 lakh Muslims and 60 Bodos are sheltering in camps). While travelling 500 kilometers, they were provided security by deputy commissioner of Kokrajhar district, Vinod Seshan.
“Two truckloads of relief material was procured from Alipurdwar in West Bengal, including utensils, mosquito nets, tarpaulin, and baby food. Rs.10 lakh was spent on these two truck loads,” notes the team.
Help Hyderabad NGO includes ex-army officers and several noted women as founder members. Immediately after Eid-ul-Fitr, the team will be leaving for Assam via New Delhi, where they plan to meet leaders as part of efforts to solve the grave problem the nation is currently facing. People who wish to contribute to the relief efforts can visit the NGO’s website, www.helphyderabad.org.
Zakat can also be offered. These donations are exempted from income tax.