Voice of MASS
Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti
Instead of an Editorial
Two significant decisions made by the NDA coalition led Central Government in Delhi and the AGP led coalition in Dispur respectively, bear portents of the dark days ahead for the people of Assam. The Central Government?s Ministry of Home Affairs has announced that it will step up the offensive against the United Liberation Front of Assam [ULFA]. The announcement includes the methods by which such an offensive will come into effect. As the first step, the Central Government has reiterated that it will not engage in any political dialogue with ULFA on the basis of the conditions laid down by the latter. As a second step the Government of India wishes to put pressure on the Bangladesh government to flush out ULFA leaders who have taken refuge there. Lastly, the GOI will undertake joint operations with the Royal Bhutanese Government to smash ULFA?s camps and cadre in Bhutan. The old ?pro-active? strategies are being implemented with a new- found vigour [Dainik Asom: June 6, 2000]. In Dispur the Assam government has prepared a list of six ?high-ranking? ULFA activists (excluding the organisation?s Chairman and Commander-in-Chief) whom they consider to be the backbone of the organisation. The Assam government has unabashedly announced that they will ?try to force these activists to surrender?, failing which they will be summarily executed [Agradoot: June 7, 2000]. As proof of their intent the security personnel in Assam have killed several members of the Political Wing of ULFA in fake encounters. The spate of killings being carried out by government-sponsored ?Secret Killers? continues unabated. On June 7 and 8, 2000 the unidentified skeletons of three people bearing bullet wounds, were dug up in Chandrapur about fifteen (15) kilometres from Guwahati city. Another dead body was found floating down the river near the same spot. The victims of this new wave of systematic State controlled terror are in fact the unfortunate examples of the future of democratic dissent in Assam.
We feel that the policies of the State are inherently geared towards denying the people of Assam their right to express their aspirations. This systematic campaign against ULFA is to be seen in the light of the fact that all this while, the State apparatus has been trying to shift the focus away from its obligation to seek a democratic political resolution to the problems articulated by different organisations in Assam. The effort to ?crush ULFA? is nothing short of an all-out attempt to try and criminalise the political movement for self-determination in Assam. The authorities in New Delhi have been very selective on the issue of ?cease-fires? and ?political dialogue?. The history of the Indian State?s two- faced policies on negotiations with leaders of movements and organisations in the North East is something that no democratic society can wish to inherit. Be it reneging on deal after deal, accord after accord with the Naga, Mizo, Borok or Assamese people or choosing to skilfully engineer discords amongst the different nationalities in the North East, the State has played every dirty trick it possibly can. ULFA?s ?preconditions? to negotiate with the Government of India are nothing extraordinary. The organisation seeks to (a) talk in a third country (b) in the presence of representatives of the United Nations and (c) the discussions should include the issue of Assam?s sovereignty. None of these demands are either illogical or new. In a similar case, the Government of India has begun discussion in some form with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) in a third country.
Moreover, this zeal to contain and crush ULFA is merely another clumsy attempt to defer the political issues being raised by the movement in Assam. The truth is that the movement for self-determination has several dimensions. It is a right guaranteed to all oppressed people by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. India is obliged to ensure that the people it governs do not face persecution when they articulate these rights because India has been a willing party to the above mentioned resolutions. Nor is it healthy for policy makers in India to deny the multidimensional character of the movements for self-determination within its present borders. ULFA?s armed struggle for national liberation is but one dimension of the struggle for self-determination. By seeking to ?crush and contain? ULFA in this heinous manner, the State is actually trying to drive the entire movement for self-determination, in all its inherent complicity underground. As certain political commentaries from the region, following the cold-blooded execution of Swadhinata Phukan (Assistant Publicity Secretary, ULFA), so aptly articulate, the Government of India is not doing much to seek a democratic resolution to the problems of the people. Instead it is creating the grounds for unleashing further terror in response to the peoples? genuine grievances [Assam Tribune: (Editorial), May 27, 2000]. The archaic counter-insurgency methods being employed by the Indian State have caused much damage to the social fabric in Assam. All the possible avenues and mechanisms upon which the basis of the conflict could have been resolved in a peaceful manner have been crushed and mutilated. This includes the extra judicial executions, intimidation and threats to human rights activists and the denial of even the basic democratic rights assured to citizens by the Constitution of India. While the ?Masters of War? sitting in Dispur and Delhi, build their bombs and military machines and try and instill the fear to bring children into this world? in us, MASS reaffirms its commitment to continue the struggles of the oppressed peoples of Assam, in the spirit enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ICCPR.
They may kill all the flowers, but they can never hold back the Spring
- never have these words of Mao Tsetung held more meaning and truth for the people of Assam than it does today.
Violence against Women
Gender oppression is an unfortunate reality in most societies. The systematic exploitation of women by a structure of control that places men, by virtue of their gender in a position of privilege is further accentuated in a place like Assam, where there exist two different social realities. The State operates on the patriarchal principle where women are viewed, as objects whose labour and agency can be controlled at will. Civil society itself is unable to contradict this trend effectively, as all the institutions that it is based upon, are controlled and constricted by State surveillance. For instance, the traditional institutions available to women, especially in rural areas, had preserved certain mechanisms whereby victims of gender oppression could find some form of justice and means of redressal. Although this was by no means the ideal situation in terms of egalitarian relations between the sexes, it at least addressed the issues of violence against women it all its seriousness and urgency. With the extension of counter-insurgency and the criminalisation of the law enforcement agencies, these traditional institutions have almost been banned. The loose knit yet influential associations of women were seen as a threat for effective control over the rural areas by the marauding security forces. Faceless counter-insurgency ?experts? seek to negate their effectiveness as often as they can. Rape was and still remains the most brutal method by which women are forced into submission. In such a situation the individual woman is placed in an utterly helpless position where even the statutory rights are thrown to the wind. It is a difficult task to deal with gender related issues with sensitivity when the all pervasive iron hand of the State beats down on the people. The following incidents indicate the travails and injustices that ordinary women have to undergo in Assam, where security personnel are a law unto themselves.
Eleven- (11) year old Ms. Rupa Nath, daughter of Mr. Shambhu Nath of Gogamukh Sonapur gaon (under Gogamukh PS) in Dhemaji district was a daily worker. She was employed as domestic help in the house of Mr. Rudra Gogoi, of Dhapalial gaon (under Ghilamara PS) in nearby Lakhimpur district. After having worked for a considerable period of time, Rupa Nath left her employer and returned to her paternal home. In the meantime, on February 1, 2000 Mr. Rudra Gogoi filed a complaint in the Ghilamara PS stating that some gold ornaments were missing from his house. As is the case in such cases, the first suspect (who is always the least empowered) was the domestic help.
Following the complaint, on February 2, 2000 the police of Gogamukh PS picked up Ms. Rupa Nath and her sister Oirabati Nath (18) for interrogation. Ms Oirabati Nath is married to Mr. Bholou Nath and is housewife who resides in the village of Gogamukh Sonapur gaon, where her parents also live. Both sisters were severely beaten and manhandled in custody and Rupa was handed over to Mr. Rudra Gogoi?s elder brother who beat the hapless girl to ?get her to confess?. She was detained in his residence and handed over to the police at Ghilamara PS (where the complaint was originally filed) the next morning i.e. February 3, 2000. Since the police and the family of Mr. Rudra Gogoi were unable to extract a ?confession? from Rupa, they decided to pick up her sister as well for good measure. At around 8:00 p.m. Oirabati was taken to the PS from her home. Both women were repeatedly raped and Rupa lost consciousness. While her sister was dropped off near her house, the unconscious young girl was left to die near a culvert near Gogamukh. Fortunately she was found by some fishermen in the early hours of the morning and was taken back to her family.
The ordeal that both had to undergo in custody was reported widely in the local press. On February 9, 2000 Ms. Nirama Barua, member of the State Women?s Commission sent a written complaint to the Chairperson of State Women?s Commission seeking immediate intervention on this issue. A copy of the letter was also sent to the sitting Members of Legislative Assembly of Dhemaji and Lakhimpur, as well as the Chief Minister of Assam. In a telling display of callousness and lack of sensitivity, the authorities have waited for three months before ?allowing? the Women?s Commission to undertake its mandatory inquiry. There are no concrete steps that have been taken in the interim for counselling or rehabilitation of the victims.
On June 13, at around 10:30 p.m., Mr. Uttam Haloi a resident of Nadirpar Suburi, under Belsar PS in Nalbari district, and his wives, Ms. Kironbala Haloi (38) and Rasubala Haloi (35) were about to retire for the night. There was a knock on the door just then. While Mr. Uttam and his elder wife Kironbala opened the door, the army jawans severely beat them both and pushed them out from the house. The army jawans then pulled out a frightened Rasubala from under the bed, where she tried to hide and gang-raped her. In the mean time Mr. Uttam and his first wife Kironbala called some villagers to their courtyard and they tried to catch the culprits, who managed to escape. Next day morning, Mr. Uttam and the victim- Rasubala went to the nearest army camp and complained to the army officer. Surprisingly, instead of taking action against the guilty army personnel, the army officer gave them Rs. 200/- and 5 kg rice and advised them not to publicise the incident. No case was filed nor was any action taken on this heinous incident.
Dibrugarh?s Vigilantes and their Big Brothers
The nexus between renegade surrendered militants and the State?s law enforcement agencies is perhaps the worst kept secret in Assam. Copious volumes of such instances, wherein renegades (often known by their profession- ?secret killers?) have connived and collaborated with the army and police to further their mutual ends, have been documented and substantiated by our organisation. The actual dynamics of the relationship between the renegades and the law enforcement agencies is fraught with tensions. One often hears of ?unwilling ex-militants? being forced to comply with the security personnel, or of police and armymen occasionally arresting errant renegades. However, such talk can only remain at the level of hearsay and speculation. In order to understand the almost symbiotic relationship between the two one needs only to look as far as the events that occurred in Dibrugarh town in the first week of May 2000.
On May 4, 2000 some ?unidentified? persons picked up Mr. Seodharilal Paswan and his teenage son Dhiraj from Paltan Bazar area when they were coming back home from the residence of his father-in- law riding a scooter (number AMB-8128). Next day the wife of Mr. Seodharilal lodged a complaint at Gabharupathar police out post. The local people and neighbours attest to the fact that Mr. Paswan was picked up in connection with a demand of an amount by the local renegades. On May 7, 2000 two headless bodies were found on the banks of the Brahmaputra and soon it was confirmed that the beheaded bodies were indeed those of Mr. Seodharilal Paswan and his son Dhiraj. The scooter was also found at Chandmari area of the Town. The local people reiterated their knowledge to the press, saying that the victims were picked up by renegades (or ?Secret Killers?, as they are popularly known). After conducting a mandatory post-mortem, the bodies were loaded on to a truck and sent to the Paswan?s residence. On May 8, 2000 the cremation of the victims was to be held near Chowkidingee and a crowd who were frustrated with the lack of police accountability followed it. The funeral procession started from Paltan Bazar area of Dibrugarh with slogans against Secret Killer and Secret killer and police nexus. But it was blocked by the police at Graham Bazar and started firing on the people. Two people, Yusuf Khan, hotelier by profession and Jiban Pal, a banker were killed in the firing and Shyamal Nandi (Paltan Bazar), Rafiqe Ahmed (Lohar Patty), Munna Balmiki (Jalan Nagar), Mamtaj Ali (Graham Bazar) and Iqebal Ahmed (Lohar Patty) were injured in the firing. The crowd wanted to escape the firing and made its way towards Lohar Patty but was barred again. The police fired upon the crowd but there were no casualties this time. Curfew was clamped in the town on the same day. Political parties like Cong (I), BJP, NPC, AGSP and democratic organisation like AASU, AJYCP, MASS, AATTSA etc demanded a judicial inquiry in to the incident and held Secret killers responsible for the killing of Paswans (father and son) and the district administration for their nexus with secret killer and inactivity. The Business community observed two-day long bandh demanding immediate action against secret killer and guilty police officials. A Magisterial inquiry was declared by the district administration to inquire into the incident. But no action has been taken till date.
Really lethal Planter's Punch?
The plantation sector has been outside the pale of political mobilisation for most political parties, who only remember the working class during the elections. As such, the workers are subjected to the worst kinds of indignities and exploitation by the management and the planters. The extra economic means of control and coercion that were part and parcel of the colonial period have not undergone any substantial change. The following details of the killing of six workers at Bargara Tea Estate are merely markers of a systematic means to oppress the workers. Many other instances of violations of workers rights in the plantation sector have been going on for a long time now. [For details see: Planter Raj to Khaki Raj: a MASS report].
In the early hours of April 22, 2000 the workers of Bargara Tea Estate gathered in the factory compound to talk to the manager regarding some pending union issues. The manager had earlier issued a show cause notice to the union President who had been raising the same issues in the past. The plantation workers were demanding some cogent answers before they went out to work for the day. In response to their demands, the manager ordered his personal security guards (comprising Assam police and Home Guard personnel) to lock the only exit gate. He then ordered the security personnel to fire upon the unarmed workers. Those who tried to escape by scaling the walls and running towards the Labour Lines were followed and shot. Six workers died immediately as a result of the unwarranted firing. They were Mr. Rajen Munda (temporary worker); Mr. Ms. Tetri Turi (temporary worker); Mr. Raju Munda (temporary worker); Mr. Ram Urang (permanent worker); Romen Munda (permanent workers) and Mr. Albert (temporary worker). Many more were injured and were taken to nearby Mangaldoi Civil Hospital for treatment. The company has paid a meagre compensation to only a few of the injured and an ex-gratia payment to the families of the deceased. The manager has been taken into custody and the guilty security personnel have been transferred from the tea estate. A new manager and a CRPF unit have replaced them. The labour officer of Mangaldoi district has exerted pressure on the workers to resume work and it is unclear if the union?s demands will be met in the near future. A magisterial inquiry has been ordered by the district administration, but the outcomes of the inquiry have not been made public as yet. One fears that there is an elaborate attempt being made by both the employers and the State (traditional allies) to cover-up the facts and causes that led to the event.
Attack on Human Rights Defenders
The continued attacks by security personnel on Human Rights Defenders in Assam are cause for grave concern. Even though India has pushed a UN resolution on the ?Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms?, its own treatment of Rights defenders in Assam leave much to be desired. In the recent past, the State enforcement authorities have detained and tortured several human rights activists in Assam. MASS? erstwhile founder member, Parag Das, was gunned down for exposing violations of human rights. Ajit Bhuyan, Asish Gupta, Prakash Mahanta, and others have been harassed and jailed with no apparent reason, other than the effort to intimidate them. [For further details see Amnesty International, Report on India, April 2000]. Instead of following up on its commitments to international norms, the State has intensified its attacks and threats on the lives of human rights defenders.
On April 28, 2000 certain ?unidentified? persons called the residence of Mr. Lachit Bordoloi, Secretary General MASS and threatened his family with dire consequences, if Mr. Bordoloi continued with his work. This has to be seen as a pattern of intimidation, as even last year, a group of ?secret killers? had surrounded Mr. Bordoloi?s workplace and had called him over the telephone with threats. Subsequently, Mr. Bordoloi filed a complaint at the Jajori PS and his spouse submitted a memorandum to the Nagaon district commissioner. Despite this and other petitions filed with the Human Rights Commission and the Governor by MASS and other organisations, no action has been taken to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice.
On June 2, 2000 an Assam police unit raided the house of Mr. Bubumoni Goswami, Chairman MASS in the early hours of the morning. Mr. Goswami, who also a newspaper reporter was harassed in connection with the fact that his telephone number was recovered from among the documents of Kabiranjan Saikia, who was killed in a fake encounter with the police in Jorhat. The sole purpose of the late night/ early morning raid was to intimidate Mr. Goswami as the police are just as aware as anybody else, that in his capacity as a reporter, Mr. Goswami would have been known to a good number of people in the area. A formal and legal warrant for the search would never have been possible were the rule of applicable in the case of ?security personnel? in Assam. Besides these specific instances, there are innumerable cases of rank ad file MASS activists being tortured and arbitrarily detained, sometimes even killed as they fulfil their obligation towards the people and the struggle to safeguard human rights and dignity.
Catch and Kill
A recent article in the Economic and Political Weekly [Navlakha, G: Downsizing ?National? Security, EPW May 13-19, 2000 Vol. XXXV no. 20] has tried to draw the reader?s attention to the dynamics behind military spending in India. It is believed that fifty (50) armed defence personnel are needed for every ?militant? in the country. This expensive fact is obviously carried out at the expense of meaningful socio-economic development and is justified in the name of fighting a ?proxy war? inside the political boundaries of the country. The politics of self-determination, in the context of Assam, therefore constitutes another ?national threat? to the somewhat hysterical policy makers in South Block and their satraps in Dispur. Their focus is now on driving the political voices for radical change- be they members of ULFA, trade unions or human rights organisations- deep into the ground. The Indian State, showing its characteristic disregard towards legal processes and instruments of law has been following the ?Catch and Kill? policy for some time now. This has been its standard tactic against communist revolutionaries in other parts of the sub-continent as well. Political opponents of the State are not given the benefit of taking recourse to the law and other institutions to air their defence and their views. The ?Catch and Kill? policy in Assam has resulted in the deaths of young political activists, who have no criminal cases against them are not wanted for having committed any crimes against the people. Their deaths are justified in the name of ?national security? even as more money is being poured into the process of militarisation in Assam. The cases below are examples of the implementation of the State's policy of decimating ULFA?s political wing and to create terror amongst the people.
At around 11:00 a.m. of March 4, 2000 a combined group of local police and army personnel cordoned off Ranganijhar village in search of ULFA member, Mr. Rupjoyti Kalita who was taking shelter in that village. When he came to know about the raid, he tried to escape by running to a nearby Tea Garden, where the Police and army personnel caught him. After that he was shot dead in a cold blood from a point blank range. Later the police claimed that he died in an ?encounter?.
On March 17, 2000 at 4:00 p.m. Khukhreng Boro (26) was shot dead at Betbari village near Simla by a CRPF patrolling party. The CRPF unit had set up camp near Hojua Community Centre and was out in search of rebels. Seeing the heavily armed personnel, Khukhreng Boro, who was walking near the fields, began running away in alarm. The CRPF personnel opened fire and killed him immediately. The body was then taken away from the spot by the jawans.
On March 17, 2000 a group of police accompanied by jawans of the Sikh Regiment shot dead a college student Binod Kuli (20), in Mohkhowa village, near Dhakuakhana. The security personnel had actually been on a raid in the village, in search of a four-member ULFA group. Upon not finding anyone there, the police and army personnel began firing indiscriminately at the people of the village. Mr. Kuli was killed in this round of firing. The police however issued a statement thereafter stating that Binod Kuli was killed in an ?encounter? and that some arms were ?recovered? from him. The local people however protested against the senseless killing of an innocent student and demanded that the guilty personnel be punished.
On the evening April 30, 2000 a group of policemen led by Mr. T. Hazarika, O/C of Barpeta PS., cordoned off the market place of Kamalabari Chowk and started beating local people indiscriminately asking about an ULFA activist Mr. Dibakar Lahkar, whose residence is near the market place. The police opened fire to terrorise the public. They then caught few people from the market and asked them about the whereabouts of Mr. Dibakar Lahkar and beat them when they expressed their ignorance. One of the innocent persons, Mr. Sirajul Haque, tried to escape by running through the market. But the police fired on him. Though he was not hurt in this shoot out, the police caught him in a roadside ditch and shot him from point blank range. Police left the injured Sirajul at the roadside ditch and picked up another person called Mr. Nazimuddin Ahmed, from a tea-stall in the market. Police blindfolded him and went away in their vehicle towards Barpeta Town. Police stopped their vehicle at the Nagaon College road at Nagaon for some time and shot Mr. Nazimuddin dead near a culvert there. Later police published a statement, which stated that Mr. Nazimuddin was a member of ULFA and he died in an encounter with the police. Local people however denied the claim that any encounter had occurred there on that day and reiterated that Mr. Nazimuddin was innocent and not involved with any armed group any way.
In a very recent case, the asst. publicity secretary of ULFA was killed in a fake encounter. Many civil society organisations and individuals from different walks of life, including the media in Assam criticised the manner in which the police executed Kabiranjan, who was also an established poet and littérateur and contributed greatly to the development of the culture of resistance in Assam. A joint team of Assam Police and CRPF cordoned off the Government quarter of Dr. Manjurani Devi situated at the Public Health Centre (PHC) at Garumara under Pulibar PS in Jorhat district, in the early hours of May 27,2000 morning. Kabiranjan Saikia, a member of the publicity cell of ULFA was staying in the doctor?s residence. He was picked up from the house he was staying in and taken away in a police jeep in front of Dr. Manjurani. She pleaded with his captors to spare his life but they blindfolded him and drove away. The next day, the police claimed that they had killed Kabiranjan Saikia (who went by the name Swadhinata Phukan within ULFA) during an encounter near Garumara, late at night even as he was trying to cross the river to the North Bank. The local people however denied that any encounter had taken place and the arrest of Manjurani Devi also left the police with a potential problem. The police later claimed that they had detained her because she was known to have given shelter to the ULFA leader who was executed. His body was handed over to his father the next day and it was quickly cremated in his hometown of Nagaon. No independent source could verify the results of the post-mortem, which the police hastily conducted by the police in Jorhat.
On June 6, 2000 army personnel dressed in civilian clothes came into Kawaimari village, near Naharkatia in Dibrugarh district in three ambassador cars. They began firing indiscriminately at the houses and an aged widow, Ms. Putali Gogoi was killed on the spot. Subsequently, the army personnel, who were all members of the Mountain Division, stationed in the vicinity, began firing at the frightened villagers who ran away in terror. Among the panic stricken people was a young grocer, Romesh Dhadumia (20) who was physically handicapped and therefore unable to run away. He was shot at a close range, even as he pleaded for his life. The army later claimed that Ms. Gogoi was killed in the crossfire with ULFA militants and also that Mr. Dhadumia was a ?hardcore ULFA? activist. The villagers however reiterate that no member of any armed opposition group was present in the vicinity of the village and that the attack was a senseless, premeditated one. The villagers and the District Unit of MASS have since submitted a memorandum to the Chairperson of the State Human Rights Commission, demanding an impartial high level inquiry to punish the culprits responsible for the incident. The memorandum also demanded humanitarian compensation for the families of the victims and the injured, from the government of Assam.
Mr. Niran Das (22) and his cousin Mr. Kabi Das were bamboo sellers from Borbheragaon, near Tamulpur PS in Nalbari district. On June 18, 2000 army personnel belonging to 26 Madras Regiment, near Simalubari killed them. In the evening of June 18, at around 4:00 p.m., both the victims went to purchase some bamboo from the village Simalubari. On the way the army caught them both and took them to the bank of Daranga River and shot them dead. Later the army handed over their dead bodies to the nearest police station stating that both were ULFA members and they first opened fire on the armymen and were killed in the return firing. But the local people denied the army?s claim saying that both youth were cousins and for long time they were involved with their bamboo business. They were not linked to any armed organisation.
Secret Killings Continues
There has been an upsurge in the number of people who have died or disappeared at the hands of ?Secret Killers?. The missing people are often given up for dead by relatives and the police?s unwillingness to acknowledge responsibility for apprehending the culprits is hardly baffling under the circumstances. The dead are found in unmarked graves or simply floating down rivers, their bodies severely decomposed. The shroud of secrecy and intrigue surrounding their deaths/ disappearances give rise to competing theories about the dead and the missing. Recently, the police have claimed that some bodies found near Guwahati were actually the work of ULFA. These claims are however devoid of substance and real, unambiguous proof. The burden of proof rests solely on the law enforcement agencies in such an instance. In the past there have been several instances where student activists, human rights defenders and others have fallen prey to the ?Secret Killer? with the police acting as a willing party in the extra constitutional arrests and executions. This is a fact that the authorities cannot wish away by ?pointing the accusing finger? at an organisation, which is unable to defend or even substantiate these allegations, given the fact that it is banned. What is needed is a thorough review of all the cases of secret killings and disappearances. Only an impartial and independent body that has the powers to indict the guilty can restore some sanity to the otherwise nebulous situation. As one can see in the list (which is far from a comprehensive one) in most cases the accused are members of armed security personnel of the Indian State working with the ?Secret Killers?. The following cases illustrate the manner in which these events occur.
At around 10:30 a.m. of March 21, a group of police led by the Addl. SP of Barpeta district cordoned off the residence of Mr. Keshab Deka at Chutiapara, under Tarabari PS and detained him. The family members were asked to come to the police station and the party left the place along with Mr. Keshab Deka. Two of the family members followed the police vehicle in a scooter. The police vehicle entered the residence of the SP of Barpeta district. Later the family members went to the Barpeta police headquarter, but the police expressed ignorance about the arrest. Then the family members met the Deputy Commissioner of the District and also filed an Ejahar in the police station. But, when even after five days, the whereabouts of the victim could not be ascertained, the family members filed a habeas corpus petition at the Gauhati High Court on 28 February and the High Court ordered the district administration to produce the victim before a judicial magistrate. But till the filing of this report, the victim has not been produced.
In the early hours of March 24, 2000 a group of armymen accompanied by some armed SULFA renegades raided the house of Syed Abdul Munim and Md. Abidur Rahman, both farmers of Kakajan, under Teak PS in Jorhat district, in search of ULFA activists. The group picked up both the victims and assured the family members that they would be released after interrogation. But, till the filing of this report, the whereabouts of these two victims is not known. The same day, the family members informed the Teok PS about the incident. They also submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of Jorhat district the next day but no action was been taken.
In the afternoon of May 20, 2000 three youth Narayan Ray (19), a student; Biltu Ray (20), an ULFA activist and Chandan Thakuria (25), surrendered ULFA activist were picked up by a combined group of SULFA renegades and CRPF from Birat Nagar Chariali in Golakganj of Dhubri district. The three victims were picked up in the afternoon, in front of a local pan shop, by a group of renegades in a Tata Sumo who were accompanied by CRPF personnel travelling in a truck. The three were then taken, in the presence of witnesses, to Narayan Ray?s house, which was searched for possible presence of ULFA activists. Upon finding no one there the three were then taken to the residence of a local farmer, Mr. Haribala Ray. His house was also searched and when the searches yielded no results the victims were taken away to an undisclosed destination. Later it came to be known that Mr. Chandan Thakuria, the surrendered member of ULFA is moving free at Barpeta, but the fate of other two have not been ascertained.
In the meantime, the family members approached the police and district administration, which claimed that they had no knowledge about the incident. A writ petition [W.P (CRL) No. 37 of 2000] has been filed at Gauhati High Court. The Court has issued instructions to the concerned administrative bodies to hand over the detainees to the nearest police station without further delay. It has also provided for an affidavit-in-opposition to be filed within 3 (three) weeks.
Disappearances of both activists and ordinary people have become the norm in Assam. These cases are sometimes reported in the press but the families of the victims are often left with no clear answers on the whereabouts of their kin. Individual families and MASS regularly file Habeas Corpus but their outcomes are disheartening. Clear answers about whether the person concerned is alive or dead or even whether they have been produced before the police is not forthcoming from the respondents. The question as to whether they have been produced before a magistrate is redundant in such cases.
News from the State
Protests against Super TADA continue
A demonstration-cum-sit in strike against Super TADA was organised by MASS on April 6, 2000 in Guwahati. Several democratic organisations and individuals participated in the demonstration. They criticised the proposed Bill and reiterated their commitment to oppose the enactment of the Bill. Activists from organisations such as Jatiya Nari Unnayan Parishad, Samanvay Rakkhi Mahila Surakhya Samiti, Krishak Adhikar Surakhya Samiti, Asom Gana Sangram Parishad and other participated in the rally held afterwards. Several distinguished journalists, lawyers and political activists also participated and condemned the government?s proposal to curb democratic freedom. Dr. Debo Prasad Barua, ex Vice Chancellor of Guwahati University; noted economist Jatindra Kumar Borgohain; Lohit Gogoi, Chairman KASS; Soneswar Patowari, Journalist; Bimal Prasad Choudhuri, Vice Chairman AGSP; Advocate Arup Borbora; Bubumoni Goswami and Lachit Bordoloi, Chairman and Secretary General MASS respectively and others spoke during the course of the demonstration. They analysed the anatomy of the Bill and linked it with the history of draconian legislation enacted by the Indian State. They also said that the Indian State, by virtue of its dubious history of repression of people?s aspirations ought to be considered a Terrorist State by democratic opinion.
North East Convention against Super TADA
A convention on the proposed Criminal Law Amendment Bill (now called POTA) was organised by NECOHR and hosted by MASS at Pandit Tirthanath Sarma Sabhaghar, Chandmari Guwahati on May 16, 2000. The convention was presided over by a presidium comprising CC Surjeet, Chairman NECOHR; Ms. Anjali Daimary, Chairperson BWJF and Bubumoni Goswami, Chairman MASS. The chief guest Retired Justice Mr. D.K Basu inaugurated the convention and cautioned the gathering on the impending threat if this Bill were to be enacted. Mr. Lachit Bordoloi MASS then welcomed the guests and delegates. This was followed by a keynote address by Asish Gupta, Secretary General NECOHR that outlined the basic colonial antecedents of such anti-people laws. Apurba Bhattacharya (AJYCP); Advocate S.P Deka (AALA) and noted social worker Mukul Mahanta and Bijon Mahajan addressed the convention and outlined their misgivings against the proposed Bill. Prof. N Sanajaoba, former dean, Faculty of Law, Guwahati University presented the first paper of the second session. He made a spirited attack on the need for such a Bill in the name of fighting ?terrorism?. He appealed to social scientists to adhere to the legal and political distinction between acts of terrorism and acts of national liberation or guerrilla warfare. He further stated that India being a signatory on ICCPR is obliged to recognise the rights to self-determination of oppressed nationalities. Subsequently, Subhram Rajkhowa Reader, Law College Guwahati outlined the various instances of misuse of preventive detention by law enforcement machinery and provided the convention with a detailed critique of the proposed Bill. Advocate N. Brajakanta, lecturer Law College, Imphal also outlined the potential to do damage which is built into such draconian laws. The convention resolved to resist the attempts being made by the State to enact such anti people laws and also condemned the growing threats to the lives of Human Rights defenders in Assam.
Second Convention of NECOHR
The Second Convention of NECOHR was held in Guwahati on May 15, 2000. It was presided over by CC Surjeet, Bubumoni Goswami and Anjali Daimary. During the Convention the report of the Secretary General was discussed and approved by the house. The Convention also analysed the State repression and human rights situation in the North East. The following persons were selected as executive members for the term: Chontham Cha Surjeet, Chairman; Hebal A. Koloy, Vice Chairman; Asish Gupta, Secretary General; Dino D.G Dympep, Finance Secretary; Anjali Daimary, Publicity Secretary; Narendra Debbarma, Organising Secretary; James Sylliang, Organising Secretary and N. Homeswar, Organising Secretary.
The Convention strongly resolved to condemn the policy of the Indian State through its organs like UCIL, for misleading the people of Meghalaya, especially in the West Khasi Hills District, regarding the uranium extraction which has been considered harmful.
The Convention endorsed the view that the dichotomies created by the Indian State; such as public and private, are untenable as long as the third entity of the community is also provided an equivalent space to express their position on the decisions that are being taken.
The Convention warned the State machinery that if the laws of the land were not followed, NECOHR would frustrate their expansionist ideas.
The Convention recognised that the peoples rights on Uranium information are being violated and cautioned the government machinery to increase their sensitivities on the issue, failing which the people will witness the widespread violations of Human Rights.
NECOHR decided to continue the protests against the conspiracy of the government of India to enact the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, which is now known as POTA, to curb movements that reflect the hopes of the common people. NECOHR resolved to extend the anti-CLA/ POTA campaigns to an all-India level. Martyr Parag Kumar Das Memorial Day
MASS observed the Fourth Death Anniversary of Martyr Parag Kumar Das, founder-Secretary General of Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), on May 17, 2000 at the spot where he was assassinated in Rajgarh Road Guwahati.
The programme commenced at 9: 00 a.m. with Ms. Anupama Das formally opening the session by paying homage to the Martyr. Apart from the family members of Parag Kumar Das, activists of MASS, intellectuals, journalists, advocates and leaders of various democratic and human rights organisations also took part in the programme to commemorate the memory of the Martyr. At 10: 00 a. m. the Parag Das Memorial Meeting was held. Activists from human rights organisations from Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and other states took part in the meeting that was presided over by Bubumoni Goswami. The meeting started with an opening address from the Martyr?s mother, Ms. Anupama Das. Following this, Retired Justice Mr. D.K Basu, Calcutta High Court, also spoke to the assembled people. Criticising the role of the State in the assassination of Parag Das, Ajit Bhuyan, advisor of MASS and editor of Natoon Somoy called the State to order for its role in the dastardly repression of human rights. Sujato Bhadra of APDR (West Bengal); Lachit Bordoloi, Secretary General MASS; Haidar Hussain, editor, Asomiya Protidin; noted social worker Mukul Mahanta; S. Sheshaiah, Convenor of All India Co-ordination of DR, CL and HR Organisations; Jatin Borgohain, Secretary Asom Gana Sangram Parishad; Anjali Daimary, president Boro Women?s Justice Forum; CC Surjeet, Chairman, NECOHR; Debo Prasad Barua, ex- vice chancellor of Guwahati University; Hebal Koloy, Borok People?s Human Rights Organisation; Madhuram Gogoi, Secretary KASS; Jeenu Borooah, President NASS; D.D.G Dympep and others addressed the gathering. All the speakers recalled the sacrifices made by Parag Das and pledged to carry on with the task that he left unfinished. They criticised the inept manner in which the CBI has handled the case and thereby shielded the killers of Parag Das.
The programme ended with the lighting of the Martyr's Flame at 6: 00 p. m.
Secretary General, MASS Central Office
Guwahati 781 021 (ASSAM)