Where Have They All Gone?

A report on some disappearance cases in Assam
Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS)
August 1998

It will be no exaggeration to put that the history of post- independence India is essentially the history of ruthless exploitation and brutal suppression of the small and marginal communities living within its political boundaries. This repressive character of the Indian state has not spared even the economically weaker sections of the so-called mainstream population who have time and again rose against the exploitation of the ruling elites of the Indian state. Nevertheless, the extent of the exploitation and repression perpetrated on the said marginal communities by the latter, constituted by the unholy nexus between the politicians and big businessmen hailing from the dominant communities of the country, is far too intense. Most of these communities today assert their rights n their economic resources against their unjust spoilation by a centrist Indian state.

They also demand that they be allowed to shape their political and cultural life, both of which now stand at the mercy of the Indian state. All these have today brought the marginal communities to a stage where they are confronted by acute political marginalisation, economic appropriation and last, but not the least, forcible cultural homogenisation in favour of the ruling elites of the Indian state. Under this circumstance, the movement for self-determination has gained unprecedented ground among the marginal communities of the contemporary Indian state. But, without addressing the genuine grievances of these communities the Indian state is engaged in a brutal supression and subversion of these people's movements by various authoritarian means. This has compelled many of these movements to become armed and underground. Even a cursory observation of various contemporary armed struggles in different parts of India like Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Kashmir, Punjab, etc., reveals this phenomenon quite clearly.

Thus, while the Indian state is busy in projecting the facade of an enthusiastic custodian of democracy and human rights in various international fora, in its own backyard it is involved in the most brazen form of violation of basic human rights and trampling down of all tenets of democracy. In the process, the Indian state has contemptously tresspassed various UN Charters on human rights and rights to self-determination. These are facts not entirely unknown to the international fraternity in general and human rights groups in particular.

The recent history of Assam represents a gory saga of such repressive and authoritarian character of the Indian state. This brazen form of repression is in response to the movement of the people of Assam for their right to self-determination. The prolonged plunder of their resources and the closure of all democratic means for the establishment of their genuine right over these resources have forced the Assamese youth in the name of ULFA to resort to a protracted armed struggle against the aggrandizing policy of the Indian state. But the latter has totally failed to appreciate the background of this development and has shown scant regard to the genuine aspirations of the people of Assam. Instead, it has found it fit to regard this turn of events only as a law and order problem created by a 'handful' of youth gone astray at the behest of some foreign country to destabilize the Indian state. Thus, ULFA has been declared as a terrorist organisation. The reason behind this is not far to seek. It is simply done to create an excuse to crush the self-determination aspirations of the indigeneous people of Assam. The imposition of a number. of draconian laws totally anachronistic, to say the least, in a democratic polity, and the innumerable incidences of murder, disappearance, rape, molestation, and harassment perpetrated by the security forces under the protection of these laws, clearly testifies to the statement given above. Interestingly, these incidences have mostly been perpetrated against innocent common people not directly related to any kind of extremist activities. This shows that the real intention of the Indian state is only to generate a fear psychosis among the Assamese people so that they lose all courage to assert their aspirations. This is a deliberate desicn on the part of the Indian state to alienate the common people from the extremists. Thus, the mighty Indian state has shamelessly used the common people as a pawn in its fight against the insurgents without tackling it face to face. This act of the Indian state today has characterized it as the actual perpetrator of terrorism. However, when even these designs did not serve its purpose, in 1997 undeclared army rule was imposed in Assam in the name of the Unified Command Structure (UCS). Under UCS army authorities have been handed over unprecedentedly overriding and unaccountable executive powers, vis-a-vis the civil administration. With the advent of UCS the frequency and intensity of army atrocities multiplied manifold. In this report, we shall confine ourselves only to some of the cases of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (EID) that have come to our notice.

Although there have been scores of cases where individuals disappeared from the custody of the security forces, the latter summarily reject any such incidences. In fact, in the wake of the cases of EID becoming so commonplace, there are grounds to feel convinced that unlawful termination of these individuals, no matter whether they are involved in any unlawful activities or not, is the result of a deliberate ploy on the part of the state,. When the laws formulated to deal with the so-called anti-state activities of the people have been persistently condemned for their draconian character, it is a matter of grave concern that the security forces operating in the North-eastern states of India in general and Assam in particular, are involved, in rampant transgression of even these authoritarian laws. But the way in which the perpetrators are permitted to go scot-free has generated serious concern about the real motive of the state among all democratic minded people and organizations. Many aspects of these facts will become automatically evident as one makes a perusal through some of the concrete cases of human rights violation by the Indian armed forces in Assam. In the following, some cases of EID have been presented during the phase 1991-97 in a chronological manner.

  1. Bipul Nazir
  2. Prafulla Gogoi
  3. Salil Das
  4. Rudra Deka
  5. Surbarna Konwar, Pradip Barua, Biswajit Bora, Putul Medhi, Charan Sing Bordoloi, Hiranya Barua and Hamen Nath
  6. Mohan Nath
  7. Biplab Gohain
  8. Kiran Chaharia
  9. Pintu Saikia
  10. Kula Gogoi
  11. Abhijit Kalita
  12. Purna Kachari
  13. Padum Nath

The aforementioned cases are only some select ones from amongst scores of such cases that have come to the public notice in the recent years. Even a cursory observation of these cases will convince anyone that they must not be treated as some isolated astray incidents. There exists a strong common thread underneath them. Their mode of occurence betrays a deeper design on the part of the Indian state to throttle the democratic aspirations of the people by generating an atmosphere of terror. Through the naked display of its murderous character as manifested in these cases, the Indian state has signaled to all concerned that it would not tolerate any form of dissent or protest against its political, economic, and ideological agenda, however disastrous that might be for the interests of the small and marginal communities living within the Indian territory. For executing this agenda, the rulers in New Delhi have rarely shown any kind of hesitation in imposing every draconian law and rule on the protesting people throwing all democratic and ethical standards to the wind. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act---popularly known a,, TADA (withdrawn in 1997 after fierce and persistent opposition against it), Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958, Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955, etc., are some such acts which have often been used by the Indian state to ride roughshod over the democratic aspirations of its people. These Acts which empower the security agencies with incredible oppressive authority in the execution of their 'duties' come especially handy in the decimation of various self-determination movements increasingly growing in different parts of India against the burgeoning socioeconomic oppression of the Indian state. As a matter of fact, these movements, though implicit, are the principal targets of these draconian laws.

Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), since its inception, has been making incessant effort through various means to attract the attention of all democratic and freedom loving people and organizations to the extremely atrocious character of these Acts which deprive a person of the minimum rights as a human being. Some of the provisions of these Acts say, the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act now operative in Assam should be embarassing for even a despotic state. Notice some provisions of this Act (Article 4):

 
" Any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non- comissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area--

[a] if he of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the distrubed area prohibiting the assembly of five of more persons or the carrying on of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapons or of fire-arms, ammunition or explosive substances;

[b] if he is of opinion that it is necessary so to do, destroy any arms dump, prepared or fortified, position or shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made or are attempted to be made, or any structure used as a training camp for armed volunteers or utilised as a hide-out by armed gangs of absconders wanted for any offence;

[c] arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may used such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest;

[d] enter and search without warrant any premises to make any such arrest as aforesaid or to recover any person believed to be wrongfully restrained or confined or any property reasonably suspected to be stolen poperty or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances belived to be unlawfully kept in such premises and for that purpose use such force as may be necessary,"
 

It hardly needs to be underscored the extent to which these provisions have been used to bulldoze all forms of protests and struggles against the nefarious machinations of the Indian state. These laws have degenerated the Indian armed forces no better than a occupation army in its own territory. In fact, there have been a surge of allegations that the Indian security agencies have made use of these legal sanctions even for settling purely personal scores. But again notice how the aforementionedact has ensured legal protection to the rampaging army personnel (Article 6):
 

"No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall he instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, acrainst any person in respect of anything done or purported to he done in excercise of the powers conferred by this Act."

In brief, the "largest democracy in the world" has given a carte blanche to its trigger-happy armed forces. The disastrous consequences that have befallen thousands of innocent people as a result of it can never he scapped off. The scars that have been left in the psyches of these people can never he removed. Whal is even more disturbing is the fact that even under these Acts certain provisions exist which apparently safeguard arbitrary action. For instance, Article 5 of the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Power Act,1958 says,
 

"Any person arrested and taken into custody under this Act shall be made over to the officer-in- charge of the nearest police station with the least possible delay, together with a report of the circumstances occassioning the arrest."

But in the EID cases that have been listed in this report we see how this provision has been contemptously shunned aside. "Encounter death" has become the simplest solution to all these so-called legal hazards. It needs no deep analysis to find out that it is Indian state which has granted this 'licence to kill'to the Indian army.

In the last eight years, Assam has been turned virtually into a military state. During this period, which will surely go down the history exposing the brutal oppression that has been unleashed by the Indian state on the people of Assam, hundreds of youths have lost their lives, more have been maimed, scores of youths have disappeared, hundreds of women have become victims of rape and molestation, leave alone day to day insults and assaults on even octogenarians. And the chief perpetrator of all these vices is none but the security forces of the Indian state engaged for the 'maintenance of law and order' and indeed the much vaunted phenomenon called 'peace'! Successive governments in the state come to power promising to end this atmosphere of terror and uncertainty only to join hands with the diabolical designs of the Indian ruling elites sitting in New Delhi.

The human rights scenario in Assam is so precarious that even the human rights activists have not been spared from the high handedness of the security forces. MASS, the lone human rights group operating in Assam, has often borne the brunt of state repression. Its courageous and untiring effort in exposing the diabolic activities of the security forces has generated a lot of ire and contempt among the latter against it. As a result, several activists of MASS have lost their lives in army custody who have been declared to have died in 'encounters'. Many of its activists have faced arbitrary arrests and harassment. The present Chairman and Secretary General of this organisation has been sent to long imprisonment on a number of occasions on ridiculously fabricated charges. By making a systematic attempt to project MASS as an overground organisation of the banned secessionist organisation ULFA, the Indian state has tried to silence the voice of MASS. Altogether, the state has left no stone unturned to crush the incipient human rights movement in Assam.

On the other hand, in the face of growing resentment among the democratic minded citizens and organizations, the Government of India constituted the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 1993 ostensibly to function as a sentinel of human rights in the country. It has been empowered with the authority of a civil court while enquring into the complaints lodged before it. But the Commission is kept handicapped with regard to the cases of human rights violation by the armed forces in the so-called 'disturbed areas'. Similarly, the State Human Rights Commissions constituted for the states in the model of the NHRC also have been divested of any effective power to hold enquries into cases of human rights violation perpetrated by the armed forces. In such a situation, it raises serious doubt as to what role has been designed for it in a state like Assam where most of the human rights violations cases are committed by the armed forces. On the other hand, the State Human Rights Commission is conspicously vocal only against the extremist related violence. What is more agonising is the fact that the SHRC has not found 'substance' in many army-related cases of murder, assaults and rape which were brought before it.

Under these circumstances, the concepts of justice and fair play have disappeared from the land of Assam. Its population is now living under constant threat, fear and uncertainty. No one is sure what is in store for him in the face of a rampaging army. Anyone might be killed at will, anyone might be apprehended and be killed in fake encounters but then denied, anyone might be assaulted, women molested and raped, and property looted by none other than the 'peace keepers' of the Indian state. Assam is now undergoing the most blatant form of state terrorism. It has been turned into a graveyard of democracy inside the 'largest democracy in the world'.

MASS makes a fervent appeal to all individuals and agencies dedicated to the promotion and protection of democratic and human rights all over the world to take active interest in the present human rights situation in Assam. For collecting a comprehensive first hand information about the latter we sincerely request all concerned to visit Assam and see for themselves how it has been turned into a graveyard of democracy. We also expect their genorisity to raise these issues in appropriate fora to compel the Indian state to operate within recognised international and domestic legal framework and to show proper respect to the genuine democratic aspirations of the people. As a human rights organization working in an environment where even human rights activists are subjected to ruthless state repression, we also seek active help, advice and suggestions for the promotion and protection of human rights in this region from all the freedom loving and democratic minded individual and agencies.

(Some changes in style and format have been made in the Web version without changing the content of the original text)

Published by Mr. Lachit Bordoloi, Secretary General, MASS on behalf of
Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (The Committee to Fight For Human Rights),
Udangshri Building, Ananda Nagar, Bamunimoidam, Guwahati 781021, Assam, India.
Printed at Paragaon Offset, Guwahati, 781001. Published: August 1998. Suggested Price: Rs 10