The State-Sponsored Crime Against Adivasis In Assam Atrocities Galore
The Adivasis of Assam, whose ancestors had settled down in the land ‘around 150 years ago’ after they were forcefully brought from the state of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Odisha have been facing the state-sponsored crime against them since Independence of India.
In fact, inhuman treatments have been meted out to them by the state as well as the non-state actors. The ethnic cleansing of 1996-98, Beltola incident of 2007 and forced eviction of 2010 are the classic examples of the state-sponsored crime against Adivasis of Assam.
In fact, the state whose prime responsibility is to protect and ensure the rights of everyone guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, has not only failed to meet its responsibilities but it has been discriminating, exploiting and torturing the Adivasis of Assam. Ironically, the Forest Department has been carrying on the eviction processes in Assam even after the enforcement of the Forest Rights Act 2006, which recognises the rights of Adivasis over ‘the forests and forest lands’ from where they ensure their livelihood. This article examines the ground realities of the state-sponsored crime against the Adivasis residing in Lungsung forest areas of Assam.
CRIME AGAINST ADIVASIS
Lungsung forest block of Kokrajhar district falls under the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) of Assam is abode of the Adivasis. They have been living in the vicinity much earlier than 1965. However, the forest department claims that the Adivasis have encroached the highly biodiversity forest therefore they must be evicted from the vicinity. But the fact is there is no such forest exists anymore in the vicinity where the Adivasis have been living for years. Despite that the forest department launched an eviction move and had deployed the forest protection force for evicting the Adivasis living in the Lungsung Forest areas. In this process, the forest protection force burnt 59 villages on October 30-31, 2010 and eight villages were burnt again on November 22, 2010. The houses, clothes, stored foodgrains were burnt down to ashes. In the move not a single house was spared. Consequently, 7013 Adivasis including 3869 adults and 3144 minors belonging to 1267 families were affected and out of them 3330 are males and 3683 are females. Two-year-old boy Mangal Hembrom died after struggling between life and death for more than two months as he was half burnt during the eviction process. Forty people, who were leading the protests against the eviction, were arrested and later on seven of them (students) were released and rest of 33 men were sent to Kokrajhar jail. However, after intervention they were also released.
The state-sponsored crime against the Adivasis of Assam had begun in 1950 by denying them the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) in the Constitution of India. However, the crime was perpetrated on the Adivasis in large scale in 1996 in forms of ethnic cleansing, where 10,000 Adivasis had been killed, thousands of them were injured and more than 200,000 were made homeless and compelled to live in the relief camps for more than 15 years. Similarly, on November 24, 2007, about 5000 Adivasis comprising of men, women and children were attacked in Beltola of Guwahati while they were attending a peaceful procession in demand of Schedule Tribe ‘status’. They were attacked by the local people of Beltola including shopkeepers.
Consequently 300 Adivasis were brutally wounded, hit by bamboos, iron rods and bricks. More than one died, women were raped and a teenage girl Laxmi Oraon was stripped, chased and kicked. The police either remained mute spectators or joined the crowd in brutality. However, despite protecting the Adivasis, the government justified the brutalities and fixed the blame on the Adivasi organisations for them. It has also been intensifying the crime against them by carrying on the eviction move. According to the Executive Member of the Bodo Territorial Council, Santoshius Kujur, “The forest department will continue the eviction process once the Assembly Election is over in the month of April 2011.” If it is true then there would be a gross violation of human rights committed by the government.
PATHETIC CONDITIONS OF RELIEF AND REHABILITATION
The victims of Lungsung incident are living in appalling conditions. The government has not provided them anything in the name of relief and rehabilitation. After the incident, the Agriculture Minister, Mrs Protima Rani Brahma had visited the Lungsung Forest areas and had promised the victims for providing relief materials but the promise remained unfulfilled. Ironically, the government put a condition to the victims that if they are ready to desert their villages, they would be given the relief materials. However, the government does not promise them for their rehabilitation even if they desert the vicinity. The question is, do they have right to food, clothing and shelters? Meanwhile, some relief and rehabilitation work has been done by the NGOs, civil society and local community-based organisations. The victims have been given eatables, utensils, clothes, medicines and tarpaulins but those are not enough.
Presently, the most of the victim families are bound to live either under the open sky or tarpaulin-covered small huts, which can be again burnt by the forest protection forces during their eviction move. The unseasonal rain also adds salt to their wounds. However, the state does not bother in providing relief and rehabilitation to the victims. The similar kind of treatment was made with the victims of 1996-98 ethnic cleansings too. They are still living in the relief camps. They were not rehabilitated in their origin villages properly. Their lands had been captured by the Bodos and not yet returned to them. In fact, the government is not interested in addressing the issues of Adivasis at all.
DENIAL OF IDENTITY, RIGHTS AND JUSTICE TO ADIVASIS
Historically, the Adivasis were brought to the state of Assam in three different circumstances. Firstly, the Adivasis in general and Santhals in particulars were brought to Assam for their resettlement after the Santhal Revolt of 1855. They were settled down especially in the western part, now in the north-west of Kokrajhar district. This settlement is recorded as in the year 1881. Secondly, in 1880 the tea industry grew very fast, as numbers of tea garden were started. As a result, there was scarcity of labourers in Assam and therefore the planters appointed agents and sent them to different places for recruitment of labourers. Thus, the Adivasis were coerced, kidnapped and incited to come to Assam, live and work under appalling conditions. Thirdly, the large scale of land alienation for the development projects also pushed the Adivasis into Assam in search of the livelihood as there were many job opportunities in the tea gardens of Assam. Thus, the Adivasis settled down in the state of Assam. Over the period of time, they also cleared the bushes and made cultivable land.
However, these Adivasis were enjoying the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status during the British rule but when the Indian Constitution was enacted, they were de-scheduled and considered outsiders as the then Chief Minister of Assam opposed the scheduling of the Adivasis of Assam. Although, the same ethnic groups enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST), rights and privileges in their parental states, i.e. Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Odisha, they are denied the same in the state of Assam. The government merely recognises them as either tea or ex-tea tribe and the people of Assam called them coolie, Bengali or labourers with the derogatory remarks. This is a classic example of discrimination with Adivasis by the government.
The Adivasis are discriminated at every level, which is of course, a crime. For example, in 1974 the government evicted the people but after people’s strong resistance the government had promised them to give land entitlements. At that time, Samar Brahma was the forest minister and as per his promise he started the process of land allocation in phased manner. However, he gave land to the Bodos and some other communities. With his expulsion the process of land allocation also stopped. Thus, the Adivasis were betrayed. Similarly, according to the Forest Rights Act 2006, the Adivasis are entitled to claim their rights on the forest land which they possesed before December 13, 2005. However, the Adivasis of Assam are denied their rights under the FRA as well. In fact, the Adivasis have been living in Lungsung Forest areas much earlier than 1965 but they were not given rights and entitlement on the forest lands which they have been cultivating for decades.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION IS DENIED
The right to education is a fundamental right of every child. Therefore, the state is obliged to provide free and compulsory education to all the children between the ages of six and 14 years. However, the government has been denying the right to the Adivasi children of Assam, especially the children living in the Lungsung Forest areas. The forest department has burnt down 10 schools including eight primary schools run under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) and two private schools during the eviction move, where the children were getting education and mid-day meal as well. As a result, the children are deprived of their right to education. Presently, a few schools have resumed classes under the open sky. There are also practices of discrimination prevailing in schools, especially in the areas of tea estates. The schools are named as ‘labourers’ school. For example, the name of primary school situated at Senglijan is written in the sign board as “Senglijan Bonua Prathmik Vidhyalay (Senglijan Labour Primary School).
There is a high percentage of dropout of children in class eighth and the reason behind is, the parents don’t afford to send their children to school due to lack of money and awareness as well. Secondly, the quality of education is very poor, which doesn’t help them in getting jobs. It’s very difficult to get a graduate in many villages with the quality education. If one sees the literacy rate of Adivasis, it is merely 27.12 per cent, whereas the total literacy rate of Assam is 64.28 per cent. Indeed, there is a clear division in the schooling system of Assam. The poor children go to the government or tea estate-run schools and there are public schools for elite children. Consequently, the inequality is growing day-by-day. However, the state seems to be reluctant in bridging the gap.
The Adivasis of Assam have very limited livelihood options. The majority of them rely on the tea industry and rest of them secure livelihood from farming. However, the wage of tea labourers is very low. They are paid merely Rs 66 per day which is even lower than minimum wage of Assam which is Rs 100 for unskilled, Rs 110 for semi-skilled and Rs 120 for skilled labourer. The victims of Lungsung Forest are also facing more livelihood crisis as their foodgrains were burnt and harvests were destroyed during the eviction move. Similarly, the Adivasis’ lands were captured by the Bodos during the ethnic cleansing in 1996-98 and they didn’t get them back, which put them in livelihood crisis. Consequently, the Adivasis started migrating to the metro cities and other states in search of livelihood. The youth who migrate to the metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai, work as domestic servants and labourers. There are also cases of huge numbers of trafficking of women and children.
DESTRUCTION OF TRADITION, CUSTOM, CULTURE, RELIGION AND SELF-GOVERNANCE
The Adivasis are known for their unique tradition, custom, culture, religion and self-governance. However, they are bound to be alienated from their tradition, custom, culture, religion and self-governance system. For example, the Mundas have lost their traditional self-governance system and are ruled under the system of tea estate whereas the Santhals are still governed by their traditional self-governance system. Most of the Adivasis have adopted other religions though in practice they still observe the Adivasi festivals like Karma, Sarhul, Baha Parab, etc. Most of the Adivasis speak their mother tongues, perform their traditional folk dances and live in community, which is the strength of the Adivasi way of life. Their food habits are almost remain the same.
Indeed, the history of Assam suggests that the government was problem, not the solution for the Adivasis of Assam. However, the state-sponsored crime against the Adivasis must come to an end. The Indian State has promised to right the historic wrongs through the Forest Rights Act 2006 therefore the victims of Lungsung Forest must be given relief and rehabilitation package along with entitlement on the land they have been cultivating for years and the forest villages should be converted into the revenue villages and basic facilities should be made available including drinking water, sanitation, health facilities, road, electricity, etc. The Assam government seems to be either a mute spectator or supporter of the perpetrators. Consequently, the perpetrators roam freely after committing heinous crimes against the Adivasis. Therefore, the perpetrators must be brought to justice. The Adivasis of Assam should be recognised as the Scheduled Tribe (ST) and included in the Constitution of India and provided with preventive, protective and promotive measures without any discrimination.
In fact, a law should be enforced to end discrimination against the Adivasis in Assam, where they are treated as the outsiders and called by derogatory names, though they have been living in the vicinity for more than 150 years and many of them are the first settlers of the land. The minimum wages in tea gardens should be increased from Rs 66 to 200 for the unskilled and Rs 300 for the skilled labourers. The living conditions of Adivasis living in the tea estate are very poor, therefore, they should be provided with basic facilities, i.e. drinking water, health facilities, sanitation, etc. For ensuring the right to education to the children, there is an urgent need to provide quality education to the children. Therefore, the primary and secondary schools should be started in the Lungsung Forest areas, where schools were burnt down to ashes. The attempt should be made to bridge the gap between the public and private schooling system without discrimination. There are more than 70,00,000 Adivasis living in Assam who are not recognised as Scheduled Tribe precisely because of the political reasons. However, the state must protect and ensure the rights of the Adivasis of Assam.
By Gladson Dungdung from Guwahati