ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Of Human Rights and Wrongs

The Assam government feels that the United Liberation Front of Asom is up against the wall and is now moving against what it calls the "overground" ULFA - human rights activists, journalists and lawyers appearing on behalf of the activists.

COMMENTARY

government of India is not averse to sit-

Of Human Rights and Wrongs

ting down for talks with the Naga rebels seems to encourage the supporters of ULFA in their hope that talks could resume

Hiren Gohain against the odds.

The Assam government feels that the United Liberation Front of Asom is up against the wall and is now moving against what it calls the “overground” ULFA – human rights activists, journalists and lawyers appearing on behalf of the activists.

Hiren Gohain (hiren.gohain@gmail.com) is a distinguished Assamese literary and social critic.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
april 5, 2008

N
ot very long ago, the Assamese chief of army operations against the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Air Marshal P K Borbora, declared confidently at a press conference that the ULFA was now finished. The remnants were now running for cover and in no time they would be ferreted out. Their leaders, he continued, would go on enjoying their life of comfort and luxury with fortunes amassed and stashed away abroad, but the youth would no longer respond to their call to join the army of liberation. Rather predictably, the ULFA chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa, trashed the claim as a characteristic lie by an “Indian stooge”. Another Borbora, lawyer Arup Borbora, prominent member of the People’s Consultative Group (PCG), team constituted by ULFA for negotiating with the government of India the modalities for the proposed talks, joined the debate to say that the air marshal had no understanding of the grassroot realities of Assamese society and politics, and further, that he had no business to debunk the prospect of talks in which at the first preliminary round the prime minister himself had been present.

This was followed by an interesting exchange between members of the public who were proud an Assamese had climbed so high in the defence services and others who thought he had outreached himself with such imperious statements. There are several conflicting views on the proposed talks. A section of the media are against them and leave no stone unturned to throw cold water on them. They are stoutly backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The state government and its stooges also seem in no mood to accept the prospect, though they hem and haw a lot. Certain other elements are enthusiastic and indeed seem to believe that the centre would find it hard to reject the call for sovereignty of Assam.

In the central government the defence ministry wants a free hand in its campaign to root out insurgency, but the home ministry is more circumspect. The fact that the

ULFA at Crossroads

Influential members of the public are not eager to join the fray, though at one time they crowded the correspondence columns of dailies. ULFA has indeed come to the crossroads, not so much because of the series of notable successes of the army against the insurgents, as because its acts of sabotage and gruesome bombings of civilian targets seemed to have entered a blind alley, with no hope of escape from the cycle of violence and counter-violence. Seizing this opportunity the opponents of the ULFA in the state government and in assorted political circles and the media are calling for termination of further talks and extermination of the ULFA as pests.

The public is confused as not so long ago they had been begging the ULFA on bended knees to allow the national games to proceed peacefully in Guwahati. However, now the government and its friends are taking a hard line both in Delhi and Dispur, with even the national security adviser stating categorically that talks must be held within the framework of the Indian Constitution, whereas the ULFA had from the very beginning insisted on “sovereignty for Assam”.

Acting on the perception that ULFA has now been brought up against a wall, the Assam government is trying to suppress what it calls “the overground ULFA” by which it seems to mean not so much organised groups of political supporters as miscellaneous journalists, human rights activists, lawyers pleading for arrested ULFA cadres in bail cases and so on. Some of them do have links with ULFA by way of their professional necessities. But the government’s case seems to be that they materially help the ULFA in their illegal activities like extortions, sabotage and plots of assassinations.

It is beyond dispute that if such activities are indeed carried on by those people the police and the government will be within their rights to take them into custody to prevent disruption of law and order and loss of valuable property and

COMMENTARY

death of innocent lives. So far the situation has been rather fuzzy however, and it is not clear whether they are indeed overground accomplices of the ULFA aiding and abetting the crimes against ordinary citizens. But if their crime is simply lending their support to the cause that the ULFA represents, the matter becomes rather complicated. Apart from the right of free speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution, this concedes to the government the power to decide arbitrarily who is and who is not the enemy of the state. The moot point is that the democratic state grants its citizens, except in times of war, the right to question its very basis in theory as long as it does not lead to incitement of armed revolt.

Wages of Overcentralisation

The overcentralisation of authority in the Indian state with umpteen amendments of the Constitution as well as some patently unconstitutional ploys have given rise to quite conspicuous problems for people at its margins. Nowadays most major and vital decisions affecting the fates and lives of the people of Assam are taken in New Delhi, and the state government’s role is only that of an implementing agency. Certain elements of the state see nothing wrong there, as massive corruption allows cronies and hangers-on in the state government to make huge fortunes while the victims of floods and soil erosion starve, and youth are dogged by despair and fear because of unemployment and underdevelopment. The people have ceased to feel that anybody really cares what happens to them. No doubt the United Progressive Alliance government is now pumping hundreds of crores of rupees into Assam to speed up development and staunch the wounds of insurgency. But given the present structure of the economy the results are not quite what might be desired.

Within the policy framework of liberalisation and globalisation the economic packages from the centre have not been of much benefit to the people of Assam. The mega hydel projects in foothills of

Half Page - AD

Arunachal fill the minds of rural population of the plains of northern Assam with apprehension of cataclysmic avalanches, tsunami-like floods from overflowing dams. The four-lane expressways to southeast Asia have uprooted peasants in Nowgong district and touched upon only a couple of towns in the Brahmaputra valley. Promotion of tourism again seems to favour the big players while the hoi polloi pick up crumbs from the ground.

The people see abundant natural resources being plundered and exhausted, visibly by local contractors but in actual fact by big corporates far to the west, and their future in peril because of such a process of development. Participatory development has come to mean dumb consent to incessant predatory plunder. In spite of violent protests Oil India and the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation are going ahead with seismic surveys that could pollute rivers and water sources in the end.

Consultation with the local people who must understand all implications before giving their assent is hardly irrational or

april 5, 2008

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

unjust. Since the patchwork Constitution as it stands today whets the greed of monopoly capital and does not permit critical examination of the character of major policy decisions often adopted in empty houses or over the heads of purblind legislators the demand for greater autonomy to such states as Assam is essential for the very survival and health of Indian democracy, which pampers castes and deprives regions. Hence the outcry against arbitrary detentions and arrests in Assam, to say nothing of encounter deaths of rural poor.

Lachit Bordoloi’s Case

The mixture of farce and terror comes out best in what is happening to Lachit Bordoloi, former chairman of the Manav Adhikar Sangram Samiti and now its chief adviser, and Nekibudzaman, a lawyer frequently appearing in courts to plead bail petitions for ULFA cadre.

On the testimony of one Manoj Tamuli, described as a hardcore ULFA activist by the police and a turncoat by the ULFA chairman, the police has detained Bordoloi. According to Nekibudzaman, he was waylaid by a police party as he was returning home from Tinsukia, and had he not jumped out of his own car, breaking a leg in the process, the police would have had his number.

The resultant hue and cry forced police to issue a statement that they had no intention of detaining him. But after a few days followed an incredible revelation by the police that both had indeed been involved in a plot with Manoj to hijack planes, raising visceral anxieties among the public. ULFA immediately denied the charge. The public was in two minds until the police in their eagerness to demonise all ULFA supporters made the absurd claim that Manoj also had private plans to abduct another man’s wife. How he hoped to combine the grimly serious business of plane hijacking with a filmy romantic escapade remains unclear.

Foiled in their attempt to denigrate Lachit’s integrity, the police has now come up with a story that they have cracked plenty of coded messages in Lachit’s laptop revealing that he had been up to his neck in all manner of ULFA shenanigans. Again, with a view to put off public sympathy they are saying they have found in that laptop evidence of Lachit’s taste for pornography, including a nude photograph of a human rights activist! While Lachit has not set up shop as a holy man and may have some such weakness (it is far from certain though) that hardly gives the police right to arraign him as no traffic was involved. As Lachit says, the police first arrest him and then hunt for charges.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
april 5, 2008

Dear reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top