People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 02, 2007
Acts Of Brutality In Guwahati And The Adivasi Rally
THE All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAA) organised a rally and ‘Dispur Chalo’ programme in Guwahati on November 24 demanding granting of Scheduled Tribe status to the adivasis of the state. However, the Beltola area of the city turned into a battleground following clashes between local residents and adivasi rallyists. The police and civil administration is largely responsible for the large-scale violence. What was supposed to be a peaceful rally turned into a bloody battleground between processionists and the public of the locality just a few hundred meters away from the high security capital complex.
At least one person was killed and nearly 300 were injured, though unofficial sources put the death toll at much higher level. The AASAA leadership claimed that more than 20 students are still missing. The condition of at least 10 of the grievously injured persons is stated to be critical. Curfew was clamped at Beltola area after the violent clashes. The death toll in the clashes has gone up to two as one of the injured persons succumbed to his injuries on his way back home near Tezpur on November 26.
The Congress-led state government of Assam has also been responsible for the incident of large-scale violence and ethnic tension. It appears to be a total administrative failure and collapse of law and order.
The total adivasi population in Assam, including the tea-tribes, will be around 60 lakh i.e. nearly 20 per cent of the state’s population. They are spread all over the sate with high concentration in tea plantations. From the mid-19th century onward, the adivasis were brought in by the British tea companies for working as labourers in the state’s tea plantations from tribal areas of present day Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. While most of the adivasi communities enjoy Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste status in their original home states, the domiciled communities in Assam are mostly in OBC & MOBC list.
All the major political parties in Assam, including the ruling Congress, the CPI(M) and the Left, have been demanding granting of Scheduled Tribes status to these adivasis and 5 other communities – namely, the Koch-Rajbanshis, Tai-Ahoms, Chutias, Morans and Mataks. The Assam assembly also unanimously passed a resolution recommending Scheduled Tribe status to these communities. The six backward communities have been demanding ST recognition for several years now.
However, the Congress-led government has been only paying lip service to their demands and doing precious little to impress upon the centre and actually get them the ST recognition. It has miserably failed to tackle situations arising out of agitational programmes called by various communities demanding ST status. It was only last month that a 300-hour road blockade called by the Koch-Rajbanshi students had resulted in large-scale violence. It has been widely alleged, the Congress has been playing dirty politics with the sentiments and genuine demands of the backward communities.
The central government has also failed to take up the issue with all seriousness at its command. It has to introduce bills in the parliament for scheduling of these communities.
THE GUWAHATI VIOLENCE
Thousands of Adivasi students came from different parts of the state to attend the rally organised by the AASAA and assembled at the South Beltola High School (Bongaon), Guwahati on November 24. Majority of the rallyists came from the areas of Kokrajhar, Udalguri, Dhekiajuli, Rowta, Karbi Anglong etc. The tea-belt of Upper Assam was also represented.
The trouble started at around 11.30 in the morning when a procession of those who came to the city started proceeding towards Dispur Capital Complex from Beltola to demand ST status despite the fact that the administration denied them permission to take out procession. A small group of people among the processionists started creating law and order problem in the area as they started damaging vehicles, including private vehicles, city buses, rickshaws, etc on the way. They also started pelting stones at private residences and shops. The youths, who indulged in such kind of lawlessness, were armed with bows and arrows and other sharp weapons and sticks. Surprisingly, there was no police personnel in the area to control the unruly youths in the procession as they carried on the mayhem freely. Only a handful of traffic police personnel were present in the area and they were silent spectators.
The adivasi protesters went on a rampage along the Beltola-Basitha Road and were about to reach the capital complex when the police reinforcements arrived. Late arrival of the police complicated the situation further. The police caned the protesters and burst teargas shells to disperse them. When the Adivasi people ran for cover, the local residents, enraged by the vandalism, retaliated and attacked the adivasis. The three km stretch of road from Beltola Tiniali to Dispur Last Gate turned into a battle zone for over three hours as the processionists and local residents clashed. The local people launched a violent attack and those in the rear of the procession had to face the brunt. The brutal retaliation forced the adivasis to run for lives and cry for help. A forty-year old woman who came from Tezpur area has allegedly been raped and a teenage girl from Biswanath Chariali area was stripped naked. Assam hung its head in shame as TV channels flashed footage of the naked woman running through the streets for help till someone came to her rescue. The grievously injured adivasi people, including large number of women, were seen lying on the main road and it took quite some time before all of them could be shifted to Guwahati Medical College hospital. Nearly 300 adivasis were injured, some of them seriously. Later, the district administration had to clamp curfew in the area to bring the situation under control. What was supposed to be a peaceful rally turned into a bloody battle between adivasis and local residents due to police inaction and administrative failure. Had there been any timely intervention by the law enforcing machinery, the protesters could have been prevented from indulging in lawlessness and the mayhem could have been averted easily.
It is heartening to note that a large number of local residents of Beltola area came forward to rescue and protect the adivasi victims during the mayhem. Braving mob fury, people displayed courage and voice of sanity was heard and sense of humanity flourished.
The All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAA) called for a 36-hour Assam bandh beginning from November 26, to protest against the attack on Adivasi demonstrators. The All Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (AATTSA) has extended support to the bandh call.
Opposition parties, including the Left, held the Congress-led government headed by Tarun Gogoi solely responsible for the violence in the heart of the state capital.
The CPI(M) demanded a high-level inquiry into the large-scale violence and appealed to the people for maintaining peace and amity at any cost. The Party condemned the provocations and violence perpetrated by a section of Adivasi protesters as well as the brutal retaliations of the local residents. All offenders must be traced and brought to book, the CPI(M) stated. While accusing the state government for its failures to address the genuine demands of the adivasis and other ethnic groups, the CPI(M) stated that gross administrative failure and police inaction has led to the lawlessness and mayhem in the city on November 24.
The party also demanded adequate compensation and provision of proper treatment for the victims. It has asked the state government to take adequate measures to prevent the spread of violence to other parts of Assam. The Assam state committee of the CPI(M) also demanded of the central and state government to take urgent steps for scheduling the Adivasis, Koch Rajbanshis, Tai-Ahoms, Morans, Mataks and Chutias.
CPI(M) RALLY CONDEMNS VIOLENCE
On November 25, the CPI(M) organised a massive procession in the city and condemned the violence as well as the failure of the government. The procesisonists also appealed to all sections of the people to maintain ethnic unity and harmony in the state. The CPI(M) procession was led by, among others, central committee member Hemen Das. The Party leaders also visited the Guwahati Medical College Hospital and inquired about the conditions of the injured persons.
Meanwhile, violence hit different parts of the sate on November 26 during the 36-hour Assam bandh called by the AASAA with one death reported from Kokrajhar.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, on November 26, ordered a probe by retired High Court judge R K Manisana Singh into the incident of violence in Beltola area of the city.
(a) All culprits responsible for the violence and
counter violence during the protest organized by the All Adivasi Students’
Association of Assam (AASAA) at Beltola area in Guwahati be traced and brought
to book immediately.
(b) Disciplinary proceedings be drawn immediately against the all those responsible for police inaction and administrative for speedy trial of the culprits.
(c) The judicial probe into the violence be conducted by a sitting High Court judge and completed within a reasonable time for speedy trial of the culprits.
Adequate compensations to the victims are given and proper medical treatment to the injured be ensured.
The state government must ensure peace and amity among all sections of the people and prevent the spread of violence
The long-standing and just demands of the six backward communities of Assam – namely the Adivasis, Koch-Rajbanshis, Tai-Ahoms, Morans, Mataks and Chutiyas – for granting Scheduled Tribe status be fulfilled immediately.