Only a few days ago we had occasion to dwell on the implications of the latest amendment to the Land Acquisition Act and to express our fears of how the latest ordinance might aggravate the existing situation of repeated displacement of people from their homes to enable development projects to be executed. We also mentioned how such repeated displacement was quite often the consequence of growing industrial activity in our country. However, there is another kind of displacement that has little to do with development projects. This is the kind of human displacement arising from militant or terrorist activities and sometimes as a result of ethnic cleansing. The carnage unleashed by the NDFB(S) in several areas of the BTAD and other parts of Assam last month resulted in a large number of people abandoning their homes and moving to relief camps set up by the government of Assam. In the beginning, this number was a little over 70,000. Today the number of people displaced as a result of the NDFB(S) carnage has exceeded three lakh. This figure was revealed by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) in a report following field visits to the NDFB(S) violence affected areas of Assam which claims that this figure of over 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) has given rise to the largest number of conflict induced IDPs of the world in the year 2014. The victims of the man–made humanitarian crisis were languishing in 85 relief camps in four districts, namely, Sonitpur, Kokrajhar, Udalguri and Chirang. The ACHR’s observations were made after its visit to some of the affected sites on December 27, 2014. The figure of three lakh IDPs differs substantially from the official figures that put the refugees in relief camps at 140,000.
According to the ACHR report, “The government of Assam has been hesitant to fully extend humanitarian assistance to all the IDPs in order to prevent more displacement and reduce cost of rehabilitation.” According to the report, “The inmates of all the camps had similar stories to tell: the State government failed to provide relief including warm clothes, baby food, safe drinking water, and there was no provision for pregnant women and lactating mothers, while some food items were supplied by local public and organizations. Sanitation and hygiene are almost non–existent.” The ACHR is reported to have recommended to the Government of Assam to fully extend humanitarian assistance including access to adequate shelter, food, utensils, baby food, clothes, health care, water facility, toilets, etc., to all the displaced persons; to rehabilitate the displaced persons by providing adequate assistance such as housing assistance per family, food rations for six months, ensuring that no relief camp is forcibly closed down and inmates are forced to leave the relief camps, and providing security to the IDPs voluntarily willing to return to their villages with a clear programme of action, including deployment of security forces to ensure that such heinous attacks are not repeated.
One can easily lose sight of the fact that while the other kind of displacement in making land available for development projects is also unfortunate, the displacement caused by the carnage of the NDFB(S) in December 2014 or the displacement orchestrated by Naga goons earlier are rendered far more poignant by the fact that the displaced persons are forced to run away from almost certain death staring them in the face. The carnage gives rise to very natural panic of the worst kind—something that does not happen in the case of displacement brought about when land is taken over by the government for development projects. It is also useful to bear in mind that most such displacements brought about by militant and terrorist groups are really culminations of political problems created by politicians who not only create the problems and disaffections but pretend later on that they are the only ones capable of finding the solutions when they can really do nothing of the sort. In Assam we have so–called relief camps from the ethnic cleansing days of the Bodo mili0074ants in 1966 that had to be sustained for decades. There is the sad case of a young boy who spent 12 years in a relief camp and had to miss his education. But regardless of who is really responsible for the kind of carnage we had last month, the government has a duty to its citizens in times of crisis. So we cannot have relief camps that are no more than mere eyewashes or rituals. We cannot have relief camps that are no better than hell holes where people have to survive somehow in sub–human conditions like animals. Most of the relief camps we are familiar with are really no better. To start with, they are so overcrowded that any human existence in them is unthinkable. There is no provision of any kind of sanitation, and people have to defecate out in the open. One can imagine how unbearable the conditions must be for young girls and women. There is no safety for toddlers. There is no security for the rest. One can visualize a situation where the very militant and terrorist outfits that people are running away from can mount an attack on a relief camp, kill many occupants and disappear without the security forces being able to do anything. The food provided is atrocious. There are times when many of the occupants cannot manage to get anything beyond rice. But apart from the abominable living conditions, there is also need to think of children who have to be deprived of any kind of education even if they are doomed to live in relief camps for over a decade. And whether the ACHR said anything about schools for children or not, we cannot escape our responsibility on this score either. Children must have some means of getting education even while in relief camps.