Whenever riots or ethnic clashes take place, it is not the so-called VVIPs — that is, political executives — who suffer. It is another matter that they pretend they too are suffering as the ordinary citizens are suffering and that such suffering stems from them being the leaders of a democratic dispensation. But pretence surely is not any suffering? So who suffers? Why, the ordinary citizens, the poor mostly; their poverty and position at the lower end of the development ladder being their nemesis.
See the irony: the democracy that ought to have come to their rescue and made them equal partners in the growth and development trajectory, fails them so badly that they have no reason at all to believe they are a part of the democratic system; and the democracy fails them primarily because they are hoodwinked by their very elected representatives who live in forts of sorts, like monarchs, and enjoy the best possible luxuries of life that, as these ‘leaders’ think, must be provided by the democracy that they have hijacked to further their vested interests — true, there are exceptions, but they are very rare and do not matter at all.
The clashes that have erupted this time between the Bodos and the migrant Muslims of East Bengal/East Pakistan/Bangladesh origin in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) are yet again a grim reminder of cries unheard, tears unchecked. Whose cries? Whose tears? Of those who have been displaced from their homes and who are leading lives no better than stray cattle in ‘relief’ camps (henceforth, the so-called relief camps will be called pain camps in this column).
But first some startling statistics. In a major finding on ethnic conflicts in Assam, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Council (IDMC) has assessed that between December 2010 and January 2011, an estimated 50,000 people were internally displaced during the Garo-Rabha clash along the Assam-Meghalaya border, while about 2.15 lakh people were displaced in the Bodo-Muslim clash in Udalguri and Darrang districts in 2008. In the Bodo-Muslim violence in western Assam in 1993-94, 18,000 people were displaced, while more than 2 lakh people (in 1996) and about 3.15 lakh people (in 1998) were displaced in the Bodo-Adivasi clashes. The IDMC has estimated that over 8 lakh people were internally displaced, as they were forced to flee their homes due to ethnic violence, from the 1990s to the beginning of 2011 in the five northeastern States of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
The plight of displaced people in pain camps is there for all to see. One should visit the pain camps set up to house the displaced people of the BTAD this time. The poor people are complaining of an acute paucity of relief material and basic amenities. Reports of shortage of medicines galore. The plight of the children there, especially, is horrible. When these traumatized children, having to negotiate such life at such tender age and to see their parents lead stray animal-like lives, grow, will the many deep scars in their psyche heal? Will they grow into normal human beings? They cannot. Ask any psychologist.
It is the hellish life that people have been forced to lead in the pain camps set up after the latest Bodo-Muslim clashes that has provoked them into attacking government officials visiting these camps to distribute ‘relief’ material. Can the child of a political executive or bureaucrat or even any lower middle-class person spend even one day with such relief material? But since the people in these camps are utterly poverty-stricken, they must be content with whatever material is provided to them. And some would ask this too: Have these people ever had the privilege of such relief material in their homes? After all, mockery of the poor is a time-passing venture for many!
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, accompanied by the ‘socialist’-minded Sonia Gandhi, is visiting the displaced people of the BTAD at the time of writing this piece. Tremendous concern, apparently, is writ large on their faces. They are talking to the hoi polloi, ‘sharing’ the latter’s sorrow. They seem to be ensuring that the poor in pain camps will be taken full ‘care’ of and that they will face no difficulty at all. The two mighty ones’ is an assurance that no further clashes will be allowed to take place and there will be no lacuna in security. So the people must enjoy!
Earlier, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had visited the pain camp-inhabitants and provided them ‘emotional succour’ — he, the leader of the masses, was with the masses, as if he was proving a marvellous point!
Such visits are a classic symbolism — the more a democracy slides towards being a banana republic, the more classic becomes that symbolism. Since for the poorest of the poor, such as the people lodged in pain camps, our much-celebrated democracy is no better than a rotten banana republic or a ruthless and callous state dressed up as a functioning democracy, such symbolism has a shade of a vicious kind that tells the poor people to rejoice because such a VVIP, who has many other ‘far more important’ matters to handle and who is leading the entire nation, as the Prime Minister is with them in their hour of need. So why mourn? Why grumble? The system, in other words, which does not respond to the grievances of the poor, perpetuates a myth pertaining to governmental concern for the helpless and the hapless at the bottom of the politico-socio-economic pyramid, while the system, in reality, makes the poor remain simply resigned to their fate and rather celebrate the symbolism in question. Isn’t the political charade spell-binding?
What these people need is not any symbolic and ritualistic blessings by their political masters and destiny-makers, but ways and means by which they can lead normal lives, bettering them constantly. They are crying for a life in which there could at least be one good reason to hope for something that might make them feel that they too have a stake in the system which is said to exist for them but which does not exist for them at all. Their tears — look at that poor woman, with a wrinkled face unleashing havoc on her youth, hugging her crying naked child, in tears in a pain camp! — are a tale of lives destroyed by the ‘democracy’ imposed on them to believe they are in a democracy and uprooted by a so-called people’s system presided over by a gamut of so-called people’s leaders for whom the poor matter only when votes are to be sought to remain in the corridors of power and to keep subverting everything that has a potential to evolve into a truly people’s system. Where is democracy here? What kind of democracy?
But the story does not end with just symbolism deriding the cries unheard and tears unchecked. The other cruel dimension is the high-pitched blame game and wild guesses. It is, for instance, as though the BJP had really seen hordes of marauding Bangladeshis attacking Bodo villages, and it is as though the ‘secular’ Congress had seen, after its best possible and most sincere attempt, no Bangladeshi at all in the BTAD! So one is vilifying the other in whatever manner they feel like doing. Where do the inmates of the many pain camps stand then? How can they matter at all? What these people need is physical, mental, moral and emotional succour and security, not the ugly war of words among the high and the mighty merely masquerading as people’s messiah. What they need is a democratic space in which they too, like the high and the mighty, can grow without being unsettled due to systemic aberrations of the worst kind that never affects the upper classes but that does not spare such people as the ones who the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi duo has just seen.
Democracy is in deeds, not words. Simple.
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