WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
Over the last few weeks, concerns about the security of the State must have assailed most people in the State. There have been reports about the infiltration of terrorists and jihadists from Bangladesh along with some reports about a few of them having been apprehended by the Assam Police. [For some inexplicable reason, reports of jihadists from Bangladesh being arrested by the police generally appear in the Assamese newspapers before they do in the English dailies of the State. In some cases, the English dailies have even completely missed such reports.] Then we have had the most devastating floods in the State this year. They are far worse than anything in recent memory, with over 18 lakh people being affected, about 29 dead and thousands of families having to take shelter on our highways and along the higher ground adjoining railway tracks. The devastating floods, along with a river or two changing course to make matters worse, have taken away virtually everything that people had in the flood-affected areas—their homes, their cattle and their belongings. One cannot help lamenting the misfortunes of those who have lost all that they owned and are compelled to take shelter on our highways and along railway routes. And this time, it is not just the floods that we need to worry about. The erosion of land along river banks has been far worse than what we have had in many years. The rivers seem to have ganged up to nibble away people’s lands and homesteads with much greater vehemence than in other years. And what can our ministers do in the face of ture’s fury beyond ordering a few bags of sand to be placed along the shores where the erosion is most pronounced? This utter helplessness of our rulers in the face of ture’s fury comes across rather strongly.
However, it is not just ture and rivers in spate that have contributed the most in taking away large chunks of our territory. What our neighbouring States (that never fail to underscore their friendliness to Assam) have taken away of our territory is far far greater than what we have lost to the ire of ture. The diabolic game was started by galand that has maged to annex over 66,000 hectares of Assam territory over the years without the Assam police being able to do anything about it. The galand government lost no time in building hospitals and other public buildings on such encroached territory of Assam. It has also held both Parliamentary and Assembly elections on Assam’s territory and got away with it year after year. Quite expectedly, the Election Commission wasn’t asking any uncomfortable questions. And once galand was able to get away with such large-scale annexation of Assam’s territory, neighbouring States too followed suit. Aruchal Pradesh probably comes next to galand in the annexation of Assam’s territory. Then we have Meghalaya and Mizoram also laying claim to Assam territory. Amusingly enough, Meghalaya has also claimed the Koidhora Hill, on which Assam’s State guest house No. 1 is located. It is the guest house that former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi used as his official residence for 15 years. Meghalaya’s claim over the Koidhora Hill came only recently, as though the entire administration of Meghalaya had been afflicted with collective amnesia and recovered only after State guest house No. 1 had been constructed on the hill. What could be a better way of acquiring a well-built and furnished guest house than claiming that the land on which it was constructed was Meghalaya territory, and should be handed over to that State?
However, a State is not just its geographical territory. When we talk of a State, we have in mind its people more than its geographical territory. As such, anything to do with a State’s security has more to do with citizens than with land. In fact, it is the security of the people of Assam that has become a matter of grave concern largely due to the steep rise in crime rates during the rule of Tarun Gogoi. What is of concern is the attitude of people to heinous crimes like murder, rape, abduction, grievous assault and so on. All of a sudden, crimes like patricide (the murder of one’s father), matricide (the murder of one’s mother), the murder of one’s children and the murder of other relatives are beginning to find more and more place on front pages of newspapers and in television broadcasts. The horrendous implication of this is that Assam has become a State where one is not always safe even among one’s relatives, not to speak of strangers. True, quite a few of these crimes are triggered off by alcohol— crimes committed by people under the influence of liquor. But what about the far worse forms of crime that are rearing their ugly heads in our State? Most common among them is trafficking in women and young girls. The victims of such crimes are taken to other States with tempting promises of jobs with very high salaries. Once the victims are out of the State, they are under complete control of the traders in flesh. And because these girls and women are totally vulnerable in other States like Harya, Punjab or Maharashtra due to their lack of the means even to buy a train ticket back to their home State and due to their ibility to communicate with others in these States, they are easily sold off as slaves to the highest bidder. Mercifully the Assam Police has been able to rescue some girls and women even from very far off places in India. But we know that the number so rescued is only a small fraction of the girls and women sold off in other States of India. The sad part of this racket is that there are quite a few women who are engaged in this lucrative business. Such activities were totally unheard of in Assam even two decades ago. The other heinous crime that has become fairly commonplace in Assam is bride burning related to unreasoble demands of additiol dowry after a marriage has taken place. I find this even more obnoxious since I have always taken pride in the fact that Assam is one State in the country that is free of the dowry mece. It is saddening to be proved wrong on such issues and to discover that Assam is no longer free of dowry. Perhaps this was inevitable in a State where the unwillingness to work for a living has almost become endemic.
When one talks of security in a State, one has in mind how safe the streets of the State are for people even at dead of night. I know Indian cities where even women can move about safely without fear till about midnight. Mumbai, Kolkata, Paji and Mysuru are some of them. In Assam, it is only the illegal migrant from Bangladesh who is really safe. During Tarun Gogoi’s 15-year-rule, it was only the Bangladeshi migrant illegally residing in Assam without any travel documents, who was totally safe. Even after the Supreme Court had struck down the IM(DT) Act in 2005 as violating the Indian Constitution, the immigrant from Bangladesh in Assam was the safest person in Assam no matter where he chose to be. The police could not touch him no matter what he did. In the event of a conflict between an Indian citizen living in Assam and an immigrant from Bangladesh without any travel papers, the Bangladeshi immigrant was the one who would be protected by the police in accordance with the instructions from those in the corridors of power. In his own State, the Assamese would be treated as a second-class citizen. It is hardly surprising that such perverse dispensations should have gone against the Congress in the Assembly elections of 2016. But the fact remains that there was far greater security for the illegal migrant from Bangladesh than there was for the Indian citizen in Assam. Some years ago, my car was stoned and damaged by a mob of Bangladeshis at Besimari while seven armed policemen just looked on. I had no security in my own State. So I ought to know which side my bread was buttered on. I have no illusions about an Assamese being secure in Assam after that Besimari incident. In fact, what happened to me should be an eye-opener to those Assamese folk who have illusions about their security in their own State. They are far less secure in Assam than the illegal migrants from Bangladesh. This is what they need to take up with the new State government.