DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
My main worry today is not Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi shaking a leg with young dancers within days of the passing away of his close party associate Bijoy Krish Handique or when the tion was mourning the death of ‘people’s president’ Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. My worry today is the feeling I am getting that my fellow Assamese are getting detached from the trouble, injustice and sufferings of people in the State. I am not trying to generalize things, but one gets a feeling as if people in Assam are today bothered only about their own well-being, are hell bent on claiming their rights, but are ready to forego their responsibilities as citizens.
Less than two months ago, a young American woman was allegedly molested in broad daylight by an Assamese youth in the crowded Beltola market in the city. A brave Assamese girl, who minutes earlier faced an attempt at molestation by the same man, came to the visitor’s rescue. She slapped the molester, kicked him and tried to pin him down. The brave girl maged to demonstrate women’s power, but not a single onlooker came to assist her in holding on to the molester. Her revelation on television later was more shocking. She said a few men who came after a while instead pleaded with her to let the molester go because he has asked to be forgiven!
The police arrested the man 48-hours later after television channels beamed his photograph, but that is not the point. This incident has raised the question as to why the people who were present in strength at the market did not come to assist the girl at that time. Is it because the people are generally getting detached and do not want to get involved in a situation that did not affect them at that point? This is a question that today’s Assamese society has to ponder and come up with an answer. After all, on another day, a woman relative of any of the men who were a mute witness to the Beltola incident could fall victim to some such pervert. Within a day of this incident, another woman was physically harassed by another pervert near the Down Town Hospital. She chased and beat up the man and was helped by some passers-by. But, despite this ‘help’, the man maged to escape!
A look at statistics maintained by the tiol Crime Records Bureau provides a shocking picture about crime against woman in Assam, something our disjointed civil society needs to take note of. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 7333 cases of rape and 8541 cases of molestation of women across Assam that had been reported to the police. Many cases go unreported. In 2014 alone, the number of incidents of violence against women in Assam was 19,139 which was 5.7 per cent of such incidents in the whole of India. Of these, the number of rape cases in Assam last year stood at 1980 and there were 3099 cases of molestation.
These figures certainly reflect a great deal of decadence in our social behaviour. It may be too much to expect an election-obsessed Assam Government to now take corrective measures to improve the social behaviour, but what about the civil society? Every community in Assam has a student group and there is an apex student group called the All Assam Students’ Union. Sadly, these student groups are not seen channelizing their resources and energy on social issues that can save Assam’s future generations and help prevent Assam’s image as a civilized society from being sullied. The reality today is that the student groups claim they are non-political in character, but the issues they take up or tops their agenda are political in ture! And, most of the leaders of these student groups use the organization they lead as stepping stones to mainstream electoral politics. Therefore, it is not surprising to find the political class in Assam silent on issues that affect the State’s social life.
Law enforcement is poor, but there are other gaps in governce as well. The interface between the State Government and the civil society is just not there in Assam. The Government does not seem to believe in consulting the civil society on any matter worth the me. The trust deficit between the State Government and the civil society has certainly affected the quality of governce in Assam because a lot can be achieved by the Government by involving members of the public.
This brings us to the issue of policing in Assam. In the middle of last year, the Assam Government placed some interesting figures in the State Assembly. It said that 14,356 or around 20 per cent of the 75,559 sanctioned posts in the Assam Police were lying vacant. Forget what the Opposition MLAs had told the House at that time. A statement by Bhupen Bora, Congress MLA from Sonitpur district, came as a shock. Bora, while apprising the House of the ‘disturbing situation’ along the Assam-Aruchal Pradesh border, said the Assam Police is facing an acute mobility problem. “There is hardly any vehicle in running condition in the police stations in the area,” Bora had said. Statements as these have raised a big question mark on the whole talk of the presumed police modernization in Assam, something that actually calls for a thorough probe. This is because one has been hearing of the Centre allocating funds year-after-year for police modernization ever since the ULFA insurgency hit Assam more than three decades ago.
The responsibility of the Assamese society today does not end in advising girls to raise their self confidence and gather the courage to face those out to target them. It is also not enough to say women in Assam should use deterrents like pepper sprays and use the umbrella they carry as a tool for self defence. These suggestions are rather too simplistic. Violence against women is a serious social malaise to have hit Assam and the Assamese society must rise to the occasion with a fitting response that can reduce this trend immediately and cure the State of this disease in the long run. It is a challenge we can certainly meet if we stand united as a society out to further consolidate our social mores. The Assam Government can contribute by improving policing, sensitizing the policemen, and by making foolproof cases on the accused so that they can get the due and exemplary punishment in accordance with the law.