The State Sponsored Crime against Adivasis in Assam

By Gladson Dungdung

A woman in her burnt house at Lungsung

Introduction

The Adivasis of Assam, whose ancestors had settled down in the land ‘around 150 years ago’[1] after they were forcefully brought from the state of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, West Bengal and Orissa have been facing the state sponsored crime against them since independence of India. They have been enjoying their rights and privilege before there was the state called ‘India’ or ‘Assam’. The state sponsored crime against the Adivasis began with the enforcement of the Indian constitution, which denied them their status as “Scheduled Tribe” though they had been enjoying the same right during the British rule. Thus, their identity was either confined to the tea-leaf, which they pluck or as outsider (migrant) labourers. Consequently, inhuman treatments were perpetrated on them by the state as well as the non-state actors. The ethnic cleansing of 1996-98, Beltola incident of 2007 and force eviction of 2010 are the classic examples of the state sponsored crime against Adivasis of Assam.

In fact, the state whose prime responsibility is to protect and ensure the rights of everyone guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, has not only failed to meet its responsibilities but it has been discriminating, exploiting and torturing the Adivasis of Assam. Ironically, the Forest Department has been carrying on the eviction processes in Assam even after the enforcement of the Forest Rights Act 2006, which recognizes the rights of Adivasis over ‘the forests and forest lands’[2] from where they ensure their livelihood. This paper examines about the ground realities of the state sponsored crime against the Adivasis residing in Lungsung forest areas of Assam.

1.      Crime against the Adivasis:

Lungsung forest block of Kokrajhar district falls under the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) of Assam is abode of the Adivasis. They have been living in the vicinity ‘much earlier than 1965[3]. However, the forest department claims that the Adivasis have encroached the highly biodiversity forest therefore they must be evicted from the vicinity. But the fact is there is no such forest exists anymore in the vicinity where the Adivasis have been living for years. Despite that the forest department launched an eviction move and had deployed the forest protection force for evicting the Adivasis located in the Lungsung forest areas. In this process, the forest protection force burnt 59 villages on October 30-31, 2010 and 8 villages were burnt again on November 22, 2010. The houses, clothes, stored food grains were burnt down to asses. In the move not a single house was spared. Consequently, 7013 Adivasis including 3869 adults and 3144 minors belonging to 1267 families were affected and out of them 3330 are males and 3683 are females (see Annexure-I). 2 year-old boy Mangal Hembrom died after struggling between life and death for more than 2 months as he was half burnt during the eviction process. ‘40 people who were leading the protests against the eviction, arrested and later on 7 of them (students) were released and rest 33 men were sent to Kokrajhar jail’[4]. However, after intervention they were also released.

The state sponsored crime against the Adivasis of Assam had begun in ‘1950 by denying them the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) in the Constitution of India’[5]. However, the crime was mated out on the Adivasis in large scale in ‘1996 in forms of ethnic cleansing, where 10,000 Adivasis had been killed, thousands of them were injured and more than 200,000 were made homeless and compelled to live in the relief camps for more than 15 years’[6]. Similarly, on November 24, 2007, about ‘5000 Adivasis comprising of men, women and children were attacked in Beltola of Guwahati while they were attending a peaceful procession in demand of Schedule Tribe ‘status’.[7] They were attacked by the local people of Beltola including shopkeepers.

Consequently ‘300 Adivasis were brutally wounded, hit by bamboos, iron rods and bricks. More than one dead, women were raped and a teenage girl Laxmi Oraon was stripped, chased and kicked’[8]. ‘The police either remained mute spectators or joined the crowd in brutality’[9]. However, despite protecting the Adivasis, the government justified the brutalities and fixed the blame on the Adivasis organizations for it. It has been also intensifying the crime against them by carrying on the eviction move. According to the Executive Member of the Bodo Territorial Council, Santoshius Kujur, “The forest department will continue the eviction process once the Assembly Election is over in the month of April 2011”[10]. If it is true then there would be a gross violation of human rights committed by the government.

2.      Pathetic conditions of Relief and Rehabilitation:

The victims of Lungsung incident are living in appalling conditions. The government has not provided them anything in the name of relief and rehabilitation. After the incident, the Agriculture Minister, Mrs. Protima Rani Brahma had visited to Lungsung forest areas and had promised the victims for providing relief materials but the promised remained unfulfilled. Ironically, the government put a condition to the victims that if they are ready to desert their villages, they would be given the relief materials. However, the government does not promise them for their rehabilitation even if they desert the vicinity. The question is do they have right to food, clothing and shelters? Meanwhile, some relief and rehabilitation work has been done by the NGOs, civil society and local community based organizations. The victims have been given eatables, utensils, clothes, medicines and tarpaulins but those are not enough.

Presently, the most of the victim families are bound to live either under the open sky or tarpaulin covered small huts, which can be again burnt by the forest protection forces during their eviction move. The unseasonal rain also adds salt in their wounds. However, the state does not bother in providing relief and rehabilitation to the victims. The similar kind of treatment was made with the victims of 1996-98 ethnic cleansings too. They are still living in the relief camps. They were not rehabilitated in their origin villages properly. Their lands had been captured by the Bodos and not yet returned to them. In fact the government is not interested in addressing the issues of Adivasis at all.

3.      Denial of Identity, Rights and Justice to Adivasis:

Historically, the Adivasis were brought to the state of Assam in three different circumstances. Firstly, the ‘Adivasis in general and Santals in particulars were brought to Assam for their resettlement after the Santal Revolt of 1855’[11].They were settled down especially in the ‘western part, now in the north-west of Kokrajhar district. This settlement is recorded as in the year 1881’[12]. Secondly, in ‘1880 the tea industry grew very fast, numbers of tea garden were started. As a result, there was scarcity of labourers in Assam therefore the planters appointed agents and sent them to different places for recruitment of labourers’[13]. Thus, the Adivasis were ‘coerced, kidnapped and incited to come to Assam, live and work under appalling conditions’[14]. Thirdly, in large scale of land alienation for the development projects also pushed the Adivasis into Assam in search of the livelihood as there were many job opportunities in the tea gardens of Assam. Thus the Adivasis settled down in the state of Assam. Over the period of time, they also cleared the bushes and made cultivable land.

However, these ‘Adivasis were enjoying the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status during the British rules but when the Indian constitution was enacted, they were de-scheduled and considered as outsiders as then the Chief Minister of Assam opposed the scheduling of the Adivasis of Assam’[15]. Whereas, the same ethnic groups enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST), rights and privileges in their parental states i.e. Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa but they are denied in the state of Assam. The government merely recognizes them as either tea or ex-tea tribe and the people of Assam called them as coolie, Bengali or labourers with the derogatory remark and ton. This is a classic example of discrimination with Adivasis by the government.

The Adivasis are discriminated in every level, which is of course, a crime.  For example, in ‘1974 the government evicted the people but after strong people’s resistance the government had promised them to give land entitlements’[16]. At that time, Samar Brahma was the forest minister and as per his promised he started the process of land allocation in phased manner. However, he gave land to the ‘Bodos and some other communities. With his expulsion the process of land allocation also stopped’[17]. Thus, the Adivasis were betrayed. Similarly, according to the Forest Rights Act 2006, the Adivasis are entitled to claim their rights on the forest land which they posses before December 13, 2005. However, the Adivasis of Assam are denied their rights under the FRA as well. In fact, the ‘Adivasis have been living in Lungsung Forest areas much earlier than 1965’[18] but they were not given rights and entitlement on the forest lands which they have been cultivating for decades.

4.      Right to Education is denied:

The right to education is a fundamental right of every child. Therefore, the state is obliged to provide ‘free and compulsory education to the all children between the ages of 6 to 14 years’[19]. However, the government has been denying the rights to the Adivasi children of Assam especially, the children living in the Lungsung Forest areas. The forest department has burnt down 10 schools including 8 primary schools run under the Sarba Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) Mission and 2 private schools during the eviction move, where the children were getting education and mid-day-meal as well. As a result, the children are deprived of their right to education. Presently, a few schools have resumed classes under the open sky. There are also practices of discrimination prevailing in schools especially in the areas of tea estates. The schools are named as ‘Labourers’ school. For example, the name of primary school situated at Senglijan is written in the sign board as “Senglijan Bonua Prathmik Vidhyalay (Senglijan Labour Primary School).

There are high dropout of children in class 8th and the reason behind is, the parents don’t afford to send their children to school due to lack of money and awareness as well. Secondly, the quality of education is very poor, which doesn’t help them getting jobs. It’s very difficult to get a graduate in many villages with the quality education. If one sees the literacy rate of Adivasis, it is ‘merely 27.12 percent whereas the total literacy rate of Assam is 64.28 percent’[20]. Indeed, there is a clear division in the schooling system of Assam. The poor children go to the government or tea estate runs schools and there are public schools for elite children. Consequently, the inequality is growing day by day. However, the state seems to be reluctant in bridging the gap. 

5.      Livelihood Crisis:

The Adivasis of Assam have very limited livelihood options. The majority of them rely in the tea industry and rest of them secure livelihood from farming. However, the wage of tea labourers is very law. They are paid ‘merely Rs.66 per day’[21] which is even lower than minimum wage of Assam which is Rs.100 for unskilled, Rs.110 for semi-skilled and Rs.120 for skilled labourer. The victims of Lungsung forest are even facing more livelihood crisis as their food grains were burnt and harvests were destroyed during the eviction move. Similarly, the ‘Adivasis’ lands were captured by the Bodos during the ethnic cleansing in 1996-98 and they didn’t get it back’[22], which put them in livelihood crisis. Consequently, the Adivasis started migrating to the metro cities and other states in search of livelihood. The youth who migrate to the metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai, work as domestic servants and labourers. There are also cases of huge numbers of trafficking of women and children.

 6.      Destruction of tradition, Custom, Culture, Religion and Self Governance:

The Adivasis are known for ‘their unique tradition, custom, culture, religion and self governance.’[23] However, they are bound to be alienated from their tradition, custom, culture, religion and self governance system. For example, the Mundas have lost their traditional self governance system and ruled under the system of tea estate and religions whereas the Santal are still governed by their traditional self governance system. Most of the Adivasis have adopted other religions though in practices they still observe the Adivasi festivals like Karma, Sarhul, Baha Parab, etc. Most of the Adivasis speak in their mother tongues, perform their traditional folk dances and live in community, which is the strength of the Adivasi way of life. Their food habits are all most remain the same.

Conclusion:

Indeed, the history of Assam suggests that the ‘government was problem not the solution’[24] for the Adivasis of Assam. However, the state sponsored crime against the Adivasis must come to an end. The Indian State has promised to right the historic wrongs through the Forest Rights Act 2006 therefore the victims of Lungsung forest must be given relief and rehabilitation package along with entitlement on the land they have been cultivating for years, the forest villages should be converted into the revenue villages and basic facilities should be made available including drinking water, sanitation, health facilities, road, electricity, etc. The Assam government seems to be either a mute spectator or supporter of the perpetrators. Consequently, the perpetrators roam freely after committing heinous crime against the Adivasis. Therefore, the perpetrators must be brought to justice. The Adivasis of Assam should be recognized as the Scheduled Tribe (ST) and included in the constitution of India and provided them preventive, protective and promotive measures without any discrimination.

In fact, a law should be enforced to end discrimination against the Adivasis in Assam, where they are treated as the outsiders and called by derogatory names i.e. coolie-Bangali,  etc though they have been living in the vicinity for more than 150 years and many of them are the first settlers of the land. The minimum wages in tea gardens should be increased from Rs. 66 to 200 for unskilled and Rs. 300 for the skilled labourers. The living conditions of Adivasis living in the tea estate are very poor therefore; they should be provided basic facilities i.e. drinking water, health facilities, sanitation, etc. For ensuring the right to education of the children, there is a thrust need to provide quality education to the children. Therefore, the primary and secondary schools should be started in the Lungsung forest areas, where schools were burnt down to ashes. The attempt should be made to bridge the gap between the public and private schooling system without discrimination. There are more than 70,00,000 Adivasis’[25] living in Assam who are not recognized as Scheduled Tribe precisely because of the political reasons. However, the state must protect and ensure the rights of the Adivasis of Assam.   

Annex – I

Data of the affected villagers in Lungsung (Assam)

Sl. No. Name of affected Village Name of Village Headmen No. of House Hold Number of affected People
 Male Female Adult Minor Total
1 Salbari Manik Soren 22 70 105 99 76 175
2 Kadamguri Mose Hasda 40 114 102 152 64 216
3 Kiojharna Hudan Murmu 35 78 70 86 62 148
4 Jhamela guri Lakhan Soren 18 46 44 44 46 90
5 Dakhin Joygaon Bashist Soren 15 44 37 55 26 81
6 Kocha Dadhatola Sibu Tudu 16 51 47 64 34 98
7 Pharpur Suliram Soren 10 23 31 31 23 54
8 Lakhipur Suniram Tud 10 29 18 30 17 47
9 Bambigora Hufna Mardi 18 52 43 46 49 95
10 Dinajpur Riyar Hemrom 18 60 49 69 40 109
11 2 No Monipur Raska Mardi 16 31 44 59 16 75
12 2 No Suparguri Lakhan Mardi 35 75 94 100 69 169
13 Gadhatola Budhrai Murmu 18 43 48 54 37 91
14 Samktola Mondal Hasda 18 44 47 56 35 91
15 Gauranpur Themrai Murmu 9 64 19 59 24 83
16 Jiriampur Bijoyn Kerketta 15 33 29 45 17 62
17 Amritpur Somai Hemrom 34 136 134 136 134 270
18 Rajpur Mongal Soren 32 73 90 84 79 163
19 New Gadhatola Barnabas Murmu 8 31 19 28 22 50
20 2no Manipur Dumka Mardi 10 32 23 39 16 55
21 Samaguri Jalai Murmu 12 25 25 24 26 50
22 Sunapur Somai Hasda 35 55 82 66 71 137
23 Sharjuri Baburam Murmu 28 86 62 73 75 148
24 Indrapur Chand Mardi 14 41 44 42 43 85
25 Japaitola Sam Murmu 42 105 107 105 107 212
26 Tibhitola Lakhiram Murmu 7 20 23 24 19 43
27 Sikargor Sam Soren 13 35 31 40 26 66
28 2 No Paithon tola Robin Tudu 12 27 27 35 19 54
29 Oxiguri Mantan Hemrum 16 47 59 56 50 106
30 Jamungutu Parsuram Murmu 18 27 42 24 45 69
31 1 No Edel ghutu Barsal Hemrom 24 74 66 73 67 140
32 2 No Edel Ghutu Sumiram Murmu 16 54 54 63 45 108
33 Mariampur Rengtha Murmu 17 60 67 63 64 127
34 Ramour Seven Murmu 17 44 38 60 22 82
35 Dharampur Sengra Murmu 23 45 115 70 90 160
36 Balajhar Narang Kujur 11 16 18 22 12 34
37 Moinaguri Gene Marandi 6 11 18 15 14 29
38 Parganapur Mathias Kisku 21 41 50 34 57 91
39 Sagenpur Sanatan Murmu 20 45 46 52 39 91
40 Jamunpur Bubhua Kujur 18 25 47 32 40 72
41 Sonapur Bijila Kujur 10 30 34 42 22 64
42 Lakhigaon Lukas Bara 14 20 49 32 37 69
43 Gauripur Babulal Kujur 8 27 20 22 25 47
44 Salbari Jotin Toppo 15 35 37 43 29 72
45 Dholapara Payaram Bakhala 14 20 24 23 21 44
46 Balagaon Baburam Bara 17 50 40 52 38 90
47 Majhipara Kran Hasda 63 85 208 152 141 293
48 Jhamela pur Rabi Sorne 43 94 107 106 95 201
49 Dhardhara Dosarath Soren 39 65 118 97 86 183
50 1 No Bandhal kocha Mongal Murmu 27 47 131 107 71 178
51 Boda Jhara Sibu Murmu 61 208 217 214 211 425
52 Gursingh para Gursingh Para 34 130 102 133 99 232
53 Dafla para Pradhan Kisku 21 87 50 82 55 137
54 Maldangpara Rada Daimari 15 57 51 60 48 108
55 2 No Glosing para Gobi Narzari 17 53 41 53 41 94
56 3 No Glosingpar Sailen Narzari 18 51 49 60 40 100
57 Lankapara Nolen Daimari 18 60 54 78 36 114
58 Champa Doomni Munsi Soren 37 104 97 83 118 201
59 2 No Bhalaguri Supal Mardi 29 95 140 121 114 235
Grand Total 1267 3330 3683 3869 3144 7013
Reference:


[1] A Report on atrocities on Adivasis of Assam entitled as “Assam’s Adivasis” published (2008) by PAJHRA.

[3] N.A. 2011. ‘Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice’ jointly published by PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] N.A. 2007. Beltola Violence and its Political dimension. Guwahati: The Assam tribune.  December 1.

[8] Ibid

[9] N.A. 2011. ‘Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice’ jointly published by PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS.

[10] A statement given by Mr. Santoshius Kujur an Executive Member of the Bodo Territorial Council.

[11] Chhetri, Harka Bahadur. 2005. Adivasis and the Culture of Assam. Kolkata: Anshah Publishing House. p 78

[12] Chhetri, Harka Bahadur. 2005. Adivasis and the Culture of Assam. Kolkata: Anshah Publishing House. p 48

[13] Gokhale, Nitin A. 1998. The Hot Brew: The Assam Tea Industry’s most turbulent decade. Guwahati:SP. p 6

[14] Ibid

[15] N.A. 2011. ‘Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice’ jointly published by PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS.

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Children’s Right to Education Act 2009.

[20] Ekka, Stephan. 2011. Economic Status of Adivasis of Assam.

[21] Pay Slip provided by the Tea Garden Labourer “Hira”.

[22] N.A. 2011. ‘Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice’ jointly published by PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS.

[23] Dungdung, Gladson. 2003. Sowing hatred in Adivasis’ land. New Delhi: Counter Currents.

[24] Tully, Mark. 2003. India in Slow Motion. New Delhi: Penguin Books. p xiv.

[25] Chhetri, Harka Bahadur. 2005. Adivasis and the Culture of Assam. Kolkata: Anshah Publishing House. p 78



Categories: Research Paper

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2 replies

  1. Do the ribal leaders know this information? If they know do they care for doing someting?Most dangerous drawback of the tribe is complacency.

  2. i like assam bagan this world famous tea

    MTECH COMPUTER

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