This is an account of a visit that some of us made to the districts of Dhubri, Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar to observe the situation in relief camps in August 2012. Personally, several thoughts cross my mind when it comes to the traumatic situation of the camp inmates, the violence in every corner of Assam, the fear as well as the hatred that is spiraling among people of the state. These are clear indicators of the health of our people and our government.
Let me take the example of the camps. An atmosphere of helplessness in the camps was visible and there was chaos everywhere, all seeking shelter and security from the dread of death. While the administration was doing what it could, the effect of the delay or inertia of the state in giving immediate orders to prevent the violence fell solely on the affected people first and then on the district administration which had to control and deal with double the number of displaced people rushing into these camps. Who was responsible for this terrible delay? The coordination between the CM’s request for security forces to the ministry of defence took time and thus the fiasco.
Coming back to the camps, the inmates continue to be housed in the schools where they began weeks ago. At a review meeting on the relief and rehabilitation measures that took place a couple of days back, the chief minister gave orders to look into sanitation and health problems of the camps in the BTAD districts.
All this while local children have not been able to attend classes because of the violence. There is a stipulated period of time in which the government is allowed to make use of these premises for emergency work. It is now time that the government construct makeshift shelters for the displaced people. When will this happen? The concern is about the young children missing school in conflict areas where there is a history of classrooms being occupied by security forces or displaced people. Yet another concern is the state’s inability to be prompt and quick with its implementation, much of its causes being in delays, sending orders, coordinating work within the administration and the like.
Most of the schools in Assam do not have toilets and washing places. The people are using any available place to defecate and urinate. The status of hygiene in these camps is below normal, to say the least. Menstruating women have no provision such as absorbent cotton or even spare pieces of cloth which they could use. They couldn’t possibly carry these along with them when they fled. None of the women could express this need to the authorities or to the local body of men overseeing the camps. Here the issue of being sensitive to needs of women is of utmost concern. The position of nursing mothers is vulnerable. Children are running high fevers, crying constantly and have nothing to keep them engaged. Proper nutrition, clean environment and playing material are called for. The state should work on it now.
Counselling is also urgently required for men, women and children, though many amongst the state officers and also the civil society dismiss this as a non issue. The fact remains that counselling is not a luxury as most city people think it to be. It is a healing factor and the government has to think strategically about a solution. It would be wise for the state to link up with organisations/ institutions which have expertise in counselling people in distress. There have to be measures adopted by the government to solve this serious problem of the displaced Bodos and Bengali minority communities, especially its women. We all should know that an epidemic —caused by the filth and malnutrition — is now imminent, silently knocking at the doors of these camps. The health department has confirmed that there have been 10 deaths amongst the displaced persons in Kokrajhar district, which include three children, since July 25, 2012. There have been health-related deaths caused by malnutrition, fever, diarrhoea, dysentery and reproductive tract infection. The health department mentioned that 66 malaria cases were also detected and were given radical treatment.
Good governance, at this juncture, both at the state as well as the BTAD administration level has to be in place now. But the concern remains of annihilation and recurrence of violence between the two communities that is further fuelling hatred and revenge. Letting perpetrators of violence go free without punishing them is against all Constitutional norms. This is being practiced by several governments all over India and therefore we have a large number of youth who get into acts of violence with impunity. A political solution is urgently required without which killings will continue. Non action by the state can bring out the worst form of retaliation by a larger force that perhaps is now watching Assam with grim consternation. But our country has a history of conveying goodwill to refugees, victims of violence and those struck by natural disasters. While I do insist that a political solution to the BTAD issue is of prime importance, the engagement of the public is of equal importance if a humanitarian approach to the issue is taken.
Let me highlight the plight of Tibetan refugees who entered Missamari, Assam in 1959, fleeing the relentless attack of their Chinese masters. The women of Tezpur travelled in trucks to the open grounds of Missamari, about 30 km away and offered blankets and relief material to the people. Conveying kind words of comfort and gesture of good will, despite the language barrier, these women brought smiles among the children and adults too. I witnessed this event as a child but that deeply moving sight remains etched in my heart forever. We should remind ourselves of events like these and of other similar instances of hospitality.
People should become the conscience of the state’s implementation of humanitarian work. We all are anxious about Assam and are watching with bated breath, hoping that another human catastrophe does not occur in a land that weaves into its fabric the forest, its animals, rivers and a variety of indigenous and local cultures that have lived together in the past.
Finally, on the commitment made in the agreement of February 10, 2003 regarding establishment of the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC), a superspeciality hospital was to come up and it did a couple of years back in Kajalgaon. But it has not been activated since its inauguration. Had sports complexes, well equipped colleges and schools (with computers) been built (as promised in the Agreement), we might have not witnessed poverty of our culture and pauperization of healthy minds among the youth today. Many of them have gone far away in search of work and they will perhaps do well too. But the oft repeated words of these young people working outside the region rings in my heart over and over again: “ .…we would like to be in our own villages, at home — but there is no choice. We are here to earn money which we will send to our parents.”
Original Story: http://sevensisterspost.com/bring-goodwill-assam/
Seven Sisters Post
Chairperson, North East Network