Guwahati/New Delhi: Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) while releasing its report, “Assam Riots: Preventable but not prevented” today, demanded that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh order an inquiry “into the refusal by the Army to be deployed in the riot affected areas, fix the responsibility and take necessary measures including disciplinary action for criminal dereliction of duty by the Army”. ACHR recommended “development of the Standard Operating Procedure to establish the supremacy of the Chief Minister as the Chairman of the Unified Command and deployment of the Army on the Chief Minister’s instruction without any sanction from the Ministry of Defence in cases of riots or natural calamities”.
“The recent riots in Assam were absolutely preventable but not prevented because of the criminal dereliction of duty by officials starting from the Officer-in-Charge of Kokrajhar Police Station to the highest authorities of India’s military establishment i.e. Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Chief of the Army Staff, Director General Military Operations and the Commander of the Eastern Command. Further, Assam government failed to deploy its 27,595 State Armed Police in the riot affected areas. The Assam government did not deploy the Central para-military forces at its command and instead waited for the Central Government to instruct West Bengal and Meghalaya to send para-military forces” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.
“The refusal of the army to be deployed directly led to increased loss of lives, displacement and consequent spread of hatred in the country. Both under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 wherein the Army operates in aid of civil power and the Sections 130 and 131 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the army is legally bound to obey the orders of the civilian authorities. By the time the Army moved in on 25 July 2012, about 44 persons were killed and over 200,000 were displaced. There must be accountability for such criminal dereliction of duty. ”- stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.
ACHR’s report has been prepared following visit by researchers of the Asian Centre for Human Rights in the affected areas on 27-28 July 2012, followed by further visits on 11-12 August 2012 and 27-29 August 2012.
ACHR stated that a number of anti-tribal secular activists from mainland India and the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) have been distorting and misinterpreting facts that caused the riots and further interpret the riots along the communal lines.
The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) in its report accused the Bodos of engineering the riots by stating that “The Bodos need to be told firmly that they cannot under any circumstances engineer a mass exodus of non-Bodos. Nor would they ever get statehood this way.”
This statement of the NCM is self contradictory as the NCM further stated, “Had prompt action been taken after two Muslims were killed on 6th July, or after four Bodos were snatched away from the hands of the police and killed by Muslims, this conflict could have been avoided.”
“What the NCM failed to highlight is the fact that there was a gap of 14 days between the killing of two Muslims on 6 July 2012 and the killing of four Bodo tribals on 20 July 2012 and there were no riots during the intervening period. The riots actually started on 21 July 2012 following the lynching of four Bodo tribals by a mob belonging to the Muslims after snatching them from the custody of the Assam Police on 20 July 2012. If indeed the riots have started following the killing of four Bodo youths, could the Bodos be accused of engineering a mass exodus?”
ACHR lamented that a number of anti-tribal secular activists have described the riots as ethnic cleansing and the autonomous councils of the tribals as “incentivising ethnic cleansing” when both the communities were affected in the riots and each time the riots started and spread because of the abysmal failure of the State to enforce the law. Although Mr Anjan Pandit, Officer-in-Charge of the Kokrajhar Police Station and his police patrol party were witnesses to the lynching of the four Bodo youths after being snatched away from their custody on 20 July 2012, no one has been arrested so far.
ACHR stated that communal tension has been building up in Assam since the controversial marriage of Congress MLA Rumi Nath to a Muslim in May 2012. A section of political leaders of the ruling Congress who have been leading “Oust Tarun Gogoi” campaign exploited the situation to show the Chief Minister as an incapable administrator after the Chief Minister inducted his son as a member of the Congress Party in May 2012. The rising communal tension and the role of infighting within the ruling Congress to start the riots cannot be discounted.
Kokrajhar bore the brunt of migration/illegal immigration more than Assam: Though illegal immigration based on 26 March 1971 as the cutoff date is not the immediate raison d’être for the recent riots in the BTAD, Kokrajhar district bore the brunt of migration more than Assam. Citing census figures, ACHR stated “During 1951-1961, Kokrajhar had a decadal growth rate of 46.44 against 34.98 in Assam while it increased to 54.28 (in Kokrajhar) against 34.95 (in Assam) during 1961-1971. For the period 1971-1991, the decadal growth rate of population in Kokrajhar district increased to 76.75% against 53.25% in Assam”. Kokrajhar reflects the trend of decadal growth of population of the BTAD.
Irrespective of whether the explosive decadal growth rate in Kokrajhar district was a consequence of migration and/or illegal immigration, its impact was clear: it caused massive land alienation amongst the Bodos in clear violation of the Chapter X of the Assam Land Revenue Regulation, 1886 that prohibits “transfer, exchange, lease, agreement or settlement any land in any area or areas constituted into belts or blocks” from tribals to the non-tribals in the areas notified as tribal belts and blocks. The number of non-tribal villages in the tribal belts and blocks has been increasing with impunity.