Officer-in-Charge Bordumsa PS, Tinsukia district was killed on May 4 in an encounter with ULFA militants. Some militants are also reported to have been killed. Total fatalities in the past three decades as a result of multiple militancies in Assam should be 10,000 or more. What a waste of valuable human life in gun-battles – whether police or SF personnel, civilians or militant cadres. At the same time, consider the recent statement of the Chairman of the 15th Finance Commission, that Assam needs to progress much more to reach all India averages in the health and education sectors, and that aspirations of local people need to be taken into account. Is there a connection between armed violence and development?
There are several factors that create breeding grounds for militant movements such as availability of weapons, sanctuaries abroad, a legacy of violence, assertion of a separate identity. There are enough studies that indicate a relationship between social violence with high levels of inequality and unemployment of youth, and inadequate outcomes in education and health. High rates of unemployment and inequality combined with poor quality of education and insufficient development provides potential recruits for militant groups. Low human development indicators increase the vulnerability of youth to be attracted to militancy since, there is a lower ‘opportunity cost’ – nowhere to go, nothing to do.
What is the situation in Assam? HDR 2014 for the state estimates loss in achieving human development goals as 33% due to inequality,and has assessed unemployment of youth as almost 40%. Drop-out rates are still unacceptably high. Earlier studies had estimated rural unemployment as almost three times higher than in other parts of India. About 70% of all registered unemployed are educated. The concentration of unemployment is higher in the age group of 20 to 24 years and remains greater than the all India figure. At the same time there is poor attendance in schools and rate of drop-outs is high in comparison to the rest of India. More over success rate of even those completing school is low – in some districts only 15 % to 20%. This indicates the inability of the education system to prepare the students for employment. Assam has a huge demographic youth bulge. If its youths are not to be frustrated and fall prey to advocates of violence, issues like unemployment of critical age-groups of youth and lack of employability even after education have to be addressed as deeper causes of social unrest.
In the health domain, infant and maternal mortality rates have improved but are still below national averages, and 40% of children are under-nourished.Quality and outreach of the health services in the state have improved on several accounts. Introduction of Rural Health Practitioners (RHPs) with 3 years training helped improved quality of health services in rural areas compensating for the acute shortage of doctors. The proposed Ayushman Bharat scheme of the union government could be an opportunity of strengthening primary health care facilities so as to expand the outreach to the majority rural population in the state.
The state has witnessed an impressive reduction in militant violence over the past decade. It’s important to make the reduction of fear of violence a major anchor in achieving development, including improving human capital. Greater investment in institutions needed for prevention and containing social violence is needed, if sustainable development goals (SDGs) are to be achieved. States like Mizoram and even Nagaland have benefitted from a ‘peace dividend’ after major insurgent groups laid down arms and joined the efforts to improve the quality of life for their people. Assam has had factions signing Suspension of Operations agreements with the state, but remnants remain based in sanctuaries across the Indo-Myanmar border. Paresh Barua (Pareshbabu) may be relatively old for a militant leader, but retains an iconic status among sections of Assamese because of sustaining an armed movement for almost three decades. In today’s global digital village, issues like sovereignty have less importance than before. It is time that he “dismounts the tiger” and joins efforts to improve the well-being of his people. What is the legacy he wishes to leave – of someone who continued to throw away valuable lives even when it was apparent that armed struggle was no longer relevant? Or a true leader who had the moral courage to shift strategy when conditions changed?
Jayanto Narayan Choudhury is former DGP of Assam. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org