Assam Students Association Delhi (ASAD) activists staging a protest against Karbi Anglong lynching in New Delhi on Monday. Image credit: UB Photos

The killing of two young men from Guwahati at Panjuri, Kacharigaon in Karbi Anglong district last week has once again brought into focus, the darker side of the digital world. Unverified information conveyed via social media has been reported as fuelling rumours that the two were child kidnappers. Similar incidents have been reported earlier from other states like Jharkhand.

There is a definite need to address this deadly epidemic of fake news, but solutions lie beyond just a single state.  However, there are other issues that can be addressed within the state.  Assam is moving from a counter-militancy oriented policing model, to one that is geared to the needs of communities.

It was just a few years ago that Assam was lauded on national forums for its success in establishing Human Trafficking Units (HTUs) at district level. Assam is perceived a catchment area for trafficking youth to other parts of India not just for the sex trade, but cheap labour. The high rate of unemployment in rural areas of Assam and the large-numbers of drop-outs from the school system in districts like Karbi Anglong, make boys and girls easy prey to agents who promise them jobs.

Second, hill districts have a really thin civil police presence. For the past decade and more, the focus has been on containing militancy in these areas with the help of central forces. Crime is relatively low as is population density, and it will be difficult to justify increasing the number of police stations or civil police personnel if bench-marked against conventional parameters. Yet with areas being far-flung often with poor road connectivity, the police and administrative footprint is absent in many parts of these districts. Unlike plains areas, local self-government at village level is yet to take root.

Further, the Autonomous Hill Districts Council has most of the departments under its administrative control, but not the police or law-and-order. Hence the advantages that the law-and-order machinery has of regular contact down to village level dealing with on all subjects of governance, is less. Education is an area where school teachers wield significant influence especially in remote areas and can provide valuable feedback to the administration on what concerns communities.

Similarly, departments like women and child development have schemes that focus on combating trafficking and if coordinated with the police can help create awareness on the problem and processes on dealing with this menace.

What are possible solutions? Revamping existing and expanding Village-Defence-Parties with additional benefits can be negotiated with the Centre, so that the possibility of re-imbursement can be explored. Legislation relating to District Councils has provision for creation of village or town police. These need to be examined whether this can be developed and funded, without affecting the overall responsibility of the state relating to policing and law-and-order. Apart from assisting the police, these village-level bodies can even help work against trafficking of valuable flora and fauna in the hill districts that are a treasure-house of bio-diversity and be trained as first-responders in case of natural disasters.

Mechanisms need to be evolved that create closer coordination between the administrative structure working for the District Council and that reporting directly to state government authorities. As has been experienced not just in this recent incident, but earlier instances in Karbi Anglong and other 6th Schedule areas, maintenance of law-and-order cannot be divorced from overall governance. Perhaps a detailed review of the present architecture and functioning of these areas would identify gaps that need to be addressed.

The death of the two young artistes is a personal tragedy for their families and friends. The gesture of the Karbi Students’ Union to carry out a candle-light procession to mourn this avoidable tragedy was a welcome gesture reflecting the lack of an ethnic component in the incident. If these students can be sensitized through workshops on available ways to deal with issues like trafficking, perhaps the Unions can send teams of students during vacations to interact with villagers not just on this burning issue, but preserving eco-systems, health and  education.

Police investigations will certainly identify and take action against the perpetrators.  However, a true memorial to Nilotpal and Abhijeet will be if steps are taken that reduce the probability of this being repeated.

Jayanto Choudhury

Jayanto Narayan Choudhury is former DGP of Assam. He can be contacted at: jayantonchoudhury@hotmail.com

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