Assam is again on the verge of unrest after five men were gruesomely killed by unknown assailants in Tinsukia district. While initial guesses were made about the involvement of ULFA (I), the organization categorically denied any involvement. Along with the hunt for the culprits, politics has already began around the incident.
The five men are the latest victims of a polarized state. These were working class people toiling away to make ends meet. They were taken to a secluded place by five or six gunmen and shot dead. The incident took place at Kheronibari, about 30 km from Tinsukia town. While condemnation poured from all across, the state’s normalcy was hit when the All Assam Bengali Youth Students’ Federation called a 12-hour bandh. The reaction to the bandh varied across state with some areas witnessing a total shut down. But the question remains — will things end with this? Or is this just the beginning of a deeply polarized state and society?
Ever since the government made it clear that it will get the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed, the chasm between different linguistic and ethnic communities of Assam has gotten deeper. The NRC did not fulfill the vested interests of any group. As a result to ensure that vote-banks are not eroded, politicians have started pandering to different groups even at the cost of peace and law and order of the state.
Inflammatory comments have been the order of the day for quite sometime. Immediately after the killings two ex-ULFA leaders Jiten Dutta and Mrinal Hazarika were detained for questioning as they made inflammatory comments against those supporting the CAB. They threatened mainly Bengali speakers of dire consequences. While the prompt action against these two can be lauded, no such step was taken against BJP MLA Shiladitya Deb who has also regularly made spiteful comments against different groups and communities.
Ironically Shiladitya Deb who regularly made communal comments with impunity was seen lecturing news channels on maintaining restraint. The government is seen to be acting in a biased way by not taking strict action against him. However political leaders across parties including the AGP are demanding action against Shiladitya Deb. What happens is yet to be seen.
The bandh saw some sporadic incidents of violence when picketers tried to impose the strike. However while opposing the bandh, there were comments, jibes at dismissing the very protest against the killings at Tinsukia. The murders of innocents cannot be justified in any way.
But should we react only on the occurrence of such tragic incidents? Today the danger is not only of such incidents and breakdown of law and order, a disturbing mistrust creeping amongst communities and forming new fissures in the state’s social fabric which is worrisome. And for this we need to hold the government accountable as well. Despite strong protests, the government has conveniently brushed off the genuine concerns of the people of Assam. These people are stakeholders who will be impacted by the proposed bill. In such a scenario the government should have given them a fair hearing.
Alongside this, a large number of D voters, detention camp detainees and even victims of suicides happen to be Bengalis. The government cannot turn a blind eye to their plight. Most of those accused of being suspected foreigners – be it Hindus, Muslims or someone from the indigenous tribes, are poor illiterate people who have been declared foreigner ex parte. While the government should focus on fixing accountability of officials entrusted with the job of finding foreigners, it is busy deciding between ‘good foreigners’ and ‘bad foreigners’!!
It is appalling that democratically elected Ministers would advocate the need of granting citizenship on the basis of religion to ‘correct’ a demographic anomaly? Political leaders should remember that their comments go a long way in giving messages to their followers. Anti-foreigners emotion has given way to anti-Bengali and anti-Assamese ones.
A large number of organizations have been systematically and democratically protesting against the proposed bill. It is these organizations which should be given a larger prank. Reactionary forces like Jiten Dutta and Shiladitya Deb needs to be sidelined. The tragedy of Tinsukia should be strongly condemned and the guilty should be punished at the earliest so that there is no backlash.
Also read: Assam killings: Let us roundly condemn this
Different linguistic communities have co-existed in Assam even if the co-existence was not always a peaceful one. The need of the hour is to ensure that hatred does not spill out of control. The President of Udalguri Distrcit committee All BTC Bengali Youth Students Federation Sujit Sarkar was arrested for making inflammatory statements. This should be followed in case of others as well.
There is a pertinent fear that the state is going back to the situation of 1980s. The denial of ULFA’s involvement makes one ask some difficult questions – who will benefit from the murder of some Bengali speakers? Is it a calculated move to attribute momentum to the mobilization of support for the amendment bill?
While conspiracy theories should take a backseat, there is a need to reiterate that at the altar of chauvinist exclusivist politics, the blood spilt is always of the innocent downtrodden. The government should bring the killers to book and deliver justice. But if it fails to acknowledge the root cause of such incidents, such turmoil may befall the state again. It is high time that political leaders behave in an accountable way. If not, they should take a break from public life and not disturb the fragile socio-political ecology of the state.