Ethnic social issues and a feeling of uncertainty of the future.

Migrant Bihari labour in Assam.
 
And this senseless tragedy!

That Indian development is uneven is recognised but no one speaks out. That is the tragedy of our leadership, the experts committees and the lack of the courage for outspokenness by the party activists and party enthusiasts. The Congress party was in power for long and it is the party that brought about centrally-sponsored development planning and yet in its long years of power, it has somehow failed to integrate the country emotionally and economically. Or, it could be owing to the unforeseen consequences of a nation developing into a single entity, as India  proves to be. The North East, more so Assam and the various linguistic and ethnic groups felt alienated. So too the ethnic groups in Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland.
The current Assam tragedy highlights the complex nature of the feeling of neglect by people, a section of it and hence the resurgence of militancy. Ulfa is now well-entrenched, the neighbouring countries give shelter, the Pakistan based outfits train them and send them to cause chaos.

All to dismember the country? It looks like that.

The Centre faces a dilemma. In tackling the many separatist outfits, there are  various stages of toughness and a willingness to accommodate to bring the outfits to the negotiating table. So, we don’t say there is an easy answer to this issue. But the latest outrage  touches many chords.

It questions the basic unity and India, basic commitment of India to maintain its unity and integrity at any cost. And also the deployment of military is needed to tackle what is clearly a much more serious threat ,the latest outrage.

Is India one country? Or, are we doing something to articulate this one India vision? Nothing can be more tragic than the ULFA violence that claimed the lives of  69 poor Bihari migrant labour. Newspapers carry pictures and news of the tragedies ,also the picture of the PM  participating in routine meets like Pravasi Bharatiya  Divas, FICCI and talking of things that are far from the minds of Indian people.

The other prominent news item is Sonia Gandhi attending her office at the AICC for the first time since the party captured power in Delhi in 2004! People who see the horror pictures and the news reports of the fleeing Biharis in the Assam state might imagine for a moment whether there is a Central government, whether there is a rule of law and whether the deployment of 10,000 army men in Assam is  reflecting on any Indian reality!

What an irony, one thought. Such an unconcern, such a disconnected Indian vision, if it is a vision at all. No word of consolation from the top of the political spectrum, may be they are all accustomed to set speeches or condolences, after their versions duly processed through proper channels!

The militant outfit has attacked the Hindi and Bengali speaking ordinary people. The Bihari migrant workers have come to the state to work on the railway projects, some 100 of them came only a month ago. The outside workers are engaged mostly in very hard jobs, they work in brick kilns and now the government authorities have taken steps to take the labour safely to work sites and bring them back to their shelters before sunset!

Yet, the latest violence has caused panic and the exodus of the workers is going on. Lalu Yadav, the railway minister, had rushed to the spot and consoled the workers and  the helpless families. The all Assamese  students union and the Hindustani samaj, a banner organisation of 56 associations of Hindi-speaking people have appealed to the people from outside not to leave the state and be prepared to continue to work and they would get all protection and they have said in a moving line” that the entire Assamese society is solidly behind them”.

Bihari migrant labour is now an all India phenomenon, these hard working lower class socially disadvantaged  sections you can see everywhere. We in fact had lot of personal experience when we employed these hardworking Bihari labour in our village home, to do the marble laying job. What a wonderful people, these people are! They are so hard working, from the early morning to late evening, no complaining, no grumbling, no bargaining, all contract labour and they did an international class job.

So, even to deny these people who travel long distances to all corners of India, more so to the remote Assam’s six districts where they have now been targeted is a crime that has no room for any leniency. If army has to be deployed to target the Ulfa camps then let the government do so and stamp out this most primitive methods of an outfit who might have its own noble causes but not at the cost of human lives, so poor, men, women and children targeted by senseless killings.

Assam feels alienated, it is true. But then, it is a complex issue and that needs handling at many levels. Assam has so many unusual special Acts, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act with headquarters  in Nagaland and the defence minister Antony  has said that Act would stay contrary to demands for its scrapping. How can that be possible, given the current carnage. Ulfa has resorted to kill the poorest of the poor that is very terrible.

The army is engaged in counter-insurgency operations and the neighbouring countries, Burma, Bhutan and Bangladesh, neighbouring states, Meghalaya, Nagaland are all bases for the dreaded Alfa. Ulfa is an outcome of the perceived neglect the Assamese ethnic identity and the Assamese, it is true, were exploited for long by outsiders, mostly Bengali migrants, in government services and other such privileged positions. So, one thing led to the other and the present flare-up is the failure of the “peace” talks for long by various agencies.

Of course, the Congress led Assamese government and the CM, Tarun Gogi has a delicate task. One the one hand, he has to keep up the momentum if any, of the peace talks and on the other he has to attended to the immediate task. So, this is the first time the CM attended the unifired security operations which was attended by the defence minister and the army chief. So, things are going to calm down so quickly  in Assam.

As the CM poignant puts:” Our boys and girls are going out of the state in search of jobs” and so the Assamese people have to be extremely careful not to take the law into their own hands and hit at the vulnerable poor outsiders. It is not just the Bihari labour now hit by the violence, there is a large Rajasthani population in the state. Marwaris always lived in fear in Assam and  now the Marwaris too started moving out, as Marwaris were also targeted, a few Marwari businessmen were also killed.

It is no secret anymore that the hatred for “outsiders” has a long history in India. It all started with the regional parties, the chauvinistic outfits like the DMK which first targeted Brahmins, then the “Hindi-speaking northerners”, then came the  Shivsena targeting another set of outsiders, then the Gujaratis targeting the communal groups, so the story is unending. But in all this hatred campaigns against the outsiders, the common denomination of  Hindi speaking Bhiaris and that too the poor Bihari labour that is unfortunate.

Why  do Biharis top the chart of the migrant labour category?

It is noted that  decades of misrule by leaders like Lalu Yadav and the deeply entrenched zamindari land owning traditions, the caste divisions in the state are very deep and the lack of development, illiteracy and the rise of goondaism had led to total anarchy. It is only after Nitishkumar government has taken charge there is a glimmer of hope for the average Bihari and some sort of self-respect we see all around in the state.

Bihari classes sent their children to outside the state for education and white collar jobs. It is the unskilled laborite landless labour that had to migrate to all inhospitable regions of India in search of jobs. The brick kilns, the most hazardous of industries that attract this category of unskilled job seekers. The other classes of Bihari educated persons are driven by a sense of security and that is perceived by identifying the white collar ,clerical jobs, so you find the IAS/IPS exam centres everywhere are dominated by Biharis. Also the subordinate government jobs are heavily contested by the Bihari educated youth.

Compared to the Bihari migrant labour, the other backward states like W.Bengal and other states like Orissa, are more docile. The Bihari labour is now everywhere.

We need a national campaign to give protection and even a welcome policy to outside Indian migrant labour to work on farms and other rural industries and road and other housing projects. There is a need for a new national policy to protect  the migrant rural labour. They must be identified, there must be easy points of contact for police protection, registration and shelter and even some  security cover, medical cover and provisions for children to get admitted into schools in their places of work.
 
There is a need for more sensitivity on the part of our ministers, the deployment of, as one columnist puts it ironically, the newly bought costly Embraers jets to fly to distant Assam trouble spots for the on the spot inspection after so many precious days lost, lives lost and also the tendency not to notice the carnage by the top leaders and only the dept secretaries and the army to undertake these tours, the politicians remain content to” shed TV -compatible tears” over the serial killings of the poor Biharis is quite disconcerting.

After the Naxalite fiasco, this is the second time that the Manmohan Singh government has failed to live up to its constitutional duty to provide security to its citizens. While cynical calculations prompted the Congress to get the support of the Ulfa in the last Lok Sabha elections, its internal  security managers have allowed themselves to be led by the cop-hating NGOs, who uttered a word, note, against the perpetrators of this heinous crime, this deadly violence against the unsuspect innocent poor, nor have they come out with any solution to the menace!

Even the ardent admirers of the Congress would admit that the two approaches converged just when the forces were on the verge of liquidating the Ulfa. They had not just managed to decrease the cadre strength and stop fresh recruitment, its leaders were forced to leave the country and seek asylum in Bangladesh. The final strike was not to take place as the government leadership wanted to wave the white flag. Not a bad decision. Now, what to do? How to ensure the not recurring of this sort of mindless violence?

The “dialogue and reconciliation” has to be matched by ground level readiness to deal with the otherwise violence outfit. Assam Chief Minister  Tarun Gogoi’s own police say of the existence of so many, a dozen jehadi outfits active in the  state. The activities of these outfits are being handled by one outfit(HUM)of Bangladesh. The peace maker, the writer Ms.Indira Goswami is a well-meaning lady but her efforts are now in shatters, considering the scale of human tragedy caused by her friends in the Ulfa. This is not the way for a writer like her and her sensitive soul to reconcile easily! It is easy to target the Congress. Nor is it any help to question the “social engineering” being attempted. Ulfa is seen as a secessionist outfit.

Muslims now constitute 32% of the state’s population. So, any attempt, as reported, to create an Assam of Muslim-dominated state is dangerous. Bangladeshi immigrants are not targeted, it is the Bihari migrants. What does this show? To create space for the Bangladeshi immigrants? The Ulfa has been asking “Indians” living in Assam to pay a “tax” to the outfit. But no such claim  is made on the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the country that provides shelter for the outfit’s leadership. The Ulfa’s activities show that it has ceased to be an Assamese movement but a foreign wing of the jeahadis wanting to dismember India.

Seen in this context, the Congress has tough task on its hand. On the one hand it has to negotiate and at the same time try to destroy its more violent activities and its camps have to be dismantled, if not militarily destroyed. It is not clear why the Supreme Court had to intervene in the past 12 months for preventing a sellout of national security for votes when the government attempted to bring the scrapped IMDT through the backdoor. Obviously the Congress has had a pre-election deal. This cant be faulted as opportunistic. Giving in to the hardline community elements might have been tactical in crucial constituencies. The societal divisions have become more sharp in Assam soon after the Congress give-in.

Our readers might not be prepared for this sort of complicated  rural India. But there is now a tension-ridden rural India where the Naxalistes are active and the more backward rural,tribal areas face new challenges in the face of  changes towards more modernisation, be it industrialisation or more migration, in-bound or out-bound in search of more employment opportunities.

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