The spotlight is once again back on Assam after chief minister Tarun Gogoi's statement surfaced in the media. Since the July violence that rocked some districts of Assam, politicians and activists from Delhi and other parts of India continue to visit the region to take stock of the situation. Welfare Party of India (WPI) president Mujtaba Farooq has been following the development from day one when violence erupted in the state. Also, he visited Assam more than once to gauge the situation. OKHLA TIMES talks to him to find out the ground reality. Excerpts:
How is the situation in Assam?
Our immediate concern is to contact hundreds of thousands of displaced people and develop information centre in Assam. We have to work and conduct survey of suffering and displaced people and help them get back their important documents so that nobody can term them outsiders. Muslims were residing on government land and now after the violence their documents, like identity cards and others, have been destroyed in the fire. With rising hostility, it would be really difficult for them to get it made once again. We are doing all to help them get these papers back so that they can go back to their places and claim back their land and position in society. Also, we are working to identify the culprits responsible for the communal clash. Moreover, a dialogue between Bodo and Muslims will certainly help find out a lasting solution to the problem. We are working with other political parties to address the burning issue.
What is the root cause of the conflict?
The so-called “Bodoland” [known as Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) and administered by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC)] is at the crux of the crisis. The Bodo feels threatened and thus Muslims are the soft target. It appears that a section among them feel that if they cannot increase their population go for displacing the Muslims, who are poor and uneducated with little political backing in the state.
What about the ‘illegal Bangladeshi’ issue?
I want to make it clear that there is no ‘illegal’ Bangladeshi issue. It is being overplayed for reasons best known to others. The theory of Bangladeshi is being publicized to legitimize the violence and to deport Muslims from Assam and may be to disenfranchise them. The Muslim population in Assam stands at 32 per cent today and way back in 1935 they were 35 per cent. Some among them speak Bengali. But this doesn’t mean that they have infiltrated from Bangladesh. Their history goes back to the British rule when some among them were encouraged to settle in Assam to work in agriculture and tea plantations. The whole issue of illegal Bangladeshis infiltrators is a bunkum that should be exposed.
How many camps are there?
There are 278 camps; 114 for Bodo and 164 for Muslims.
From the figure it appears that both of them suffered in the violence. What is the reality?
Muslims have suffered the most. Their houses have been burned and documents destroyed. Most of the Bodos who are in camps are from the Muslim dominated areas. They are residing here to be on the safe side. In day time these Bodos stay in the camps and at night they go to their houses. And in the camps they are getting facilities on the name of refugees. The situation in Muslim camps that I visited is not such. Worry is writ large on their faces. With their houses gutted, the Muslim victims don’t have shelter and no place to go. The biggest challenge for them is laying hands over their documents, which is extremely difficult. With their lifeline cut they are worried.