Secret Killings of Assam – The horrific story of Assam’s darkest period: Mrinal Talukdar, Utpal Borpujari and Kaushik Deka. First Edition 2008, Third Edition 2012, pp.206, Rs.200, Bhabani Books, Guwahati.
It was Alexandra Herzen, the anarchist philosopher, one of the most subtle minds of nineteenth century Europe, who had remarked aptly that governments, both liberal and despotic alike were “Genghis Khans with telegraph” [For our time telegraph could be substituted with nuclear bombs and long range missiles with such innocent sounding names like Shaheen or Akash]. As societies progress, the idea of government, the supposed pater familias, is falling into disuse. The present book is but an exhaustive document on what the Mahan-Bharat does behind the curtains. And the sad news is that curtains have been raised, once and for all.
Three dedicated journalists, each of whom has extensive experience in covering conflict reporting give us a glimpse into what they term as the “darkest period of political history” of Assam. The book delves into secret killing of innocent civilians or former rebels of ULFA from 1998-2001. “Almost all the killing followed the same pattern. In the name of search operations, SULFA members aided by security forces, would enter the house of the victim at midnight, pick up their target and then the bodies would be found the next morning.” [pp.8]
On April 7, 1979, Paresh Barua formed United Liberation Front of Assam [popularly known by its dreaded acronym ULFA]. Paresh Barua, who is as of now, hiding in Yunan Province of China, as the authors claim, was inspired by ideals of socialism and independence to wage a violent war against Indian state. By the early 1990s, the Narshima Rao led Congress government at the Centre was ushering its economic policies of privatization and so-called liberalization of the economy. Unemployment was as prevalent in Assam as trees. And these hasty economic policies only added kerosene oil to the fire. It is no co-incidence that by late 1990s, ULFA was at the height of its popularity. [These facts seems to have found no resonance with the authors of this book!]
And the state baffled by the lack of insight and morality, did what it was doing elsewhere. It “privatized” its suffering onto the people whom it was expected to protect in cases of armed conflict. If the Indian State created Salwa Judum in central India, if it institutionalized the system of Ikhwans in Kashmir, then in Assam it created SULFA – a private body composed of former Rebels and lumpenized elements that capitalism creates in millions. It created these jinns and then expected them to fight its proxy wars. To fight ULFA, the state created SULFA and then it launched its bloody operation named ULFOCIDE [pp.81].
The plan of the state government was to persuade the members of ULFA to give up their demands on sovereignty, failing which their friends and family members would be victimized or often killed in a cold-blooded manner. According to the statement given by Ajay Rajkonwar to the Justice K.N. Saikia Commission, “he had named super cop KPS Gill as one of the adviser of the whole strategy as he had learnt that he had advised the then Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta [of the Assam Gana Parishad] to follow the Punjab Model.” [pp.75]
According to the official statement of the then Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta 365 people were killed secretly between 1996-2001 and yet no one has been prosecuted. Not one of those involved has faced trial.
One of the most horrific story that one encounters while reading this praiseworthy book that does not exist in our imagination, is that of Ananta Kalita – a man who died and then came back to life to recount and identify those who had attempted to kill him. Ananta was an active member of Assam Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad. [AJYCP] It is a radical students’ wing close to ULFA. This man was kidnapped by the army, kept in a camp where men would sit and watch ‘Jai Hanuman’ in the evenings, and of course get drunk like wild beasts and go on a killing spree at night. After two days, he was blindfolded and taken to a hill top. He was shot on his head from a point blank range. But like a man blessed by his ancestors, he survived this surreal incidence. After he was shot, he tumbled down the hill, and when he later woke up, “he could realize that a bullet had pierced through his head and he was bleeding profusely.” [pp.40] After heroically surviving this ordeal, when he deposed before the Justice K.N. Saikia Commission’s Inquiry indicting Subedar Major Gupteshwar Singh, nothing happened. “He replied to the notice but did not face the Inquiry Commission.” [pp.42]
This book discuses at some length a total of 45 cases involving torture, murder and abduction. As per the Justice K.N. Saikia Commission only in one case involving Khagan Barman the panel “refrained from blaming any party in the tragic incidence.” [pp.160] In all other cases, the Inquiry Commission did not hesitate to pin the blame on SULFA, army, CRPF and local Police who were acting in tandem with each other to accomplish the deeds that the authors point out “could only be compared with the Gestapo forces of the Nazi Germany.” [pp.32]
And they continue, “Such was the complete disrespect for the rule of the law that none of the killings were properly investigated and it seems that everyone in the police administration colluded with the killers.” And now what follows is no surprise for most of us, that “they were in turn well supported and instructed by political masters.”[pp.193]
In 2001 the AGP was thrashed badly in the elections. The Congress was able to use the issue of secret killings of those who clearly appear to be civilians and capitalized on it. It won the elections, ordered the inquiry, played with the sentiments of the people and reinstituted the unconstitutional body like SULFA which continued to play the game of to kill or not to with the local populace.
I have often believed that a lie is nothing more than an inflated balloon. All it needs is a curious child with a pin in its hand. This book does more than its share to burst the self-righteous claims of the Indian media. It sets the records right, points out with great dexterity who-did-what-to-whom and pleads like all those who seek justice, the attention of the public. For as they say, if this can happen to us, so can it happen to you.
[Photo Courtesy: Google Image/Govt of Assam]