Friday, April 19, 2013

‘Closure of camps is not the solution’

‘Closure of camps is not the solution’

By Mahtab Alam,
Assam Violence 2012: Stories from the ground: Part 3
The education minister of the state of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma has said that the educational institutions should re-open as students have suffered immensely. Educational institutions in Assam's violence-affected districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa, Bongaingaon and Dhubri are having extended summer vacations since most of the relief camps are housed in them. Meanwhile, the government officials at the district level are talking of the violation of Right to Education (RTE) act. True, but the biggest and most pressing question is, if these camps will be closed, where the inmates will go?

Over 4 lakhs are in various camps, afraid to go back to their homes.
On a lower level, the Circle Officers and SDOs are trying to convince the people living in these camps to return to their villages. But the ground circumstances are such that they can’t return to their homes. Sheikh Hedayatullah, a government teacher and in-charge of the relief camp at Chapar Girls School in Chapar sub-division of Dhubri district strongly believes closure of the camps is not the solution.
He said, “The Government officials are advising inmates to go back to their homes but when few people tried to do so in Basugaon town of Chirang District on August 5, they were sent back by the police and were not allowed to enter their village for fear of their security”. In this camp, most of the inmates are from the districts of Kokrajhar and Chirang. He further said, “Until proper security and rehabilitation are not ensured, sending inmates back is not advisable”.
People also want to go back to their villages but are very sacred. Sakina Khatoon, an inmate from Basugaon town of Chirang District, who is camping at Chapar Girls School since 23rd July, wishes to return to her home town but can’t. “I want to go back but can’t because of fear,’ said Khatoon, mother of two children. “We ran away from ours houses because we fear of our lives,” she added. Maryam Bibi, another inmate in the camp agreed with Khatoon. According to Khatoon’s estimates there are not less than 300 hundred people staying at this camp from her area.
A similar fear was expressed by Bodo inmates at the Gambaribil School campus in Gosaingaon subdivision of Kokrajhar district. There are also apprehensions amongst both the affected communities that violence will renew between the two communities. There are rumors that the Bodos will once again attack the Muslims and similarly, it is being talked that after Ramzam, the Muslims will unite and attack the Bodos.
As per official information, relief camps are housed in 258 schools in the Bodo Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), including 71 in Kokrajhar and 32 in Chirang, while there are 11 in Bongaigaon and 144 in Dhubri which are outside it. The Deputy Commissioners of Kokrajhar (Jayanta Narlikar) and Chirang (Puru Gupta) told this writer that they were trying to close at least one camp a day. But when asked about their plans for rehabilitation, they merely responded by saying that, ‘it is yet to be formulated’.
So, questions remain unanswered- where will they go, how will they survive? Or will the administration employ the same tactic that the District administration of Kokrajhar did for the camp at Bhotgaon? (Read report, Assam Violence: Tale of two (relief) camps).
The administration needs to answer this before they advise people on going back to their homes.

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