By Simren Singh:
India awaits a grand unfolding of the political drama in the coming elections. Votes are sought from various strategic corners of the country and the newspapers are flooded with polling statistics and routine slander by the claimants of the most prized possession – the post of the prime minister. The parties are indulged in blame gaming and name shaming, as always. The race is on and many are keenly watching the show. The rest are probably enjoying T20 or soccer tournament in their drawing rooms and pay no heed to anything political whatsoever.
Amidst so much ‘important’ happening, who has the time to look at the plight of the poor living in some part of the country? Afterall, the clock is ticking and all that is in the air is ‘satta’ and ‘kursi’! But, in some distant corners of our nation, thousands are living under the dark shadow of injustice constituted by human rights violations, misery and poverty. Denied the basic right to live and ‘possess’ the land that they were born on, the landless peasants of Assam know little of what is going on in the capital. Their lives are centered and dependent upon a few metres square of land that they so desperately want control of. While (like always), politicians have failed to live upto their promises, local people have taken up their cause and have called for indigenous political struggles for justice.
Akhil Gogoi is one such activist from Assam who has dedicated his life to such issues. Founder member of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, Gogoi is a peasant leader and a renowned RTI activist. Having gained popularity for anti-graft movements in Assam and his fight against corruption, Gogoi received poor coverage by the mainstream media for the recent developments in his political life. In what turned out as an unfortunate incident, Gogoi was arrested on charges for abetting self immolation of Pranab Boro (member of the Samiti) and is accused of indulging in criminal conspiracy. Although bail has been granted to him now, there are certain questions we need to reflect upon. Why would Gogoi conspire against the government and back the death of his member colleague when the government wouldn’t do the ‘right’ anyway? It is bizarre to think that anyone as committed to the cause of the poor like him would use a strategy like this to threaten or coerce the government to respond in an intended manner. The government of Assam has denied the grant of legal land deeds to these poor farmers and have argued that the provision of such rights would enable exploitation of forest land and people. Who are the people whose interests the government intends to protect? How can the landless exploit the forest land when for years they have been brought up and lived near forests and water bodies? Is claiming autonomy over your land illegal? Why it is that land possession and land use by the marginalized is deemed as exploitable and not when the same is done by big corporate houses? Wouldn’t the denial of land deeds impinge on the rights of those many poor? Wouldn’t it further their deprivation and exploitation? Does the government offer any compensation as an alternative? More importantly, if given, are cash incentives enough and sustainable?
Looking at the clampdown at the socio-political struggle in Assam, I think it is quite clear who the conspirator is. Most often, crime is committed against the defenseless, and clearly the government of the state of Assam is violating people’s rights to land and also the right to life for it is on land that their lives and prosperity depends. It is but strange that in a country where a few are competing for possessions that they consider as their birth right, there are thousands who are denied any right whatsoever. Yet, the country hardly knows about such Gogois and their fights for truth, welfare and justice. Nevertheless, such stories exist and form a glaring reality of our ‘India shining’. Someone wise once said, “The meek have only one weapon and that is to agitate”. What matters is that are we willing to take them on board in our fight against corruption and injustice or are we ready to sideline them conveniently, as has always been done? The case of Akhil Gogoi is among many blatant truths that are suppressed or brushed aside. It is us who have to dig out such stories and bring it to the forefront. It is time we read ‘real’ news and act upon it.