At a time, when a section of the nation is condemning the recent arrests of human rights activist, let’s remember and recall a radical voice of Assam, who had been a victim of being speaking the truth to the power. Parag Kumar Das spearheaded the fight against the state machinery with radical and alternate political thoughts. Perhaps he was a victim of his own words as once he had quoted that “Indian State Machine cannot give you justice if you are a common man” and his death was a proof of the fact that a criminal cannot provide justice for the crime he/she has committed himself/herself. His death had weakened the democratic outcry for sovereign Assam. His death was an attempt to suppress the thoughts of self-dependence and the dream of actualising freedom and right of everyone.
Parag Kumar constantly fought against the gross violation of human rights in the state of Assam. His conflicts with the Indian state dates back to 1989 when he had started his radical Assamese Weekly- Boodhbar (1989). He was the founder secretary of the regional NGO MASS (Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti). He along with a group of intellectuals and group of journalists had set up the NGO in 1991 after the counterinsurgency Operation Bajrang launched by the Indian army in 1990 to crush the pro-independence armed outfit of Assam. The Operations Bajrang and Rhino were launched after the federal rule was completely imposed on Assam and a regional party who was thought and expected to be sympathetic to the ULFA was dismissed in 1990. He established the organisation to fight against the extraordinary empowerment of Indian army through the enactment of a draconian law like AFSPA and Disturbed Areas Act. During that period the Indian army had acted in cruel ways. Army’s midnight raids in the villages still terrify many in the state. Within a short time after the formation of the organisation, Parag Kumar Das had gathered substantial public support against the blatant human rights violation by the Indian armed forces.
And consequently, he had become a household name in the decade of the 1990s. He continued and extended his revolutionary approach by organising another magazine called Agan in 1994. In 1995 he joined as the Executive Director of the Assamese Daily Asomiya Pratidin after resignation from the Guwahati Stock Exchange. He was one of the few persons who showed the bravery of exposing the anti-social activities of the group called SULFA (Surrendered ULFA). Till date, only a few have emerged who had demonstrated the courage to raise their voice against the anti-social activities done by this group. Parag Kumar Das had fought against the violations done by India’s formidable state machinery.
His dream of a better and free space (Assam) was shuttered down on May 17. 1996 when he was shot down by four gunmen pumping 13 bullets from their AK-47s into his body, and ironically this incident took place in broad daylight. Since then 21 years have passed, but the state machinery has failed to provide justice to this bereaved soul. Like Gauri Lankesh he used his pen to fight continuously against the manufactured traditional system and corruption. He had always advocated for freedom of speech- which is unlikely in India if your so-called freedom of speech does not match with the vested interests of the state. Because of his radical voices, he had been arrested once in January 1992 under the National Security Act, and once in 1994 under the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities Provision Act (TADA). Das had authored many books of radical ideologies and thoughts like Swadhinatar Prastab (Proposal of Independence), Nisiddha Kalam aru Ananya (Banned Pen and Others), Ami Ji Kotha Koisilu (Things we said), Rasthradohir Dinlipi (Diary of Anti-State). The names of the books itself represent the ideology he had inked.
The four gunmen who were accused of shooting Parag Kumar Das were Mridul Phukan (alias Samak Kakati), Diganta Baruah, Tapan Dutta (alias Biswajit Saikia), and Nayann Das (alias Guli). Three of them have died so far, but ironically none have been convicted for his murder. And on July 28, 2009, the only accused (Mridul Phukan) left was acquitted due to lack of substantial evidence for a murder which happened in the broad daylight.
With his death, Assam has lost a faithful son, a true journalist, a person advocating for radical thoughts and alternative way of politics, and most importantly someone who had always inked things from people’s perspective to fight against the injustice done by the state machinery.
Aniruddha Bora, is M.A in Social Work in Children and Families from TISS, Mumbai and is working in Public Health Resource Network.