Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chakma fencing victims not displaced: Mizoram govt

In Mizoram, over 35,000 Chakma tribals are going to be displaced due to the ongoing India-Bangladesh border fencing which is being constructed to prevent anti-national activities and illegal infiltration from across the border.
CJ: Paritosh Chakma

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RAISING MANY eyebrows, the government of Mizoram has said it did not consider Chakmas who have lost their homes and land to the ongoing India-Bangladesh border fencing as “displaced”. The government of Mizoram stated this in a reply to the complaint filed by a tribal rights, NGO, Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN) to the National Human Rights Commission alleging denial of timely compensation to the victims.

While stating that the victims are “compensated appropriately” for any damage as a result of the fencing, the State government however, refused to recognise the victims as “displaced” because “the fencing line is not the boundary of Indo-Bangladesh border” and therefore, there is “no objection” if the victims continued to reside “outside the fencing line”. “It is also informed to the villagers that their shifting from outside to the inner side of the fencing will depends upon the will of the villagers. There is no compulsion to have their residence shifted to the inner side of the Fencing Line,” Romawia, deputy secretary to the Government of Mizoram stated in response to AITPN’s complaint.

The villagers whose homes have fallen on the other side of the fencing have expressed serious security threats. In April, 2008 the then Mizoram chief secretary Haukhum Hauzel said the Mizoram villagers who have fallen outside the fencing line feared for their security. In Bindiasora village, about 80 families fell outside the border and the villagers were prevented by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) from getting sand from the river which used to be their main source of income.

“What is the government doing? After losing everything we have, including our homes and land if we are not ‘displaced’, then who is a ‘displaced person’?” asked a Chakma victim in Tarabonye village on the India-Bangladesh border. “We are too worried about our future” added another hapless tribal villager. The entire Tarabonye village has fallen outside the fencing. Last year the villagers had filed a complaint to the chief secretary alleging inadequate compensations.

According to an independent survey, a total of 35,438 Chakma tribals from 5,790 families in 49 villages will be displaced due to the ongoing India-Bangladesh fencing project. They have lost their homes, land, garden, and other properties to make way for the fence.

Neither the Central government nor the State government of Mizoram has made public any resettlement and rehabilitation plan which has made the victims worried about their future.

Four public sector construction companies -- National Building Construction Corporation Ltd., Border Roads Organisation, Engineering Projects India Limited and National Projects Construction Corporation Ltd are fencing the 318 km-long Mizoram-Bangladesh border.

Paritosh Chakma further adds:

What could be the fallout of the decision of the Mizoram government on the Mizoram citizens if it did not resettle and rehabilitate the fencing victims and allowed them to remain where they presently are (i.e. outside the fencing) after the completion of the fencing project, could be gauged from the following article. I am reproducing the said article for all of us to imagine the unimaginable impacts on the lives of the fencing victims:

Plight of Indians who remained on the other side of border fencing, NortheastVigil, last accessed on 10 February 2009

Date: December 2, 2002Source / copyright: R Dutta Choudhury / The Assam Tribune, Guwahati

KARIMGANJ, Dec 1: They are Indian citizens who remain cut off from India for twelve hours a day. It may sound surprising but this is the plight of the people of eight villages of Karimganj district bordering Bangladesh as their villages are located outside the border fencing. This correspondent recently witnessed the plight of these people during a visit to the Indo-Bangla border areas and it is unfortunate that till date the Government has not taken any concrete step to reduce the sufferings of these people. Eight villages of Karimganj district remained outside the border fencing, which was erected 150 metres inside the zero line, that is the actual border. Police sources told this correspondent that the border police, Border Security Force and the magistrates carried out a joint survey of the villages and found that 254 families having a population of 1,570, of which 401 are Hindus and the rest Muslims, are outside the fencing. The Indian villages located outside the fencing are ? Jarapata, Kurikhala, Latukandi, Badna, Kachubari, Laphasail, Deotoli and Latubankar. The BSF maintains a register of the people of these villages and they can come across the fencing to their own country through the gates in the fencing. But the gates are closed from 6 pm to 6 am, and during the time, they remain cut off from their own country. These people have jobs in this part of the fencing and their children have to come across for attending educational institutions. But they always have to keep in mind that they have to go back to their villages before 6 pm or else they can not return home for the night. Very often someone or the other of these villages fail to make it before 6 pm and then their only option is to shout the message across and spend the night in this side of the fencing. If an emergency occurs at night , they have to depend on the mercy of the BSF men posted near the gates to come across. The BSF men posted near the gates in the border fencing said that if someone falls sick at night, they can come across but actually the process is not as easy as it sounded. During the trip to the border areas, this correspondent visited Laphasail village located across the fencing near the border post number 1357 and came across a very unusual sight of Indian children looking at him from across the fencing.

The villagers told this correspondent that they have to come across for treatment in Karimganj town, which is more than 30 kilometres away from the village, while their children have to come across for attending school. Even for marketing they have to come across and go back home before 6 pm. Some of them have land on this side of the fencing and they have to cross the fencing every day to cultivate their land. They admitted that if someone falls sick at night, they have to face serious trouble in getting treatment and the only option is to depend on the mercy of the BSF men posted at the gates to let them come across. The nearest Bangladeshi village is Gajukata, which is only about 200 metres away from Laphasail and the relation between the neighbouring Indian and Bangladeshi villagers is very cordial so far. ?We are yet to have any trouble from the Bangladeshi villagers,? the people of Laphasail said.

Though the relation between the Indian and Bangladeshi villagers is cordial as of date, it is apparent that the Government has failed in its basic duty of protecting the life and property of all Indian citizens as the people of the eight villages are totally cut off from the country and have to live at the mercy of Bangladeshi nationals for 12 hours a day. Moreover, the children of these villages, who have to remain cut off from their own country for half the day, cannot be expected to have any feeling for their motherland. BSF sources said that they maintain a register of the villagers with their photos and every new born is enlisted in the register. But unfortunately, till date the concerned authorities have not been able to provide proper photo identity cards to these people to at least reduce their harassment. Official sources said here that the District Administration had submitted a proposal to the State Government for rehabilitation of these people elsewhere in the State but unfortunately the Government has not initiated any step in this regard. Over the years, Assam witnessed endless number of land settlement programmes by the Government all over the State but so far no one seems bothered about the plight of these 250 odd families, perhaps because they do not yield any political clout and their number is not enough to shift the balance of political power.

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