(This is a part of Cobrapost’s Operation Shuddhikaran focussing on the trafficking of tribal girls allegedly by RSS to convert them to Hinduism)
Living in abject poverty, life is a hard grind for these tribals for they have to bear the brunt of the ethnic strife that has pockmarked the otherwise beautiful and bountiful landscape of Assam for the past five decades that has spawned dreaded outfits such as the ULFA and Bodoland Liberation Tigers Force. Interacting with locals was not easy as they did not know Hindi well and our reporter could not speak Assamese or the local tongue.
Someone introduced us to a young boy of about 20 years, named Sunny Murmo, who could speak Hindi and agreed to take us around in the area. During our conversation with the parents of girls, we came to know that the RSS workers had promised them money. But neither they were given any money nor were they told where their daughters are.
It has been more than four months since the RSS workers took away their daughters, yet they did not have any word about them. Says Surgi’s father Parchu Mardi: “Pata nahi hai (We don’t know [anything about them]).”
Cobrapost had managed to get photographs of some of the girls and it was in order to get them identified by their parents who in earnest brought their photographs curious as they were to know if our reporter had seen them.
In their paternal eagerness they huddle around our reporter. They identify Motila Kisko and Surgi Mardi. When the reporter asks them why they did not file a complaint with police or local authorities, they fall silent.
Sensing their unease, the reporter asks them about the activities of RSS and VHP, says Kisko’s father: “They paid Rs. 2000 to those of Gosaingaon from where they took away girls.”
Here not a single penny was paid to these parents. When asked who is involved in this racket, Kisko has this to say: “The Vishwa Hindu Parishad man from Devsiri took away our girls.”
Why they don’t protest? Kisko tells about the terror the Bodos have been unleashing on them and the promise of educating their children: “They did not tell us anything except that Vishwa Hindu Parishad people will take them to Gujarat for education. They have taken children away earlier too … No we don’t have any choice … we cannot fight the Bodo goons … No, we don’t have any choice … we don’t have any money to get two square meals … we don’t have any business … we don’t have any means to get our children educated.”
We met a young woman hardly in her thirties, who is running a small shop made of tin shed. When our reporter asks the woman if she got some money as promised by those who took away her daughter, she says “Nahi (no).” After our reporter asks her a couple of times if she knew her daughter’s whereabouts, the woman replies: “Pataye nahi hai (I don’t know).” But after she is shown the photographs of some of the girls, she identifies her daughter with the curiosity and promptness of a mother. “Yeh hai (Yes this is [my daughter]).” She has a name: Sunita. A look at her somber face is enough to know the helplessness of a mother who does not know about the fate of her child, and how tragic a tale life has become for tribals like her. Talking in monosyllables, Sunita’s mother understands that parents like her have been taken for a ride but is unable to express her anguish. She simply gazes at the earth pensively, with pain writ large on her face.
At the same shop is sitting her brother-in-law Bhim Toppo, who upon a little goading comes forth. In our conversation with the parents or local tribals, we found them reticent while talking to us which shows that they are living with fear. In fact, it took a lot of prodding to get them talking to us. So, logically our reporter asks Bhim Toppo why you all tribal people so terrified? Is that because of Bodo militants? Bhim simply confirms what we have observed: “Bodo ke dar se (We are afraid of Bodos).” The reason is obvious as the Bodos are armed to teeth and it is their writ which runs far and wide in this area. “Hum log khali haath hoga un log ke hathiyar hoga … issiliye thoda dikkat hota hai (We don’t have any arms whereas they are armed … that is why we have tough times).”
Sunny Murmo, our guide, turned out to be an RSS worker who has studied at the Kanhaiya Lal Saraswari Shishu Mandir of Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh. It is Sunny who tells us that his uncle Shiv Charan Varma is Devsiri RSS head, who is also involved in trafficking tribal children to convert and initiate them into Hinduism. When Cobrapost reporter asks him if his uncle knows about how children are being trafficked from this area, he says: “Haan, jante hain (Yes he knows about it).” Is he involved in this racket, wonders our reporter. “Haan (yes),” replies Sunny. The young RSS worker also tells us the Bodo militants kill the tribals. “Haan adivasiyon ko marte hain (Yes, they kill the tribals),” he says, corroborating what Bhim Toko tells us about the reign of terror that Bodos have on this area.
Kisko’s words of utter helplessness “Nahi nahi upay nahi (No, we don’t have any choice)” sum up the fate of a community caught between insurmountable poverty and the ethnic and communal strife since the 1970s that began with All Assam Students’ Union movement against the outsiders. With the emergence of dreaded terrorist outfits such as ULFA and Bodoland Liberation Tigers Force, the spate of violence continued unabated. More often than not, poor minority communities such as Christian tribals, Dalits and Muslims bear the brunt of this violence. Natural disasters like floods, coupled with this violence, only accentuate the existential crisis for vulnerable sections of population, particularly children, leaving them open for manipulation by human traffickers. There is no surprise then if more than 4754 children, including 2753 girls, have disappeared since 2012 according to a report that the Assam Crime Investigation Department had released in October last year. There is no surprise then if under such circumstances, poor parents have to make such compromises as giving away their children to RSS pracharaks for their own good, as claimed by authorities, little realizing that they have sacrificed their children at the altar of Hindu faith.