Singer Kishore Giri strummed his guitar and sang a song for peace. The best part was when singer Giri in between his song, asked if they want peace, they all cried out, "Yes" in unison. He was with the civil society team that visited the strife-torn areas in the Bodoland Territorial Area District. The team was received warmly by the inhabitants of the relief camps – both Bodos and Muslims.
The team comprising singers, artists, writers, academics and mediapersons were inspired by a talk show ‘Prasangokrome’ (literally means "With reference to the context") on DY 365, a satellite channel aired from Guwahati. The host of the show Mrinal Talukdar says, “Following one of my talk shows when I raised the issue whether the Civil Society of Assam had not done their duty to stand near the victims of the violence and there was positive response from the participants. The word spread and so did the enthusiasm and after 48 hours a group of 30 odd people went to relief camps in Bijni area. The whole idea is to remind the role of the civil society, which sadly Assam has not been growing over the years in many of the issues. Again when journalism hits its nadir in Assam, such response emerging from a talk show is a welcome sign.”
The team had assembled early in the morning at the Guwahati Press Club and left for Bijni via Goalpara. After having breakfast on the road, they visited the Muslim camp at Bijni- Purani Bijni. Then they proceeded to the Bodo relief camp at Bijni -Mongolian bazaar. The day-long trip was filled with novel experiences for both the team as well as the inmates of the camps. In July 2012, Assam saw outbreaks of violence between indigenous Bodos and Bengali –speaking Muslim settlers. As of 8 August 2012, 77 people have died and over 400,000 people have been displaced from almost 400 villages, taking shelter in 270 relief camps. And the relief camps had the same sordid stories to tell – of neglect, squalor and misery.
When Tinat Atifa Masood, anchor and writer volunteered to be part of the civil society team to visit to the riot-affected areas, she hardly knew what to expect. “After seeing the visuals on Television of the violence in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts, we kind of couldn't fathom the condition of these people. But, when I visited the first relief camp inhabited by the Bodo tribe and sang songs of non-violence, the men, women and children joined in whole-heartedly. It was an amazing feeling. The women touched me and said, "You are taking so much trouble to come and visit us."”
Masood says, “The chocolates I had taken to be distributed amongst the children was like manna for them. Even the elders asked for them. The only thing they want now is to go back and build their homes. But when can they do that, they ask in unspoken words. When we went to the second camp, the Muslim camp, I could initially feel some animosity as a young boy of 21-22 said, "Peace will never come. Not with your singing at least.”
“After a while when Kishore and I started singing, something happened that was least anticipated, at least by me. Several women broke down and cried, while singing the song at the same time. I too couldn't stop myself. Even here, the chocolates brought happy smiles for the children and also for the elders,” adds Masood. She adds that if she had enough money, she would have built houses for these people. “I want to do a lot more for these people as they are my people,” she adds.
The team felt that the people in the camps were more comfortable with them than the politicians who visited them. They have a feeling that politicians have an ulterior motive while the civil society members are on a real goodwill mission.
Academic Dinesh Baishya said, “We went to two camps – on Bodo and Muslim. I asked them why did you come? They said we ran away due to rumours that we will be killed. Only after we came back, our houses were burnt. We had no dispute with the Muslims. We play football with them and they work in our fields. They come to watch television in our home. The Muslims were very poor, some farmers and daily wage labourers.” Baishya also mentioned that a feeling a fear and insecurity was being created by using electronic media and even internet and sms.
The host of the television show, Mrinal Talukdar felt that it was just an urge. “We love to blame others but not take social responsibility. We all came out spontaneously as a loosely organized group with a mission – peace.”
(Teresa Rehman is the Editor of The Thumb Print (www.thethumbprintmag.com)