On Monday Morning (24th of February), 2014, Pranab Bodo, a 45 year old farmer, living in one of the Hills surrounding the Guwahati City called his wife, informing her of his decision to die for the sake of the ongoing land rights struggle in Assam. The wife, shocked and devastated, pleaded him not to do it. Her tears and prayers were not enough to stop him. Mr. Bodo set himself on fire near the Assam secretariat. Pranab Bodo was protesting the denial of land rights to people residing on government land in the state capital.
Bodo’s immolation, a first among Assam’s farmers, sparked protests and road and rail blockades in various parts of Assam. The state cabinet, bowing down the pressure of the struggles of the families residing in the Hills of Guwahati, had recently approved land settlement to families residing on government land and made January 28, 2001 as the cut-off date. Subsequently, a screening committee selected 500 families and the process to allot them land began on Monday. However, the government refused to give land rights to those living on forest and wetlands.
The Hills, since ages have been occupied by tribal communities, migrant workers and the marginalized sections of the Assamese society. These communities belonging to the most disadvantageous groups in the social ladder and are forced out of their homes, either due to vicious floods or lack of any employment opportunities in the villages. They have no choice but to come to the cities in look out for a better living. In doing so, they either live in the roads, below over-bridges in the city, or in abandoned homes or land up in slums. And when they found that the ‘authorities’ did not allow them to do that, they decided to occupy the hills and since ages have been residing in those. They neither knew that they had to take government permission to do so nor felt the need of doing do, because all their hopes that the government would take care of them had by then been shattered.
The govt. of Assam since many years have been conducting massive eviction drives to throw them out of these lands. But the farmers under the leadership of KMSS have been agitating against it since many years. After years of struggle, the Assam govt. had agreed for land settlement. But the hand picking of beneficiaries and ignoring the rights of the larger majority did not go down well with the people. It merely highlighted that the government consider them mere secondary citizens who deserve to stay in roads and slums but own a plot of land in the otherwise city of riches-Guwahati. Moreover, it also clearly demonstrates the hypocrisy of the government, as there are evidences of many political leaders grabbing lands, with a few even occupying an entire hill and running their commercial ventures from the hills.
The latest update says that the KMSS has called for a 12 hour bandh in Assam holding the Assam government responsible for the immolation.
Image source: Internet. The author does not own copyright to it.