Monday, March 11, 2013

The disappearances

Lately, I’ve been noticing photos of missing people circulating on social networking sites. Probably put up by frantic families or concerned acquaintances. It is difficult to imagine the ache of a loss that’s neither final nor explained. Why does someone go missing, how? What prevents him or her from coming back home? What physical or emotional anguish must he be suffering in the meantime?

These questions must run through the minds of those whose children – or parents, or grandparents – have disappeared. But imagine the fear and rage in the hearts of those who know that their daughter’s disappearance has something to do with the police!

A statement issued by an alliance of women’s groups says that Majoni Das, a teacher and women’s rights activist in Assam, has disappeared after being taken into police custody, allegedly due to “links with insurgent groups”.

Das wrote for a local fortnightly newspaper and also worked as a hostel warden in Jorhat. She had gone home to Sibsagar when the police summoned her. She sent messages to her colleagues, telling them this. According to her family, on February 8, two police officers (one of them was a woman) came to Das’ home while she was out. They left a message asking her to report to the superintendent’s office. On February 10, she set out to meet the SP of Sibsagar district, and hasn’t been seen since then.

One FIR has been filed in Jorhat by her employer, another in Demow by her family. The Sibsagar police allegedly told the family that Das has joined the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and gone off to Nagaland.

This merits a whole wormy can of questions. What kind of police force summons a woman to the station if she is suspected of being an armed rebel? And how did the police already know that she went to Nagaland? Who told them? And if they know, why are they not chasing her, since they were so anxious about calling her over for a chat? How long had they been waiting to pick up Das? And if it was important to detain or interrogate her, why did they not drive the short distance to Jorhat where she was working? They knew where she lived and worked, after all.

Das’ family is worried that this might be another ‘EID’ case. In Assam, there have been several instances of ‘Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances’. In some cases, people who went missing have been found dead later. Yet, the local police officers have not taken Das’ case seriously, not even for the sake of preserving their own reputations.

As it is, the north-eastern states have suffered tremendously due to various armed rebellions as well as counterinsurgency measures, including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In Manipur, there are groups like the ‘Extra-judicial Execution Victim Families’ Association Manipur’ and ‘Families of the Involuntarily Disappeared’s Association Manipur’. In Kashmir, there is the ‘Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons’.

As for Assam, the website of the Assam Human Rights Commission lists a lot of ‘categories’ under which cases have been filed, including “illegal detention/arrest”, “police excess and negligence”, “mysterious death” and “mysterious disappearance”, it does not offer details of how many such cases were reported. It does say that of the 6,546 cases filed up until March 2008, at least 774 were cases against the police and 418 were cases of custodial deaths.

We can only hope that Majoni Das will be traced soon, that she will not become a statistic, and that the police will prove that her family’s worst fears are unfounded. 

First published here

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