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13 February, 2008

Assam police arrests human rights defender

The following account of the arrest of Assamese journalist and human rights defender Lachit Bordoloi has been provided by one of his assoxiates, Sanjay Barbora

Assam police personnel arrested Lachit Bordoloi at Moranhat in Dibrugarh district on Febryary 12.

Lachit Bordoloi is a journalist and a human rights activist. He is the adviser of Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), the convener of the Peoples Committee for Peace Initiatives in Assam (PCPIA) and a member of the Peoples Consultative Group (PCG) that was set up in September 2005 to initiate discussions between the Government of India and United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).The circumstances leading to his arrest would sound absurd if they were for the serious implications that they have on his life. The Guwahati police arrested two supposed ULFA activists from the city on February 8-9, 2008. In a press statement, police said that the arrested activists were in the city to try and hijack planes, and that several prominent persons in the city were helping them out.

Close to midnight on February 9, police raided Bordoloi's rented flat in Guwahati, where his wife and daughter were alone. He had left earlier that day for a meeting at Tinsukia district in upper Assam. The police personnel seized his laptop and other material and did not offer a seizure form to his wife.

On the morning of February 12, the local media reported that he would be arrested soon. At about 11 a.m. he was detained by the Dibrugarh police at Moranhat as he was on his way back from Tinsukia to Guwahati by car.
Lachit’s wife, Renu-bou, an associate and myself packed some food for him and went to the lock-up in Chandmari police station in Guwahati city on February 13 . He was brought to the city late at night. He called Renu-bou on reaching Guwahati and asked her to bring some moisturiser in the morning. She packed a small bag full of clothes, a towel and body oil.

The policemen on duty did not allow us inside, saying that only his wife would be allowed. A little later, one of them came and said that I could also go in.Lachit Bordoloi was smiling like a sheepish schoolchild. Two policemen were lazily signing papers and a policewoman barked instructions to an orderly to fetch tea for us.

Lachit had the daily papers in front of him. Where does one begin to ask questions at a time like this? He was sitting on an officer's chair and reassuring Renu-bou that it would be alright. He asked me to inform the family members of a young man, who looked confused and bewildered inside the lock-up. Apparently, this was the young man who had been part of the great hijack plan. He looked like a clean-shaven boy, wondering what boulder hit him while it flew North!I said to Lachit that I would be on the computer all day, writing to people, letting them know what the whole Kafkaesque ordeal is about. Rather naively, I asked him if he would be out today.

"No", he said, "I will either be sent back to police custody or, luck permitting, to judicial custody". The cell is cold, so I hoped that he would not have to spend another night there. Judicial custody seemed like a better option.These are moments when our faculties become pliant tools in the hands of higher powers. The absurdity of law, conspiracies, politics all fall apart as we begin to babble in the tongues that we are asked to. We see hijacking as a plausible plot because the police says so. We see connections with ULFA as being bad omens. We become as dumb as the disinformation campaign requires us to be.This disinformation is a powerful thing. It hits us from the front pages of newspapers in the morning. It says: "PCG convener Lachit Bordoloi Arrested for Links with Banned Outfit". Just the kind of stuff that gentle Assamese folk would not want to be associated with. Just to drive home the point, a second headline reads: "Airline staff held for hijack plot". This chaotic miasma is what the security establishment would love to have us believe. This is also the point where the law becomes an ally of those in power.Lachit Bordoloi was arrested on the basis of a statement given by an accused in custody. By that logic, any one of us can randomly name people we dislike if we are caught by the police.

Lachit Bordoloi, the police say, had links with ULFA. He does not deny these links. He is a peace facilitator and it the irony is, this is what people in corridors of power in Delhi expect of him. As a member of the Peoples Consultative Group (PCG), the mandarins at the home ministry and prime ministers office, probably tell him: "Bordoloi sahab, you must ask these people to climb down on this". Or something like that. But they expect him to carry information back and forth. As do many of us in Assam. We expect that his honesty will be reason enough for some kind of peace initiative to move forward.We are so naive. As I stood in the police station, awkwardly watching him hug his wife, a police officer came in and said: "Bordoloi, apunak medical loi jabo lage" (Bordoloi, we have to take you to the hospital".

Lachit Bordoloi got up, smiled at me a little wistfully and thought about how his young son who moved to a hostel (with great difficulty) last year, would take the news. He boarded the back of a dusty jeep and was gone. His lawyers are working on getting him out on bail once he is produced in court. It feels as if there is concert being conducted and we are watching listlessly. He has been held under the ubiquitous Section 120B and 121, which are basically the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.It would be wise to assess Bordoloi's unlawful activities before we sink into our happy, brain-numbing world of security-induced political positions.1. He was a peace activist2. He believed in the movement for human rights3. He believed that there was a dignified way to negotiate conflicts without humiliating an aggrieved party4. He wrote critical articles in newspapers5. He constantly challenged the arbitrary exercise of powerAnd we are asked to believe that what he was doing, and will continue to do, is detrimental to our social welfare.There will be protests all over Assam but I fear that we will still be naive and miss the whole point of this exercise. We will fall short of questioning the manner in which a disinformation regime has already taken root in the counter-insurgency driven political milieu in Assam. We will continue to believe in great intelligence successes of the security establishment in "foiling hijacks", even as a car full of mysterious gunmen drive past a police check post and shoot an executive of the region's largest Television channel. For tonight, I just hope that Lachit Bordoloi does not have to spend the night in the lock-up.

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