Developmental View of the Birsa Commando Force (a terrorist organization)
(Talk with commander of the Birsa Commando Force, Chirang district on August 21st 2008)
I along with my other co-workers arranged for a meeting with the BCF (Birsa Commando Force) - an underground group which had been agreed on an arrangement of ceasefire with the Indian Govt. We had been invited to community leader's house for breakfast and the group members came to the house itself instead of us meeting them in their camp as we had agreed upon earlier. Around 5 of them arrived at 9:15 am and we began with a brief introduction and our purpose behind the meeting. Following are the proceedings of the meeting:
When did the BCF come into being and why was the need felt to initiate it?
They began by saying that we are an ugravadi sagathan (terrorist organization) established in 1996 after the ethnic clashes. The main purpose was to protect our future generations from being wiped out. Earlier we were in the forests and had weapons and were considered to be an underground group by the govt. It was on the 14th August 2004 that they agreed to a ceasefire with the govt. Since then their main demands have been rights of adivasi over land and a schedule tribe status. They felt that it was important to stay in these camps in different districts in case clashes broke out again. Earlier the govt. wouldn't pay attention if a layman approached them for some kind of information and the officials would patronize them and keep delaying any kind of official work. However since the formation of the BCF they feel that the officials listen, mainly out of fear and their work gets done faster. The BCF has its camps in 8 districts- Bongaigaon, Kokhrajhar, Dhubri, Nalbari, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Dibrugarh, Tinsukhiya . They had around 40 such camps in all eight districts, there were presently 35 men in the Deosri camp. They complained that the govt. was supposed to give them certain facilities being in a designated camp as part of the ceasefire agreement such as food and accommodation but till date they had not received anything except promises. They raised funds from the local people and survived on the same.
Hitesh Soren was the commander of the Chirang district; he had just taken over the position seven months ago. Each of the 8 districts had a commander and they formed a high power committee which was headed by CIC (Commander In Chief) Bir Singh Munda and Durga Hansda was the Chairman. They had had several talks with the govt. officials on various occasions but there had been no concrete results. They said that if their demands weren't met then they would have to take matters into their own hands. They had even met the DC on various occasions but he had not responded favorably. They said in Deosri area 30% of the population comprised of encroachers, if the govt. decided to evict them then where would all these people go? They had even approached the MLC of the area James Basumatary and though he had promised to help them before he got elected he had fallen back on his word and had not supported them in any way. They made it very clear- 'hum videshi nahi hai' and said that they would take great offense if any one referred to them as outsiders since they had now been on this land for centuries. They didn't want to be seen as outsiders from Jharkhand or Orissa, this was their home now.
Which issue do you give the top most priority which you would want to look at first?
They said that they gave priority
·Firstly to the relief issue- all the families which haven't received the release money.
·Secondly the rights over the land
·Thirdly the condition of the education system- such as the EGS schools was not running efficiently.
·Eviction issue to dealt as priority
There was also this constant threat of evictions from the forest dept. It was only some 6-7 months back that the villagers in Aiepuali received a notice that they would have to evict in 15days time. It was only after they protested that the eviction was called off. They said that they had to live under the constant threat of eviction and they had threatened the forest officials that in case the govt. kept on bullying them like this the events of '96 might be repeated. They also felt that they had been let down by those very people who they had voted for. During election times all the candidates had come seeking their vote and promising them that they would fight for them but no one had shown any interest in helping them after they had won. He was quick to add that in Shrirampur they have 'badey log' (big people) from their community and even in the BTC govt. they had 3 representatives Bir Singh Munda had ties with these high officials however these influential adivasis were very few in number and hadn't been able to do much for them- Our people are leading a hand to mouth existence with rice coming in only once in a month that too which is sufficient for only 10 days.
So, what vision do you have in mind concerning Deosri's development?
They said that they had built a camp here only some 7 months ago earlier they would stay in their homes. They felt that the people needed protection and guidance. They were especially anxious concerning the education of the youth and the adolescents in the area. They would visit the schools to see how the teachers were teaching and would evaluate them. They had also wanted to start coaching classes for the students and had even approached the AASAA for assistance however they hadn't been very forthcoming and the project had fell through. They go from village to village monthly or twice a month to talk to the villager heads, relief committee heads and the villagers and also to hear their grievances. Another issue was of the roads in the area which were in a terrible state they had even approached the Executed Member and the Member of Legislative Council concerning the matter. Since the authorities are afraid of them the people now have faith in them. They felt the main problem of their community was that they earned less and consumed more. The people of the community would even come to their camp to settle petty disputes.
There are other groups here like the AASAA and the Cobra, so what is the main difference in your ideologies and have you sat together for talks?
Our main demand is for the rights of adivasis over land but the other two groups give priority to the ST status over the land issue. We feel that first and foremost we should ask for ownership over land, what good will a ST status does us if we are landless. Once we are granted rights over the land then we will demand for a ST status. If all of the four groups were to come together then a lot can be achieved but we have many differences so it is not possible as of now. We have many problems in this area, class 8th-9th pass students are dropping out of school and are getting married, and we are vehemently opposing this practice. We at the BCF are very disciplined and strict, so sometimes the youth are scared to approach us, we have even called some of them to our camps but they refuse to come out of fear. We believe in disciplining the youth especially when it comes to drinking and wandering around at night, watching CD's, killing fish with poison which causes dysentery. We have even seized CD's and fined and thrashed those caught fishing with poison. We identify those youth in the community who have bad habits and we discipline them by thrashing them up. We are not like other groups which turn a blind eye to the bad habits of their members. Now that we are on ceasefire we want to bring some kind of development for our people.
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