A case for compassion?

Published : Jan 26, 2007 00:00 IST

IN JORHAT, ASSAM, where different communities took part in a peace rally protesting against the killings by ULFA militants in several districts of Assam. Indian civilisation - which is with all its local diversities really one - does not enjoin people to kill "outsiders".-

IN JORHAT, ASSAM, where different communities took part in a peace rally protesting against the killings by ULFA militants in several districts of Assam. Indian civilisation - which is with all its local diversities really one - does not enjoin people to kill "outsiders".-

It is time that the people of Assam looked to our roots, the essential culture we all share, and saw ULFA for what it is.

THIS may well be the final war, in which the enemy is the citizenry of the country. It has no weapons and no intention other than to earn some sort of livelihood. But that may provide the casus belli; seeking to work is all very well but where it is sought is crucial. If it is in the State of Assam and the citizen is not born Assamese, then it means he is not seeking work there, he is seeking to wage war against the State of Assam. At least, this is what the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) obviously believes and would like us to believe.

It considers the mere fact that Biharis work in Assam, or go there to look for work, an act of war, and what better enemy could it have than unarmed labourers who would not know what to do with a semi-automatic rifle any more than they would with a variable energy cyclotron. It means they, the brave ULFA warriors, are in no danger of being injured, let alone killed. And in this war they will obviously win every encounter.

It can be said that they are not the only terrorist organisation that makes it a habit to kill ordinary citizens of the country. There are the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, to name just two. But there is a difference. These two and some others have an agenda dictated by a distorted religious ideology, one that is not clear to everyone. On this score, at least, the agenda of ULFA is fairly clear. Non-Assamese have to leave Assam as a part of its demand that Assam be independent of India.

In other words, they want Assam for themselves; perhaps they think that as the State has tea and a limited quantity of oil it will, as an independent country, become as affluent as one of the Gulf states, with, of course, ULFA in charge. And, no doubt, it would be the main recipient of the wealth.

In a State where unemployment is very high and what employment there is is for low paid jobs, where the general level of education is rather poor, it is not difficult to fan resentment into anger and hatred. But having done that and gone down the road of violence and murder, there must have been a realisation that there was no going back.

All this has been compounded by other factors such as the leadership of ULFA being in Bangladesh, and from what one gathers, living it up in style there, and the breathtakingly inept handling of the organisation's violent activities by the Central and State governments.

The first of these factors is a sad commentary on our diplomatic and counter-insurgency skills. Years of persuasion and pleading have not got the Bangladeshis to agree to extradite the leaders of this murderous group, and our counter-insurgency organisation probably does not have the expertise to go in and bring these people out.

It has been done elsewhere by other countries, notably Israel; but it seems beyond the capabilities of whatever organisation we have that deals with such matters. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) is probably the agency that could, in theory, have attempted something of the kind. But it has not, most likely because it cannot, though it will no doubt say that it does not undertake such tasks as a matter of principle.

This apart, the manner in which ULFA has been handled by the Central and State governments has been nothing short of ridiculous. They have either pretended that ULFA did not exist, or considered it a relatively minor threat, or, when its killings increased, handed the task of bringing it to book to a rather surprised Army. Then Bhutan came to India's help and drove ULFA out from its territory, which was a disaster for ULFA as it had right then nowhere to go.

And when the Army had it virtually cornered last year, the Central government suddenly decided to take the job away from the Army because the Centre's representatives were going to sit round a table for a cosy chat with some self-appointed interlocutors for ULFA. We have seen what that has led to, as the new year was ushered in.

The State government's action has been erratic and inexplicable; it has talked of persuading the "boys" to see reason and stop their violence. "Boys" is about the most inappropriate word to use for a group of vicious murderers who have long since given up any pretence of having any objective other than looting and amassing wealth. Many of the "boys" are married and have schoolgoing children. Even from a distance one sees a noticeable, and distasteful, element of fear in the actions of the State government agencies. One has only to cast one's mind back to the handling of terrorists in Punjab by K.P.S. Gill to see the difference.

There can be only one reason for all this: Votes. The political parties seem to think that the Assamese, or at least a fair number of them, still have some sympathy for ULFA. If there is any support among local people for an organisation that can murder some 60 people just because they were non-Assamese, something is seriously wrong, and that is what needs to be addressed by the State and Central governments, firmly and imaginatively.

Whatever the extent of the support ULFA has among the Assamese, what is not in doubt at all is the great pride the Assamese have in their cultural traditions. It has been possible to see aspects of this rich and fascinating culture, which shares so much with that of other States, thanks to the determined efforts of some cultural agencies such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi. Traditions that go back in time to the reign of the great Ahom kings, to the truths enshrined in those texts that are the fountainhead of philosophical inquiry and deep devotion all over the country, be it the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, Bharata's Natya Shastra or the other texts that have been carefully and lovingly preserved in Assam, as in other parts of the country.

The inner integrity of Assam and the Assamese people, their traditions, their sabhyata (a word not easily translated) and arts as, indeed, that of other communities, come from these old texts and the traditions surrounding them.

This is what makes the support that even a small number among them give ULFA difficult to understand. There may be resentment, anger, a sense of deprivation and injustice, but our civilisation - which is with all its local diversities really one - does not enjoin us then to kill people merely because they come from elsewhere. It is time the people of Assam looked to our roots, the essential culture we all share, and saw ULFA for what it is.

They, like all of us, need to revisit our scriptures, not the least the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which distils the essence of this culture and philosophy. I quote the Sanskrit text because of the majesty of the words, and Dr.S. Radhakrishnan's translation:

Tad etad evaisa daivi vag anuvadati stanayitnuh - da, da, da iti, damyata, data, dayadhvam iti.

Tad etat trayam sikset, damam, danam, dayam iti.

(This very thing the heavenly voice of thunder repeats da, da, da, that is, control yourselves, give, be compassionate. One should practise this same triad, self-control, giving and compassion. (V.2.))

Among so much else, this too is our heritage, and it will not do for any of us to deny it, individually or as communities.

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