Back in open, but Assam’s freed rebels have lot to doBy Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS
Saturday, December 25, 2010
GUWAHATI - Years of life underground, then captured and put behind bars for another long stint, and finally back to the mainstream - life has turned full circle for at least five top separatist leaders currently out on bail in Assam.
This is another challenging journey that I have embarked upon after being released on bail, 71-year-old Bhimkanta Buragohain, for long the political ideologue of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), told IANS.
Endearingly addressed as “mama” (uncle) by ULFA cadres and even leaders, Buragohain was released on bail from the Guwahati Central Jail this month.
Buragohain was captured by the Bhutan Army during “Operation All Clear” in December 2003 - an offensive carried out to evict more than 3,000 ULFA cadres and other Assam-based militants from neighbouring Bhutan.
He was handed over to Indian authorities and lodged in various jails in Assam.
Today “mama,” a bachelor, stays with his relatives at Ahom Gaon in eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district. Most of the time he keeps himself busy by addressing public meetings. On other occasions, he tells his nephews and nieces about life underground.
I have no time for myself because well-wishers, family and friends are always asking me about my life in the jungles and about the possibility of peace talks, Buragohain said, slipping into a crowd outside his modest home.
Barring ULFA’s elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, the entire top brass of the outfit is in jail.
The imprisoned leaders have included chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, vice chairman Pradip Gogoi, publicity chief Mithinga Daimary, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka and Buragohain.
But with demands for releasing them gathering momentum to pave the way for peace talks, the government embarked on a strategy of not opposing the bail applications in court.
One by one, five top jailed ULFA leaders were released on bail.
The first to be freed on bail were Pradeep Gogoi and Daimary, followed by Raju Baruah and Deka. This month the veteran Buragohain was released.
Rajkhowa is likely to gain freedom soon.
ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia, however, is in Bangladesh since his arrest there in 1997.
I am happy to be home with my children and family but the journey ahead is indeed challenging, Deka said. Her husband Chitrabon Hazarika is still in jail.
Life was pretty hard in the jungles. I was arrested on Aug 23, 1996 from Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai, Deka said.
She was released on bail in 1998. In 2003 she was again arrested at Phulbari in Garo Hills district of Meghalaya while escaping to Bangladesh. I have no regrets whatsoever.
Today Deka catches up with her schoolgoing son, who lives with her in-laws in Nalbari town.
I wish my husband and others too come out soon.
Likewise, Raju Baruah, Pradip Gogoi and Daimary too are out on bail — all busy with their families or engaged in drumming up public support to initiate peace talks.
More important for me is the issue of peace talks, Raju Baruah told IANS.
He was in camps in Bhutan and Bangladesh. He was arrested along with his wife and two children in December 2009 in Dhaka and handed over to Indian authorities.
But Mithinga, still a bachelor, said: The struggle still continues. We hardly have any time for the family.
I still cannot come to terms with the tragedy (of 2000) when my entire family was wiped out, Mithinga said.
Gunmen made a pre-dawn attack at his ancestral home in Barama in Nalbari district in western Assam killing his mother, elder brother, sister and pregnant sister-in-law.
That trauma still haunts me, said Mithinga, an established poet.
Vice president Pradeep Gogoi too is busy meeting people of all walks to drum up support for peace talks.
The priority for all of us today is to ensure that peace talks begin and we are able to hammer out an acceptable solution to the Assam-India conflict, Gogoi said.
Interestingly, despite all the five separatist leaders directly or indirectly involved in killings, kidnapping and extortion, they have not faced any revolt from the society.
We are thankful to the people of Assam for their love and untiring support, Buragohain said.
(Syed Zarir Hussain can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)