GUWAHATI: Life can be extremely cruel and difficult for hundreds living in troubled villages along the Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland borders in Assam. An independent fact finding team comprising of activists and researchers has revealed a harsh reality.

Almost 100 percent people living in the Pengeri and Kakopathar areas of Tinsukia district and Balijan area of Charaideo district of Upper Assam suffer from active PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Besides, the team found the women and children to be extremely vulnerable to physical violence, and mental trauma created by threats from the security forces.

PTSD is a disorder that develops in people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.

“An independent fact-finding mission was carried out in these areas to enquire into the impact on the rural people’s lives and livelihoods by the continued military and internal security operations in these inter-State border regions of upper Assam,” Kirity Roy, Secretary of Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) and a member of the fact-finding team, said.

The findings revealed that close to 100 percent of the samples, including elderly women and men, juveniles and youth, displayed overt signs indicative of active PTSD.

Individuals who had experienced trauma recently during November 2016 to January 2017 exhibited Acute Stress Disorder.

“There is a high level of depression and anxiety among the sample screened,” Roy added.

He said that the fact-finding team wanted to make a preliminary assessment of the psychosocial and mental health status of the local population and also to determine the situation of livelihoods and vulnerabilities of the tribal and local societies.

Besides, to assess the situation of reported arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial or summary killings perpetrated by the state security apparatus including the legality of these alleged human rights violations and whether the state authorities including the judiciary is just and fair or systematic impunity prevails.

“Regarding the psychosocial and mental health status, the team conducted internationally standardised screening assessments for mental health status and PTSD among victims and their families during home visits,” Roy said.

The fact finding team also found that the local communities living in remote villages are in a very vulnerable and stressed situation where the local police and central security forces stationed in these areas are treating them as ‘enemies’. Their report says that women and children are in an environment of physical violence and mental threats, to cooperate with the state police and central forces.

The study found the students to be the worst victims as the government established schools are regularly occupied by the security forces for extended periods. And this creates a high level of fear and anxiety among the students and teachers.

“Many families who own agricultural lands have had to sell or mortgage their lands in order to pay court expenses and execute bail bonds, and pay for medical treatment with deprivation of livelihood and economic activities for many years,” Bondita Acharya, another member of the fact finding team who represents Women in Governance-Assam (WinG), told The Citizen.

The team members also held the state and non-state actors responsible in the areas for this extremely stressful and vulnerable situation.

The fact finding team also found cases of atrocity by the security forces in the name of counter-insurgency activity.

“Nowhere the team found that Assam police/Assam Government and the Assam Riffles paid respect to the norms prescribed by NHRC in case of encounter death and death in police custody,” said the report.

The Citizen (Assam-Villagers-Flee-As-Security-Forces-) earlier reported about the plight of the villagers during counter-insurgency activity carried out by the security forces in the area.

The counter-insurgency was intensified following the attack on the security forces by ULFA (Independent) and other insurgent groups in the region.

This kind of assault is not new to the area, with the ‘harassment’ continuing since the 1990’s. Filmmaker Jaicheng Jai Dohutia who hails from upper Assam said that it’s accepted as the new normal.

“I remember a similar incident when I was a student, in class IX. I had seen the terror among the family members and the neighbours. I don’t know when we will have peace,” Dohutia said. Incidentally his recent film ‘Handook’ (The Hidden Corner) on insurgency won accolades in Mami Mumbai Film Festival.

However, defence PRO Lt Col Suneet Newton denied the allegations and said that Army takes ‘utmost care’ during such operations.