A Shallow Justice
GUWAHATI:Division has long consumed Assam. For decades Bengal origin Assamese Muslims have occupied a desperate space between citizenship and exclusion, often ostracised, rarely respected and always marginalised.
Communal divisions were engendered by the AASU (Student's Union) leading to the violent Assam Movement. It swept the AASU to power (as the AGP) by labeling Bengal origin Assamese Muslims as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. This discourse, although entirely fictional, has long caused this community to live in fear and marginalisation.
Impunity has long been a tool of the apartheid state. When certain sections of the population are deliberately vilified and consistently deprived of justice, a climate of terror is created.
On the 1st of May 2014, Bodo militants entered the house of Batchu Seikh and murdered seven people.
Atrocities like this occur with an almost quotidian regularity here. Impunity has long given terrorists and political organisations carte blanche to terrorise Assam's Bengal origin Muslims. On Friday that record of impunity cracked. Pradip Brahma who led the massacre of Seikh and his family was sentenced to life imprisonment. This is the first time in Assam's history that a murderer has been punished for the mass killing of Muslims.
But there is still a long way to go until the state sponsored apartheid in Assam is purged.
The fictional discourse of Bengal origin Assamese Muslims as illegal immigrants is still very much alive. Indeed, the BJP's recent victory here heavily exploited this lie to cash in on communal tensions. As in other parts of India they now look set to fuel them.
Nonetheless, Friday's verdict marks a step forward for Assam. It shows criminals that they cannot bank on a complicit state machinery and it gives the victims a shred of trust in the judicial system.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Prosecuting Brahma was easy for the state. It cost them nothing as the perpetrators were Bodo militants. What really needs to happen is for the state to prosecute those atrocities it itself has had a hand in sponsoring. Justice for the victims of massacres like Nellie and others is much needed but not on the horizon anytime soon. Division and deceit is simply too profitable. The truth has become worthless.
True justice takes a commitment to giving up communal politics and to healing the divides which plague Assamese and Indian society. That takes noble political leadership and integrity. Things that seem inherently absent in contemporary politics, where everyone sells division to buy votes. It takes people more committed to India and to its body politic than to personal or party gain. That kind of foresight and integrity is alien to our leaders. Only when it returns will justice thrive. Only when it returns will India realise herself.