New Delhi: Amidst the resistance movement by the tribal community demanding rehabilitation in the Laika-Dodhia forest villages of Assam, two female protestors have lost their lives. On December 30, a 50-year-old woman had died at the makeshift protest site, while Kushmita Morang, 24, lost her life this week. She was reportedly pregnant. While the villagers said that both women had previous complications, they said sitting in the cold since December 21 had aggravated their condition.
The two women, along with about 3,000 others, have been part of an indefinite sit-in protest in the open in front of the district collector’s office in Tinsukia region.
The protests, mainly led by women, have been ongoing in these two villages which remain cut-off from the mainland, and are without electricity, water and hospitals.
Also Read: People Without Land: Assam’s Laika-Dodhia Villages Continue Struggle for Rehabilitation Even After 70 Years
Engulfed by the mighty Brahmaputra river in the North and Dibru river in the West, the villages have also been facing the wrath of floods and soil erosion every year during monsoon, compelling people to seek shelter in relief camps.
The resistance movement by the community to find a permanent home has been going on since the past 70 years, since a massive earthquake ravaged the state in 1950.
Following the destruction in 1950, the villagers belonging to the indigenous Mising tribe were given rehabilitation as a temporary measure in the then Dibru forest reserve and have not had permanent housing or land pattas ever since. Most of the people of the two villages were relocated from the Murkongselek area of Dhemaji district.
Speaking with NewsClick, Minturaj Morang, a resident of the Laika village said: “It is extremely cold here, the area remains mostly flooded, two people have already died, this has hit us hard, but we are not backing down. Our villages were declared a part of the national park in 1999. While people cannot reside inside a national park, the government never relocated us, costing us our entire lives, generation after generation.”
Morang said: “The community is cooking out in the open, more and more people are falling sick, but nobody wants to go back from this point.”
According to Takam Mising Porin Kébang or TMPK, a students' organisation in Assam, rehabilitation of the residents of these two forest villages has remained a vexed issue since 1999, when the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary was upgraded to a national park, without any consultation with the residents, which is also a violation of the rights of the forest dwellers.
The tribal community is demanding permanent rehabilitation in the proposed 320 hectare area of forest land of Owguri area of Upper Dihing Reserve Forest Division. The protests are being led by the Tinsukia District Committee of TMPK, among other organisations.
Speaking with NewsClick from the protest site, Vidyut Pego, said: “For 22 days, we have been struggling to draw the attention of the administration. The government has offered Rs 1 lakh each for those who have died as compensation, while we just want to be rehabilitated. The government has proposed that we shift to Lakhimpur district, but the area floods as much as Laika does, so it will not do us any good.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the All India Tribal Students Association met Union to Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale, who is on a visit to Assam, and submitted a memorandum demanding permanent relocation and settlement of over 1,400 families of Laika and Dodhia villages under Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Upper Assam.
“The protesters have been out for 21 days in cold weather without proper shelter, drinking water, hygienic food and sanitation,” the association stated.