TIMES OF ASSAM
TRUTH BOLD FEARLESS

The Human Rights Movement and Parag Kumar Das

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When we turn the pages of history, we find people who used the pen and others who believed in the sword/gun to change society for the benefit of mankind. Gandhi, the father of the nation believed in non-violence and used the pen to fight British imperialism. Likewise Parag Kumar Das, who initiated the Human Rights movement in Assam, also used the pen to raise people’s consciousness against the Indian State’s exploitations and suppression. Both of them had fallen to the assassin’s bullet. Now, who is Parag Kumar Das?

Parag Kumar Das was born in 1961 in Shillong, the capital of the then undivided Assam. He came to Guwahati when his father, an Assam Govt. employee was transferred, and underwent his schooling from the Cotton Collegiate. He was a brilliant student throughout his academic career and was a rank holder (4th position) in the State, both in the 10th and the 12th standard. Then he went to Delhi and completed his graduation in Economics from the famed St. Stephen College. Later, he did his masters from the Delhi School of Economics. He came to Guwahati in 1984 and after four years in the banking sector, joined the Guwahati Stock Exchange as the General Manager. Meanwhile, he had written a series of article based on the ethnic conflict, the tea community, the riverine (char) people and regionalism in Prantik, an Assamese fortnightly magazine. In 1989 he joined Budhbar, an Assamese weekly as the editor. Within a period of two years Budhbar became the highest selling weekly.

He was the founder secretary of MASS (Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti), the human rights organization formed in 1991 after the counter insurgency Operation Bajrang was launched by the Indian Army in 1990 to crush ULFA, the pro independence armed organization of Assam. The Indian army was extraordinarily empowered by the Assam Disturbed Areas Act and the AFSPA (the Armed Forced Special Powers Act, 1958), certainly a draconian law. The unbridled power enjoyed by the army and shielded by the AFSPA, made them act in the most inhuman way. The mid night raids in the Assamese villages resulted in gross human rights violations. Mass arrest and torture became the order of the day. Any Assamese man became a suspect. The Indian army behaved like an occupational army thrust upon its own citizens. During the army raids, apart from the extra judicial killings/fake encounters, molestation and rape of Assamese woman became almost a routine.

Parag Kumar Das took the lead in forming MASS along with Ajit Bhuyan (President), Niloy Dutta (Advisor) and others to protest against and document the blatant human rights violations by the Indian armed forces. Parag Kumar Das organized public meetings in many places of Assam. He was a great orator and his patriotic speech had a spell bound effect on the people. Within a short span of time Parag Kumar Das become a household name in Assam. MASS is a unique human rights organization in the world. Usually, a human rights organization is run by a group of politically conscious people, mostly from the legal fraternity, largely city based. Such organizations are usually funded by some national or international agency. But MASS is a people based organization with branches in all the districts of Assam and has a central committee. It is run by people’s donations only. MASS was never state funded. This unique form of human rights organization was necessary to protest against the gross human rights violations committed on a regular basis all over the state by the Indian armed forces.

His bold writings exposing the Indian State’s exploitative system and his indomitable spirit in organizing peoples’ meeting all over the state to protest against the army atrocities drew State’s attention. To strangulate MASS, he along with Ajit Bhuyan and Nilay Dutta were arrested in 1991 by the Congress Government under the NSA (National Security Act). After his release from jail, he continued the human rights movement with the same vigour. State pressures were mounted on the publisher of the weekly to sack Parag Kumar Das. The publisher sold the news paper in 1993. In the same year, Parag Kumar Das was again arrested under TADA along with the new publisher and the printer, for an article written on Hirak Jyoti Mahanta, ULFA’s slain Deputy Commander-in-Chief on his first death anniversary. This time, the new publisher succumbed to the state pressure and Parag Kumar Das was forced to resign. The publication of Budhbar, now without Parag Kumar Das’ editorial guide was stopped within a few months.

In the mean time, he wrote five books. His novel, Sanglot Fengla which was based on the real life of a ULFA leader became the best seller in the 1993 Sivsagar Sahitya Sabha. His book Swadhinatar Prastab which described the reasons for an independent Assam was banned by the Government in 1994 immediately after the publication. His Swandin Asamor Arthaniti which dealt with the economy of a proposed independent Assam was also a best seller. His life in jail was described in his book Rastradohir Dinlipi and the book Aami Ji Kotha Koisilo was a compilation of articles written by Ajit Bhuyan and himself.

Parag Kumar Das did not remain silent. He organized another news magazine, Agan in 1994, and published it from his own residence. When the Assamese daily Asomiya Pratidin was launched in 1995, he resigned from the Guwahati Stock Exchange and joined as its Executive Editor. Ajit Bhuyan became the editor. Within a year, Asomiya Pratidin became the highest selling daily. His crusade against the Indian State exploitation and repression continued. He exposed many anti social activities of the surrendered ULFA, commonly known as SULFA. Now the state machinery along with some state sponsored killers were tied up to silence Parag Kumar Das’ voice for ever. He was gunned down on 17th May 1996 in a most brutal way in front of his son’s school, the Jatiya Vidyalaya, situated at Rajgarh road, Guwahati. There was a hue and cry over his killing and people came out in the streets of Guwahati to protest against the gruesome murder in broad day light. Mass protests took place all over Assam. Many prominent National and International Human Rights Organizations including Amnesty International and Asia Watch condemned the killing of Parag Kumar Das and demanded an enquiry.

The AGP led Assam Govt. declared that the culprits would be booked within 48 hours and then called for a CBI enquiry bowing to public pressures. Fifteen years passed by. No one was arrested. The main accused went scot free, though two of the accused were gunned down by ULFA and one was lynched by the public. So far, the Indian state has failed to nab the culprits and bring justice to the much awaited trial. The spirit of Parag Kumar Das survived, but the AGP, the two times ruling regional party, lost the last three elections. The twenty two years army’s counter insurgency operations have become somewhat humane. The AFSPA, the most anti-democratic act is still enforced in Assam. The death of Parag Kumar Das was a great loss for Assam. A great patriot and a writer had died. It was a much greater loss to the journalist fraternity because he indeed was a rare breed. His fearless writings were an inspiration to many an upcoming journalist. With the death of Parag Kumar Das, the world lost a great human rights defender. He was only 35 years old when he died and left behind a legacy of unflinching patriotism and fearless writings.

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The Human Rights Movement and Parag Kumar Das

By: Hiranya Saikia Read time: 6 min