Last April 22nd, the burnt body of twelve year old Sumila Ronghangpi was recovered from one Prakash Borthakur’s home in Raha. Prakash Borthakur and his son have been detained for her alleged murder; allegations of sexual abuse have also been raised against the duo. The murder of Ronghangpi has been merely portrayed as a heinous crime in the media but in our opinion it raises pertinent questions about issues such as oppression and deprivation of socially marginalised communities like Karbis of Assam. We have observed that these questions of socio-political oppression and exploitation have not been properly discussed, addressed and seriously pursued by the media, political class, intellectuals or civil society organisations of Assam. We have been observing a lack of understanding and engagement with difficult questions such as this- in what patriarchal social condition, the upper caste-upper class hegemonic forces have always been socially positioned to determine every aspects of sexual abuse against women? In what socio-economic conditions, the Upper Caste Borthakur family can make false promises to Sumila Ronghangpi’s parents of educating their child? What are the socio-economic circumstances, in which thousands of children from the socially marginalised tribal communities like Karbis and from the Adivasi communities have to face conditions of child labour and mental-physical abuse like that of Sumila Ronghangpi? The crimes which are being committed against the children from socially marginalised backgrounds like Sumila Ronghangpi happen in social settings where the feudal, casteist, patriarchal social relations are at play instead of dying down and have also mutated into newer forms. In this context what we observe is the continued and unscathed persistence of the structure of upper-caste-upper class patriarchal dominance. The constitutional provisions of autonomous rule and the legal-political framework for the socio-economic mobility of the marginalised have not been completely able to overcome the hindrances of the hegemonic forces for dignified collective upliftment of the marginalized. Instead, the hegemonic forces have intentionally recourse to upper-caste discourse only to denigrate the history of the struggle for politically autonomous rule by the marginalized section. It should also be mentioned that the rapidly escalating rate of gender based crimes and sexual violence reflects the social realities of universal patriarchal oppression. How, through the social discourse , class-caste structure and socio-economic grounds , an oppressive ‘patriarch’ is socially being cultivated ? On the other hand, the very act of not taking these issues seriously only indicates the layers of concomitant compromises and collaborations both at the level of the society and the polity. We are mentioning this fact with deep anguish that even the name of the girl has been registered wrongly in the one-man enquiry committee that has been formed to investigate the case by the government. By wrongly writing Sumila Ronghangpi’s name as Sonali Ronghangpi, the government system has actually created an example of insult often meted out in this kind of circumstances.
We believe that every issue of social and legal justice which might arise with regard to Sumila Ronghangpi’s incident should be brought to the forefront. In this moment, we believe that the immediate issue of legal-justice is of utmost importance. So, we want to raise some urgent demands to the government and strongly demand their immediate redressal.
1) It should be ensured by the government that the family of the victim never faces any kind of pressure or problems related to their security. The availability of ‘sound legal advice’ should also be guaranteed.
2) It has emerged from the news sources that only a case of murder has been filed in relation to the particular incident. But, it is alleged that Sumila Ronghangpi was exploited as a child labourer. In addition to that, prevalence of sexual harassment is also alleged. Considering all these facts, we demand the Assam government as well as the state police that the case against Prakash Borthakur, Nayanjyoti Borthakur and their family should be filed under the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act. Along with the charge of murder, charges of sexual harassment and rape should also be brought under the purview of jurisdiction . We also demand that Both Prakash Borthakur and Nayanjyoti Borthakur should be booked under the provision of Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
3) This incident should not be kept limited to the occurrence of murder and child labour. We think that the whole event has casteist-gendered dimensions/implications which should be recognized. From the legal point of view, there is scope for charging the Borthakur family under the sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and we demand to the police-administration and the one man enquiry committee headed by Moloy Bora formed by the Governor of Assam that without any delay a case should be filed against the members of the Borthakur family investigating the caste-gender based atrocities involved in this incident.
4) We demand the government that an immediate and long-term policy should be taken by the government to rescue all child-labourers from economically backward regions, including Karbi-Anglong who are still working as child labourers in the home of the hegemonic section of the society. Rescued children should be ensured with their right to education under Acts of child protection and Right to Education Act and their further employment be responsibly guaranteed.
Lastly, we would like to mention something in the context of the contemporary social debates and dominant intellectual discourse in Assam .Like other parts of the nation, caste based varna system and patriarchal attitude have an active role in Assam manifested in the numerous instances of socio-economic exploitation-deprivation. There are some constitutionally guaranteed remedies of legally fighting these atrocities- however, the journey is far from smooth due to the prevalent political power structure. In this context, there is the need of a powerful social movement- in what ways the constitutional-legal-political rights can be achieved and in doing that how the constraints put by the dominating forces can be dealt with in the social domain.
- Holiram Terang, Social Activist and Intellectual, Diphu
- Prabhat Bora, Writer and Critique, Nagaon
- Ankur Tamuli Phukan, Program and Research Associate, CRG, Kolkata
- Gaurav Rajkhowa, Independent Researcher, Guwahati
- Laxmi Hansepi, PhD Research Scholar, Gauhati University
- Dhoromsing Engti Kathar, Assistant Professor, Abhayapuri,
- Meenal Tula, Senior Research Associate, NESRC, Guwahati
- Sudakshana Gogoi, Research Scholar, Dibrugarh
- Prarthana Dutta, Research Scholar, Guwahati
- Clar-et Teronpi, Assistant Professor, Sualkuchi College
- Priya Engtipi, Singer
- Bidyut Sagar Baruah, Research Scholar, Delhi
- Rana Saikia, Research Scholar, Delhi
- Prafulla Nath, Assistant Professor, Assam University, Diphu Campus
- Debashish Hazarika, Research Scholar, Guwahati
- Himalaya Bora, Research Scholar, Guwahati
- Hirak Jyoti Ray, Research Scholar, Delhi
- Pranjal Deuri, Reporter and Writer, NE Now, Guwahati
- Bedabrat Gogoi, Research Scholar, Delhi
- Nirban, Research Scholar, Delhi
- Gayatree Phukan, Research Scholar, Guwahati
- Rituparna Neog, LGBTQ Activist, Guwahati
- Om Prakash, Research Scholar, Delhi
- Angtong Engti, Spokesperson, APHLC
- Joysing Ronghi, Project Officer, UNDP(India)
- Sangmir Terangpi, Independent Researcher,
- Linso Timungpi, Assistant Professor, Dudhnoi College
- Pradyumna Kumar Gogoi, Reporter NE Now, Guwahati
- Rajdeep Pathak, Independent Researcher, Guwahati
- Karishma Hazarika, Research Scholar, Gauhati University
- Partha Pratim Borkotoky, Columnist and Writer, Golaghat
- Himanshu Sharma, Research Scholar, Gauhati University
- Manas Pratim Kalita, Palashbari
- Dhrubajit Sharma, Art Activist, Anga Art Collective,
- Hinakshee Barman, Research Scholar, Delhi
- Opala Hajeya, Research Scholar, Delhi
- Deepankar Borah, Advocate, Tinsukia District Court
- Sabin Rongpipi, Social Activist and Independent Researcher, Diphu
- Madhusmita Ronghangpi, Advocate Guwahati,
- Longbir Engti, Assistant Professor, ADP College
- Trishna Saikia, Ambedkar University, Delhi