East Himalaya

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Forest Officer from Assam

Today morning almost all National and regional dailies carried the news of Abhijit Rabha, the CCF of Assam Forest Department being kidnapped at Singhasana Hill in Karbi Anglong by Militant groups from the area. These areas of Assam are some of the most beautiful and biodiversity rich areas of Northeast. Once the most touristic areas of Assam, had turned into the most terrorist infested hubs, for several reasons of misunderstanding between the Governments and local societies living in isolation. One such area that I know of is Manas Biosphere Reserve, a Tiger Reserve and a World Heritage Site as well.
This was towards the beginning years of the millennium, Mr.Rabha was then the Field Director of the Manas Tiger Reserve had called on Help Tourism and I was a part of the team. The first trip was to Mothanguri, the access through the Bansbari Range office and then 16kms. It was probably early monsoons, somewhere near Anandabazar, I remember pushing the UNESCO jeep through the wet and muddy roads, but could finally see the area which was being well managed by celebrity Range Officer, Mohan Brahma. Early morning when we went by elephant back to Doimari, the local forest guard told us we cannot go beyond because across the river was a terrorist area.
The next day when I asked Mr.Rabha in his office about the area, he showed a video footage by him. A small but dreaded, so called Bodo militant group, which worked out of the ABSU office in Lakkhi Baazar at Kokilabari was interested in conservation of Manas, and so was Mr.Rabha, as this was the core area in Eastern Manas. He said that we had to help him out, but warned us that the area did not have a good reputation for the last 02 decades of happening from the area. As a team we requested him if the said team in the video footage could be contacted and we could have a meeting the next day. He organized it.
Early morning from Barpeta via the National Highway 31 (27?) we reached Pathsala and then road rafting through the NH 152, 30 kms to Lakkhi Baazar, which took us more than 03 hrs, we were at the legendary ABSU office. We were received in the traditional Bodo way with Arnya (Bodo Handloom scarfs, very colourful), the tekli pitha (steamed rice cakes), bananas and sweetened black tea. We could understand the confidence that this group of youth had on Mr.Rabha. After this the narration were like stories, on how they lived, what they did...the matter of fact was that for 02 decades there was no Government help, not even a postman reached with a letter. From a planned hours meeting we stayed on for days.
With Mr.Rabha’s unconditional support and the dedication of the Bodo youths down the years, we achieved the impossible, we created a community based conservation model, just opposite to the state sponsored imperialistic model, Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society. Tourism helping in complimentary livelihood, social development and local empowerment with ownership on conserving the local Natural Resources (a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the world) was the result.
Later during the Manas Centenary closing ceremony at Kokilabari, the most dynamic Mr.Kampa Borgoyari, the Deputy Chief of Bodoland Territorial Council, sitting at the our MMES Doimari (Dwimari) Camp almost ordered me that your work at this site has finished, now it is time you travel extreme west to Ultapani and try and connect East to West of Manas with similar projects. The work is on, but it was hard to get another Abhijit Rabha, who was by then promoted and posted out of Manas.
It is impossible that a man dedicated to the local communities, who firmly believe in community participation in any development, who has shown the country the success of community based conservation, being abducted or kidnapped by some local terrorist groups. Recently a few groups from the area had surrendered and probably the Assam Rifles have established a good base in the forests in Singhasana Hill. Also, that the team which went for the survey of which Mr.Rabha was a member was consisting more than 60 members. I suppose we need to see more deeply into the issue. If it is question of ransom, let the Forest Department set up an account for the purpose and I am sure several common people will contribute towards it, I mean even common villagers from all over Assam. This should be a message for the Militant group that Abhijit Rabha is a friend of the common man and such an act would be condemned.