Heavy deployment of security forces as Laika and Dodhia residents' protest reaches office of the deputy commissioner in Tinsukia Credit: Rishu Kalantri

Tinsukia: Tension prevailed on Thursday in Assam’s Tinsukia town after a scuffle was reported between residents from the forest villages of Laika and Dodhia and security personnel deployed outside the office of the deputy commissioner.

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Hundred of protestors from the Mising community, including women, broke barricades as they marched towards the deputy commissioner’s office to press for their demands for rehabilitation on Thursday. There were no reports of injuries from either side.

Through a two-part series earlier this week, EastMojo presented an in-depth view of the plight of the residents of Laika and Dhodia, who have been left to fend for themselves in the harshest weather conditions, despite having been promised rehabilitation nearly two decades ago.

While Part 1 of the story, Laika Dodhia, rehabilitation and conservation: How Mising people’s existence is threatened, explains the background, issues, and stories of the Laika Dodhia residents, Part 2, Laika Dodhia residents ready to relocate. But no one knows when, where, and how, explains the origins of the current movement and the expectations of locals caught between unforgiving weather and an indifferent administration.

Also Read: Pregnant woman protester from Laika-Dodhia dies in Dibrugarh

More than 2,000 protestors from the 1,480 families residing in two forest villages inside the Dibru Saikhowa National Park have set up a makeshift camp at Lezaihola Borguri near the DC office and have been protesting since December 21 last year. The camp, which continues to grow with more people joining the protest, witnessed three deaths in the past month: Kusmita Morang (24) died after suffering a miscarriage, while Rebati Pawo (50) succumbed to the severe cold at the campsite after staying for a week in the camp.

Talking to EastMojo, Minturaj Morang, chief convenor of the Laika-Dodhia rehabilitation demand committee, said, “We had given an ultimatum to decide on the rehabilitation of the villagers of Laika and Dodhia by January 15 and start the process by January 20. The government did not pay heed to our ultimatum and left us with no option but to resume our protest.”

On Monday, a state government-appointed committee had agreed to a relocation plan, which is likely to see the light of day only after the Government of India approves the diversion of degraded forests. The protestors have already rejected the government’s proposal for rehabilitation.

On Thursday, Morang said, the residents were compelled to protest outside the office of the deputy commissioner.

“We shouted slogans to make them hear our voices. We have submitted another memorandum to Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, demanding that our rehabilitation be completed by January 31,” Morang said.

Morang warned that the residents are now running out of patience. “If the government fail us again this time, the protest will only grow louder.”

“We have already registered our objection with the government on the proposals to rehabilitate Laika villagers at 72 hectares land in Namphai reserve forest, 166 hectares land in Paharpur reserve forest under Digboi forest division and Dodhia villagers to a similar forest land in North Lakhimpur,” Ajay Doley, assistant secretary of the All Mising Student’s Union, said.

“We have kept our demand for rehabilitation on the 320 and 470 hectares of land inside Mamoroni and Owguri reserve forest, already declared as degraded reserve forests by the then division forest officer under Digboi forest division,” Doley said.

The Laika and Dodhia village clusters are situated at the birthplace of the Brahmaputra in Dibru Saikhowa National Park, where nine rivers converge, carrying huge volumes of water from the Himalayas and rainforests of Patkai Hills. The Brahmaputra assumes a gigantic form in this region to continue the journey westwards through the rest of Assam. While Laika consists of Pomua, Rigbi, and Pasidiya villages, Dodhia has several small hamlets, but the prominent ones are Dodhia Mohmora, Dodhia Kuligaon, Dodhia Charisuti, and Dodhia Tengabari.

Dibang, Lohit, and Siang, the three tributaries of Brahmaputra along with smaller rivers such as Dangori and Dibru, wreak havoc during the monsoons. Incidentally, both the clusters of villages inside the National Park fall under Bindhakata Gram Panchayat which are in Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s constituency.

The history of these settlements is closely tied to the geological history of Assam. The major tremor of the 1950s altered the course of the Brahmaputra in which vast swathes of land subsided leading to flash floods. Originally hailing from the foothills of Dhemaji and Lakhimpur districts, the first five Mising families had settled in Dibru Saikhowa in 1943.

Also Read: Laika Dodhia, rehabilitation and conservation: How Mising people’s existence is threatened

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