Guwahati: She was just seven years old when her parents in Kundam Rongham village under Baithalangso of West Karbi Anglong handed their younger daughter to the Borthakur family. Hailing from Khaigarh village, less than 2 kilometres east of Raha town in Nagaon district, Prakash Borthakur and his wife, Rina, brought the child to their home five years ago.
The Borthakurs promised to educate the child in a local primary school even as her elder sister was already staying near Raha, adopted by another family. Little did father Sarthe Rongham and mother Basapi Kro’pi know that on Friday they will be performing rituals over the charred remains of their 12-year-old daughter, who was allegedly murdered and burnt on Thursday afternoon.
The incident has revealed that at least 5,000 children from Karbi Anglong are presently living in Nagaon district, in towns like Raha, where they are made to work as household help.
While Raha police apprehended both Prakash Borthakur and their 38-year-old unmarried son Nayanmani for the alleged murder and atrocity on the 12-year-old victim on Friday, the accused told the police that the girl killed herself. A photograph of the victim’s charred body was already doing the rounds on social media, with a can of kerosene and two matchboxes next to the body.
According to officer-in-charge Lakshman Kumar Das of the Raha Police Station who is investigating the case, forensic samples would take two days for the results.
“We have arrested Prakash Borthakur and his son Nayanmani under section 302 for murder,” Das said. The police official said the family had informed them of the case as that of suicide.
Lakhiprasad Deka, the district secretary for the Manab Adhikar Sangram Samity (MASS), a local rights organization working on the issues of human rights, said the victim’s elder sister was employed as household help in a neighbouring village.
“She also has been enrolled in a local school but works as domestic help. The family is extremely poor. We learnt that Borthakur family went directly to their village to bring the victim when she was just seven,” Deka told EastMojo.
Over the last five years, victim child’s mother Basapi said she was never allowed to see her daughter. “The accused family sources have said that the girl may have been really upset because of this,” said Deka.
Abhijit Kro, the former president of Nagaon District Karbi Students Association, said his hands are tired of carrying bodies of Karbi children from Nagaon to their villages in the autonomous council.
“’I have known a lot of cases like rape, physical torture, molestation by the host families in Nagaon. Karbi children aged five to 14 are targets of child slavery and labour in Nagaon houses. Once the children are taken by the employer, always lured in the name of education and giving them the luxurious life, they are never allowed to go back to their parents. Some children’s surnames have also been changed by the employer/host families,” said Kro.
The former student leader said that every year there are at least 10-20 cases of deaths of Karbi children, from Nagaon District in particular.
“My hands are already tired carrying the corpses of those children. I am directly involved with the victim’s case as well,” he added.
Can of worms
The gruesome incident has opened a can of worms. On Friday, a host of Karbi organizations and local women and student organizations from Nagaon district visited the Khaigarh village in Nagaon. The organizations have asked the local administration to start the crackdown on well-to-do families of Nagaon district who have been bringing children under the guise of educating them and turning them into domestic help.
“We are sickened by the act but also this is a prevalent thing in Nagaon and several other districts of Assam. Rich, aristocratic families promise education to the parents of young children and bring them to work as domestic help,” Deka said. He said there are close to 5,000 Karbi children enrolled in government schools of Nagaon.
“The admission to these schools is only to save the face of these well-to-do families so they can work as domestic help. Some of them never see the face of school,” he said .
Longkiram Phangcho, Assistant Professor at Damdama College near Guwahati, who also served as a president of the Nagaon Karbi Students Association (NKSA), said that during his tenure as the student association’s president in 2016 and 2017, he came across several similar cases.
“Even my predecessors and successors along with members of NKSA tried to address these issues, but in vain. And even to this day the issue keeps coming back again and again. Who do we blame? The answer lies in the very education system in Karbi Anglong that we all know about. The lack of proper educational infrastructure, lack of teaching and learning environment, lack of eligible teachers, lack of awareness among the parents and native inhabitants, lack of educated youths’ involvement, and above all lack of giving importance to education by the Education Department, Karbi Autonomous Council,” Phangcho said.
In the memorandum to Nagaon Deputy Commissioner, Karbi Students Union (KSU), Nagaon District Tiwa Students’ Union, Nagaon District Karbi Students Association, Asom Jatiyabadi Juba Chhatra Parishad, Sadou Asom Pragatixil Nari Sanstha, a women’s organization and Raha Students’ Union, have collectively demanded Rs 10 lakhs as compensation to victim’s family in Karbi Anglong. Deputy Commissioner was not available to comment on the issue.