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Death of a king and a pauper are not the same. The latter does not receive any tribute and easily forgotten.  But, even among commoners, some people are more ‘common’ than others. Racial bias comes to play here. Bengali Muslims (or Bangladeshis), who migrated to Assam and other parts of North-east in the past seven decades, are often treated like inferior human beings. Beating up a ‘Bangladeshi’ rickshawpuller on flimsy ground is almost no crime in Guwahati. As if they were born to be assaulted! The death of 14 labourers allegedly after consuming a poisonous fruit in Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya has not evoked due concern. The primary reason, if seems, all of them are Bengali Muslims and hail from Assam’s Dhubri district where demography has changed in the past decades due to massive infiltration from Bangladesh.

Perception about Bangladeshi origin Muslims in the North-east is same, irrespective of their being Indian or Bangladeshi national. The state of Meghalaya ordered a routine probe into the incident, following protests in Dhubri and a second post-mortem on the bodies. But, neither any political party nor any NGO has so far condoled the deaths, let alone demand for an inquiry. They would have raised a hue and cry if one person from any indigenous community died under such circumstances. It is suspected that they consumed a wild fruit, which locals say is highly poisonous. But, under what circumstances they ate the fruit is not clear. Nobody survived to tell the tale! On the other hand, media in Assam are claiming that around 10 people of the group are ‘missing’. Meghalaya police should already have cleared the air about such a massive tragedy. On the other hand, the police are trying to term it an open and clear case of food poisoning and close the file as soon as possible.

The police have even allegedly violated guidelines of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) by not handling the bodies properly. The dead labourers were allegedly picked up by excavator and dumped into pick-up trucks. Providing dead body vans to carry the bodies to Assam was not even in the wildest imagination of the authorities. Rights bodies raise hue and cry when bodies militants are handled improperly. In this case, they were construction labourers and not criminals! Could they afford to do the same had they belong to any other indigenous community of the North-east?

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on April 10, 2015)