Published: 23rd June 2020
IIT Bombay’s North East Collective faces attacks, trolling for organising relief to Assam gas leak victims
The NEC members have been intimidated by right-wing groups, when they were carrying out relief work among the survivors of the Baghjan disaster, the IIT Bombay for Justice team said
Despite the devastating effects of the Baghjan gas leak in Assam, it has received little attention from the rest of the country. At a time like this, the North East Collective of IIT Bombay decided to do their bit to help the villagers who had been affected by the leak and the consequent fire that broke out as well. While it is not unusual for student groups to mobilise relief, it is unusual for them to be trolled, attacked and abused for doing so and that is what happened to members of the NEC, IIT Bombay.
A PhD candidate has been one of the main targets of the attacks over the last few weeks, “We shared a poster seeking funds to buy materials like masks and hand sanitisers for the villagers who had been affected by the leak. One of our members’ home is only about six kilometres from the site of the incident and he found out that the relief camps there barely had any facilities. Many were housed in schools and schools only have a couple of toilets but 1500-2000 people were staying in these schools, we even reached out to the PWD to install e-toilets but they said it would take very long. The villagers were only given rice, pulses and potato, how can that suffice? Especially in the middle of a pandemic?” Thus, the student said, his team bought masks and sanitisers and managed to get it distributed to about 500 villagers.
However, soon after the NEC allegedly became the target of hate campaigns, when many began to accuse the Collective of receiving foreign funding and being dishonest about their work. In its solidarity statement, the IIT Bombay for Justice student group said that the NEC, IIT Bombay has always been vocal against repeated hate campaigns targeting the socio-religious and linguistic identities of Muslim communities of East Bengal origin in Assam, who have been branded as ‘illegal’ ‘land-hungry’ ‘Bangladeshis’ from time to time. “The NEC members have been intimidated by the Assamese right-wing forces, when they were carrying out relief work among the survivors of the Baghjan disaster. One of the student activists has been personally maligned, accused with false allegations and intimidated with hate messages….IIT Bombay for Justice condemns all these malicious attacks,” they wrote.
The scholar says that these attacks are not new and the NEC members have been facing hate campaigns ever since they took a stand in the NRC, CAA issue. “We have invited people like Teesta Setalvad and also had sessions on Miyah poetry. We actually did not put out any statement regarding our views but we wanted to engage with people and spread awareness on various issues. But since then, we have been attacked online. People keep calling for us to be beaten up and hung from trees, I even found my name and picture posted on a page online along with several others who are ‘spreading propaganda’,”he explained.
The attacks have taken a huge mental toll on the scholar too, in a Facebook post, he wrote, “Is this just because we raise our disagreements with the NRC process in Assam, and that we support the socio-literary movement of Miyah poetry? Is there so little political will to ‘tolerate’ genuine criticisms and recognise differences? So little that they do not stop sending intimidating ‘requests’ and messages even after I had called out to their hate campaigns. Rather, their supporters have called us ‘vultures’, ‘agents of Mossad’ and shared our photos on social platforms and tried to threaten us by inciting public outrage. Such hate campaigns directed towards members of NEC have jeopardized the mental health and security of all its members. But the trauma of a Bahujan doesn’t matter to them, does it?” he asks.
The IITian claims that many of the people who are attacking them on social media are well-educated people, some of them even professors. But he says that the NEC has been previously involved in relief work during the Assam floods last year, when their team had apparently raised 1.6 lakh rupees and managed to help 3000 people with the support of the NGO, ActionAid.
The NEC was launched for students from the North East but also included people from Ladakh, and other regions beyond the North East. “We wanted to put together a political front and address issues such as discrimination inside and outside the campus but it was mostly a solidarity netwrok and we engaged with other North East student groups in other campuses too. We have also had cultural events to develop a healthy environment for the students,” he explained.